1. Jane with dyslexic flag

    Jane with dyslexic flag Member

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    baiting readers with intrigue & secrets to keep them hooked, good or bad?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Jane with dyslexic flag, May 30, 2017.

    I read that as a writer it bad to bait your stories with secrets and hints.
    Which I love to do, is it really a bad thing?
    what I read said baiting with secrets and hints makes it more likely for your reader to decide to skip to the end of your book to find out what the secrets are.
    I like putting a secret here and there in my stories to keep my readers hook and hungry for more.
    what is your take? good, bad or depends?
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    All depends on the execution. If it feels contrived - like the author is dangling a mystery just to keep me reading - I'll get irritated and start skim reading. I don't like feeling manipulated and I don't like gimmicky hooks.

    But every book needs to keep you asking, 'What happens next?' That's what makes us turn the page.

    Whether a mystery is gimmicky or good is obviously subjective, but I think the main factor is how organic it is. If there's a reason the mystery is being kept from me - like the POV character doesn't know the answer - then that's fine. But if the POV character is withholding information from me for no good reason, I'm going to get annoyed.

    My rules in my writing are:
    a) Make sure I have a good reason for including each mystery or secret. 'To keep the reader interested' is not a good reason on its own.
    b) The POV character should never hide anything from the reader unless there's a strong and believable reason - like it's too traumatic to think about and the character has blocked it from his/her own mind. I hate unreliable narrators because a good book, for me, is all about my connection with the POV character/s.
     
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  3. Jane with dyslexic flag

    Jane with dyslexic flag Member

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    well my MC is keeping a secret. in a world (where people with powers are possible) her sister has power with plants, her friend with wind, but she finds out her power is manipulating the make up of things, so rock, metal, plants, water, even blood the simpler the easier to manipulate a sliver and crystal easy. plastic very difficult (can't manipulate fire or electricity) she can even replicate stuff.
    she knows though that having that power is something that it would be safer to keep as a secret because others will want to use her power for them selves,
    so she pretends her powers are earth/rock/ metal(telling no-one and not even letting the reader know) she secretly manipulates other stuff(/hints of her using her power on other things) which makes her friends wonder but can't really guess what is going on and they get bigger problems secret powered organisations are looking for powered people to add to their own group, police and agents, and others getting powers.
    I plan to make her abilities a wildcard she uses to save her friends or the day.
    but I don't know would it be better if the reader knows about her powers? I am writing it as a group POV not strictly first person from the main character.
    I want to write it so like the rest of the group(her friends and family) around her and the reader doesn't know and is wondering what is going on with my MC as the group does sensing a secret but unsure what it is, then get surprised when the secret is revealed.
    is it consider a bait?
     
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  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It sounds like what we call an 'unreliable narrator'. It's not a device I like (in fact I hate it as a reader) but it's been used successfully.
     
  5. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    If I were you, I'd let the reader know about her powers because if you reveal them only when it matters ("uses to save her friends or the day"), it'll feel like deus ex machina, and I don't think you'd want that.

    In general, I'm completely fine with the reader revealing bits and pieces of their characters as the story goes along. That's usually my expectation. I recently read a really good book about a female soldier who was escorted to a POW camp by a male enemy soldier but they wrecked their boat and were cast away on an island. Despite many chapters from her POV, the author never revealed her true feelings for the enemy (although her feelings for her mentor who never appears in the story were discussed at length), and despite many chapters from the POV of the enemy, it was never stated how he explicitly felt about the female soldier. However, the reader could interpret the reasons for him going above and beyond to help her, and eventually die for her. Either a) he was in love with her or b) he tried to do something right in his life, as so far it had been nothing but a series of mistakes.

    Now this could be seen as the author using an unreliable narrator to bait the reader, but at least I rolled with it. So these characters didn't like to mull over what was between them while they did think about and reveal all sorts of things, okay, fine. What made this even riskier was that one of the mysteries in the story was: what happened between these two during the 10 days they spent on the island? So I can see how that could be considered bait-y, but I didn't have a problem with that. Finally, through flashbacks, the truth was revealed. I will have to analyze more closely how the author made it work to be honest, how she kept me from skipping to the end. I thought that was so well done.
     
