By Sarah Reichert
Before I gave birth to a second child, our Christmas dynamic was easy. Shopping was simple. Wrapping could be done in a nap time. And on Christmas morning, well, there was no lack of surprise.
Then, came the informer. The informer’s primary role (and it switches from one child to the other) is to present me with any incriminating evidence against the other. The informer also keeps the other child abreast of events within the household that have nothing to do with them.
As soon as the lights are strung on the lopsided tree (care of the once-outdoor cat who believes that even an artificial tree is close enough to ‘wild’ for him) there is a vibrant and uncontainable energy that accompanies everything they do. Part of that energy is combined with their informer roles to unintentionally ruin the surprise for one another.
Since my youngest was three, they have been allowed to pick out their own gifts to each other. Every year I am hopeful that they won’t divulge to the other what their surprise is. Every year I’m sorely disappointed.
The first year was an all out wash. The minute we arrived home, before I could even do my mad-dash/trip-and-fall-up-the-stairs to hide the gifts maneuver, the youngest told her sister with enormous excitement what would be waiting for her.
This year I thought we had a deal. This year, the youngest is nearly five. I like to think that she understands basic concepts. But there was an ‘accidental’ conversation that went something like “I’m not saying I got you a sewing machine…but if I did, would you be surprised?”
Surprises are important, especially to writers. Surprises are gifts to our readers. Didn’t-see-that-coming moments are often what can separate the mediocre from the amazing. Dropping hints up until the point, misdirection, and distraction are ways we can keep readers from knowing what the big reveal is while still running an undercurrent of anticipation for bigger things to come. And while a five-year old can’t quite keep their excitement from shouting out secrets, writers can use that excitement as a steady way to build expectation in their writing.
I wish you all a very happy holiday and a season of laughter and lopsided trees. As for wishing for surprised faces when the paper is torn, well…
I have high hopes for next year.
What are some of your favorite surprise moments from books?