Friday, September 02, 2005
Plotting--Twists, Day 3
Thanks for the comments from yesterday. I’m glad to see this twisty business is helping you BGs. Becky posted an important question I need to address:
I wanted to comment on what domino said: "the key is to find that extreme twist for the devastation." Seems to me, if an author uses that repeatedly, a reader of the series will soon become aware of this "key." Isn't there the possibility of becoming predictable by engineering the twist the same way over and over?
Yes and no. The author may become known for writing stories with twists, and the readers will start to look more carefully for clues to figure out the twists ahead of time. This is the situation I find myself in. This is exactly why plotting is such a hard process for me. I’m always trying to stay one step ahead of my readers.
Frankly, it doesn’t help that I’m giving away my trade secrets.
Oh, well, so be it. Yes, teaching my twist-based-on-assumption secret tells some of my readers what to look for. But it also seems to be helping many other writers with their own stories, and that’s important to me.
But here’s the other side of the coin, Becky, and the rest of you. First, you all are a lot smarter about this twist business than you were two days ago. Your eyes have been opened to how it works. But remember, most of the readers out there (who aren’t writing novels themselves and reading this blog) still don’t know. They’re still back with the basic try-to-figure-out-the-surprise crowd. Second, even for those who know what to look for, there are many possibilities to twist a story. Look at all the assumptions we listed for our Lisa and John scenario. And even with all of your collectives minds, I still found more. So no reader is going to see all the possibilities for twists.
Third—and this leads me to today’s topic—is how the twist is carried off. This is where the real work starts. In fact, with skillful writing, an author can take a twist that doesn’t seem that surprising on its surface—and make it very surprising. What’s the key to carrying off your twist? Strengthening its founding assumption in the mind of the reader.
It takes the entire book right up to the twist to do this strengthening. That’s why I have to know the major twist in my story before I start writing. Because everything that is said and done is leading the reader to continue in the assumption while in truth the story is moving toward the assumption's twist.
For example, let’s say I was writing the John and Lisa book, and I decided to turn this assumption on its head: the baby is John’s child. All right, so the baby won’t be his child. Now, on the surface, that’s not a wham-bam surprise. Unfortunately, it happens all too often—a little more often, I’d say, than the birth of a child that’s not human. So my job is to make it surprising.
I gotta tell ya, this is really hard. We authors cannot trick the reader by lying to him. Nor can we trick him by pulling some twist out of thin air at the last minute. So we’re forced to include foreshadow and clues to the truth, yet in a way that the reader won’t notice them until he’s read the whole book, and only then realizes the truth was right in front of him the whole time.
And, of course, as I’ve mentioned, some readers are going to guess the twist anyway. That’s okay. For these readers, our job is to give them a heck of a fun ride along the way, and make them doubt here and there that they’ve got it right.
So. I want to surprise the reader that the baby isn’t John’s. But I have to do the surprising fairly. I certainly have to present my characters adequately, particularly when I’m in the character’s POV. So what do I do with the first scene in which Lisa answers the phone? Remember, it’s supposed to be in her POV. And this will just be one of many scenes in which I’ll need to be in Lisa’s POV. If there’s a chance the baby is Mike’s instead of John’s, you know she’s going to be worrying about that. She can’t be nothing but happy about the phone call. She will now have mixed feelings—happiness, and scared to death that the baby isn’t John’s, and probably (I should hope) guilt over getting herself in such a mess. I’m not allowed to mislead the reader by never having Lisa wonder about this. You know that reader would feel totally bilked by such poor characterization. So now I have to think, “How do I write scenes in Lisa’s POV without giving away her fear of this possibility?” In other words, “Okay, Brandilyn, you’ve chosen this twist. Not just how do you expect to pull it off?”
What do you think? How would you handle the opening scene? Would you change it to John’s POV? But what about future scenes in Lisa’s POV? Give me your thoughts on the comments page, and we’ll pick this up on Tuesday. (I will be taking Monday, Labor Day, off from blogging.) By the way, remember that the discussion board is always open for further discussion of a topic.
Happy Labor Day weekend, BGs. And happy twisting.
Read Part 4