Or How to misdirect

One thing my professors tried to instill in me is to treat my audience with respect. In many ways, their advice came down to that of Kurt Vonnegut:

“Now lend me your ears.  Here is Creative Writing 101:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist.  No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person.  If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.  To heck with suspense.  Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964).  She broke practically every one of my rules but the first.  Great writers tend to do that.”

So, I’m mulling over this story. I’ll spare you the details, but the crux of the whole thing is a reveal. Guy obsesses over the source of a noise, goes to crazy measures to find out the truth. So how do I keep from wasting my reader’s time and writing pulling a cheap surprise ending? I have no idea.

Obsession and ugly human emotions are much more interesting to me than mystery. I guess that’s why I’m always more interested in stories from the murder’s point of view than the cops. Over the month I was MIA from here, I watched The Dark Knight a couple of times. (The IMAX tickets are totally worth it. Do it if you have the chance.) The notion of The Joker being one of the complicated criminals is engaging in a way that a mobster holding out for drug money is not. The question is, how to direct the story towards the madness instead of the mystery.

Or maybe I’m micromanaging things.


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