You know the movie – the cute babysitter hears a noise. She investigates. Opeeeeennnsss the dooooooor…. MEOW! Out runs… the cat. She and the audience breath a sigh or relief and then the killer rams an ice pick into her.
Surprises, shock, and startlement go with the media of movies – very easy to do. But it’s possible to pull this off in writing – if one really crafts it well. My favorite shock comes from the book Mr American by George MacDonald Fraser, where the title character (once a desperado, now a English squire) has just been threatened by Kid Curry (for blackmail). Fraser explains that Curry was last seen boarding a London-bound train, threatening to return. At best, that means two days there and back. But that night, Franklin awakens and studies a white shape in a distant hedge from his bedroom window…
There it was again! something had definitely moved in the distant gap. Mr Franklin felt elation running though him as he slid away from the window, working his numbed right arm, picked up the Remington from the side-table, and slipped it into his waistband. He padded across the room in his stockinged feet, softly opened the door, and stepped on to the landing. The large windows of the upper floor were throwing moonlight across the landing and the empty, silent hall below as he turned towards the stairs and suddenly shrieked aloud for there not fifteen feet off and halfway up the stairs was Curry with his eyes glaring wildly in the moonlight and his teeth bared in a ghastly grin as his hand streaked out from beneath his coat and the Colt was whirling up to cover Mr Franklin while he gaped flat-footed with his yell echoing around him and his numbed right hand twitching feebly at his Remington until instinct sent him diving desperately sideways drawing left-handed and the thunderous boom-boom-boom of revolver-fire reverberated through the house.
Masterful! I remember when I read that, how I dropped the book in shock (for there are several pages of domestic quiet that leads up to the shocking invasion). I’ve always remembered that as a good lesson in craft.
I’ve tried it myself, in my coming book Indigo, where a brace of crows are returning home to a coming world-ending crow-on-crow battle after a failed diplomatic mission, passing through broken bands of rain…
Precipitation began to spackle against their wings, sleeting past to mist across the grid. The earthbones shimmered. In concert, the eyes of the multitudinous shells sparkled into being. As the spray grew to rain, the three crows beat at quicker tempo, throwing water clear with every downthrust. Tuft curled around a cold column of downpour, catching sight of the illuminated towers, correcting true. The sky stood in vertical streaks of gray, its effluence washing the world of its sins a final time, the horizon so close that the foreign crows were suddenly tight around them.
What do you think?