I read a Robert Frost quote earlier today, which I really liked and which goes like this:
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
I like this quote for a couple of reasons. Firstly, just because it’s an awesome and thoughtful quote, and very true. But also because it’s something which rings particularly true for me – a line of thought with writing that I have often considered when I myself tell stories.
It comes back to that old argument about how much a writer plans their story, and how much they let their story roam where it will. I do think stories do need a certain amount of planning, and probably more than I have averaged so far in my writing life (something I am trying to rectify in my current habits), but I do think this quote hits on something really important – if it’s too predictable for yourself as a writer, it’s going to be way too predictable for the reader as well. Every now and then I let something happen in my stories that I didn’t see coming, and the odd person I let read my stories will often comment that they too didn’t expect that particular event, whatever it may be.
As for the first part, about the tears, I guess this is much the same. I have written a couple of passages of writing that have made me very uncomfortable, that have deeply upset me to write, and I suppose these would have a similar effect on whoever reads them if I were to show these to anybody (which I don’t think I have, often cos they are parts of stories that overall I dislike). I know some of my writing has made people cry, but that writing was stuff that when I wrote it felt more like an emotional purging – I didn’t get teary while putting it down but the whole process was cathartic in one way or another.
Anyway, if you feel your story lacks excitement, or you’re bored of it, why don’t you do something crazy and unexpected? Kill a character for no good reason, start a love triangle, make a character inherit a vast fortune and then make them lose it again. If you have developed your characters well in your head, you’ll know how they’re going to react and that in itself will become the next part of your story! If you surprise yourself, you’re bound to surprise your readers!
What are your thoughts on this idea? Do you think surprising yourself as a writer is important? If not, why not?