1. g_man526
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    g_man526 Member

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    A problem with in-universe "secrets"

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by g_man526, Aug 3, 2014.

    Hey all, I'm just going through the first couple chapters of a new sci-fi/fantasy story that I based on a dream I had a little while ago (a little exercise I thought might turn out interestingly, and I was happily correct :)). Anyway, in trying to keep the feeling of the logic of a dream, I wanted to try to integrate an element of unsolved mystery into the story, something that would keep the reader turning the page - I love works like Lost and Twin Peaks, and that's a power I want to draw on in my writing.

    My concern however is that I feel like I'm showing too much too soon; I feel like I'm not leaving actual mystery as much as just dropping mythology into the world of the story. Has anyone else dealt with this, or tried to write something with a mysterious undercurrent? What have you done to make sure you don't reveal too much at an early stage, and keep the reader wondering? Thanks!
     
  2. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    Outs, lots of outs. Have your main focus on telling a believable story while you navigate the unrealistic situations. Be very deliberate in what you say and how you say it. Play off your reader's assumptions but don't cheat and lie to your reader.

    For example I have my MC attacked by two large wolves. One has him by the leg and the other by the arm. I say "The force that pulled at his arm was gone and he fell to the ground." Given the situation, the reader assumes that his arm was ripped off, however, I do not say that. When it revealed later that he's relatively fine I cover it with something very logical. Even though I go out of my way to paint this explanation, the truth is far more fantastic.

    I'm a huge fan of catching onto subtleties before a big reveal and then reading/watching it again and getting giddy at knowing perfectly well where the story is heading.
     
  3. g_man526
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    g_man526 Member

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    Interesting. Hmm...sounds like maybe I shouldn't have pantsed this one. Thanks, I'll see what I can do.
     
  4. Moonbeast32
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    Moonbeast32 Member

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    I don't have much to say about mystery, but I do have a few suggestions.

    Details and clues to the mystery don't reveal themselves. The MC must be the one to discover them.

    Similarly, most everything that happen to the main character, (injury, breakthroughs, enemy encounters, etc.) Should be a result, or a chain reaction of the MC's earlier actions or decisions.

    And lastly, don't worry about breaking the rules. Mystery has gotten way too formulaic as of late, and would do good with a little originality.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Minor comment: I wouldn't assume that. I wouldn't believe that wolves had that much strength, so I would assume that the wolf had let go. I realize that this is completely irrelevant to your point in this thread, but still wanted to mention that.
     
    Mike Hill and Cogito like this.
  6. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    You've probably already thought of this, but you should definitely make sure your beta reader(s) gives you specific feeback about whether you were revealing too little or much, and you definitely shouldn't tip him/her/them off beforehand.

    In last year's sci-fi contest, there were a couple of places where I thought I was leaving the reader enough to go on without being too obvious, whereas in actual fact most people were totally confused and didn't get it at all!
     
  7. g_man526
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    g_man526 Member

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    Hmm, I hadn't thought of that. Well, I guess I'll print off this sucker and hand it to my girlfriend! :crazy:
     
  8. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    It is irrelevant and not really fair to the OP to mention that when it's their thread.
     
  9. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, it is relevant because it points out one of the potential pitfalls of leading by assumption or expecting your readers to "read between the lines." When you're writing stories that require the reader to pick up on subtleties, it's very important to have beta readers, otherwise how can you know the readers are following your breadcrumbs instead of taking the story at face value?

    In your example, chickenfreak and I (and I suspect some others as well, based on the likes her post received) assumed the wolf let go. This is, presumably, not the assumption you wanted us to make. But there weren't enough "breadcrumbs" to lead me to believe the person's arm was ripped off. I know this is just one sentence; maybe the larger piece makes a more convincing argument for loss of limb, but, going only on what I see here, I'm not being led down the road you're trying to lead us down.

    This is why beta readers are important, especially to mystery writers. A mystery writer's goal is to set up a clever trap, baited with red herrings and shiny clues. How can you know the trap is working if you don't find some poor lab rats to test it on?
     
