1 min read

Surprising yourself

Surprising yourself is a surprisingly effective way to write more interesting fiction. (At least it seems to work for me; YMMV, n_tries = 2, et cetera.)

The key exercise, from Jacob Krueger, is this:

You close your eyes and, if you’re a strongly visual person, start looking. If you’re a strong auditory person, start listening. If you’re a strong kinesthetic, start feeling.

You’re just going to watch this scene play out, hear this scene play out, or feel this scene play out on that little movie screen in your mind. You’re going to keep looking until you find something you didn’t expect. When you find that one little thing you didn’t expect, that’s where you build from.

I've tried this twice now and it worked really well both times. I came up with things that I certainly wouldn't have if I had been trying to rationally map out a story. One of those led to probably the best dialog-heavy scene I've ever written. That was a surprise on a different level: Normally I am pretty terrible at dialog. My dialog is generally boring and stilted (on or barely above the level of "how's the weather?" examples) and I cut it off partway through because I am very conscious of this. So this method seems to work very well for me when it does. (It hasn't failed me yet, but again, n_tries = 2, so... who knows? Worth a try anyway.)

Note the context of the original podcast/post may be important. This probably won't work as well if you are criticizing/filtering what you write. Take the self-help and the psychobabble frames with a grain of salt, but there's good stuff in there as well as that.

This is kind of a strange exercise. If you carry it out successfully, it implies you can surprise yourself. That seems kind of weird, doesn't it? How is it that you can surprise yourself? In the usual way of thinking what is familiar is not surprising, and you are with yourself twenty-four seven. Shouldn't you be familiar with yourself by now? Shouldn't you know yourself so well you can't surprise yourself?

Give it a try.