Were You Surprised?

I love it when a reader tells me she or he was surprised by the ending of a book. At least I’m pleased as long as they also say the ending worked. I know when I’m reading a mystery, I like to be surprised. I want all of the clues to be there, but presented in a way that the answer isn’t obvious. That isn’t always easy and needs to be planned.

Or does it?

I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of her pants). I usually create a rough outline of a story before I start writing. That is, I create what I think will be the outline (that’s the plotter part of me), but once I get started, I keep making changes. I learn something new, so I work that into the plot. I realize something I planned won’t work or that something else will work better, so I change what I’d planned. (The pantser is taking over.)

As I said, I love it when readers tell me they were surprised by the ending. Truth is, most of the time I’m also surprised. My villains are rarely who I thought they would be when I started. Same with the endings. As I’m writing, I realize (1) the villain is too obvious, or (2) the ending is too clichéd, or (3) my intended villain doesn’t have a good motive, or (4) hey, maybe this could happen instead.

So much for good planning.

This has bothered me in the past. I thought a writer should have control of the story, should know how it’s going to end. But recently Paula Geister, a long time writer friend, sent a quote attributed to Robert Frost: “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

I like that. For me, the process of writing is full of surprises. My characters surprise me. What I learn about them as I delve deeper into their goals and motives makes them more real…and real people don’t always do as planned. Also, while writing, I do research, and what I learn often changes what I thought I was going to write. (Opioids and midwifery are what interest me right now.)

Even if you are writing non-fiction or a memoir, this experience of discovering things as you write can and should occur. You, the writer, simply need to be open to new ideas. To paraphrase Paula: Keep your eyes open as you write. Let your writing flow from a “Gee, I didn’t know that’s how I felt” frame of mind.

In other words, be open to surprises.

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