Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing: Devising A Twist

The late Donald Westlake called it "push fiction," which I like better than the more common designation, "pantser" writing. He wrote by the seat of his pants, rather than outlining, reasoning that if he didn't know what was coming next, neither could the reader.

Although I don't advertise it, there's no secret to the fact that I don't know who the "bad guy" is in my novels until I'm writing the last third of the book. I try to leave the option open, which means setting up some blind alleys and rabbit trails for the reader. Sometimes that works, at other times it doesn't. And, as James Scott Bell taught me long ago when I learned his LOCK system, I want to have a "knockout" ending ready.

There are a number of twists that can be used to keep a reader engaged. One is the "tasteless, odorless, traceless poison." Another is the "locked room" death, popularized by Edgar Allen Poe. And Agatha Christie even brought a dead person back to life to be a murderer. (I read that last one while alone in the Bachelor Officers' Quarters in the Azores, and kept the lights on the rest of the night).

If you ever have the opportunity to be in the same hotel as a writers' conference, keep your ears open in the elevator. A person who doesn't know what's going on might call the police!

So, what's your favorite twist? Let me hear them. I promise I won't use yours--well, maybe, but I'll try to disguise it so you won't recognize it.

Tweet with a single click. "Plot twists, ways to kill without being caught--all part of a mystery novelist's life." Click here to tweet.


Paula said...

Sounds fascinating. But how do you not know who dunniit til the last third of the book? I guess you keep yourself in suspense! Wouldn't it be in your outline or don't you outline even scetchily? So you play " what if" every day? Love your writing.

Richard Mabry said...

Paula, I write "by the seat of my pants." Hate outline, because my characters seem to have a mind of their own. I often find, when I get near the end of a novel, that someone whom I didn't suspect is the bad person.
Thanks for your nice words about my writing, and for commenting.

Patricia Bradley said...

One time I got to the chapter where the villain is to be revealed, named him, got half down the page and said. Nope, you didn't do it. Then I had to go back and beef up another character. And I've fooled my editor twice on who dun it.

I do like to leave enough clues for the reader to figure it out, though. I love reading your books and try to figure out the villain. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. :-)

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, I count the times that you don't figure out who the bad guy (or lady) is as successes. Glad you enjoy the books. Thanks for your comment.