I just got my manuscript for The Cat Lady’s Secret back from my critique partner, and guess what?! She loves it! And guess what else?!
It’s got serious problems.
Okay, I admit, I already knew that. Part of the reason for sending the WIP to my critter in the first place was to get her take on what was wrong and how to fix it. Thing is, she pointed out a problem that I didn’t think was a problem. She wants more hints about the big surprise delivered through one of the POV characters–and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to do it without being too obvious.
Until last night.
How astute are you when you read? Do you pick up on things? Question things? Do you wonder why the character did something, or why the author had the character to do it? How quickly can you add two and two?
Can an author fool you?
Dropping clues in plain sight is a sign of a talented author. I have no idea yet whether that adjective can be applied to me. My readers will have to let me know. But, as an editor, I see my own problem reflected in manuscripts by other newbies: not knowing what to reveal, when to reveal it, or how.
In one manuscript, the author introduced a series of characters without using their full names–and some he didn’t name at all. As I read along, I realized he had a valid reason to conceal only one character’s name. In fact, for some reason, newbie authors seem to have a habit of not identifying their characters up front. Don’t ask me why. I haven’t figured it out yet. Giving a character’s last name–and even his title if he has one–isn’t an info-dump or a backstory-dump or anything else negative. It’s the first step to introducing your readers to your characters, and if you’re not going to do that, you need a good reason.
In another work, the mission was held close to the vest along with the characters’ names. How is a reader supposed to sympathize when nothing is revealed page after page? Why would she care whether the hero succeeds in his task when she doesn’t know anything about either?
As you plan your story, determine what really does need to be concealed and what you can reveal. You must give your reader clues if you want her to play your game. Not everything can be a secret.
Lisa Gardner, in her novel Gone, dropped a heckuva clue in the first third of her book about whodunit and why. In the story, the wife of a former FBI profiler is kidnapped. The ransom is ridiculously low, and the drop instructions are simplistic, but brilliant. As they jump through the kidnapper’s hoops, the profiler and other law enforcement officers believe they’re getting closer to figuring it out. They’re at one of the drop sites, and tension mounts when they catch sight of the bad guy.
“Hands up! Drop your weapon! Down on your knees! Down!”
Okay, here’s where I warn you: SPOILER ALERT!
The guy they’ve caught is actually a small town reporter. Since the case is huge, the reporter wants to get the scoop. Get himself on Fox or CNN. National news.
The scene and the character are realistic. Bringing in an aspiring Geraldo-wannabe made perfect sense, as did the guy’s amazing arrogance. When I read it, I did exactly what Gardner wanted me to: I marked him up as a red herring, another roadblock in the search for the missing wife, and refocused my attention on the other clues she gave me. For the rest of the novel, I tried to connect the dots in a hologram.
Lisa Gardner succeeded at what excellent authors succeed at: she gave the surprise ending that shouldn’t have been a surprise. That clue, and few (very few) others were in plain sight, but her misdirection was masterful. By the end of the book, I had that slap-your-forehead moment.
So, I decided to slip a few plain-sight clues into my novel instead of rewriting my character’s attributes. I’ll give you a hint now: keep an eye on the movies listed in the novel. Figure out what connects them, and you’ll figure out The Cat Lady’s Secret.
Looking forward to reading this.
Once I get all the problems ironed out, it won’t be long. I just need to heat the iron!
Good stuff. THANK you.
Jerry B. Jenkins wrote about that in his book “Writing for the Soul.” In it, he says he hated having to leave obvious foreshadowing clues. Unfortunately, he says, he had to. So we have to get creative with what we have to work with, right?
I still want to get that book. I’d love to learn from him!
Fun! I love it when books and movies offer clues or reinforce their themes through references to other works.
I think you’ll like my idea!
Sounds like a masterpiece in the making to me. Great suggestion and example. Thanks for sharing, Linda.