Saturday, October 17, 2015

Secrets & Lies

Some of the most compelling parts of a story are the secrets and lies that are found throughout the narrative. That twist in the story that you didn't see coming because one of the characters was lying. The character who has a secret that they desperately want to keep. We all lie about something in our lives to keep our secrets. Sometimes they are little things that are done because a character doesn't want to hurt another's feelings. Other times it could be so that the character can portray themselves in a better light. The big lies and secrets keep a reader on the edge of their seat wondering what might happen next. Those are the juicy bits that make my nipples hard.

This week I want to discuss how I use these to build a story driven by characters. Their motivations are behind the scenes, but given time they will be revealed. All the dirty little secrets and lies that hide in the darkest deepest corners will eventually see light. Like cockroaches they will scurry away, but sometimes there is no shadow to scurry to. OK time to talk about picking up a shoe and squishing the bug.

Character Motivations

This is where everything starts. To build a character that feels real you need to understand what their motivation is. What is it that moves them? Hey Macarena! No wait... not on the dance floor. I'm talking about what makes them do what they do. This goes deeper than what happens within the pages of a novel. Why do they care? What is in their past that pushes them to act a certain way? There are 2 basic ways to do this that I know of. If you know another way I would love to hear it in the comments please.

The first way is to have the characters shape the story. As you build the universe around them the characters will run wild within it. They will make their decisions. They will lie and keep secrets. How big is their lie? How big is their secret? When the secret is revealed how will they all react? I like to give my characters enough rope to hang themselves, but this isn't my preferred method. There ends up being chaos within the pages. The main characters could decide they hate each other and wander off to do different things. One character tries to solve the murder while the other determines that she or he will be the greatest Pokemon champion the world has ever known. This can result in the author using their God mode to force characters back in their place. The author may be forced to have a character lie or mislead another character to push back against the chaos. This can add another level to the story giving one of your characters a chance to betray or simply disappoint another character, or it could be the tipping point toward a plot hole.

The second way is to build the shape of your story then mold characters that fit within the roles needed within it. This is something that I have always been good at. Finding the right piece of the puzzle that fits to make a picture of a rainbow. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone makes mistakes. What kind of motivation will character A need to make mistake number 5 which will result in plot twist alpha? This is how I build characters that fit within the mold of my story. This is everything to my story. If the characters don't make mistakes, if they don't lie, or if they don't keep secrets then the story becomes very boring indeed.

The Breadcrumb Trail

The breadcrumb trail can be handled many different ways. Throughout the story I like to leave subtle hints that something is coming. Little tidbits of information that lead up to the big reveal. You could put large neon signs up saying "THIS CHARACTER IS THE VILLAIN" then watch as the other characters struggle to figure it out while leaving the reader squirming in their seat. There are many degrees of this in between from the subtle hints to the not so subtle to laying out the truth to the readers but leaving the story's characters in the dark. What I don't recommend, and I see this in film a lot, is to skip this part altogether. This can cause readers to jump out of their seat, scream "WTF", and then throw the book across the room. This is the winding path that leads to a compelling reveal.

The Reveal

I always enjoy writing this part. It isn't always the ending of the story, but it is an ending of sorts. The resolution of a story arc or a revelation that brings certain facts to light. That "Ah HA" moment. Making the light bulb shine brightly over a character's head. Is there a confession, is the secret forcibly taken, or does one of the characters simply figure it out with horror on their face? How will everyone react?

I watch a lot of movies, and have been enjoying many of the new shows on TV lately. I have been noticing many of these types of twists in the story centered around lies and secrets. Do you find these secrets to be as enjoyable as I do? What are some of your favorite books, TV shows, and movies that have great plot twists? Please no spoilers! I would love to hear what you think in the comments.

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