The Surefire Hook: The Unexpected

Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Picture this scene from a few weeks ago: It is late evening, slightly overcast with the teeniest of breeze in the air. I have just opened the screen door of my second-floor deck and my miniature dachshund, Libby, has bounced down the flight of stairs till she reaches the bottom, whereupon Libby takes off across the yard and begins to bark and growl.

In the duskiness, I peer over the stairs and a deer—not a sweet little doe, mind you, a BIG deer, is jauntily walking across the yard toward Libby. At which point, Libby hightails it back to the safety of the stairs (but continues to bark). I stand there, open-mouthed and gaping. I mean, this is a full-grown deer in the middle of my fenced-in back yard. And when I say fence, I am talking about a six foot tall fence. I glance at the gate and it’s closed tight. The deer and I lock eyeballs across the expanse of the yard and I say out loud, “How did you get in my yard?”

The deer bolts and very gracefully leaps over my six-foot fence.

Oh, okay. That’s how.

Anyway, it’s not unusual for me to see deer in the green belt behind my house. There’s a river that runs through the green belt and there are all kinds of interesting wildlife back there. But up until a few weeks ago, the wildlife, with perhaps the exception of owls, hawks, turtles, and snakes, stayed on the other side of the fence. It was completely unexpected, that deer in the middle of my backyard, and I had to call my youngest son to report this phenomenon. (He went to Berry College and deer are pretty much all over the campus so he was not as surprised as I was to find that a deer had jumped the fence. “That’s what deer do,” he said. But still, he admitted that a deer in the Hall backyard was semi-bizarre.)

I tell you all this to make a simple point about story: The unexpected is what makes this a good story, and why I had to call my son, and why I may have called all the other Junior Halls and various and sundry neighbors. You see, a deer behind the fence is pretty typical, even in a suburban neighborhood like mine. But a deer in the middle of a fenced-in backyard, well, that definitely grabbed my attention.

So the next time that you are stumped as to why your short story’s not selling or your book is mired down in the middle and no agents are biting or the article you pitched hasn’t been awarded a contract, consider whether you’ve written something predictable or something unexpected.

Make your reader stop for a moment to think, “I did not see that coming.”

Sort of like a deer in the middle of a fenced-in backyard.

~Cathy C. Hall
(Deer image courtesy of Pixabay. The deer in my backyard was MUCH bigger.)


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Yes, they're quite brazen. Unfortunately, they're also quite prolific and around here, they've become bothersome--so numerous in some suburban neighborhoods, that the DEER suffer because there's too many crammed into the habitat.

I imagine that deer gliding over your fence like it was only inches tall was an incredible sight. (And of course, thanks for the writing advice/nudge.)

Donna Volkenannt said...

Great article, Cathy.

Along with something surprising or unexpected, vivid writing pulls me in, and your article did both!

Charlotte Dixon said...

Finding the unexpected is hard to do sometimes :) A deer in the fenced yard-totally unexpected-LOL I sometimes find my resident toad in unexpected places and I hope that is all I ever find in an unexpected place :)

Suzanne said...

HI Cathy,

Great article. Hope you took plenty of photos as proof. :) I so agree, the surprising, the intriguing, the compelling pieces in our fiction pulls the reader into the story.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I love this! You definitely hooked me with your deer story. Great example, Cathy!

On a side note, I'll always remember the time I was hiking in the Santa Monica mountains with my boyfriend at the time and we wandered off the trail for a view that overlooked the ocean. We were smooching and a large buck with antlers popped its head out of the bushes not even twenty feet from us. It was majestic! He was mellow and just wanted to watch us. The perv. LOL

Margo Dill said...

I was wondering how did that deer get in your yard too. I'm glad he didn't leave us hanging.

Pat Wahler said...

You're right, but sadly, it's tough to write the unexpected.

Cathy C. Hall said...

And that deer is still bounding over the fence occasionally, y'all! Whenever I hear Libby growl, I know the deer is out there.

(She's hilarious, too, because now Libby'll get down to almost the last step and VERY carefully step into the yard. She's not too crazy about anything unexpected!)

Cathy C. Hall said...

I forgot to add that I didn't take any pics at all--I was too surprised to think of my camera! :-)

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You are so right! And it's easy to recognize a great hook when we pick up a book, but not so easy when it's our own writing. The unexpected does make for a great story, as you proved with your deer tale. We get them too, wandering the creek behind the house, but they've never jumped the fence. They're sure nice to watch, though. :)

Tina Cho said...

Excellent analogy, Cathy!

Linda O'Connell said...

You are absolutely right. To actually experience the unexpected is one thing, but to make your reader feel the experience takes talent. You certainly drew me in.

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