Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Always Include the Unexpected

I would be cheating you if I'd kept all the great information learned at ACFW to myself. 

After all, if you went to a fabulous concert or travelled to an exciting place I'd want you to share with me (and I'd hope you do-we chat about everything at my website and you're invited). 

One of the MANY great take aways for me was James Scott Bell's day long class called Quantum Story.

AND because I don't think you'll want to read the four hundred and thirty three pages of notes I took covering every rich concept he shared, I chose one. 

This is my translation of what he said:

The Unexpected

The unexpected is an essential quality for our stories. Why? 

To elicit a response from the reader, (laugh, giggle, gasp, slam the book shut only to peel it open again, etc)
To wake the reader up, 
To tie an anchor around the reader's legs and plunge them deep into the abyss of the scene, 
To engage the reader so much--a real knock on the door startles them,
To question the reader's perception of what will happen next
To raise the stakes

The unexpected quality is like a piece of Warhead candy. Sweet, tasty, inviting on the outside, but when the tastebuds reach the core, a blast of sour smacks every cell in the mouth with a powerful surprise. 

1.  James Scott Bell told us every scene must have an unexpected quality.

He looked at our faces after making the comment and knew immediately what we thought. Murder, tornado, car crash, illness, etc in every scene? Can you imagine a warhead blasting through scene pages?

Jim held his hand palm side up toward us to still our crazy imaginations. "Anything can serve as the unexpected. It can be something as simple as 

a phone ringing,
a joke
a riddle
a dish falling
a discovered scrap of paper
hot instead of cold water and visa versa
sprinklers engaging when some walks through the garden
salt instead of sugar in food
a thunder clap on a clear, sunny day
a tux worn to a beach party

2. The unexpected in each scene needs to enlarge the plot in some way. As we know, the plot continually progresses toward the dark moment, and the climax, ever raising the stakes. Yes, a single phone ring can do this. 

Hank stood by the fire in his family's Rocky Mountain lodge massaging the heat into his fingers. He'd dreamed about the utter quiet of this moment since his last visit, barely noticing the crackling fire. 

A shrill bell pierced the quiet, starting him. In all the years he'd vacation at the lodge he'd never heard the phone ring. Who in their right mind would call anyone at a mountain lodge? He chose not to answer. The irritating noise stopped. Plaguing thoughts rustled through his mind disturbing the silence. Who called? 

3. The impact of an unexpected moment will be greater when the reader has a personal interest in the affected character. A personal interest does NOT come from

physical descriptions
secondary characters

Personal interest comes when the character reflects his thoughts, feelings, mental processing's inward so much so the reader can predict the next move. 

This is the key, the fodder, the stage when a writer can create the unexpected (kept within reason-don't have a diabetic suddenly able to eat sugar)

To me one of the best examples of the unexpected is the true story of Jim Elliott. Jim felt a strong calling to tell the people living in the jungles of South America about God's love. He and four other men invested many days, demonstrating their friendly intentions to the villagers. 

Once convinced they would be well received, the missionaries landed their plane on the beach near the village and stepped on the sand. The jungle men stepped out from the bushes, spears in hand. Jim and the other men spoke, using their hands to help communicate peace.

The jungle men stepped closer, appearing to accept the missionaries. As the Jim and the other men continued to present their purpose, the village men raised their spears and plunged them into each missionary, killing all five men.

The story doesn't end there. The next unexpected event happened when Jim Elliott's wife, Elizabeth, chose to return to the village with other missionaries. Her unexpected sacrifice was used by God to touch the hearts of the villagers and bring many to faith in Christ.

I would love to tell you more, but the post is already long. I'll share more next time.

Your Turn:

Some of you attended Jim's class, would you add another aspect?

Do you have one huge unexpected event in your story? Probably. But do you have something unexpected in every scene? 

Chose one scene from your book that needs an unexpected event. What unexpected something could happen to elicit a response from your reader? 

photo by Mary Vee

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter



Unknown said...

Awesome notes, Mary! Wish I could've attended that class...thank goodness for the conference mp3s. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Definitely. Now to find the time to sit down and listen!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

So sorry I couldn't stop by yesterday. The unexpected. Hmmm. I've got to work on putting something in EVERY scene. Thanks for this, Mary!