“But while I advise you to embellish, I forbid you to depart from what is plausible. The reader has every right to feel aggrieved when he realizes that too much is being asked of him. He feels that the author is trying to deceive him, his pride suffers and he simply stops believing the moment he suspects he is being misled.” An Essay On Novels – The Marquis de Sade
Isn’t that great advice? Whether you write by the seat of your pants (pantser) or you meticulously plot out your story (plotter), you eventually will come to a point where you write yourself into a corner or your plot hits a wall. You have a couple options: scrap it and start over from the point you got yourself into that mess, or write yourself out of it. If you choose the latter, the challenge is writing a solution without taking the shortcut of using coincidences to bail yourself out. I read this advice from Emma Coates –one of Pixar’s story artists– years ago, and I never forgot it: “coincidences to get your characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it is cheating.” Not only that, like the Marquis said, it asks too much of the reader.
Nevertheless, good storytelling depends on the element of surprise. No one wants to have the ending figured out in chapter three. The writer’s approach may be to: 1) slowly reveal clues that gradually build to a logical conclusion, or 2) misdirect us with spurious information, or 3) obfuscate the story so that at the climax, the truth is dropped like a bomb on the reader. The trick is to reveal the truth -as shocking as it may be- in a way that the reader think to himself, “of course!” because finally it all makes sense. The worst thing in the world is to leave the reader scratching his head at the end, wondering how the hell he got from there to here in 100,000 words, and regretting buying it on Amazon.
Header image via the poisoned pencil, David Tenant image via Pinterest.