Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do You Love Surprises?

You may be wondering what does the embroidered peacock have to do this with this post. Nothing. 
I embroidered it, I like it, so I'm using it.
Surprises are funny things. Some I could defiantly do without. Like when my car won't start in the morning. Others aren't so bad. Such as with literary surprises, especially the unexpected surprise.
Now  mysteries rely on the surprises. A dead body, an unexpected sleuth, suspects galore, red herrings everywhere! It is after all how we mystery writers keep readers interested. If we made it obvious from the beginning who done it where would be the fun be in that? But you expect all that. It's when you can manage to give the reader what they don't expect, and they like it, that's really rewarding.
One of my favorite literary unexpected surprises wasn’t in a mystery, but it was fun. It’s all starts with this opening line:
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
That’s right, my favorite literary unexpected surprise is Eustace Clarence Scrubb from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the other Narnia children, The Pevensies, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer, Shasta and Princess Aravis. However, for the most part they tended to have a just a bit too good to be true quality about them, although they did have their moments of unpleasantness (especially Susan, read the books if you want to know more). I know you are going to bring up Edmund, but although I loved the allegory of the salvation of a sinner, you knew he was going to reform eventually. It was good, just not a surprise.
Eustace, on the other hand, was another kettle of fish all together and at first he stank just as bad. He wasn’t evil. He was nasty, selfish and major pain in the…neck to everyone else stuck on that boat with him. He was a drag on the whole story of adventure and friendship and I couldn’t stand him. I actually hated it when he got page time. And what was the explanation as to why he was so bad? Because he had been spoiled rotten by his parents. 

Now that's great writing for you. Easy to understand, and easy to buy into. 
But still it's not a surprise.
The first time I read this book I couldn’t wait for him to get the comeuppance I knew was coming his way. I mean this is a Narnia book, and unpleasant people always got theirs eventually.
But then the unexpected surprise came along.
Not the getting what he deserved part, he did, but when it finally came, I didn't feel any sense of satisfaction. Instead I found myself feeling sorry for the little creep. There’s just something about a crying dragon that tugs on the old heartstrings I guess. Don't expect me to explain, it's a surprise after all. Read the book!
Even more surprising Eustace actually reforms and becomes a good guy. I really didn't see that one coming, but I ended up loving him.
Through the rest of the story (major shout out to the Duffers, absolutely hilarious) you knew this kid was going to be a great force for good. In his other adventures in the Silver Chair and the Last Battle with Jill Pole, another complex child character, the stories were engaging and you really had to pay attention or you were going to miss something. I mean he rescued a lost prince and defended Narnia in what was, and was not, a lost cause. Don’t worry it makes sense when you read it.
Every writer has their own way of including the unexpected surprise. I’d tell you more about our stuff, but we are mystery writers on this blog after all, and you wouldn’t want me to spoil the surprise.Would you?

Mystery writer C.L. Ragsdale is the author of The Reboot Files a Christian Mystery Series. A California native, she loves to "surf" the web to research plot details for her fun, quirky stories with just a bit of whopper in them. She has a degree in Theatre Arts which greatly influenced her writing style. Working in various fields as a secretary has allowed her to both master her writing skills and acquire valuable technical knowledge which she uses liberally in her plots. She loves to embroider and knit and is a big fan of the old Scooby Doo cartoons.

Current E-Books
THE REBOOT FILES:  The Mystery of Hurtleberry House, The Island of Living Trees, The Harbinger of Retribution, and The Wrong Ghost.


  1. Love your posts, Cindy. They are so funny!

    Deborah Malone
    "Death in Dahlonega"

    1. I do love surprises! C.S. Lewis was a master story teller - I loved reading the Chronicles of Narnia, too. What I do for surprise is knowing what will happen but keeping the reader in the dark for as long as possible to build suspense. What would you recommend for dealing with possible spoilers for books later on in a series? I like tying up loose ends but they may give away details if the books aren't read in order.

      Enjoyed your post!

      ~Nancy Jill Thames
      Author of the Jillian Bradley Mysteries
      "Queen of Afternoon Tea" Celebrity Author Interviews

  2. Thanks guys! I love all of your posts too.
    You know Nancy Jill I don't think there's anything that can be done about spoilers. Some people just can't wait. Funny thing about the Narnia series is that the published order is not the order of the story, and it seemed to work out. I mean I know the Magician's nephew should be the first book read, but I find myself always starting with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Probably because it's because it was the way I read them originally.


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