Monday, October 19, 2009

Surprise!

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne



How much do I love surprises? Let me count the ways...

I'm sitting in a hotel on Maui typing this blog all because my husband has a great knack for surprises - this one is an early birthday present and it's also the first time in five years we're having a vacation together...alone...(well if you don't count my laptop and current WIP which I carry with me like surrogate twins...) so you can imagine how much I love this surprise!

I also love books that surprise me. I love it when an author can genuinely deliver not just the shocks but also the delightful out-of-left-field moments which cause me to smile. I remember the first time I read Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series and how surprised I was that his brand of lunacy actually worked. I also remember reading the first Harry Potter book and catching hold of the same sense of magic I felt as a child reading. The element of surprise is one that I relish in a book. I love how Carlos Ruiz Zafron's Shadow of the Wind captures the essence of Gothic surprise that imbues the glorious Victorian novels that I adore and how Neil Gaimon's books (and quirky imagination) continue to delight and amuse me.

Surprises can be powerful things - they can draw a reader into a book in a way that is (I think) often more powerful than a mere plot twist or a shocking ending. They can take the form of an unsuspected insight into a character, a happy coincidence, or just the details of a world created that transports the reader's imagination. The element of surprise is however much harder to achieve than suspense or the power to shock and I think (in terms of craft) it requires:
  • An appreciation of language - the beauty of a turn of phrase that can delight as well as surprise should never be underestimated.

  • An understanding of the nuances of the human condition - many of the best surprises occur only because an author has a grasp of the full idiosyncrasies of characters (both real and imagined).

  • An ability to create parallel worlds full of quirks and charms that allow a reader to suspend disbelief.

  • And, finally, the bravery required to take a book into rough uncharted waters...
I certainly don't believe I have mastered any of the above but when a book truly takes me by surprise, the effect is magical.

So when did a book last surprise you?

5 comments:

  1. The book I'm currently reading, Nobody, Nowhere is a remarkable memoir by an autistic woman, Donna Williams. She makes a Helen Keller-like journey from the mental turmoil and noncommunication of her youth, to her current life as a college-educated writer and public speaker.

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  2. Claire, if you're in Kaanapali, do an early dinner at the Hula Grill Barefoot Bar. Right in the sand with live music and good drinks. It's at teh Whaler's village I think.

    And if you don't know about Little Beach, (it's next to Big Beach in Makena) you should check it out. You may get an idea for a novel there.

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  3. Doing the tough duty, huh Clare?

    I think surprise is essential to every scene, even if it is only in a startling line of dialogue. Readers have to be surprised and intrigued or they don't turn the page.

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  4. Aloha! Kathryn - the memoir sounds fascinating. Wilfred - I will try and check it out though we are a little bit further along the coast from Kaanapali. James - it's a tough job but someone has to do it:) and I totally agree, surprises on every page are what keep me turning the pages(and is why, sadly, the book I'm currently reading is flagging - everything is predictable...)

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  5. I recently read Thr3e by Ted Dekker and never had a clue as to who the "bad" guy was. Usually I can figure it out but not this time.

    A couple weeks after, I saw the movie on tv and even that was well done.

    I love not seeing the end!

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