clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, March 10, 2014


It's a fairy door, for those who don't recognize it. Some of you have too little child left in you. Eat some pudding. It'll help.

I'm thinking about secrets tonight. It's suitable because lies and deceit are aimed at keeping something secret: infidelity, extortion, murder? Murder.

Powerful secrets can be effective at defining behavior in a character. However, the reader needs to be let in on the secret early on to understand the reasoning for the departure from some expected rational line of action. Bat Shit Crazy is not good enough.

I read a story yesterday where the character was BSC. In the last two pages, the author generously provided the reveal that made some of the more dubious actions this character undertook appear slightly more balanced, all in all.

I didn't like the treatment. It felt like magic. Shazaaam! See - there: makes sense.

I think the technique is to provide characters with desires. Then hinder these desires. Time and again the stories we remember do this well.

In Get Shorty Elmore Leonard gives a master class in the impedance of one character's desire by the progress of another character in realizing their desires. I assert Get Shorty was a kind of academic exercise by a writer in command of his craft to show other writers "there hand behind my back and I did it. You try."

Secrets which threaten the stature, safety, security, or self-image of a character can be critically important obstacles to the satisfaction of their desire. The lesson though is that the reader needs to be let in early on the nature of the secret. We can't just watch BSC for twenty-seven pages.

You lose readers.

There are ways to reveal the secret without telling the reader or - gasp - the dreaded interior monologue (which I despise). When you plot the story, having a secret revealed by or to another character gives you the ability to manifest an obstacle in a character - Elmore Leonard style. That's hardly slumming.

A story's mystery is satisfying when it is about the "how" as much as the "who" in crime fiction parlance.

Think of me. Reveal the secret early. Disappoint someone in the story. Crush their confidence at the betrayal. Make an enemy on the page. Have it be a sidelight but do let it be a way for the reader to know our protagonist is driving forward from a sense of whim and logic and is not just BSC.

I'm off to write. There are confidences to betray. You've got some to betray as well.

Get to it.

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