Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pay No Attention To the Unicorn In the Corner

Do you have a twist in your book? Something that you want to surprise the reader at a key moment? Have you dropped clues along the way?

"Wait!" you say. "I don't want it to be obvious. I want it to come as a surprise."

Well of course you do, but you can't blindside the reader. Throughout the book you are building a relationship with the reader. You earn her trust, and if you throw it away by pulling something - say a unicorn - out of left field, you'll lose that relationship.

So how do you do it? How do you put a unicorn in the corner, but not let the reader realize they've seen it until the right moment?

The answer is - be a magician. Remember my post on filtering through character? If not you should check it out. This is yet another example of how that can help your manuscript. If your MC doesn't pay attention to the unicorn even though you've made it clear he's there (by say putting glittering hoofprints on the floor in an earlier scene), then chances are your readers will ignore it too.

What? Glittering hoofprints and the MC didn't notice? Maybe she was too distracted by the dragon at the time. The dragon who we find out in another scene has talons, not hoofs. Yes, the reader MAY still see what's happening. But if you are careful enough with your slight of hand/distraction techniques, they may be more invested in whether your MC will figure it out on time. And at least to this writer that's a better alternative than breaking the reader's trust.

38 comments:

  1. So much easier said than done too! I love seeing it done well so I have to go back and reread to find all the plants.

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  2. Important point--and a helpful example. One more use for unicorns. They are so versatile. Great post, as always!

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  3. Laura's right, so much easier said than done! Good advice for sure. I'm spending a lot of time working out right now how to speckle this kind of info through my WIP. Hard work!

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  4. Ooooooh, you used a unicorn example. I love you.

    'kay, trying to figure this out though. So you put the hoofprints in and the character notices them but just briefly, she's doesn't expound on them because she's busier expounding on the dragon. So the reader picks up that there's something besides the dragon, but the dragon is so in-the-face that they don't process the hoofprints until whamo, when you reveal your twist.

    Did I get that right? This sounds like an important tip, want to make sure I understand, Obi-Wan. :)

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  5. This is such a hard thing to pull of well though, you know? :) Great advice though!

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  6. Great comments! :D Yay!

    Margo - my young Padawan - YES! The only thing I'd add is that you make it appear that perhaps the prints belong to the dragon, but we find out in a wholly different scene, through description, that the dragon's feet look completely different than the unicorn's. So if we're thinking enough we see there's a different animal involved, but we don't point out the feet being different, just notice them. Capiche? :D

    Perhaps I shall expand on this in a future post...

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  7. What unicorn? I didn't see a thing. I'm too distracted by Lisa Green's brilliant post!

    This is something you and Leslie have helped me out with. Dropping little clues along the way, without being obvious.

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  8. Julie - psst.. you already got the job of awesome writer/BFF so you can stop saying I'm brilliant. Wait. Scratch that. Keep saying it. :D

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  9. Great post, Lisa! I've always felt like my not so noticeable clues are IN YOUR FACE. This is yet another reason why critique partners rock. They tell you when it's good.

    And that is a very pretty unicorn.

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  10. I'm in a writers course right now on pyschotic characters (you know, like serial killers), and the instructor talked about the trick magicians use to distract you from what's happening. It's the same trick pick pockets and serial killers use. Great trick for writers too.

    I think you know where this link is going. :D

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  11. Chris - Watch me pull a unicorn out of my hat!! Ouch.

    Lacey - Pretty... And yes! Critique partners are golden!

    Stina - Yay!! That makes me feel special. And not cuz it reminds you of how I think like a serial killer. Hmm... that's slightly disturbing...

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  12. Excellent post! I've been blindsided while reading novels a few times, and it's always more fun when little clues are laid ahead of time. That way, I especially enjoy reading it again and catching everything.

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  13. Jess - Yes! Another great reasons to do this.

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  14. I'm the same as Laura, when this is done really well I have to go back and re-read. Great post!

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  15. This is excellent reading for me right now! I'm just getting into the part of my WIP where unicorns are going to start coming into play. It's good to remind myself to ask the question, "What will the reader see? What should the reader see?" I won't get it right the first few drafts (assuming I'm lucky ;), but asking the question will help getting me closer to that, faster.

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  16. Deb - It sounds to me like you have the best approach possible, and a good outlook. Good luck with your WIP! And have fun with planting unicorns. Um I mean clues.

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  17. Wow, you got a pic of a real live unicorn? How did you do that?

    LOL, but you make a good point. It's all about sprinkling clues and having the characters work it out before the reader does. Sometimes I think 'oh, that might make readers think it's a continuity mistake' when it's there fora really good reason. But I don't want to be too obvious about it.

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  18. Ebony - I doubt they'd see it as a continuity mistake. In your case they'd be laughing and enjoying themselves so much they'd let it go until the resolution when they find out it was important after all. ;D

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  19. I love those "Aha" moments when you finally see the unicorn, and you remember something about footprints earlier. It makes me feel wise when I put the puzzle pieces together.

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  20. Leslie - See? We want to make the reader feel good.

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  21. This is exactly what I like to do. I always try to have some twist right there in front of the reader, but I make it seem unimportant and then it's only later they see how critical the piece of information was. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  22. Drop little hints, I like that! What a great way to put it. As a reader and writer I completely agree! Blindsiding feels like cheating to a reader when it isn't done right. Little hints are the way to do it right! Great post!

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  23. Oh, this is hilarious! It is def hard to get the right mix of obvious and genius clues. Like I'm saying "Do you get it yet?" but "NO- don't get it yet! It will be ruined!"

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  24. Angela - Tough to pull off, but worth it!!

    Heather - Thanks!

    Bekah - LOL, no throttling the reader allowed!

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  25. Wise post! Wise Lisa! Wise Friend! :D

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  26. Monica - Awww, you're so sweet! Careful or my head will turn into a blimp and that could get awkward. ;D

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  27. Great point! I need to make due I've done this with my WIP!

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  28. Lisa, Love the picture! And you are so right about building a relationship. I sprinkle clues throughout and also toss in the proverbial red herrings! Good post.

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  29. Catherine - Thanks! I've always loved unicorns. Red herrings are in interesting point. Perhaps I shall think on that and do another post...

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  30. Interestingly one's careful clues can be misconstrued, I have found sending the reader off on entirely the wrong track, which can be a good or a bad thing :O)

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  31. Madeleine - I think as long as they can see how it fits together legitimately in the end you are okay, but it's hard to say without the actual manuscript! :D

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