|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
THE QUESTION IS THE ANSWER
Why You Don't Have To Tell Them A Thing.
(Sort of like standing on the Fifth Amendmendment to the U.S. Constitution)
Want to suck someone in the next time you write a piece of fiction? Want the audience to be on the edge of their seats just waiting for the next move or bit of information? Want to ratchet up the tension and conflict to the near unbearable point? Isn't that what's happening right now?
Too often we feel we have to get right in there and have the characters TELL us what's going on. Especially in mysteries. How many times have you picked one up that you never finished because the characters were doing all the heavy lifting? They tell you who they are, "Detective, Joe Bologna. New York P.D." They tell you what they're doing, "I was on my way to a homocide investigation." About the only thing they don't say is, "I'm about to bore the socks off you!"
Why not change the whole thing up? The reader, especially if you're working mystery,crime or thrillers, wants to be involved in the discovery! So let them work with you.
"Why did I answer the phone? It's my day off. Doesn't the old man know anyone else's number? What's he think, just because I'm getting close to retirement I want to get involved every time some knit-wit steps in front of a bullet? Anyway, I'm still limping from the last one. Damn! Did I remember those pain killers? I'm going through them pretty fast. I wonder if there's any more in the property room?"
So what have you got? Let's walk through this together. In an introductory paragraph we know the character's a cop. A homocide detective from the sound of it. He's getting up in years and has an attitude. A recent injury has him a touch cranky and he might have a prescription pain medication addiction. Come on...A tough guy main character with an axe to grind and an obvious failing. Tell me this isn't made for a complicated plot?
I recently did a short piece as an exercise that uses just this technique:
Okay. Where am I? What town’s this? It must be the U.S., least the newspaper lying next to me is in English. Could it be Canada? Naw, it’s too warm for mid-fall. I think it’s still mid-fall? How the hell did I get behind a dumpster?
I can’t open my right eye. Do I still have a right eye? Feels like it might be there. I hope. Just has something crusty on it. Hmmm, blood? God, I hope it’s mine. I can’t go back to jail.
Crap, those trashcans stink. Ugh, that’s me! How long’s it been since I’ve bathed? Beard feels like it’s been there a while. I need to get up before someone comes by. Lord, I’m going to be…
Sure, I could just open by telling you who, what, where, when. But what fun would that be? Where is the mystery in it? I've left all kinds of holes that need filling while establishing conflict and tension and still moving everything along at a good clip. You've got enough information to follow what's happening but not enough to answer one key question. WHY? Bear in mind that this is just an excerpt of the first few lines! Keep the questions coming and the reader becomes ever more invested in the solution. By breaking away from high action to more relaxed moments you avoid exhausting your audience.
Give it a shot. What have you got to lose? Do you have all the answers when you start to read or write a story? Isn't the process of finding the answers the gravy on the potatoes?
Remember...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis