Monday, May 9, 2011

Writing Craft: Expecting the Unexpected

I was watching one of my never-miss, the phone is unplugged, just let that person at the door think we're dead shows with the hubster a while ago, and it features yet another will-they, won't-they couples. In this episode, there was a scene at the end where the woman basically told the man that she loves him, but not using those actual words, and then there's a moment during which neither of them says anything while their eyes do the talking, and THEN she puts on a sad sort-of smile, turns away, and the camera fades to black.

Needless to say, thew end of this scene caused some rather heated debate at my house. The hubster was certain that the woman just needed more time to process (since she is, of course, involved with someone else at the moment), while I had dramatic twists and turns pouring out of my ears. I finally settled on one of two things: either there has been a proposal from the actual boyfriend, or she's pregnant. Both scenarios would give the writers the most time to spin out the will-they/won't-they for yet another season, while delivering the highest level of immediate impact for big drama and high stakes.

And then we waited with bated breath to find out what would happen.

And then last week, what happened was that we saw her decide to make a move on this guy (FINALLY!), only to miss out by seconds.

In other words, she wasn't pregnant, and she was also probably not engaged. And nothing else was going on, either. It was predictable. It was kind of blah. And you know what else?

It was refreshing.

I have begun to expect the unexpected in books and film, and when the normal happens, it's actually kind of a nice change. And I think there's a lesson here.

When we write, yes, high drama is important. Yes, we need to keep the stakes high. But there's a balance to be struck: we need a few moments of ordinary in there, too. Sometimes, the best way to take our reader by surprise is not to try to surprise them at all.

What do you think? Do you expect the unexpected, and get surprised by the normal? Do you look to have a balance of both in your writing, or is it high drama all the way? What works for you as a reader? As a writer?


  1. Interesting. I do that too, debate on what could be and it's usually more dramatic or complicated than they make it. And it's usually always nice when it's simplified.

  2. I have to watch too much debating about what to do in my scenes rather than the dramatic doing. I like the unexpected in my reading though I do try to guess them. I like when I'm wrong and surprised.

  3. Sometimes a story does feel like it's trying too hard, and it gets to be too much. There's nothing wrong with a little normal from time to time.

  4. I've always second guessed plots on tv and in some books, and I think tv shows these days try and surprise a bit more than they used to. It's a shame when they try and shock you instead of surprise you (I'm not into gory) but a new twist or unforeseen event is great to watch/read.