Monday, April 28, 2014


If an individual is confronted with a major, well-orchestrated surprise, we are safe in assuming the first response:  "I didn't see that coming."

The moment you offer the merest hint of surprise, the reader/audience will change their posture, lean forward, then begin to speculate:  Where?  When?

Another safe assumption about surprise:  Readers are drawn to it.  So many readers flock to the next story by Stephen King because they enjoy his artful way of making the most innocent item an agent of creepy fear.  Close reading of any given work by King will reveal his exquisite timing , surprising us with an event or condition we had not expected even though we were drawn to the title in the first place because of King's overall reputation.

Surprise, in literal and figurative terms, is the arrival of an unanticipated visitor.  The arrival may be regarded as bad news, thus scary, playing on our primal fears, causing a specific set of physical responses.  But surprise may also be the polar opposite of fear, causing an avalanche of gratitude, gratefulness, even sentimentality.

Any wonder surprise is such a staple element in story?  Any wonder why individuals who face long hours and days of unending routine are driven to story for a glimpse of worlds where events are not always so set in stone?  Case in point, Emma Bovary, who was said by many critics to have been driven to excessive behavior because of her longtime diet of romance novels.  

The notion of her responding to a daily life of incredible routine and boredom has equal standing.  She could well have found Nepenthe in adventure novels or travel guides.  Her choice instead of romance novels is a reflection on the life of aching routine, of the probability of Charles Bovary being a snorer, of the greater probability that the notion of motherhood being all-rewarding did not in fact satisfy her longing for a life outside the kitchen, the nursery, and the quasi-spiritual and social offerings of the church.

Readers are often grateful for the novel that throws its primary characters into surprise-driven chaos.  This preference follows their own life cycle being predicated on relentless routine.  Thus we see the two polar opposites--routine, which embodies the elements of boredom, and surprise, which promulgates the tingle of the unexpected.

Your own encounters with surprise run on the same logic.  You have a routine which is mostly of your own devising.  Some negative surprises take you out of your routine in order to cope.  Some positive surprises are often linked to the sense of adventure connected with distractions.  Adventure and distraction often lead to discovery.

A favored surprise for you comes when you are distracted, led to a discovery that provides you some flavor of emotional satisfaction.  Another kind of surprise is the sense of a thing you've been working on having reached the point of not working for some undifferentiated reason.  

You set the work aside.  Later, when you come across it and are intrigued by it to the point of focusing on it, you are surprised to see that it holds your interest and, in the bargain, supplies you with enough material for another paragraph or two, which means the project is still alive, the Mars Probe, sending pictures back to you, awaiting your interpretation.

You use surprise as a subjective guideline.  If a work causes you to experience surprise responses to it as you are composing, your level of energy and excitement grows to the point where you are operating at a delightful pace, sometimes scarcely able to type fast enough to keep up with the vision surrounding you.

Sometimes, later in the evening, when you are walking off the energy you've generated, you are surprised at how clear every shrub and plant along the way seems, how dark and mysterious the night sky, how dramatic the miscellaneous light sources from such orbs as stars, planets, street lights.  You are surprised by neighborhood cats, out on patrol, by individuals filling up water containers from the machine outside Victoria Market, and the waft of some bit of cooking, causing you to discover you are hungry for senses and glad to be out among them.

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