Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Plotting--Twists, Day 4
Happy Tuesday post Labor Day. Now back to work for us all.
Thanks to those who posted ideas as to how to be in Lisa’s POV and keep her secret fear from the reader. (If you’re totally lost, better go back and read the last couple posts on twists.)
There’s no one right answer to the question posed Friday. It was interesting to see the various approaches. It was good to leave the question over the weekend to give us all a little “think time.” That’s the way plotting goes. Gotta have that mulling time. Here are my thoughts after mulling it over:
1. I’d give Lisa some other issue to fear. That way, when I’m in her POV, I can have her worrying about things not turning out right. I would write these passages about her fear very carefully so that they actually would be speaking about her fear that the baby was not John’s, without her coming out and saying it. At the same time I’d be placing the assumption in the reader’s mind that her fear is pertaining to some other issue. The most effective fear I can think of would be that she’d miscarry. Readers would find it understandable that this fear of miscarriage would be permeating. I need that kind of fear, because her other fear that it's masking--that John's not the father--would also be permeating. When Lisa looks fearful to John and he asks her what's wrong, I could even have her tell him that she's afraid about miscarrying. Remember, the character can lie to someone else in the story; she just can't outright lie to the reader through her thoughts.
2. I wouldn’t make this twist the ultimate twist of the book. To satisfy the reader, the protagonist has to have adequate time to work his/her way out of the twist. This kind of twist—that John isn’t the baby’s father—can’t be worked through quickly. John and Lisa are going to have a lot to deal with. Will he accept the baby; will he not? Will this be the end of the marriage? Or how about if Lisa somehow discovers the baby isn’t John’s, but John doesn’t know it. Will she keep it from him?
Well, drat,now I'm in a fine pickle. Now I have to ask myself—if this twist doesn’t work as the ultimate one in the book, but comes more in the middle of the novel, what is the ultimate twist? So I’m back to square one, trying to figure out what that is. I’ll have to head back to my assumption list and see what else I can twist. (Oh, no, maybe we have that alien baby after all!) If I can’t find a twist that would work well on top of the John’s-not-the-father twist, then I’ll have to nix the father twist altogether.
This is exactly why creating a well-conceived, tightly plotted story is so hard. An idea for a twist may work; it may not. My bottom line will be the character motivation and the believability of the story. If I can’t undergird a twist—however cool it may sound—with these necessary foundations, I’ll throw it out and find another one.
Last Friday, one person posted a question about how much hinting we need to do regarding the twist to be fair to the reader. It’s difficult to give a general answer to that. But I might suggest that we approach the question from the opposite direction. In a sense, everything we are writing tells the true picture of what’s happening. But if we’re skillful at placing the assumption we want to achieve in the reader’s mind, he will skew everything he reads to undergird that assumption rather than the truth. It’s kind of like what we called upstaging in theater. An actor’s downstage (toward the audience) doing something, but no one is noticing, because upstage (behind him) another character is carrying on something fierce, capturing all the attention.
I will admit this "upstaging" calls for some very difficult writing. To write a line that can be read two totally different ways is challenging. Invariably, amid all the action and all the thoughts, there will be certain sentences scattered throughout my book that are key in telling the truth. But, of course, they come cloaked in assumptions. Unfortunately, this is where this teaching breaks down, because I’m not about to give examples from my stories.
I asked an interesting post-read question to numerous fans who wrote me about my book Dread Champion (second in the Chelsea Adams series). My question was, “Where in the book is the first foreshadow of the twist?” I can remember only one person answering this correctly without some type of hint. The line is veiled enough that a reader seeing it for the first time is likely to pass right over it because of everything going on around it. But when I point it out to a reader, or give that reader enough hints that he himself can find it, the response is, “Oh, yeah, sure I see it now.” In fact, the short passage that houses this line isn’t needed in the story at all, and is only there for sake of foreshadow. But again, readers don’t stop and think about its unnecessary nature at the time, because I’m giving them too much else to think about.
I really struggle with this whole issue of foreshadowing, BGs. Often I’ll write a book and not know if I’ve been too oblique or too obvious in my foreshadowing of the truth amidst all the placing of assumptions. It’s hard for me to discern, since, obviously, I already know the truth about the story. This is where my editors come in. And this is why I won’t tell my editors what the story is that I’m writing, beyond the basic premise. I want my editor to read with fresh eyes. I have this same issue right now with Violet Dawn. Part of me says, “Oh, good grief, the twist is so totally obvious,” and the other part says, “No, you’ve placed the attention-pulling assumptions well.” I don’t know which one of those statements is right. I’m gonna wait to hear from my editors, and fix accordingly.
We are winding down on this subject of plotting and twists. If you have more comments/questions, please post them and I’ll respond. Or if I’m making no sense, please do speak up. (Knowing me, this could be highly likely.) When we all feel like we’re done with this subject, we’ll turn to . . . something else.
Read Part 5