Surprise!: Comments on, Well, Surprise

Convincing Writers that Surprise Is the Inevitable Eternal Principle of Literature

Surprise is just about everything, if the writing is to be beautiful.  Both the insight and the phrases should be fresh with each author.

Poor literature does not surprise us.  We begin reading, and in a second we see where the author is going.  The author duly goes there, and we feel testy because we had wanted something original but instead got something conventional.

I am sorry that surprise is necessary to good literature.  It would make more pleasant teaching if we could say to our students, “Anything you say is valuable.”  But the fact is, in the end, one must say something original.  When writers complain of this standard it sometimes helps to remind them that in medicine we want every young doctor to have learned anatomy.  It is not permissible for a doctor to be ignorant.  Every discipline has some stressful, inescapable difficulty to it.

–Carol Bly, from Beyond the Writers’ Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction (New York: Anchor Books, 2001), p. 140.


“On Last Lines,” by Suzanne Buffam


Although laughter, awe, and frisson appear to be very different from one another, I will suggest that they share a deep biological kinship.  We will see that each of these emotions is related to a violation of expectation.  All three are specialized varieties of surprise.

–David Huron, from “Surprise,” the second chapter of Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), pp. 19-39.  p. 26.


“The Poet, Trying to Surprise God,” by Peter Meinke


One response

1 08 2013
Surprise! | Structure & Surprise

[…] surprise, I’ve decided to devote a page to interesting comments on surprise.  Check it out here.  The page is still (always) under construction, so please comment with, well, other comments […]

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