Monday, October 19, 2009


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

How much do I love surprises? Let me count the ways...

I'm sitting in a hotel on Maui typing this blog all because my husband has a great knack for surprises - this one is an early birthday present and it's also the first time in five years we're having a vacation together...alone...(well if you don't count my laptop and current WIP which I carry with me like surrogate twins...) so you can imagine how much I love this surprise!

I also love books that surprise me. I love it when an author can genuinely deliver not just the shocks but also the delightful out-of-left-field moments which cause me to smile. I remember the first time I read Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series and how surprised I was that his brand of lunacy actually worked. I also remember reading the first Harry Potter book and catching hold of the same sense of magic I felt as a child reading. The element of surprise is one that I relish in a book. I love how Carlos Ruiz Zafron's Shadow of the Wind captures the essence of Gothic surprise that imbues the glorious Victorian novels that I adore and how Neil Gaimon's books (and quirky imagination) continue to delight and amuse me.

Surprises can be powerful things - they can draw a reader into a book in a way that is (I think) often more powerful than a mere plot twist or a shocking ending. They can take the form of an unsuspected insight into a character, a happy coincidence, or just the details of a world created that transports the reader's imagination. The element of surprise is however much harder to achieve than suspense or the power to shock and I think (in terms of craft) it requires:
  • An appreciation of language - the beauty of a turn of phrase that can delight as well as surprise should never be underestimated.

  • An understanding of the nuances of the human condition - many of the best surprises occur only because an author has a grasp of the full idiosyncrasies of characters (both real and imagined).

  • An ability to create parallel worlds full of quirks and charms that allow a reader to suspend disbelief.

  • And, finally, the bravery required to take a book into rough uncharted waters...
I certainly don't believe I have mastered any of the above but when a book truly takes me by surprise, the effect is magical.

So when did a book last surprise you?


  1. The book I'm currently reading, Nobody, Nowhere is a remarkable memoir by an autistic woman, Donna Williams. She makes a Helen Keller-like journey from the mental turmoil and noncommunication of her youth, to her current life as a college-educated writer and public speaker.

  2. Claire, if you're in Kaanapali, do an early dinner at the Hula Grill Barefoot Bar. Right in the sand with live music and good drinks. It's at teh Whaler's village I think.

    And if you don't know about Little Beach, (it's next to Big Beach in Makena) you should check it out. You may get an idea for a novel there.

  3. Doing the tough duty, huh Clare?

    I think surprise is essential to every scene, even if it is only in a startling line of dialogue. Readers have to be surprised and intrigued or they don't turn the page.

  4. Aloha! Kathryn - the memoir sounds fascinating. Wilfred - I will try and check it out though we are a little bit further along the coast from Kaanapali. James - it's a tough job but someone has to do it:) and I totally agree, surprises on every page are what keep me turning the pages(and is why, sadly, the book I'm currently reading is flagging - everything is predictable...)

  5. I recently read Thr3e by Ted Dekker and never had a clue as to who the "bad" guy was. Usually I can figure it out but not this time.

    A couple weeks after, I saw the movie on tv and even that was well done.

    I love not seeing the end!