The Magic of Surprises

The B5B Breakfast Room (Flowerdews Winchester)

Nobody knows where I am.

That’s a lie. Only a handful of people know where I am: the friend I’m away with (to attend the SCBWI British Isles Conference 2015), the people who own the B&B and Maybe, spies or hackers, but I doubt my stay in Winchester will interest either. Yet, when I arrive there’s a parcel waiting for me, wrapped in anonymous brown paper. No return address.

Huh. Nobody knows I’m here. Nobody I’d expect a parcel from.

Forgot to snap the parcel before opening it, so here’s a SCBWI breakout session about writing comics – it does, at least, involve brown paper and surprises!

Do I dare open it? It could be something cool, useful or important, but it could be a whole host of terrible things: severed digits, pirate’s curses and jellied frogs not withstanding. This is what every character in a story needs – Internal Conflict.

The longer I stare at and speculate with my writer friend, the more suspense builds up. I am, as they say, on the edge of my seat. Not knowing what’s inside is exciting, a strange mix of needing to know (to end any anxiety) and the anticipation of pleasure (to be rewarded for my wait).

I slowly remove the glossy dark brown tape trying hard not to tear the crisp manila packing paper.

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Magic Making Dept Rocks!

This is the thing about surprises. They’re vital to any story. A story without surprises is dull. Whether it’s a genie magically appearing from a lamp, learning you’re a boy wizard (please make the parcel from Hogwarts) or an internal revelation that a character is stronger than they think, the surprise fuels drama. A good writer builds up to each surprise, sometimes with the knowledge of the reader (as often happens in horror, part of the suspense is knowing that a surprise is coming), and sometimes hoping desperately for the reader not to see it coming. Every scene should have a surprise relevant to the character and/or plot.

Photo on 23-11-2015 at 08.38
Thanks Danielle!

Back to the parcel. Inside, another mystery that keeps the suspense going: a stick of rock, two purple parcels and a white envelope sealed with crimson wax.

Further investigation reveals a letter from the ‘Magic Making Dept’ at

“A little birdie told us that you’re quite the writer, so we’ve added a touch of magic to this parcel that we hope you can put to good use.”

Unwrapped Surprise!

Quickly unwrapping the purple packages, I become the owner of a stylish new pen and notebook. In the language of writing,  resolution achieved.

The surprise is, on reflection, that I feel a valued person by, that I’m more than just a customer. And, when it comes to my writing, I’m going to extend that thought to my characters, and treat them to their own special surprises.



p.s. Thank you to Danielle, the Magic Maker, and to all the volunteers and faculty that  make the SCBWI BI conference happen and special. Everything made this a great weekend and I’m feeling inspired to tackle my new book with gusto.