The Unexpected in Life and Literature

With a thunderous crack much of the tree was gone, and so was our electricity. The pleasant weather we enjoyed earlier in the day had deteriorated into a nasty storm with mounds of charcoal clouds, torrents of rain, hail in some areas, and bolts of lightning.

We think the massive maple tree was hit by lightning because there wasn’t much wind at the time — no other reason for the tree to break apart as it did, flinging aside several branches all at once. One vehicle was slightly damaged, and a fence, but thankfully the tree fell away from any buildings.

Some days have a similar way of dropping the unexpected on us. My aunt would certainly agree with that! There’s not much predictability in life. Oh, of course we expect to get up, eat meals and go to work, meetings or church at specific times, but there’s no guarantee that our tomorrow will follow its anticipated schedule.

I suppose that’s why, when I’m reading a novel that drags me along on a character’s everyday journey, I lose patience. The predictable bits may exist in real life, but I don’t want to read about them. The ordinary has no place in most stories, even if the characters normally live a mundane life. It is the unexpected that jolts us out of complacency and propels us forward, eagerly flipping pages. Even in memoirs, we skip the boring bits. They may seem like useful transitions, but they also provide convenient places for the reader to lose interest and put aside the book.

Life in our neighbourhood will continue, but when the maple tree exploded, the local landscape instantly changed. We’ll all remember the moment when it happened — and that’s the kind of experience we want our readers to have … a memorable one.


“The oaks and the pines, and their brethren of the wood, have seen so many suns rise and set, so many seasons come and go, and so many generations pass into silence, that we may well wonder what “the story of the trees” would be to us if they had tongues to tell it, or we ears fine enough to understand.”

Author Unknown, quoted in Quotations for Special Occasions by Maud van Buren, 1938


“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away;
behold, new things have come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

~  ~  ~


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

8 thoughts on “The Unexpected in Life and Literature

  1. This is a great metaphor for writing realistic fiction, Carol. Do you mind if I use excerpts from this blog entry in my next writing training for teachers? Teaching our students to write realistic fiction next year is a new challenge we are embarking on in our writing workshops. 🙂

    1. Hi, Shari Lynn. I’m glad to hear you found this post meaningful. I’ll e-mail you regarding the use of excerpts. I checked out your blog and think it’s great that you’re pursuing your art and writing. I’m also impressed that you have the same names as one of my daughters. 🙂

  2. Nicely put, Carol. Mundane doesn’t cut it any where. Certainly not in novels, let alone conversation. My dear sweet friend used to acquaint me with how many peas she’d shucked and how many potatoes and carrots she peeled at the senior dues. I’d drift off, say the appropriate “Oh yeah,” and keep drifting on a sea of calm. She was a darling, but not so good at keeping me awake. LOL. Your post made me think of her. Which is a good thing.

  3. Joylene, I know some people have little to call exciting in their lives, so those minute details become important to them, but I hope I never turn into one of those “little old ladies” who holds listeners glassy-eyed. LOL.

  4. Carol, Sorry about the loss of what i assume was a magnificent tree. Thanks so much about the writing advice. It IS easy to get bogged down in the routine and mundane aspects of life when writing a memoir. A fact my husband has been trying to teach me for years. He doesn’t need all the details. He just wants me to get to the point. I frequently hear that a writer must trust his/her readers to be smart enough to “get it” when we write. I think maybe we also need to believe the reader will trust us, as well, even if we don’t supply all the corroborating details we feel the need to include.

  5. Hi Carol –

    It saddens me when I see a majestic tree come to the end of its life.

    Ordinary life and dialogue make for boring reading. Just think of how we greet each other: “Hi, Jane. How are you? Hi, Mary. I’m fine. How are John and the kids?” A page of that kind of dialogue, and I’m asleep.

    Susan 🙂

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