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


Unknown said...

I would go this route:

Lisa dropped the phone on the counter and stared at her trembling hands, which already drifted toward her stomach as if she could somehow feel the tiny lump of life already growing there.

John's hand touched her shoulder. She shivered. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Lisa forced a smile to her lips. "N--nothing. I'm just--" She turned into him and hid her face against his chest. "I'm pregnant."

"Honey," he held her out and looked into her eyes, his own sparkling with joy, "that's fantastic!"

She pulled him close again and wrapped her arms around him. "I know...I'm so happy." Thoughts swirled through her head like dry leaves. Her plans for the evening would have to change.

How could she leave him now?

And that's where I'd leave it hanging. Let the reader wonder for a while.

Grady Houger said...

My first inclination is to have Lisa avoid thinking about her predicament by focusing on John's happiness. Outwardly she says the right words, but internally her voice is slightly detached, fixating on how happy he is, how glad she is to see his joy. I would hope to make the reader question whether she is just being a caring wife or if there is something else.

Unknown said...

I really like Grady's idea.(great writing, Ron).

I would definitely go the Grady route. Focusing on his happiness. Maybe also go to John's pov where he overhears Lisa on the phone.
"I'm pregnant," she says with nervous excitement.
She listens to the receiver and a tear streams down her cheek.
She's so happy. John thinks.
"I don't know," she says with a furrowed brow.

She hangs up the phone and jumps when she notices John watching her from the doorway.
"Who were you talking to?" he asks as he wraps his arms around her waist.
She looks down, "Who else?"

He smiles. "So is your dad excited?"
"He's almost as excited as I am," she says and buries her face in his chest.

Anonymous said...

Confession: I have no idea how I'd pull off this deception. When I jump into Lisa's skin, I feel sick with worry. Which guy is the real father? would be hanging in the back of my mind at all times.

Hm, now that I'm thinking about it, I'd let the reader in on Lisa's secret, and focus on John's reaction to the "good news". John shows signs of suspicion, which is understandable to the reader, because Lisa has had, or is still having an affair. (Maybe Lisa's lover threatens to reveal all, break up their "happy little family" if she doesn't come up with money.) Once Lisa has safely jumped these hurdles (maybe she even convinces herself the baby looks like John) and the reader feels relieved, I'd let on about John's vasectomy. And here's where Brandilyn Collins steps in...

John stands behind Lisa, his gloved hands clenched...

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I'd give them some other problem--maybe financial or a hereditary health concern--so that it would be legitimate for her to worry over this other issue. Then her internal monologue can accurately reveal that she is troubled, even though she shows only happiness to John. Only later will readers learn that the worry was about the father's identity, not the financial situation (or whatever).

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Since the twist isn't supposed to show up until the end of the book, I'd write Lisa as a person whose character flaw is that she lives in denial. Show other instances of her denying the rationality of things that the reader has been show as fact. That way, her ability to pretend that nothing's wrong could be real or it could be her character flaw showing up. this puts the reader off balance until the revelation.

Domino said...

I watched a Jane Eyre DVD last night and saw the strong assumption that Rochester was not married. That laid the ground for that horrible twist, and yes, you could look back in hindsight and see all the hints along the way.

Anonymous said...

You have to hide Lisa's reaction while showing it. Having the scene in Lisa's POV but not allowing her to even to think about her secret gives you a chance to hint without being specific. Then she could focus on John's happiness. For a long time she could avoid thinking about the truth or the possibility of the truth.

This basicly agrees with Bonnie. Remember that the hints should be subtile.