Sunday, August 23, 2009

Visual Writing Prompt 8-23-09

Do your plots run in a straight line? Do they twist and turn? Do you tell the story from start to finish, laying out the characters and events for the reader? Or do you hide things in the shadows or smoke?

Whether your book is a mystery or a romance or a memoir, the story doesn’t have to travel in a straight line. Everything doesn’t have to be revealed up front. Everything has to be there, but it can be “camouflaged” or told out of sequence. There can be shadows that hide the clues. There can be layers that have to be revealed over the course of the book rather than all at once.

If everything is laid out and revealed, why would your readers keep reading? If all the clues are obvious, what would keep the readers guessing?

One goal should be to make your readers have to work a little to figure out who the bad guy is or if he will be caught, to determine if the heroine deserves the hero or whether someone else will step in, to wonder if the subject of the book will come out whole or with a lesson for the reader.

Your book needs layers. It needs shadows. Clarity. Continuance. It needs turns that take the reader down the unexpected path. It needs depth. Your book can have multiple dimensions, not just one.
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16 comments:

  1. I don't write mysteries or suspense so no killers, but I have found it's better if I just have an inkling of what the twist is going to be...and where I'll be going eventually. But I don't really chart things out all the way to the end. I have a feeling my plots are far from straight lines!

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  2. And that's the balancing act, isn't it? The subtle clues that don't give it away...

    Reading a straight line is worse than boring. Although, one must make sure that the multiple layers make sense and have some kind of completion.

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  3. You're discovering along with your readers, Stephanie. Without knowing the end as you write, you most likely have twists and turns as you uncover the end as you write.

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  4. Very true Laura. All loose ends need to be tied up. You want your readers to be satisfied by the end, not hanging by loose strings.

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  5. Like a winding path...
    There's a few kinks in the road - LOL!

    Helen, you have an award waiting at my blog!

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”
    www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com

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  6. Good stuff, Helen. A rule of thumb (and like all rules, it's made to be broken) is that when plotting, disregard the first avenue that comes to mind, as that's likely to be what occurs to a savvy reader, too.

    Yes. Keep things from the reader. They don't have to know everything up front. And unless you do something crazy, like bring in a new character right at the end (in which case the reader's likely going to feel cheated), they'll put up with less information as long as it comes right in the end.

    Leading people on is bad in relationships, essential in writing--regardless of the genre.

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  7. I like that, Jack. You lead your readers along. You show them a direct path by dropping clues or hints, but you lead them elsewhere so they're guessing about the end of the trip.

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  8. I always know the end before I start writing simply because it answers my initial question of "Why did....". I do try though to put make my tales twisty. Twisty is good. I like putting things in that seem insignificant that turn out to be anything but. I try to write characters that are real and have motivations that readers would identify with.
    Knowing the end helps keep me on the path, twisty though it may be. I know what's important, even if the reader won't at the time.

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  10. Thanks Elspeth. I like the way you write. Some like to write without knowing the ending so that they're as surprised as the reader. I'm more like you, I know the ending, then hide the clues.

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  11. How subtle is an author allowed to be if she's writing children's works, as I am? I like to think that I'm not blatant, but I can't tell for sure.

    And many books I've read targeted for the age range of mine seem very straightforward and boring, to me, anyway.

    This topic has made me reconsider how to characterized my antagonists. Maybe instead of having them act obviously mean, make them befriend the MC, then turn on her as things progress.

    Hmm. More rewrites ahead.

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  12. Children today read more sophisticated books than in the years past. And even years ago, kids read Dr. Seuss and understood more than we adults thought they would.

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  13. I have actually tried to write in a straight line, but it was just pointless. I very naturally hide stuff and twist and turn because that's the way my mind works. I never thought about it holding my readers attention, but good point!

    When I write I never know where I am going. I never know the ending and I don't care to. If I knew the ending I would get bored writing. I write to find out what happens and what I think. It makes editing a nightmare, cause there is usually heaps to fix up early in the work, but I find it way more enjoyable.

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  14. A well layered and nuanced novel is a joy to read. I love authors that have that gift. I'm the type of reader who is always guessing what is going to happen, and why. It's a real pleasure when I am surprised at what I find.
    ~jon

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