Thursday, September 08, 2005

Plotting--Twists, Day 5

Howdy, all. Sorry I had to take a day off yesterday, due to my server being down. So glad I have Gayle to pinch hit for me when it's necessary.

I wanted to wind up our discussion on plotting and twists. We had seven days or so (I lost count) of talking about plotting, then four more talking specifically about twists. I hope through the discussion, you've come away with something you can use. I've tried to show you what I do in plotting, and why, yet I never want to out-and-out say you must do steps A, B, and C exactly so. We all plot differently, and it's simply no use trying to abide by someone else's format when it doesn't work for you. The key is to look at other authors' plotting processes and see what we can take away for ourselves, adapting to our own styles as necessary.

As for the twist process--discovering the assumptions inherent in your premise, then turning chosen ones on their heads--I really do advocate this process for anyone who wants to find a twist, or even a mild surprise, in his/her story. I can't remember reading any other teaching on this particular subject. (Have you all seen anything?) It took me quite a while, even after I was writing suspenses, to figure out exactly what I was doing in developing my twists. I had to stand back from my rather automatic thought processes, and say, "Hm, how would I teach this twist stuff to someone else?"

Actually, it's been that way with a lot of my teaching. Over the years, as I learned my own techniques in writing, I'd do them almost innately. Then when someone pointed to some passage in my one of my books, or some point of story structure, and asked, "How do you do that?" I was challenged to figure out the steps of the process that I was automatically doing. My entire book Getting Into Character was born that way.

Someone asked the question on Tuesday--can the POV character (protagonist particularly) be surprised at the twist along with the reader? Oh, absolutely. But you still have to include an appropriate amount of foreshadowing/clues as to the truth. Perhaps the protagonist doesn't know what's coming, but the antagonist, who also has a POV, does. Or numerous POV characters may know bits and pieces of the total truth, all of which will become twists/surprises. There are myriad possibilities.

I mentioned a few days ago that in teaching the twist process, I was giving away a major trade secret of mine. I hope that doesn't sound arrogant, because it's not meant to be. All I mean is, as readers of my books hear of my process, they will be all the smarter in reading my next novel, trying to figure out the twists ahead of time. However, it's the smartest readers I'm writing for in the first place. More smart readers just keeps me on my toes all the more. My regular readers and I engage in a game. When they pick up one of my suspense novels, they're looking to solve the puzzle ahead of time. I'm looking to fool them until the last minute. But whoever wins that race, each of us is still a winner if I've managed to keep the reader flipping pages and entertained.

Today my 15-year-old daughter came into my office and asked that I stop my work as she explained to me a teenage suspense novel she'd just finished reading. She was frustrated, because it had a big surprise ending, but that ending didn't make sense to her. She couldn't make all the little pieces fit. As she explained the plot and questionable pieces to me, I saw the problem. Bottom line, the author had fallen down on the job. A few plot points about crime scene investigations had not been thoroughly researched, and were wrong. Another point just didn't make sense when you learned the truth. Remember, when you're writing toward a big twist in your story, you're really writing two stories--the one you want the reader to believe, and the story of what really happened. Every plot point, every tiny little doggone detail, has to fit both stories. It is maddening, and frustrating, and hard, and the reason I go majorly crazy while writing, particularly at the end of a book. But that's the way it has to be. Otherwise, we end up with readers like my daughter, who shook her head after our long discussion, and said, "That's too bad. Because I liked the rest of the book, but an ending that doesn't work really ruins everything."


I told my daughter how very, very hard it is to think of every detail, and how the author of a "twisty" book is really writing two stories. She understood, because she's read my suspense novels--and more because she's seen firsthand how hard it is for me to try to pull this off with one suspense after another. Nevertheless, her knowledge of the difficult process didn't lessen her disappointment in the story. A lesson for us all to learn.

Those of you who wrote about the premise of your book as we first started our twist discussion--I hope you'll take a good look at your premise, think about how you're going to write the inciting incident scene, and list all the assumptions inherent in that scene. It's one thing to read about how someone else does it. Another thing to do the process on your own book. If any of you want to flesh out your opening scene and see what assumptions others can see in it, you might try starting such a discussion on our discussion board.

If y'all have any other thoughts/questions about plotting or twists, you know where to leave 'em. Also, on another issue, the ACFW conference is coming up next week, and I know quite a few of you are going. I will look at the schedule to see when we can have an informal BG get-together. The schedule is very full, so I imagine the only time will be during the late-night chat sessions. If you have an idea, let me know. (Meal times are out, due to my other responsibilities.)

See ya tomorrow on good ol' Friday.

Read Part 6


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your generosity in sharing your plotting & twists techniques, Brandilyn. Awesome stuff!

Unknown said...

I'm with Nancy. Thanks so much. Its very generous of you to take time from your day for us.
I can't wait to meet you and get your book "Getting Into Character"
You're an amazing teacher.

Val said...

Thanks so much for sharing this information with us. I'm looking forward to incorporating what I've learned into the novel I'm currently working on.

*sigh* I couldn't make it to the AFCW conference this year, but it sounds like it's going to be great. Everyone who's going, y'all have an incredible time. :-)

Unknown said...

I know quite a few of us are rolling into Nashville on Wednesday. Maybe we could meet up Thursday before things get rolling. And don't forget the "spider typing" signal! That's how we weed out the imposters.

I have a general question. Do you think it's an easy jump to go from writing suspense to writing mystery? The two seem have much in common.

Anonymous said...

Brandilyn, a few weeks ago I thought about my WIP, and couldn't really find a place to add a twist. I felt that I had a good, creepy tale, with good character development and growth, and a nice ending. Then your discussion of twists came along, and I looked at the assumptions in my story. I came up with a twist that makes the ending SO much better. Thanks for your teaching!!! Wayne

Camy Tang said...

Thanks for explaining atll this stuff, Brandilyn. I've learned a lot about twists and reader expectation.