Daily Writing Tip 65 of 100, Subtlety and Misdirection

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Subtlety and Misdirection

Source – Conflict Action & Suspense by William Noble

A car engine breaks the stillness of the night… The smell of seaweed intrudes on an afternoon chess game… And unopened letter slips behind couch cushions….

These are what we might call “plot-hypers”, in that they add an element of uncertainty and tension. They create a rise of anxiety by injecting an unexplained event or circumstance. What makes plot-hypers especially useful is the relative ease with which they can be used and the impact they can have on the story.

Unexpected elements in fiction – we need to remember to sprinkle them, but with discretion. I’ve always said a story can have one extremely unlikely coincidence (they do happen, and without this coincidence you wouldn’t have a story) – but only one. Two extremely unlikely coincidences strain credulity past the breaking point.

You can have a character randomly run into one character from their past (“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”) but that’s it… no more. If you don’t believe in the story, there is no uncertainty and tension – it’s just letters on the page.