Thursday, 14 April 2016

The balance between intrigue and irritation

[This short article first appeared as part of the online launch of The Writers' Toolkit which remains available on Facebook and contains articles, tips, mini-tutorials and editorial comments on work that authors submitted for critique prior to the launch]

The balance between intrigue and irritation
The trick of giving the readers enough information to intrigue them, without giving the impression you’re hiding anything (which irritates rather than intrigues) is to be tight behind the character’s eyes in a particular situation. As long as the character wouldn't explicitly be thinking about it or reflecting upon it, then you can get away without letting the reader know about it. To use an extreme example:

Your viewpoint character is a man standing at the top of a cliff. Someone else arrives. Your character greets the new person in a manner that shows they know each other e.g. ‘Hello, I wondered where you’d got to.’ Then the new arrival tries to push your character off the cliff. Your character clearly knows who this would-be assassin is, but in that situation the only thing in his mind will be the fight not to fall off the edge, the struggle to stay in balance, the frantic grabbing for a handhold. The reader might be desperate to know who it is, especially if this scene happens well into the novel, but it’s fine not to say, as long as you stay very closely with your character as they struggle not to fall.

Of course, the very second your character reaches safety or has the opportunity to reflect, then he will think about who it was who tried to kill him, and at this point you need to let the reader know. If you don’t want the reader to know, then cut to a new scene either before your character reaches safety or at the exact point. 

The discussion continues in the comments thread following the original article.
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