As soon as I came to, I knew it was going to be a long day. My head was throbbing like I had had one too many boilermakers down at Geno’s, a seedy bar on 5th Avenue frequented by a motley assortment of misfits and lowlifes, with a buzzing neon sign, mismatched bar stools, booths upholstered with cracked Naugahyde, tables that had more cigarette burns than a zebra has stripes, and carpeted with a layer of cigarette butts, peanut shells, chewing gum, and spilled beer that couldn’t have tasted worse than the inside of my mouth did right at that moment.
Didn’t expect that, did you?
Andy Nulman (I’ve mentioned him before) is a devoted fan of Pow! He loves it when people use surprise to grab attention, sell a product, or make a point. He loves surprise so much that he’s written a book about it (called Pow! Right Between The Eyes, of course).
Why is surprise so special, so important? And what does it have to do with writing?
Because of how our brains are hard-wired, we notice the things that aren’t normal, that go beyond the commonplace, that go against the grain. The surprising things get past our filters, and perhaps most importantly, they are the things we remember.
John Medina sums it up nicely in his book, Brain Rules. Rule #4 is “We don’t pay attention to boring things.” Surprise is the antithesis of boring.
And surprise can be a valuable tool for writers. Have something important to say? Don’t follow the same form that everyone uses when they write a similar message. That’s boring. Remember Brain Rule #4: “We don’t pay attention to boring things.”
Pick a completely different format, something that nobody expects. Put it into a comic strip. Script it as an Abbot and Costello dialog. Write it up as a pulp mystery. Throw in the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
I don’t have a copy of Andy’s book yet, but he’s offered to give away copy to the first 200 people who ask for one on their blogs.
So that’s what I’m doing here. Pretty please, Andy, could you send me a copy? Send it to 1043 10th Street North, Fargo, ND 58102 USA.
But you know what? Even if I’m not one of the lucky 200, I’m buying a copy anyway. If I end up with two copies, I’ll give one away here.