Wednesday, January 9, 2013

There's probably a fancy word for when you do this...

Okay, so one of my most favourite things ever in writing is misdirection. A writerly sleight of hand that has the reader looking the wrong way when you pull that rabbit out of your hat. Or, in this case, that plot bunny out of your page. 

Here's a technique I attempted for SWUP, or "Slightly Weird Untitled Project". At least I'm calling it a technique. It may be a cheap gimmick. But here it is anyway. 

source

      I learned to write. 
     The Captain took my fingers and curled them around the pencil. He smelled of aftershave and steam. A tiny patch of bristles had escaped the scratch of his razor and hid under the ledge of his jaw line. He was warm. He closed his fingers over mine and together we pushed the pencil over the paper. The graphite scraped and crumbled. We left a thick black scar on the paper, cutting through a film of grey dust.
     The Captain laughed. “Too hard, Ryan!”  
     The first time they made me write with a pencil, my hand hurt. My hand, and my arm, and my shoulder and my back. Wasn’t right to sit like this, hunched over a desk, the Captain leaning over me while I made scratches on paper with my frozen claw hand. The Captain showed me how to flex my hand between scratches. 
     “That’s good work, Ryan,” the Captain told me. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed with his fingers, and for the first time ever I didn’t flinch away. 
     I looked at my writing. I didn’t know it yet, but I would soon. 
     At Home we used to draw pictures with burnt sticks on the side of the sheds down near the wharf, and then the rain would come and wash them away, or the salt air and the sun would chew at them until they faded into nothing. We used to draw on us, sometimes. Link cut lines in his arm like someone showed him once, and rubbed charcoal in them so the lines stayed there forever. 
     “That means me,” Link said, but he had to tell me. “It will mean me forever.”
     The clever thing with writing is that it tells you itself. Writing is a way of looking at some lines and knowing what they say, what they said in the beginning and what they will say forever. If you understand writing, the old man at the T-House told me, you can understand everything, even things that men wrote down a long time ago, men who are dead now. 
     Understanding writing is the same as listening to ghosts. 
     “You boys keep practicing,” the Captain said. He lifted his hand from my shoulder. “I’ll be back soon.”
     The door of our room squealed shut, and the latch rattled as it wormed into place. 
     I hunched over my writing. 
     The fan in the ceiling said click click click rattle over and over again. 
     “He likes you more,” Mitchell said. 
     “Does not.” My voice was hollow. Empty, like the dry rustle of dead palm fronds in the wind. It knew it was telling a lie. 
     “Does.” Mitchell made an up-down-up-down line on his paper. “That’s an M.” 


But here's the part I want you to notice: 

     The Captain took my fingers and curled them around the pencil. He smelled of aftershave and steam. A tiny patch of bristles had escaped the scratch of his razor and hid under the ledge of his jaw line. He was warm. He closed his fingers over mine and together we pushed the pencil over the paper.

What I did here, or what I attempted, was to try and describe the Captain the same way I would describe a character in a romance: the tiny detail of the bristles, the way he smells, his warmth, and his closeness. This is an intimate moment between the Captain and Ryan, and, even if Ryan hasn't realised it, I wanted it to be creepy since Ryan is a teen and the Captain is an adult. 

And here: 

     “He likes you more,” Mitchell said. 
    “Does not.” My voice was hollow. Empty, like the dry rustle of dead palm fronds in the wind. It knew it was telling a lie. 
     “Does.” Mitchell made an up-down-up-down line on his paper. “That’s an M.” 

See the implications there? Mitchell and Ryan mightn't have't picked up on it yet, but you have, right? Except it's a misdirect. I wanted the reader to be uneasy about the Captain, right up until the end. I want his motivations to be hidden, so you go along looking at that creepy closeness while I try and get this damn bunny to appear in my other hand. There is probably a word for this technique, and probably a gazillion better examples of it too, but I figured I'd share my attempt. 

What's your favourite way to mislead a reader? 

6 comments:

  1. The main thing I took out of this is that your novel is nicknamed SWUP. I LOVE that.

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    1. I am so, so bad at titles... :)

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  2. I think I understood what you were doing. It's very easy to creep out readers, I think, as they are always on the lookout for creepy characters, especially where the protag is female and the other character is male. On titles: I met the famous Irish writer, Colin Bateman, recently. He starts with a title and then writes the book. The Day of the Jack Russell is one of his, and his titles are all like that. Weird.

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    Replies
    1. I was going for a creepy vibe, for sure!

      See, I'm terrible with titles. Just terrible. I think it would be fantastic to be able to come up with a random title and write a whole book around it!

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  3. You actually want the reader looking when you pull that rabbit out of your hat. You want them looking the wrong way when you reach behind your back, grab the bunny, and stuff it into the hat. : p

    I didn't recognize the close-up scene as from a romance, but definitely felt the full effect of it.

    And if the end is a misdirect, now I really want to know what the Captain is after.

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    Replies
    1. And this is why I failed miserable at my stage magician career...

      And I would love to tell you what the Captain's really after, but I have to keep some secrets. Seriously, it's my only twist in this thing and I'm guarding it as closely as Gollum guards his precious. Having said that, if I ever finish SWUP, I'll totally email it to you!

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