Anticipation and Surprise

My son squeals, runs around the house, sings about snow, calls his grandparents, packs his suitcase too early, counts down the days until December 25th – all in anticipation of the big day, Christmas.

Huge anticipation = Huge pressure on me, the parent, to produce.

You’d think that would be the case, but it’s not. My son loves everything about it. The eight hour drive in the car, which he recently confessed is fun (who’d have thought). The excitement of trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. The joy of waking up and seeing the brightly wrapped gifts. (He certainly doesn’t notice I’m a terrible wrapper or that his grandparents reuse paper from the 80s.) I don’t even think it matters to him what he gets – it could be a bunch of cheap toys from the Dollar Store and he’d be excited.

That concept of anticipation and surprise is crucial in books. I love reading through pitch contests. I usually have my top three picked out, and sometimes the agent chooses differently. The good ones stick out. My brain picks up on a unique voice or a terrific premise.

Not very often do I hear of writers getting signed from these pitch contests. Somewhere in the middle the execution and surprise of the manuscript didn’t match the anticipation the pitch created.

Writing is magic. And the successful writer knows all the tricks and slight of hands to create the magic.

If this holiday season leaves you feeling discouraged about the writing or publishing journey, dig deep and learn the tricks so the surprises in your writing equal the anticipation. And keep up the hard work!

16 Responses to Anticipation and Surprise

  1. Laura Marcella December 15, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    Great post! Sometimes the anticipation is the best part. 🙂

  2. Stina Lindenblatt December 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    That’s the problem with some hyped books. I’ve got several on my bookshelf that sounded like they would be great, but in the end they were only okay. But there are others that seriously rocked!

  3. Jennifer Hoffine December 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    Funny how childhood anticipation of Christmas turns to stress as an adult…I do still love even the stress of it though.

    As for writing, I find that Stephen King’s monsters revealed sometimes don’t live up to the anticipation…but he’s so good at the anticipation that most readers (including me most of the time) don’t even mind.

    There is something to be learned from that.

  4. Nelsa December 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Great post, Laura! I’m not sure which is more crucial – the anticipation or the payoff. I guess both are so very important to a reader’s experience. But if anticipation isn’t there, the reader will put down the book. If the payoff disappoints, the reader will walk away with his last memory of the book being, “Meh.” But when the magic happens, wow. So, so worth it!!
    (and btw your son sounds too adorable!)

  5. Kelly Polark December 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    I think one of the most fun things about Christmas is the kids’ anticipation!

  6. MG Higgins December 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    “…his grandparents reuse paper from the 80s.” Ha! Very funny. And you’re probably not exaggerating. Nice post.

    • Laura December 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

      Laura – yes! I love anticipation and I love it even more when the payoff matches it.

      Stina – I think that’s where hyped books take risks. If the pay off doesn’t match, the hype dies quickly. And the reviews can be harsher because the expectations were high.

      Jennifer – You’ve got a point! The most enjoyable part of the story should be every page – just not the ending!

      Nelsa – I love finding books when the magic happens!

      Kelly – Yes! Watching my kids’ excitement is worth the stress of the season!

  7. Susan R. Mills December 15, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    So true. The writing has to match the anticipation. Great thoughts!

  8. Creepy Query Girl December 15, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    I agree! Unfortunately the anticipation isn’t enough to tug us over the longhaul when it comes to books like it does for christmas. The end result has to meet our expectations. Great post!

  9. angela December 15, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    I think this is very true, and I imagine it’s a source of frustration for agents reading brilliant queries where the actual novel just doesn’t hold up to the high expectations.

    Angela @ the Bookshelf Muse

  10. Angela Felsted December 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    What a sweet, wonderful son you have!

  11. Sherrie Petersen December 16, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    I like how you tied that in 🙂

  12. Karen Strong December 16, 2010 at 4:14 am #

    Great advice, Laura.

    Ah, your little boy sounds so sweet! 🙂

    I remember that Christmas Eve anticipation as a kid. Such good memories…

  13. Patti Nielson December 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Anticipation doesn’t stop when you grow up. My grandma used to wake everyone up at 5am.

    Great analogy to writing, time to learn some new tricks.

  14. Lisa Green December 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

    I think there is so much great writing out there right now, it’s just that much more difficult to get that offer. That said, it’s all the more reason to do as you suggest and work even harder at mastering the art of surprise and all other dimensions of good writing.

  15. susan kaye quinn December 16, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    Delivering on that promise of the premise is so hard to do – that’s where the true craft comes in, I’ve decided. It’s not adverbs or adjectives. It’s storytelling. And it’s an art. (One I’m still learning)

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