Yesterday, the idea of expectations was brought to my attention several times. In reading Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, he stated:
“Start with each scene, chapter, or other unit you use to break up your manuscript. Rate the following: external actions, expectations vs. what happens, discovery, and change. Making a scene “better,” “tighter,” or “punchier” is an okay intention, but it’s imprecise. A more reliable path to high impact is to focus on the effect you seek. You’ll get it by directing expectations, building an emotional roadbed, working out what your characters will discover about themselves, and making sure that at the end something is distinctly different.” (page 57)
Because I had read this and managed to go through just a few scenes of my current manuscript, the idea of expectations was on my mind. Several moments throughout the day surprised me.
At Lowe’s, my youngest daughter said, “I want my new room to look like a princess room, a castle!” A slight pause, “Or like the Avengers headquarters.”
We rented the movie Into the Woods. By the cover, it looked like the typical broken fairy tale. Just the kind of movie I love. With several well-known actors cast, I actually drove a little further to rent it from a Redbox because for two weeks, the Redbox nearest us hadn’t carried it. Turns out, it’s a musical. You probably knew that. I hadn’t a clue. It wasn’t a goofy Mary Poppins style, but a little dark, fast-paced musical. Twists in the plot, unexpected deaths, and a Prince Charming who was “more charming than sincere,” I was surprised by the vast emotions it stirred. I laughed so hard I missed several lines, I cried at the lyrics in the songs sung by the mothers in the story, and I wondered if this was a waste of time or if watching the movie would improve my life. It was so unexpected, so gritty and yet so musical, I was entranced. Finding something entrancing is rarely a waste.
That is the trick to being effective – delivering the unexpected. I’m not advocating springing something unexpected just for the sake of shock or surprise (I picture reality TV, and I picture it in a mostly negative nature), but to strive to be effectively unexpected.
As a mother, I can create a unexpected and memorable memory for my children by setting aside the school work and household chores and spending the day on a city-wide exploration for the best playground. As a friend, I can surprise loved ones with a fully prepared dinner. As a writer, I can turn a character’s behavior on its head with a simple unexpected line, gesture, or decision.
As a blogger? I don’t know. This is a new concept for me. Give me time :)
A word of caution. Throwing the unexpected out – in writing or any other art form – can be a very distasteful flare if not done well and will class. The world is full of entertainment that casts out bits of surprises for shock value. Shock value never has moral value. Moral values are what the world is thirsty for. Let’s give the world what it needs instead of what sells. How’s that for a twist?