Surprise has a super power. Do you know what it is?
What surprise does for us is massively focus our attention.
In the moment of surprise, everything else falls away and we are faced with something crucial and fundamental, demanding our immediate attention.
The benefits of surprise
Surprise is a survival technique. Consider this scenario: you step off the curb and the sudden screech of tires on pavement just yards from your oblivious head SURPRISES you!
In that split second, you focus on your immediate situation and respond instinctively. In that moment, you’re not thinking about what’s for dinner or the kids’ soccer game next Tuesday.
All of those concerns are stripped away and your focus is on surviving.
Something similar happens when you encounter a surprise in the stories you read. It grabs and focuses your attention.
We don’t always love surprises in real life. Some are downright unpleasant. But in our fiction, we love it. We demand it.
The pleasure of surprise
In her book, Wired for Story, Lisa Cron writes, “When we pick up a book, we’re jonesing for the feeling that something out of the ordinary is happening. We crave the notion that we’ve come in at a crucial juncture in someone’s life, and not a moment too soon!”
We anticipate a surprise. We look forward to it. And when it comes, it snares us to the page, totally focused for a crystalline second in time.
Think of surprise as a microscopic mini-vacation from the cares of daily life. The jolt of adrenaline it brings can be refreshing, too.
So whether you love surprises or hate them, recognize that they serve a purpose and provide benefits that may even save your life!
How about you? When is the last time something in a book really surprised you? Tell us about it in the comments, but be mindful of spoilers.