Monday, July 2, 2007

Surprise Attack

Yesterday evolved into one of those idyllic-weather days in Eastern Ohio--a 72 degrees, no wind, not a cloud in the sky kind of day. While my dh continued his recuperation efforts in bed, I gathered the tools of my trade--a red pen, glasses, manuscript, and a cup of green tea--and headed to our backyard deck. I situated two cushioned chairs so that I could prop my feet on one and sit in the other, taking great pains to position them so I'd get the perfect blend of sun and umbrella shade. Ah. Perfect. I surveyed my set-up one last time. Took a deep breath. Then plopped myself down in the chair.

A stab of searing heat punctured my right thigh.

My scream broke the Sunday silence.

Hot tea splattered the dropped manuscript.

I shot from my chair like a human cannonball.

On the deck floor at my feet, a bumblebee lay, dazed and confused. I left all the collateral damage where I'd flung it and hobbled back inside as fast I could on one leg. From the safety of the other side of the back door, I yanked up the material of my pant leg and inspected the damage to my thigh. A nasty red-hot welt materialized as I watched.

I glared through the glass door at the bee, which was now stumbling and dragging itself across the deck like a wounded soldier scrambling for a foxhole. A quick triage assessment told me the injuries sustained by the bee would likely prove fatal. The attack on my leg had been one of self-defense for Corporal Bumble. Even as my leg begin to throb, my anger at the dying insect dissolved into pity. He hadn't asked to be sat upon by Mrs. Goliath.

Without warning, disaster befell both bee and sittee and ruined a perfectly perfect day.

Now that I've had plenty of time to nurse my wounds and hold an appropriate memorial for the fallen bee, my thoughts have turned to--what else but fiction. Are you incorporating the element of surprise in both the triumphs and tragedies of your stories?

We've discussed of late the importance of well-placed disasters to keep our tales from becoming dull. But both the form the disasters take and their timing should bear the element of surprise to keep the reader turning pages. While conflict must always be believable, it should never be predictable. The same applies to any miraculous rescues for your characters as well. Think about it--how often does God answer prayers in ways we never saw coming? The God of miracles is also the God of surprises!

Whether you create for your character. . .and your reader. . .a perfect day turned disastrous--or a disastrous day turned perfect, always maintain the element of (feasible) surprise.


Beth Loughner said...

Ouch and double ouch! I'm one of those maniac people who flap and fling when bees are buzzing around me. Glad you survived the ordeal and all my sympathy for the loss of Mr. Bumble Bee.

As far as surprises goes in fiction, I just love a well-placed, well-timed surprise....especially if I didn't see it coming. Some of my own fiction writing surprises were actually a surprise to me as well. These surprises were not in the chapter-by-chapter synopsis, not even planned for that day. On occasion, I'd be writing (very much character driven) and have to stop to say, "I can't believe my heroine just did that!" or "Where did that problem blow in from?"

God must have a real sense of humor when it comes to writers. I'm glad He would be soooo boring without laughter.


Janelle said...

Oh boy, do I understand about an attacking bumblebee. Not long ago I had one latch onto my leg...from inside my sweat pants. But I plan to blog about it, so I won't go into detail here. But surprised? Oh yeah...for the both of us. Only I think my bumblebee won. After giving me a stare down, he flew off. Rotten bugger.

Mary Connealy said...

The surprise and miracle ending made me think of...of all things... the movie George of the Jungle.
This line just struck me as so funny I remeber it years later. George is walking down a city street, completely confused by civilization and the narrator says, "Every story has one really big coincidence, and here's ours."

Susan Downs said...

Great quote, Mary! Such profundity from the absurd. LOL

Jennifer Johnson said...

Hey Susan, this blog really helped my story!!! I was beginning chapter three with my heroine's grouchy mom coming to visit. In my mind, I had the mom grumbling and griping as she walked toward the house...then a beetle flew on her dress causing her to go into a quite, embarrassing wailing and jumping fit. This gave the heroine and her mom a moment of giggles, which may set me up for a future in their relationship. Hmm... :)