Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Intriguing Observations: The Illusion of Writing

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Michele Shaw.

People love a puzzle. One of my favorite types of puzzles to solve is the optical illusion. I especially like the ones which use words. (Go figure) For fun, go here and try these. When you look at the words, there are two different ways to see them.

When writing fiction (and especially with thriller/suspense/crime novels), we often use a form of this technique. Sometimes it's a red herring. Sometimes it's a real clue, but deeply hidden under cryptic words or a situation that isn't what it seems. We create an illusion to keep the reader interested and asking questions.

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But there are pitfalls that can trip us. Especially when we get wound up in the story as a whole and get, ummmm...confused. (Not that this ever happens to me. *grin*) This can get tricky in a complicated story (*cough* aren't they all?), but there are 4 things I think every writer should avoid when creating their illusions:

1.) Don't get your wording get so convoluted that the reader just says, "Huh?" I try to go for, "Aha! That means something, I must read on to figure it out!" Or, "Ooh. Where is this headed?" Most of the time, simple and to the point is best.

2.) Avoid randomness. Don't stick in some random person, setting, or dialogue that has nothing to do with anything just to throw your reader off track. That's not fair and goes against the idea that each scene does have a purpose, even if that purpose isn't revealed until later.

3.) Don't hold back too much. As author, we hold all the cards and shuffle them as we see fit. But, if we hold back too much in our endeavors to create an illusion, we risk losing the reader. They get tired of waiting and want give up instead of having just enough curiosity to keep them going.

4.) Don't drop story threads. Sometimes our set-up gets so big and bloated that we add too many details which we forget to sew together by the end. Go back and make sure you’ve pulled in and resolved everything. And I mean tight!

I speak from experience with all of these. Guilty as charged and did my time in writer jail. No chocolate. It was brutal. Let’s all agree not to do it anymore. (I’m trying really, really hard.) So, hopefully, if you look for these signs of trouble, you can save time in revision, and create magical illusions with your words.

Please share. Any illusions to offer or other pitfalls you've noticed? I’d love to hear from you.

Michele Shaw writes YA romantic suspense, horror, short stories, and poetry with at least one dog by her side and plenty of candy on hand. She is a member of SCBWI, a fellow of the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, and represented by the amazing Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. You can find her on Twitter @veertothewrite or visit her blog at  


PW Creighton said...

Michele, great insights. I'll admit that my own plot threads were a bit 'woven' for quite a long while.

Michele Shaw said...

Thanks so much for having me! Always a pleasure to work with you. Yes, I have my issues with stories getting too confusing. I was once accused of having too many subplots and characters. Who, me? Never! Ha! Needless to say, I fixed it.

PW Creighton said...

I know I certainly have too Michele, don't feel too bad. :-)

Linda G. said...

Great post, Michele! Your insights are spot on.

Julie Musil said...

My latest wip is a mystery, and I know exactly what Michele is talking about here! Check, check, check...I've made each of these mistakes. And no chocolate? Michele, you are brutal when it comes to punishment!

Michele Shaw said...

Thanks, Linda! I hope it helped in some way.

Thanks, Julie, my agency sister! Don't worry, when I make it out your way, I'll come bearing chocolate!

PW Creighton said...

Thanks for dropping by Linda and Julie. Yeah, I certainly feel your pain Michele, maybe the the no chocolate-thing might work to keep my thoughts in-line too.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh man, guilty guilty guilty! I get confused in my own stories sometimes. And dropping story threads? Oh yeah.

Great tips, Michele!

Michele Shaw said...

I'm confused all the time, Carol. But somehow I manage to pull it together with a lot of thought and AWESOME betas:)

PW Creighton said...

Thanks for stopping by Carolina, yeah it can get complicated.

Michele, I second that! And throw in an excel sheet/storyboards to keep it all straight...heh.

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