Sunday, November 9, 2008

Abusing misdirection

One of the great tools in writing is misdirection, where you have the reader thinking in one direction and then you pull a quick change and they say "Ooohhh. Now I get it." It is great fun to write this way, but beware of the pitfalls.

1) You left no clues along the way, nothing the reader can pick up on, and therefore the reader feels bamboozled. This is probably the biggest pitfall, and the most common offense. And I'm not talking about the crime novel where you don't have all the clues until the end. I'm talking about the trusty sidekick who has been acting in such a way that there is no shred of animosity, no hint of trouble, and in the end the sidekick tries to kill the main character because he jailed the sidekick's father. Whoa! The point is, if you are writing without a plan and you end up shifting in this direction toward the end of writing the story, it means you have to do a major rewrite to allow room for the sidekick to turn on a dime at the end. No quick change. It is cheating.

2) The entire story is a house of cards building to an expectation of an emotional climax where the lead character confronts his father's killer. Then, in an unexpected twist, we find out the lead character is a CIA operative who has to save the world, leaving personal problems behind. OK, go ahead and use the CIA part, but for heavens sake, don't build up an expectation for an emotional confrontation and not deliver. It is cheating the reader, and it may actually turn the reader off so much that they either don't finish the book or never read another one of your stories. You don't have to be predictable, but you must provide some level of emotional satisfaction to the reader.

3) It was all a dream. Cough... cough... gag... Sorry, unless you are finishing the Newhart TV series (which was a brilliant end), I don't recommend you use the "it was a dream" ending unless you do it with the greatest of skill, and there is a darn good reason... and it is emotionally satisfying... and it won't make the readers all say, "That was the stupidest ending ever."

Just my two cents. If you have any additional insights or examples, feel free to comment.

Here is a blog entry on Writing Software and Downloads. I haven't tried any of them, but they look promising.

The mighty Mur Lafferty, podcaster extraordinaire, had a good podcast interview with Benjamin Rosenbaum, talking about using the Creative Commons license. It is an interesting license and worth exploring.

That's all for this week. Until next time, lets all keep on writing.
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E-zine Publisher said...

J Hugh,

This is a great article about writing. I tagged it to delicious and wonder if you would ever want to submit material to Writers in the Sky Newsletter.

Yvonne Pery

J Hugh Thomas said...


It would be an honor to submit to your newsletter. Thank you for your kind words.