A Little Trick

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:

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….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?


COMMENTS

  • Lisa B

    April 19, 2015

    Reply

    Janet’s blog and Writer Unboxed are my two go-to blogs everyday. I had also read that article and, still being on my first novel, was puzzling over what he meant, how it works. Obviously mysteries/thrillers are not my genre. You make it very clear.

    I have lots of aha moments yet as I continue to slowly slog through a first revision. My most recent was the list of filter words I found on Write It Sideways blog

    • donnaeve

      April 19, 2015

      Reply

      Thank you for that Lisa! I’m glad it helped.

      Everyone has their way with revisions, and it’s finding the way that clicks with you that is key – hopefully less slogging. 🙂

      I too, found a site or read an article (can’t recall) where they instructed fine tuning a revision by doing a “Find” on words to delete. This is, of course, once the heavy lifting related to plot points, and obvious issues are cleaned up. It was so handy to just do a “Find” and begin eliminating adverbs, passive verbs, etc.

  • Carolynnwith2Ns

    April 19, 2015

    Reply

    My stumbling absolutely was head first into blogs related to writing. Jessica Faust was first I think, then Jenny Bent and of course Janet Reid who became the pick-me-up-I-stumbled-again savior.

    Discovering Betsy was interesting because hers was different; at times very negative to the whole writing-world. Often her posts took me to some very introspective places. Though I respect her greatly her honestly was a bit too brutal for me. I’m hoping her latest book is Bridge Ladies, can’t wait for that one.

    What’s funny is that Janet can say exactly the same thing and it’s easier to take probably because of the way she says it. Her blog is informative and most of all FUN. A lot of us sink low into some very dark places when we write, so surfacing to splashing around with Colin, you, Julie and the rest of the gang on her blog is refreshing – and very needed.

    As I said in my latest querying-round regarding my memoir/essays, I have stumbled more than I have stood.
    Haven’t we all.

    • donnaeve

      April 19, 2015

      Reply

      Haven’t we all, indeed. I’m still staring up at the ceiling.

      It is fun over there, and I know the lightheartedness is definitely needed. I can’t recall where I went first, what blogs, etc, or how I ended up where I am, but it’s nice to joke around and cut up.

      I think I might have mentioned Bridge Ladies somewhere about a year ago, in a comment – probably on Averil’s blog. I read about the sale in Pub Mkt and I know it will be a great memoir. Can’t wait to read about the family dynamics in Betsy’s (Besty! remember that???) world.

  • Colin

    April 19, 2015

    Reply

    When I think of helpful writing resources, two immediately spring to mind: ON WRITING by Stephen King, and Janet’s blog. I know I talk about ON WRITING as if it’s the only craft book I’ve ever read. I assure you, it’s not. Simply put, no other craft book I’ve read (and I’ve read some good ones) holds a candle to it in terms of speaking to me as I need to be spoken to. Which is also why I like Janet’s blog. There’s no pussy-footing around, no pretensions–just plain this-is-how-it-is direct talking. That’s how I like my how-to books. And I think that’s why Janet’s blog is so popular. It’s certainly why I enjoy it. And the company, of course. You, 2Ns, Julie, Diane, Dena, Craig, Angie, Amy, brian… such fun to hang around with, share stories, trade tips, and cheer each other on. And we do it as if we’re talking to real people. Because, after all, we are. 🙂

    • donnaeve

      April 20, 2015

      Reply

      First, JR’s blog. It’s definitely a very open, warm forum. It’s always been that way more than likely, but none of the commenters in the past from what I can recall ever interacted. It just sort of happened over there, and now it’s simply expected we’re going to highjack things at some point and take it in our own direction – generally for you – off to Carkoon. 🙂

      As to craft books – I too, LOVED SK’s ON WRITING. Of course, I have that other obscure one now too – which I’ve not yet read. TBR pile is still very high, but I’ll get to it. I did want to ask you about two other books that totally resonated with me, to see if you’ve read them.

      THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (Betsy Lerner) and BIRD BY BIRD (Ann Lamott). I LOVED both of them. Ann Lamott is the author who coined the phrase (from what I know) “shitty first draft.”

      If you haven’t read either, hustle on over to Amazon and BUY them. If you have, then they didn’t speak to you like King’s book – and that’s cool.

      • Colin

        April 20, 2015

        Reply

        I haven’t read those books, Donna, but duly noted and added to the TBR. Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

  • Mom

    April 20, 2015

    Reply

    So, what ya thinkin about? I say hit it again and this time with the attitude of “this book is certainly not about…botany or cheese or skiing” and then throwing in the crazy gone-girl cheese and see what happens 🙂

    • donnaeve

      April 21, 2015

      Reply

      You hit the nail on the head! I have one little issue with attacking it as we speak, but once I have that resolved, I’m thinking of applying the GONE GIRL treatment to it, and then some. 🙂

      • Mom

        April 21, 2015

        Reply

        You Go (get gone) Girl! Say Cheese 😉


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