Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How To Surprise

by CWK

Surprise is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer. Properly used, it can delight your reader. It can be a source of comedy and tragedy. It can keep your reader turning pages. It can reveal truth to your reader with a shock of life.

Chesterton said that Francis of Assisi, "walked the earth like the pardon of God." I've read that sentence a 100 times. It's still surprising to me.

How do we do this? How do we delight and engage our reader with well placed surprises? I've come across these 5 ways (there may be more). Also, there are infinite variations on these 5.

1) Say something unexpected.

2) Reveal something unknown.

3) Contradict something that is 'taken for granted.'

4) Change quickly (direction, topic, tone).

5) Say it differently.

This is a combination of number 1, and number 3. So, everyone says, "Nice guys finish last." How might you say this in a surprising way?

"Nice guys finish fast."
"Nice guys finish. At least they finish."
"Nice guys finish, finally."
"Nice guys do finish last -- but remember, the day is coming when the last shall be first."


Note: the power of surprise can be abused. Too many surprises gets exhausting, and oddly, predictable. So, save your surprised for the right time, and place. Then, send your mother a birthday card.

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