Writing Report June 8, 2019
Watch the magician when he coughs.
Nothing happens by chance when a magician’s onstage.
That cough? That perfectly natural, everybody-does-it cough? That cough that nobody noticed because they were focused on the brightly colored cup he held?
That’s where he transferred the coin from where it was hidden in his mouth to his hand, to make it “magically” appear where it couldn’t possibly be.
At our recent writers group, I read my latest short story. One of the other writers asked, “How do you do it? How do you work in all those clues that show what the ending will be in such a way that nobody sees it coming?”
In this particular story (and I’m gonna be vague here because it’s just starting to make the rounds), my villain targets a victim for reasons that -- while villainous -- nonetheless are logical and understandable.
The whole story is about said villain luring said victim into a trap. I explain why it is necessary -- at least from the villain’s POV -- to do this, what the stakes are for the villain, why and how the villain has done this before.
Oh, and in passing I make a casual reference to high tech, nothing big, just an indication that the villain is aware of it…
…thus laying a wee bit of track to set up my climax…
…where the biter gets bit…
…and it’s thanks to a touch of high tech.
(Sidebar: I don’t know if this particular bit of high tech really exists, but with what we have in the world today, it’s plausible that it exists, and for the purposes of my story, that’s all that matters.)
If I pulled my high tech resolution out of thin air or my nether regions, readers would rightfully protest “That’s a deus ex machine!”
And they would be right.
But the truth is, they’re all deus ex machinas.
If it is absolutely 100% crucial that only a left handed person can achieve the climax you want…
…you show your heroine struggling with a conventional pair of scissors in the opening.
You don’t have to hang a lantern on it, but you have to let the reader know the possibility exists.
Hide all your deus ex machinas in plain sight, work them into the story as obstacles that get in the way of the protagonist early on, but help them win in the end. “Oh, but whatever you do, puh-leeeze don’t throw me in that briar patch!”
Now for many of you, here comes the infuriating part: I don’t consciously do this.
I thought about this story for several days, maybe a week or two, before actually starting to write it.
I knew where it started, and I knew how it had to end up (i.e., 180-degrees the opposite of what the opening presented).
Getting there would be the fun, and I realized where the dichotomy of the story lay, and how that would create the motives for my characters.
But figuring out where and when and how to drop the clue that points to my climax?
No idea where that was coming from.
I just started writing and at one point about 2/3rds of the way in the reference just popped out and I didn’t even notice because even to me it seemed like just a natural bit of observation that the villain would make.
I saw it after I finished the story, and realized I dropped it in at the perfect place and in the perfect manner, but I didn’t think about it.
I just did it.
But now it’s there, on the page, and when The Old Switcheroo takes place, my readers smile because they knew without my overtly telling them that a clever high tech resolution was possible.
And this, I fear, may have frustrated the writer I spoke with.
Ask a great outfielder what the secret is to being a great outfielder, and the answer inevitably boils down to “Get under the baseball”.
They can’t tell you how to get under the baseball other than to say “practice, practice, practice” but that’s no good because all practice can do is hone instinct, not create it.
As I’ve posted elsewhere, I’ve literally spent my entire life learning how to tell stories.
And I can’t tell you how to do it.
All I can do is tell you what worked for me.
And usually even I don’t know what works for me until after I’ve done it, and look back, and analyze it.
© Buzz Dixon