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  6. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    You're writing 3rd person objective - my favorite way to write - all show, little tell. It's important to show the reader that the MC is holding back, either through humble secretiveness, or just plain ignorance. This is part of the story. Don't divulge the length of the power until the end, but at least write scenes where the MC, and the reader, experience surprising results, which clues the reader that there's something special about this character. Maybe the reader realizes this power before the character. Part of the suspense might be the reader rooting for the character knowing that this character has a power.
     
  7. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Mysteries are a good thing - but what you're describing doesn't sound like a mystery. What you're describing sounds like important information that you're withholding for the sake of being "interesting", as if you don't really believe your actual story would be interesting enough. If your MC is also the point of view character, then such a "mystery" wouldn't be believable because it wouldn't make any sense why the MC never mentions it in narrative to the reader, and it would just be annoying.

    A good mystery, by definition, needs to be something the reader can reasonable figure out for themselves. It's part of what's fun about mysteries. There needs to be enough hints and clues to build up so the reader has a chance to work it out or look back and think "Why didn't I see that before!?" It shouldn't come across as a, "Oh that's convenient," or "That just happened out of nowhere and doesn't make sense." The way you have described it, with keeping the true nature of the MC's power a secret and then revealing it to save the day will end up feeling awfully contrived, because it would definitely fall in the camp of, "How convenient."

    Foreshadowing and the nature of the mystery are keys, I would think. But by the sounds of things, the nature of your particular mystery isn't good material for how you wanna use it. My advice: reveal it to the reader and feel free to keep the characters in the book ignorant, but the reader cannot be kept in the dark, I think.

    Just to say, there's nothing wrong with dropping little hints and withholding information - the trick is: what is this information and why is it being withheld? Does it have a satisfying emotional return?

    The simple act of withholding key information doesn't make it a mystery - a mystery is the figuring out of information that has actually be given, but that is so cleverly presented that the reader cannot immediately see through it or put it together, like a complex puzzle. In a puzzle, all the pieces are there for the player to see, but the player has to figure out how all the pieces go together. That's what makes a mystery. You cannot present the reader with a puzzle and then deliberately withhold key pieces that render them unable to finish the puzzle - that's just annoying and almost a guarantee no one would ever play again :p
     
  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I think it relies heavily on the story.
    I have multi-MCs that all have secretes
    about other MCs, as well as secondary
    characters that know them as well. But
    for the most part they all find out and
    share these things later on between each
    other.

    Simply adding secretes and withholding
    info for intrigue (or shock value) to keep
    a reader is kinda a deal breaker for me.
    Not everything needs to be shrouded in
    mystery to have a good story.
     
  9. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    ===========
    Without them they may get bored and skip to the end anyway. Or even just stop reading it completely.
     
  10. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    What's your basic story question? That's fundamental. As others have said, you have to give the reader enough so he can try to puzzle the answer out for himself as he reads.

    So, if the basic story question is "What is the Lady Ethelhildaburga's true power, and how will she use it?" you might consider writing from the POV of someone close to her. Like that of the friend/relative she ends up rescuing. That character can be guessing at it all the way through, and the reader can guess along with him/her.

    Constant unanswered questions and unexplained mysteries in a work of fiction are, in my opinion, a PITA. They make me put the novel down in disgust. Instead, solve the little mysteries as you go along, and supplant them with questions and secrets that get bigger and bigger. Reveal the answers to those, but lead on to a "Yes, but in that case, why . . . ?" And so on. That'll keep readers following your trail.
     
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  11. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    A word of warning: Don't set up a mystery if you don't have at least some idea how it's going to end. The X-Files is the classic example, where all these tantalising hints were being thrown out, there was a sense of a giant secret that was slowly and skilfully being uncovered, and it was all building towards an epic....nah, turned out Chris Carter didn't actually know where any of it was going, and it was easier to just tread water and keep throwing out vague hints and "shocking twists" that didn't actually answer anything.
     