  10. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    Since you people are insistent in hijacking the OP's thread to address my post then I'll take a moment to defend it (again not fair to the OP and irrelevant to the discussion proposed by them).

    You were given a one line quote from my story with a very brief explanation of the plot. Instead of taking my word for it, you people are choosing to draw a conclusion with almost no context and literally no information. I didn't include a paragraph because as I keep stating, this is not my thread. It is very rude to the OP and typically against forum rules to hijack a thread.

    To @g_man526 , as you can see, the posters that have looked into this thread are going to fight you if you're not going to give them what they want. I can't even half-ass give an example without some of them not buying it. While your own story will have addressed these issues because you're not stupid and us writers are generally able to express our ideas in a meaningful way to the reader, I would take criticism at this stage with a grain of salt. A good assessment of your writing on something like this would include a disclaimer indicating that they "don't have enough information to draw an accurate conclusion." I wish you well in your endeavors on this tricky terrain. If I can, and I hope others would agree, they would be helpful in providing assistance by working with you.

    As to the others, if you wish to continue to discuss my example to the OP in another thread, I'll be more than happy to start a new one.
     
  11. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    ...uh...I don't know what's going on...

    Anyways, I HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM!! Yes. I used capitals and a double exclamation mark. Shows I'm flapping my arms about and gaping in delighted shock.

    But I've come to realise something through critically reading through my own work and then reading authors.

    Although suspense is good, you need to give some things away. Cosider: you're trying to lure a little cute bunny rabbit (sorry if you don't like bunny rabbits. We can make it a dragon or something if you'd prefer) into a trap. You would have to give it teensy bits to feed off of!

    Readers love to feel clever.

    (Most do. Wait- we all do, right? No one likes feeling dumb. That'd be...dumb!)

    I should know, I'm an avid reader. (And sometimes full of gloating pride)

    But readers also loved to be proved wrong.

    Get it?? Get it?? Basically, give clues! The big mystery thing should be saved, yes, but consider some clues that you could give away. If you worry that the reader's going to get the right answer when you don't want them to, throw in some little conflicting clue that sends them plodding off in a completely different direction! I won't speak for you, and I'm not sure whether you've had the same problem, but sometimes, I end up giving too little away; then, when I read it back, the reveals just don't make sense because I haven't given enough away.

    You want the reveal to be SMACK-BAM-CRAZY! Then you need to give bits away!

    If this made no sense, I profusely apologise.
     
  12. g_man526
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    g_man526 Member

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    It made perfect sense. As it happens, I'm fairly fluent in genki girl. :p
     
  13. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    Bread crumbs.
     
  14. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Care to elaborate? In my previous post, I used your example to illustrate a "bread crumbs" analogy and you leveled accuations of threadjacking at me, so I would love to know what you mean by this. Are you agreeing, disagreeing, or... what?

    BTW, no, I'm not interested in starting a new thread to discuss your example because your example was not (and still is not) the focal point of what I was trying to say. My previous post was not about you or your writing. I merely used your example to illustrate a point (and even did so with a clear disclaimer that it is only one sentence and cannot be used for critique). Your defensive rant was completely uncalled for.

    Also, in the future, I suggest you be very careful when leveling the words "you people" at anyone. Not a good way to start a conversation. And telling the OP "the posters that have looked into this thread are going to fight you" is a good way to end one. I wasn't fighting you, and that's what makes your response to my post so baffling.

    @Empty Bird
    It made perfect sense and I'm glad someone got something out of all of this. Your post was a breath of fresh air.
     
  15. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    @AnonyMouse I'll clarify if the OP is confused. I'm here to help them, not engage in a tit-for-tat with you.
     
  16. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    If that's how you view the situation, perhaps that is for the best. Take care.
     
  17. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    A great way to keep a secret in a work of fiction is to have an unreliable narrator.

    Does he have a goal that he molds every effort of his life to, that he's so dedicated to that he's willing to deceive?

    She could be part of a culture [gang, family crime, street rat, nefarious guild, etc] where not being straightforward is normal behavior.

    Someone could be deceiving him. Maybe he's socially dense or unobservant.

    Maybe she's wrapped up in an alternate timeline :crazy:
     

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