There is a sweet spot of revelation in writing—the perfect amount to reveal about your character and the world you’re building—so the reader feels oriented to the world while also curious to learn more. But like so many sweet spots in life, it often proves elusive! When I am writing, I think of it as a ratio between how much I have revealed and how much remains mysterious, and it’s a moving target as a story unfolds.
A few years ago I learned an interesting thing about how you teach literacy—one of the key skills is asking the student to predict what will come next. Some of you are probably skilled teachers who know a lot more about this than me, but it’s something I think about when I am plotting–what will the reader expect to happen, and what do I want to do about that.
A narrative needs to flow in a way that is, if not predictable, logical. And it needs to prove sometimes surprising. An effective plot twist occurs when, at that moment of prediction, there are several possibilities and yet the one that the author writes is totally unexpected, but retains an obvious and almost inevitable logic. Not all books have plot twist, and I don’t particularly need one to enjoy a book, but it is really satisfying when one is done well and a real book-breaker when one is not. I talked about Kristen Callihan’s Moonglow on this blog earlier in the summer, and she’s got a great plot twist, which transformed a character for me.
A story must keep us wondering and guessing—what will happen, why is she doing that, why does he feel that way? A skilled storyteller is one that has an instinct or hard-won skill for suspense.
In paranormal plotting, it seems to me one of the best tools we have is the way the world is built and its qualities revealed through the action of the characters. In other words, the world itself is a built-in mystery. But we must balance the old “show the gun in the first act” with plenty of red-herrings along the way to create a rich, logical plot that keeps readers hooked.
I suppose I’ve been thinking about this because in my work-in-progress, I am considering delaying a few revelations. Up to now, I had been relying on the conflict created by characters not knowing certain facts about each other and the world, while the reader and other characters did know. But I’ve decided it will be more satisfying to the reader to discover some details later, when the other characters do. Surprisingly, since the characters’ motivations don’t change, it’s not a major revision, and I already like the story better just for imagining it.
How about you?
Writers–any words of wisdom about how to balance revelation and suspense?
Readers and writers–Do you have an opinion on just what that divine ratio might be, or how it ought to change over the course of the novel?
Any paranormal books that reflect a real mastery of the plot twist or suspenseful world building?