I have been participating in a monthly Picture Book Party gathering hosted by the knowledgable and gracious Andrea Zimmerman – who also hosts a blog by the same name.
I look forward to these monthly get-togethers… all month long. The meetings are part seminar, part book club, part workshop, part social fun. Each time we meet I leave feeling excited and inspired – but also in awe of the level of collective knowledge that is in one room. It’s a wonderful thing.
Last night we focused on picture books with a twist – or surprise – at the end. This discussion reminded me of a fantastic lecture I heard at Vermont College by Ann Jacobus. This was based on Ann’s critical thesis in which she explored the power of the unexpected in writing for children. Notably, Ann won the Jane Resh Thomas critical writing scholarship for her work on this topic.
Some of the ideas that have stuck with me – for both picture books and longer works (with apologies to Ann if I get something wrong)
- Surprise is the unexpected – it causes emotion
- Without surprise, there is no story. People read to experience the unexpected in a safe way
- Humor is powered by surprise (exaggeration, incongruity, understatement, absurdity, recognition of an uncomfortable truth, word twists)
- One way to generate surprise is through character – for instance, someone who sees the world in an alternative way – or a normal character in an abnormal universe – or the truly absurd
- Enemies of humor include cliches and weakness
- A plot twist can lead to a transcendent experience – it will open the brain and let new thoughts in
- Surprise must be organic and come from within the story
- Ending should be surprising yet inevitable
Keep pushing your writing for the better, more surprising idea – not the first one that pops in your head!
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK