Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Surprise me

I never thought I'd mention Harry Potter and The Karate Kid in the same post.

Of all the talk within the children's writing community about Harry Potter, there is one I remember the most. A speaker at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference (I think it was Bruce Coville) said the biggest draw of the series was that there was a surprise on every page. They were never just jelly beans, or portraits, or even bathrooms. In the world Rowling created, even the most mundane objects or activities were surprising.

The world was wondrous.

In a much smaller way, The Karate Kid remake surprised me. When I saw Mr. Han working on a car, I expected to hear"Wax on, wax off." I never did. There were the obligatory training montages, but one was punctuated with the young hero flexing and posing in front of his mirror. Nothing huge, but another small, funny, surprise.

(That the movie surprised me at all is incredible. This post is being written by someone who remembers trying to balance on one foot before delivering a brutal, match-ending kick. I also remember seeing half the playground trying to do the same thing during one second grade recess. We considered ourselves successful if we didn't fall down in the attempt.)

I knew what was going to happen in the remake. I knew all the plot points it needed to hit. Yet in many small ways, the movie didn't do what I thought it would- and so it kept my interest.

I'm in the middle of rewrites, and I keep coming back to the importance of surprising the reader. No conversation, description, or character should be just what the reader expects. That's easier said than done, but it forces me to dig a bit deeper into whatever I'm writing. It's also a way to measure the effectiveness of what I've just written. I feel that I can move on when something unexpected is revealed, even if it's a small something.

What about you? What books surprised you in big or small ways? How do you keep your own writing fresh?

And did you ever try that kick after watching the first Karate Kid?