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  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Ditto twin peaks , and Lost... and numerous others

    the 'unsatisfying ending' is the kiss of death to tv or books alike
     
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  13. Charles Gull

    Charles Gull Active Member

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    I agree with much of what has been said so far.

    I absolutely detest 'deus ex machina' and believe it is important to be rigorous in setting out a plot. The information needed to solve a mystery MUST be presented in full to the reader before the narrator reveals the solution.
    The skill is in doing it so that it doesn't simply become a spoiler. One of the most effective ways of doing this is the 'out of context' foreshadow. Here a critical piece of the puzzle is revealed early but in a parallel situation. An example of this might be a conversation between two secondary characters early in the book that connects the concepts 'green' with 'square'. Then at a later point we learn that the chief bady is vulnerable to 'square' finally the MC's 'journey of discovery' demonstratesthat they are 'green'. Now everything is in place for the final confrontation in which the MC is able to defeat the Bady because 'green' bridges to 'square'.
    It sounds simplistic but it often works a treat.
     
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  14. rktho

    rktho Contributor Contributor

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    What you want to do is set up the reveal for the duration of the entire book. Then it won't seem out of left field when it gets revealed. Make things happen that don't add up. Make the reader and characters scratch their heads. The reveal of what her true powers are should tie everything together and make all the inconsistencies actually make sense.
     
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  15. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You want your story to unfold and not dump. As for page turners, it works best when new mysteries keep turning up. So you reveal one mystery but it only builds the story, it doesn't resolve it. Useful feedback from my critique group was, 'don't make it too easy for your protagonist'.

    I get annoyed when some key information is teased but then the reveal is delayed in unrealistic ways. For example:
    The character could answer a question in less than a minute but things keep interrupting the answer. You can only do that once before I get annoyed.​
     
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  16. Jane with dyslexic flag

    Jane with dyslexic flag Member

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    I want my MC to keep her true power a secret because she knows its important too, a slight peeve to me is now and then when a smart character spills a secret/ shares a secret with someone when they know it would be better if no-one else learns of it, the more who know of a secret the more likely it will get revealed or discovered so I want her to keep it a secret successfully to a point (leaving subtle clues/ bread crumbs for both the characters and the readers alike so they know and try to figure out what's up) til she is discovered/or her hand is forced and she has to revealing it her self, and the conflict in that is: the feelings of her friends and family they feel like she doesn't trust them and their feelings get really hurt and they get upset with her about it. (she applies too much logic when faced with some problems then using moral sense like the others).
     
  17. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    How is this for keeping secrets.
    I have an MC that doesn't know much about herself other than
    feeling really guilty for a lot of bad shit she did.
    And another MC, and a few secondary characters know that she
    is a bio-engineered creature along with some knowledge about
    her biology.
    She doesn't find out until the second book about herself, from
    a prominent secondary that she is 'different', or synthetic if you
    will.
    There is another secret that another MC is withholding from another
    MC, about an old girlfriend/fellow officer that explains why she opted
    to kill herself over changing sides and leaving with him.
    Not sure when I get to drop that bombshell on them, as it was bad
    enough she used his weapon to do it with in the first place.
     
  18. Jane with dyslexic flag

    Jane with dyslexic flag Member

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    one confusing. two i wanna know more :superidea:
    :)
     
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  19. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think you need to carefully consider one thing: what do you want the effect of this secret to have on your reader? What do you want the reader's reaction to be once the secret is revealed? That's the question you should be asking yourself here.

    If the reader's reaction will be 'Why in hell didn't the author tell us all this before?' then I'd re-think the strategy. You don't want your readers going away feeling cheated, do you? However, if the reaction is 'Wow, I didn't see that coming! Fantastic!' then you are probably on the right track.

    As @Tenderiser suggested, salting secrets into the story just to keep the readers from losing interest in the book, is probably not a good reason. It's what the readers' reaction will be when they discover the truth that will matter.
     
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