One Writer’s Journey

March 3, 2015

Plot twists

Only recently did I finally read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.  Want to know how to work a plot twist?  Read this book.

At the recent SCBWI conference in New York, Katherine Tegen editor Ben Rosenthal discussed mysteries and thrillers.  One of the points that he made was that for a plot twist to really work, it has to surprise not only the reader but also the character.


Releasing information little by little is one way to build suspense.  That’s what Edward Bloor does in his mystery Tangerine.  The reader knows that Paul Fisher has vision problems but not why.  Fact by fact, Bloor builds the story and what happened to Paul eventually comes out.  The reader is shocked and appalled but this is hard to do because Paul knew what happened.  He doesn’t like to think about it but he knows.

Hiding information from the reader is tricky if it is something that the main character knows.  You have to do it in a way that feels natural.  This is especially hard to do if the story is first person.  Hold back too much and the reader will feel cheated.  “Hey!  He would have known that all along!  The author cheated.”

Cashore does it by also misleading her characters. They think they know what is going on and they do, to a point.  But there are things that no one except the author knows so everyone, readers and characters, gets to be surprised as they are revealed.  Another book that does this well is The Shattering by Karen Healey.  Healey pulls it off by creating a reality that her character desperately wants to misunderstand.  Little by little, the truth forces this misunderstanding aside and the reader and the main character face the facts.

Plot twists are tricky but done well they keep the reader turning pages.




August 23, 2012

Dialogue Isn’t Always Straight Forward

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
–Peter Drucker

Recently, I read two books that rely heavily on dialogue and not just what is being said, but also how another character misinterprets what has been said or how two people dodge each other’s questions about tough topics.

This simply is not how many of us use dialogue in our manuscripts.  Character 1 asks a question.  Character 2 answers without holding anything back.  Back and forth.  Its like watching straightforward tennis.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Left.

Yet, this is not how most people talk to each other.  Pay attention the next time you ask someone a question.  Sometimes you get “yes” or “no.”  Many other times, you get another question or a statement on another topic.  Then there’s the misinformation on attempts to change the topic.  I’m not saying that everyone is devious and full of bad intent.  Sometimes there are simply things that we don’t want to talk about.  Or we are still processing them and can’t give a complete answer.

Read Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson for a epic example of talking without communicating.  Mom tells Amy what she wants.  Amy thinks it is a wretched idea but she’s been specializing in just going through the motions.  Its not like she knows what she’s going to do but it sounds like she’s going along . . . right up until she doesn’t.

The Shattering by Karen Healey contains several examples of one character simply not hearing what is being said.  The problem is that she interprets what other character say through what she thinks has happened.  Only later does she really understand what was said.

What can you do with the dialogue in your story to avoid the tennis match effect?   Is there some way that you can use dialogue to create tension or to mislead both your character and the reader?


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