Surprise [ ser-prahyz, suh– ]
verb (used with object), sur·prised, sur·pris·ing.
- to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness: Her beauty surprised me.
- to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly: We surprised the children raiding the cookie jar.
- to make an unexpected assault on (an unprepared army, fort, person, etc.).
- to elicit or bring out suddenly and without warning: to surprise the facts from the witness.
- an act or instance of surprising or being surprised.
- something that surprises someone; a completely unexpected occurrence, 7. appearance, or statement: His announcement was a surprise to all.
Can you even write the word surprise without bolding, italicizing, and/or adding 8 thousand exclamation marks? I mean, come on. What do you picture when someone yells surprise? A party where everyone is hiding waiting for the special someone/couple? A baby announcement? That one can be a good surprise or bad. Have you ever said surprise out of the side of your mouth? It’s like saying surprise and sorry all at the same time.
When writing a ‘surprise’ situation in your WIP you can’t be as boring as the norm. Ya need to slap a twist on it. Like the surprise coated in an apology. “Surprise, I’m cheating on you with your cousin.”- kinda moment. In the book, Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood, there is a semi-cool idea.
Okay, okay, okay…let me spice this up a bit. Imagine a surprise birthday party where everyone is hiding, waiting for the guest of honor to arrive, but…dum-dum-duuuuummm- all the guests are being held at gun point. See, mom sent out all the invites but no one RSVPed. No one was gonna come. WHAT!? So, mom goes out, gathers up all the kids who did not respond and forces them to take part in the party. That, my friends, is a surprise dipped in cheese, wrapped in a tortilla, and served with cake.
Surprises come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They run the gambit of walking in on your significant other with someone else, winning the lottery, getting into the college of your dreams with a full ride, finding out you are gonna be a parent, and so on. It’s all about creating the scene. The surprise can’t be trickled in. It has to be an in-your-face moment.
Example: A groom runs out to his car to get his forgotten bow tie. He opens the door to find his intended bride in the backseat, in her gown, wrapped around the best man, who is the groom’s younger brother. Cue the what-the-heck moment, followed by screaming and the obligatory, “It’s not what it looks like…you don’t understand,” comments.
Now that’s a surprise not easily forgotten. Ouch.
Now, if you look back at dictionary.com’s definition at the top of this post, you’ll see that surprise means to fill someone with wonder and/or disbelief. But the emotions that come along with the element of surprise are what is unexpected or unusual. Maybe rethink the use of the term surprise. You can absolutely show it but be frugal with the word.
Don’t be shocked. You all know I’m a huge fan of the show don’t tell aspect of writing. Show me what will be the surprise and then show me the full reaction of said surprise. That includes the facial expression, the breathing, do they stagger, run, scream? Is it with joy, fear, and/or rage? Draw the picture with colors.
- Write a short surprise scene for these 3 events: giving birth, a thunderstorm, love at first sight.
- I mentioned the physical aspect of surprise above: write a scene where dad is deliberately hit in the face with a Frisbee thrown by his angry son. First, write a scene describing the event from the outside, then rewrite it from the inside perspective.
- Write a scene from both emotions that can come along with a surprise: good and bad, happy and sad, happy and angry. Example- a pregnancy announcement.
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