Every now and then I will come up on a writing article which shares a tidbit so simple, yet so juicy, it’s like the salivary glands of my brain kick in and I think WOW, so that’s the trick to it!
Don’t get too excited. This will not be the Holy Grail of discovery for many writers here. You might actually feel cheated when I tell you what it is, and you may say to yourself, “Oh. I already knew that.” On the other hand, if you didn’t know, then you may feel a bit like this:
….if you’ve finished a project (like me) and now wish you’d had this little juicy tidbit beforehand. Well. Nothing can be done about it now, however, for future projects, yes!
So, my last project was categorized as “hard crime.” I recollect all too well (hey, just look at that pic) there were moments of hair pulling, frustration and downright anxiety where I felt like keeping a somewhat suspenseful or tension filled story going was almost impossible. I kept wondering, how do they do it, how do mystery writers (even though I wasn’t writing a mystery) suspense writers, or thriller writers DO IT? What’s their trick? Maybe their brains just work different than mine. Maybe I’m not cut out to write this sort of story.
And then? Months later, well past me typing THE END, this article comes along and explains a tool often used. It’s making your readers think one way when it’s really not that way at all. It is so simple, yet for some reason, it never occurred to me this was what I needed to do – don’t ask me why. Maybe I was stuck on the idea of not tricking readers. You aren’t if you do this, not really. You’ve simply got them thinking one way, and it’s…, well. It’s not that way at all. It’s setting your story up so events appear to be headed in a certain direction.
I like to call this THE GONE GIRL METHOD. It is, as this article states, using a “fallacy.”
For example, let’s say you have a story where a woman is on the run from her husband. She’s trying to get away from him because she believes, and you, as the reader believe, he’s going to kill her because the author has planted this idea in your head earlier in the story. Maybe in an earlier scene the woman says, “I know what you did to your first wife, and you got away with it.” Maybe the husband is approaching her slowly, with caution, and the story is from her perspective and you see the crazy in his eyes like she does. You’re like RUN! Run, you DING DONG! Of course he’s denying it and maybe the author sets up other clues that point to him. You, as the reader don’t know what’s the truth any more than his wife.
Except. He actually didn’t kill his first wife and he’s not out to kill his second wife. That bit, the truth, whatever it is, is what is held back until it’s absolutely necessary to share with readers.
Here’s the article that does a much better job than me at giving you the nuts and bolts of this method. It delves into some real examples, but for me, as you could tell from above, the very first one I thought of was GONE GIRL. There were more “I didn’t see that coming!” comments about this book than any other I’ve ever read about. Your hidden agenda has to be believable, of course, and yet something so well camouflaged, or embedded in your story, when the reveal happens, readers are left dumbstruck by how “they didn’t see that coming!”
What’s the simplest, yet best writing tool you’ve ever stumbled on?