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  1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The art of misdirection

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GingerCoffee, Aug 23, 2014.

    I'm reading Dan Simmons' 3rd book in the Hyperion series, "Endymion". I'm so impressed with the misdirection.

    In one scene the heroes have their damaged spaceship hidden underwater in a river as it repairs itself. The villains find a ship underwater and you are sure it is the ship. Until it turns out it isn't.

    Later the villain most evil is tall, has a silver suit and you are sure one of the heroes sees her standing on their raft which they have left temporarily. Turns out it's the Shrike who in this case may or may not be on the heroes side. But that's a separate issue. The fact the evil enemy hasn't yet caught up with the heroes which Simmons has made you think must have happened is the twist.
    Simmons is so clever. You are certain something bad is about to happen and you wonder how the heroes are going to get out of it when it turns out the danger was a false alarm.
     
  2. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    I would be cautious not to use this trick too many times. Once is enough. Fooling the reader with false conflict can easily be seen as a dramatic cheat.

    Real conflict is always the better option.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Simmons does it very well and it didn't bother me as the reader.
     
  4. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel like I'm in the twilight zone right now. What ecsctly is so miraculous wbout this? :confused:It doesn't sound significant in the slightest.
     
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't get it either.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I see this kind of misdirection fairly frequently, both in books and on screen. It works even better on screen, because you can see the protagonists squirming and expecting the worst, and also because you can control how much time the viewer has to think about it and question his or her assumptions.

    And the reader/viewer usually gets a good laugh out of it. "Okay, you got me. Good one."
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Well you know, I was reading Endymion and was excited and impressed as to how Simmons led me, the reader, to believe one thing only to find out it wasn't that at all. And when I get excited about something like that, I want to share it with people who can appreciate it. :p
     
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  8. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    I agree with Cogito in that often visual media can make this tension even more nail-biting. I've had more than one graphic novel and comic/manga do this to me.

    I also agree that if it is done too much in any narrative form it makes the reader more interested in sorting out the lie, or figuring out subtext and what they missed, rather than reading it as a creative work. The approach becomes more like solving a puzzle rather than critical thinking inspired by reading.

    GingerCoffee, what do you think of the last two of the Cantos verses the first two?
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    :confused: I don't understand the question.
     
  10. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    To me the last two installments [many editions combine it into one book or separate it into two, or have four physical books, I've ran across both], especially the last half of the #4 Endymioin, fizzle out into their own philosophies and the tale loses itself. It pulls off another twist that is very half-hearted compared to the one misdirection you mention in the original example, and it seems Simmons thinks he's clever for it.

    Sorry if I'm not conveying my thoughts coherently, I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's very interesting you brought up the misdirection narrative device used in Hyperion as an example, which is a perfect demonstration of how to do tension buildup with lack of a followthrough, and how to not do it, all in the same series.
     
  11. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    It's an interesting tool, and delightful the first time it happens but I could backfire if not done well. I think you'd have to be skilled at storytelling to cheat your audience without disappointing or frustrating them. I don't think it's something I could pull off, but if it works for him and that story so much the better.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    @BoddaGetta, I still don't get the question, but I'm not finished with book three yet and I haven't started book four anyway. :)
     
  13. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    You'll see what I mean about buildup to unfulfilled conflict in the 4th one, I think I was having issues trying to phrase it without spoiling, haha.
     
  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, I'm still not exactly sure how false alarms, especially as described in the cases above, is any way clever. I don't think there's anything even remotely remarkable about what you described in your spoiler (at least as worded).

    This to me, would be the equivalent if I told you that such and such action movie was awesome because it had explosions in it.

    I am so adamant about this position I felt compelled to reply now, and, if it turned out Ginger was being facetious this entire time, I would not be surprised one bit.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Sheriff Woody on this one—if you're talking about fooling the reader rather than the characters in the story.

    If 'misdirection' actually influences the plot—for example if the characters mistake what they see for something else and this makes them DO something they wouldn't otherwise do—that's fair enough. But inserting misdirections just to fool the reader? I'd say avoid it. Unless it's handled with consummate skill, devices like cliffhangers that turn out to be nothing much after all will serve only to annoy the reader (the author has cheated!) and make them less likely to trust the author in future.
     
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  16. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    This is quite interesting to me just now, as I have one huge misdirection in my current WIP I'm giving rather a lot of thought to. I wrote up the original idea, and it would have sufficed, but then it occurred to me there was a better way to ramp up the conflict by having my two protagonists' nearest and dearest get the totally wrong end of the stick, fulfilling one of their arcs, while at the same time, leading to a final showdown when the truth does eventually come out. I'm killing two birds with one stone.

    Whether I have the skill to pull it off, I dunno. I'd like to think I've peppered in enough foreshadowing that the reader puts two and two together ahead of the reveal. It certainly isn't my intention to fool my reader per se. It just add an extra layer of uncertainty that plants them firmly in my characters' shoes...

    ...at least, that's what I'm hoping. :unsure:
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I reckon that's the way to play it. It's what a lot of books and TV shows and movies are built on ...the characters are confused and are doing the wrong things, and we (the audience/readers) know what they SHOULD be doing. That's great fun and/or very nerve-wracking. Exactly what you want.

    You're not misdirecting the readers at all, so they aren't going to feel cheated or let down.
     
  18. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I like misdirection but of the story kind. (I'm also crap at explaining things here so bear with me).

    I like to lead my readers in one direction and then totally take them in the opposite. Sort of, as if everything points to Mr A being the bad guy but when we get into it, it's actually Mr B that's the bad guy. The thing that I love (that's not always easy though) is that when the reader finds out it's Mr B and thinks about it, it's actually better that it's Mr B and how could they think otherwise?

    The same with clichés. I like to lead a reader to expect a cliché ... which never happens, something else happens that's actually better or more likely without compromising the integrity of the characters.
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think if you're writing a Mystery, the readers will expect this kind of thing, won't they? So I guess it's okay to misdirect readers in this genre. They'll probably feel cheated if you don't!

    Sometimes writers do it very well in other kinds of stories, too. One author who has mastered this approach is Lesley Glaister. Her books are often triumphs of misdirection ...the kind of cheating her the readers appreciate. Her books are more thriller-y than mystery, but they do work.
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    The same can work for normal situations in stories, and I use the word normal quite loosely there.

    I have a part where two characters (one male, one female) meet in a club setting. Something happens and the male character steps in to save the day, knight in shining armour type thing (figuratively speaking). He does everything you would expect him to do, perfect gentleman and then, bang! the table is suddenly turned and it ends with the female character saving herself AND the not so perfect gentleman!
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't forget its use in humor. It's stock in trade for situation comedies.
     
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  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Goodness, the things that surprisingly bring out the emotions in this forum. :)

    Perhaps I can describe a bit better without too many spoilers. Simmons tells parallel stories changing POVs between the predators and prey. When you think the two are going to converge they don't and when you think they are, they don't converge at that spot but they do converge right after.

    All sorts of things are going on you know will tie in later but you don't know exactly when or how.
     
  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ohhhhh that makes much more sense
     

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