Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Unexpected

Is it believable to hit your protagonist with the unexpected? But then, aren’t all protagonists hit with something they don’t expect? They’re attacked physically or verbally. He gets hit by a bus. She is attacked in her apartment. Something happens that they didn’t expect. And then the plot moves in a new direction.

Is there a point where the unexpected becomes unbelievable? Can it be too unexpected or so out of the blue that your readers won’t believe and will consider it contrived by the writer? But things in real life can come so out of the blue that they feel wrong - and yet they’re real.

I have two trips planned in the next two months. One to Lake Tahoe and one to Washington D.C. Hotel reservations made. Airplane reservations made and paid for. Dates marked off on the calendar. Conference registrations paid, plans made.

And yet…the unexpected happened. Yesterday I got summoned for Jury Service in Federal Court. For two months. I’ve been given the date and time to report and instructions that I must call in every Friday for those two months. Each Friday when I call in I will receive my reporting instructions.

I’ve been hit with the unexpected. If this were a book, then I, the protagonist, would find her future changed. She’d be on a jury where a jurist was bribed. She’d be on a jury where the accused escapes and takes her hostage. The case would involve millions of dollars paid to a crooked politician and she is the key to him being found guilty or innocent and she has a moral dilemma. She falls in love with a fellow jurist and when their tryst is found out, a scandal ensues.

But to make the unexpected work, you have to lay the groundwork. The protagonist would have received the notice of the possibility of being summoned (and not forgotten about it since it was months ago, the way I did). Giving up whatever has to be given up would need to be a true sacrifice (trust me, it is, although it's not life threatening). Then something would have to happen as a result of the unexpected. (I’m hoping that won’t happen in my case.)

The unexpected can be fun. Or not. It changes things. It will. And the protagonist copes. Because she doesn’t have a choice. And, thus, the plot veers off and moves forward.

Speaking of unexpected...yesterday I passed the Sunshine Award to five wonderful bloggers. I unexpectedly combined two of those bloggers. It should have gone to 6 bloggers. The two I mixed up were Cheryl Eklund and Saira Cee. If you have time, link over and tell them "hi" - you can even mention what a dunce I am. (Not that that is unexpected.)

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  1. Thank you for this blog. It is very timely as I am working through what my main character's reaction should be to unexpected events.

    It's a hard balance to find the point when someone will believe the unbelievable, and what they need to be shown to get there.

    I can hear Buffy in my head saying: "Wait, the streets are full of vampires, and I'M the chosen one?"

  2. You're so right...the groundwork has got to be laid and then it becomes believable.

    I was called for jury duty a year ago. The defense attorney didn't want a mystery writer in the group, so I was dismissed. So don't be shy about telling what you do for a living on your juror form!

  3. Another great post. I think you're right, that with the proper amount of groundwork, the unexpected makes a story that much more interesting. It's nice to be surprised, just not too often - unless you want your novel to become a Michael Bay movie.

    Brain Droppings

  4. I've always wanted to be on a jury. Not much chance since I have a business doing murder mysteries and I'm a psychotherapist but hey! I like the idea that it is choiceless and I also like the idea that I can serve one of the main balliwicks of our free and democratic society without going to war! Yes, it is an inconvenience but think of the wonderful details you'll be exposed to.

  5. It's easy to see your mind never stops, Helen.
    Funning, entertaining and helpful. One would think you write for a living! ;>)

    Giggles and Guns

  6. The unexpected is what makes for interesting twists and turns in a mystery. Sometimes it can seem like too many things going wrong, but if we stop and think - we all have days like that. :) Just as long as they're not too far off the way.

    Good luck with your trip plans.

    Thoughts in Progress

  7. I love the way you integrated your writing technique and real life experience. You are truly a writer at heart. I am fortunate to always be able to opt out of jury duty as a clinical psychologist, but believe me there are plenty of other "unexpecteds" that come my way. Great blog. God bless.

  8. Great, real life example! And timely for me too as I've started my next novel today.


  9. It’s too bad that everything has to happen at once. You turned the prospect of jury duty into some interesting story ideas - though I hope none of them develop in your case!)

  10. Elizabeth, I'm sending in the second form today - and am listing my occupation(s).

    Jan, if I didn't have these trips already planned, I'd be excited to be on the jury. I've been on a criminal court jury before (not a Federal Court like this one). I would ask not to be foreman, though. I was last time and found I'm much too democratic and we ran way long as we listened to everyone.

    Have fun with the new novel, Regan!

  11. I love the unexpected in a book, but a realistic unexpected. If it's something that is too far off, the story loses credibility for me.

  12. Sorry your plans were messed up Helen. And lovely how you turned it around to teach us a lesson.

    (My word verification is siesta- is my computer trying to tell me something??)

  13. No, Helen, not a dunce. Just human. Sorry about your conferences. Hope you can wiggle out of jury duty this time.

  14. Missing the conferences is hard, but jury duty should bring its own area of interest.

  15. Life never goes exactly as we plan, does it? I think you're absolutely right, Helen, about throwing in the unexpected into our writing; as long as it's credible. However, any wrench thrown into a plot has to be there for a reason - not just because the writer needed to add an occurrence.

  16. Yes, Lauri, yes it is. Since you didn't listen, I will take a siesta for you.

    Jury duty is interesting. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if we got to pick our own days to serve? And the case we wanted to sit in on? Not fair to the person on trial, but...

  17. Oh joy, two months cut out of your life. I hope you at least get an interesting case, but not so interesting that you have to be sequestered (unless it's in a five start hotel). I've been called for jury duty twice, but have never had to sit on a case. Take a good book!

  18. Jon, perhaps I'll take one of my own and see if someone asks me what I'm reading.

  19. Jury duty always... sucks. No two ways about it.

    I hit my main character with a life-altering event, but it was very believable.

  20. A couple of my characters got zapped with an unplanned family member - that's always fun!

    I hope I never get jury duty again!

  21. At least some times the unexpected is undesired, if the nice guy that you really like in the story turns out to be the biggest villain >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  22. Thank you for letting your readers know about saira and myself. I am taking some advise and making a weekly plan for my blog. A little more structure and a vision of what I want for my blog.

  23. In a book, I really prefer the unexpected to stop at about the halfway mark... after that it annoys me if the reader is not given some warning that it is coming. Though were we reading your book, we would have gotten a peek at the forgotten envelope or some such thing (at least once you rewrite it).

    I suggest going into that courtroom and TELLING this tale you are writing about the rigged jury and the bribery or the juror #3. They will send you right home and you will never be called again.

  24. As the saying goes, "We make plans and God laughs." :-)

  25. In my first book, The Power of Thirteen, my protagonist was abused by her boyfriend. My editor said it was unbelievable because it happened so suddenly and without cause or hints. I had to reconsider my original plan to trace Sarah's naive view exactly, go back in my ms and add some groundwork. Otherwise, the incongruity just took the readers out of the story.

  26. I always enjoy your blogs - the perfect blend of teaching with real life experience.

    I have been on a jury once. Talk about unexpected...there were juries being picked for three cases: a rape, a murder, and a drunk driver. I ended up on the drunk driver case which I thoroughly expected to be boring and quick - it was the longest of the three trials and had the most obscure testimony and twists and turns one could imagine. Who knew?!

    Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

  27. I love the unexpected. Otherwise, it's like reading textbook.

    Steamy Darcy

  28. Foreshadowing is always important.

    I never served on a jury for a murder trial but covered a few as a news reporter. Watching the defendent's reactions to evidence is always enlightening, especially if you've studied body language.


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