Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas presents and other plot devices

As a child, I took Christmas presents very seriously.  We were told that if we touched the wrapped presents under the tree, our parents would know, and we would not get the presents.  Putting aside my willingness to believe that my parents would just somehow know, I wanted to get the presents, so I never touched them.

I was careful not to even get too close to the tree in case I fell over and accidentally touched one and then lost it.  Yep, I've always been a bit of a dork, and I'm proud of it.

I assumed that my sisters were the same way, but my sister has since informed me that she didn't need to touch the wrapped presents because she could always find where my mom hid them before she wrapped them.  I am seized with a sudden desire to look through photo albums to see how obvious it is that she is never surprised.  Maybe she was just a good actress.

Needless to say, this idea was a shock to goody-goody me.  I had honestly never even thought of searching out gifts before they were wrapped.  Such deceptiveness!  About gifts people were giving you!  Why would you want to spoil that moment of discovery for yourself, especially as a child?!  Better to be patient and get the whole reward.

I was talking with some folks lately, and only one person in the group was like me.  She never looked for presents.  The others were varied.  Some always looked and found everything every year; others did it for a while but then decided they wanted the surprise and stopped doing it.

My sister proudly admits to turning to the last page or the last chapter to find out who makes it to the end or whodunit.  I cannot imaging doing such a thing.  Why spoil the end for yourself before you get all the anticipation leading up to the end that makes the ending a real payoff?

When I started getting into Japanese pop culture, their habit of often telling you what was coming up in the next episode or the next volume really threw me off.  I felt like the next bit was spoiled if I knew what was coming.  Eventually, I adjusted because knowing what plot point will happen next does not have to ruin the road to that point and the road from it. You can manage a lot of suspense even if you've already told folks what's coming.  

I've started experimenting with how I might be able to use this device in a story I'm working on. I'm studying works that use it to see what might work for my story.

But I still don't want to know what's behind that wrapping paper or in that closet awaiting wrapping paper.  And I refuse to read ahead.

How about you?  Where did you fall on the gift discovery scale?


  1. I never looked for my gifts ahead of time. I think I understood Kantian absolutism/deontology intuitively as a child: if you lie, language means nothing; if you cheat and look at your presents ahead of time, the gift-giving becomes less meaningful.

    I like being surprised (although it drives me nuts knowing something is coming without knowing what), but I also like getting gifts I'll enjoy- these days my husband and I consult each other over gifts more than we surprise each other. So I guess I'm just getting kind of boring about it.

  2. My sister has since told me that I am crazy and that she never looked. So who told me they did? It was someone unexpected. I wonder . . .

  3. But if you consult each other, then you don't have to fake being thrilled when you get an ugly sweater. :)

    The best feeling is when someone gives you something you love that you haven't asked for. It's a moment of connection I've seldom experienced. :) Warm fuzzies.