Friday, August 13, 2010

I didn't see that coming...

The potential for surprises come in many forms when writing a story. Sometimes, or probably most of the time, surprises are pre-planned. As the writer, you think of plot secrets to reveal layer by layer or cliffhangers for chapter endings. You pick the right moment to reveal them with optimum effect, be it the next page or holding out til the end. That's the fun part, that rubbing your hands together in anticipation setting up the surprise and the payoff during the delivery of your insider information. You know, if all works right, the reader is going to sit back and think - - with various emphasis on the exclamation point -- "I didn't see that coming!"

Other times, the surprise is on you. The characters are up to something, but you're not sure which direction they are going. In their own time, they are going to reveal their inside information and leave you sitting back and saying, "I didn't see that coming!"

This form of surprise happens in all forms of writing actually, including music. Not so long ago, on a PBS special honoring him with the Gershwin Award, I heard Paul McCartney talk about the creation of one of his songs. With lovely, almost humble humor, he first joked (maybe?) that the original lyrics were something like "scrambled eggs, oh how I love your legs." LOL But it was the melody - - a melody, he said, that seemed so familiar he had to ask everyone around him, "where have you heard this before?" Over and over he asked the question. It had to exist. But no one knew. No one had heard it. So, after a considerable time, he said with a shrug, he had to claim it for his own. That song: Yesterday.

(Now I hear it. Scrambled eggs...oh how I love your legs.)

But the best part of his story was the mystified awe in his voice and expression when he gave the only explanation. Magic.

I got a little shiver when he said that. Even I, somestimes if I'm very lucky, have felt that magical feeling that an idea is plucked seemingly out of the air. Creation is magic.

Both forms of surprise are vastly different. The magic kind leaves you humble, gifted with something so new but familiar you feel a slight trepidation about claiming it as your own. On the other hand, the insider information kind makes you anything but humble, skipping around with a childish 'I've got a secret' glee.

Both are wonderful things.
Of course, sometimes we run out of the pre-planned surprises. Then we wait for magic. But the magical muse is fickle. Write it out anyway. You never know what may fall from the sky.


  1. I got shivers when I read that about Yesterday! It does feel like magic sometimes, which is why I try to trust that it'll happen, even when it feels like it WON'T happen. My characters gave me lots of surprises yesterday and I'm still chuckling about them. It makes me excited about getting back into their world today, to see what other crazy stuff will "fall from the sky". :)

  2. Since I pants for the most part, my characters toss surprises at me all the time. I loved how my heroine in A Caribbean Spell spat at the man I intended to be her friend...and he spat back. Took me completely by surprise!

    Eventually they came to be the friends I had envisioned.

    I think sometimes the biggest surprises come when someone else reads your stuff and loves it as deeply as you do. You hoped for this. You half way expected this...but when it happens? Oh, that is magic!


  3. Donna and Maureen, you commented right after one another - - thanks! :) We all seem to have that magic feeling this Friday the 13th! It's good to hear you're excited about the new story Donna. And Maureen, I agree that it's magic when someone reads your stuff and loves it too. It's like you worry that the magic wasn't captured as you envisioned it and it's the best feeling to get feedback that it wasn't just your 'imagination.' LOL


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