Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Martha's Sekrit Secret

When I was a kid, I reveled in books and like any egoist worth her salt, I would often declare upon finishing, "That was good but I figured out the secret [twist/identity/bad guy] way before the main character did."

Now, as a writer, I realize - duh. That was probably the author's intent.

The release of a secret, the discovery of a truth, is a cathartic experience that we crave.

I used to hoard information in my stories, saving them for a Shyamalan twist at the very end that would leave the readers gasping.

I now believe it's more effective to let the reader in on the secret by the first third of the novel, a secret that the main character doesn't know, a secret the main character should know, has to know.

Why save a twist for the end when you can leave the reader yearning for catharsis with every turn of the page?

7 comments:

tyler said...

good point, and i was in the middle of reviewing an old short story of mine when I read this and it gave me some insight into story decisions I made. I do think that there are good reasons for pacing the "reveals" out at all different points in the story....one of the many choices that makes one book different from the rest - but this was an observation that makes sense to me and that i hadn't thought of before.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oops - those damn kids have been using my computer again. that was actually me. :)

Gigi Pandian said...

You are a wise woman, Martha. I thought I was SO clever when I had this amazing reveal at the very end of the first book I attempted -- until everyone who read it said: "huh?" I don't believe in sharing secrets TOO early, but you're totally right you've gotta start 'em coming before too long.

Martha Flynn said...

omg Sophie I was totally like TYLER WRITES SHORT STORIES WHAAAAAA??????

Lisa Hughey said...

LOL--and I thought...why is Tyler reviewing a short story he wrote when I'm sure he's got homework :) Can't turn that mom critic off sometimes.

Parsing out reveal is tricky...you don't want the reader to be annoyed when the protag doesn't get it and they do.

Martha Flynn said...

Agreed, Lisa - it's especially difficult in first person!!!

Another example of this with a bit of a twist is Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - the autistic child narrator describes things so perfectly that we as readers understood the real nuance of what was happening even as he didn't which was somehow heartbreaking and led to the same "I want him to know!" feeling.

Rachael Herron said...

What a really good way to think about this. I have a secret in the book I'm writing now (SECRET BABY! But she's 36!) and I'm in the process of front-loading clues now -- not too many nor too few....