1. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524

    Purposefully vague to create tension for the reader

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by zoupskim, Feb 9, 2016.

    In my story a large plot point comes from a huge lie coming to light. This one event triggers everyone to step back and reassess a lot that has been going on around them. This reveals more lies, and a lot of people begin to mistrust each other, remain on guard, and 'act out', as once ironclad rules and trust is shaken and shown to be foolish.

    I leave a few things vague during this time and have no plan to answer some questions I am sure will arise due to the 'reveal'. My hope is to develop a sense of mistrust in the reader, leading them to question what characters say from here on out. An example from my story is a minor leader realizing that if he can lie so casually to their followers, what is keeping his superiors from lying to him? For the rest of the story he wonders about everything his superiors tell him, and it affects all his decisions and interactions. We never discover if the superiors are lying about anything, but the fear is there.

    I can see this being tricky to pull off correctly, and would like some thoughts on this concept. Have you every pulled this off in a story, or does it backfire and create a convoluted mess the reader has to slog through?
     
  2. Defender
    Offline

    Defender Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2016
    Messages:
    135
    Likes Received:
    14
    Well from my view, it sounds very interesting, however you should try to answer some of those questions, often I and many I know hate, when there are dead ends in good plots, so if you do reveal they are lying or not will determine if they are in on the conspiracy, or if all his actions were helping them in ways he did not know where to his demise. Whatever you choose don't leave to many questions open or it might have a negative effect making readers feel like the story is incomplete or lacking, anyhow good luck:) !
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  3. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    I haven't tried this as an author, but as a reader it drives me nuts! I really don't like loose ends and I think that's quite common.
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  4. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,978
    Likes Received:
    5,500
    I think it depends on the size of the questions that are never answered. If huge questions are never answered, then your ending may be unsatisfying.

    Keeping the characters in constant doubt is dandy, IMO. Keeping the reader in doubt about many aspects of the story is also dandy, but I think that the reader needs somebody that they can trust.

    For example, in Orphan Black, we don't feel that we can trust Delphine or Dr. Leeky or Siobhan Sadler or Rachel or most anybody other than the core clones, but we can trust those clones--even though the clones can't always trust each other.

    The core clones are our anchor. I think that your story needs an anchor, at least one character that is not lying to the reader, even if he's lying to everyone else. And by "lying" I don't mean that you have first person narration, just that you don't deliberately leave holes to make that character an unreliable POV.
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  5. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,807
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    Scotland
    This is all very hypothetical, but I think a reader won't mind having certain questions left unanswered as long as the writer makes it clear that's done purposefully. What will annoy a reader is if a question is raised and then seemingly forgotten by the writer.
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  6. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524
    A less vague example:

    A commander makes a call that demonstrates he clearly does not value civilian life if it means they can gain an advantege over the enemy. This leads one of the officer's soldiers to believe he would be willing to sacrifice his own soldiers with excessive zeal to accomplish a mission.

    Although the seed of doubt is planted, I don't plan on revealing the officers intentions.
     
    jannert likes this.
  7. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    What sequence of events does that belief trigger?
     
    zoupskim and jannert like this.
  8. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524
    The military is defending one of their own cities, so the civilians killed are nationals.
     
  9. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,807
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    Scotland
    You do need to tread carefully here, I reckon. Are you familiar with the writer's wisdom : If you show the audience a loaded gun in the first act (of a play,) make sure you actually shoot it in the third act?

    If you create a situation where a commander says he's willing to sacrifice civilians, then we'd better see him sacrificing civilians at some point, or his statement will be meaningless. However, your soldier's fear that his commander would also be willing to sacrifice soldiers is something you can play with. It does need to be referenced at some point, or the audience will be left dangling—but the commander doesn't actually have to sacrifice soldiers.

    The soldier can think "whew, he didn't sacrifice us after all," which might alter our perception of the commander. Or, if the commander does happily sacrifice soldiers, then sadness "why should I be surprised that so many of us died?" or anger "civilians are people, soldiers are people, none of us are sacrificial lambs." In other words, if you're going to leave your readers satisfied with your story, I'd suggest that you return to the commander's statement in some form or another. You've called attention to it in a way that made it seem important. You need to follow through on that importance.

    Never forget that writing is different from real life. In real life, often things get left dangling, things get said and forgotten and lose significance. However, writing is a different game. Readers have certain expectations they're not even aware of. Show them a loaded gun and don't ever use it—or even mention it again? Readers will be left waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I'm not saying you can't do that, but be aware of the effect you'll have created. If you want readers going away squirming because something doesn't seem right, then fine. It might get them to thinking about real life. It might also get them annoyed. If they conclude you're a writer who forgets what you wrote earlier, they're not likely to read any more of your stories.

    Never dismiss the effect of what you do.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
    zoupskim likes this.
  10. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    So the soldier's uncertainty about the commander's attitude towards his soldiers doesn't affect the story?
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  11. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524
    The uncertainty affects the story, and through our MCs point of view we see doubt, hesitation, mistrust, and disobedience, but I don't plan on making the commander outright declare his reason for crossing the moral event horizon. Its implied that:

    -He is driven by a desire to prove himself in a his new command.
    -Is blurring the lines of rules of engagement to get the outcome he wants from engagements.
    -Is making up for his lack of expertise in his new position with simple zeal.

    My plan is to leave all these implications in the air, and use the fear mistrust etc affect the characters. I am writing 3rd person limited POV, so that limits narrative options. All the above implications are one character's conclusions, and not the narrator spelling it out for them.
     
  12. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524
    All of this ties into by initial post. The commander's actions take a back seat when one of the Characters realizes HE might be doing the same thing. He is a leader, and in charge of soldiers. If his commander can have a careless attitude about people he is supposed to protect, how does the character know HE hasn't been making the same decisions?
     
  13. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    I'm finding it all quite hard to imagine. I think this is probably a question for beta readers rather than something that can be answered hypothetically, as it depends largely on how you handle it as an author.
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  14. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524
    You finding it hard to imagine is telling as it is. Thank you. I'm interested in the Beta process, but am not sure I have contributed enough to warrant one, plus I don't think anyone would want a novice critiquing their work.
     
  15. HistoricalScience
    Offline

    HistoricalScience Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2015
    Messages:
    198
    Likes Received:
    160
    As others have said, since it seems you point it out as a significant factor it, I would like to see it come into play and effect the story on some level. I would be alright if the commander never actually ends up sacrificing people but the mistrust the MC now has toward him would have to effect his decision making in certain situations and effect the story in that way.

    I wouldn't be so hard on yourself. I'm sure anyone on here would be delighted to receive a critique from a "novice". A novice writer is more than likely an advanced reader. And even if you don't consider yourself that, you would be surprised how much critiquing and offering feedback on other people's work benefits your own writing.
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  16. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,807
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    Scotland
    Actually, a novice can sometimes be exactly what you need critiquing your work. They will give you an honest opinion. If they aren't writers themselves, they won't necessarily be able to give you ways to 'fix' any problems, but they will let you know if your story worked. They are your readers. It's a good idea to listen to what they have to say.
     
    zoupskim likes this.
  17. zoupskim
    Offline

    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    524
    This is off topic, but I've been reading a few critiques, trying to get a feel of how it is done well, and how I would go about it. I have written one VERY short critique on the images someone's writing conveyed to me, but I did not give in-depth word mechanic analysis. I'm planning to post a proper Beta query once I read some more forum content, but is it possible to be someone's beta without actually receiving anything in return? Can I gain experience or extend goodwill, without actually expecting anything back?

    I guess the exchange of manuscripts is sort of like exchanging collateral, so maybe that question answers itself.
     
    jannert likes this.
  18. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,807
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    Scotland
    I'm a great believer in paying it forward, when it comes to beta reading. Of course you can swap, but sometimes that doesn't work too well. I think it's just a matter of helping fellow writers any way you can. There are people out there who are only interested in getting feedback for their own writing, and aren't interested in returning the favour. That's self-centred and not to be encouraged. However, a direct swap isn't always the best way to go either. Just make sure you're giving slightly more than you're taking, and you'll be okay.

    I wouldn't worry about not having any experience at beta reading either. Sometimes an inexperienced beta can be more help than an experienced one. An experienced one is often on the lookout for flaws and can be overly nitpicky and judgmental, while an inexperienced one is likely to give a more heartfelt reaction to just reading a story.

    Any reaction at all is helpful to the writer, as long as it's relatively detailed and thoughtful. By that I mean something more than just 'I really liked that, it's great, more power to your arm,' or 'that bored the hell out of me, and I don't know why, but I didn't finish it.'

    A beta doesn't need to try to fix a problem. A beta is there to spot a problem and pass on observations. It's ultimately up to the writer to find a way to fix the problem.
     
    zoupskim likes this.

Share This Page