5 Tricks of the (Writing) Trade

In movies and tv, there are certain “tricks” directors can use, that defy the rules of logic but go unrecognized by almost everyone in the audience. For example, the T-rex magically appearing in the museum near the end of Jurassic Park, or scenes that are unexplainable, but we accept on trust (ie: “limbo” in Inception). This post isn’t going to be on directorial tricks, but rather authorial ones.

  1. Relative time. As an author, you can twist time by extending, contracting, or otherwise playing with the way your readers perceive it. For example, an eight-day week will go unnoticed by just about every reader, so long as you don’t label every day (two Thursdays in a row would be a big clue). Or, you could have a Winter that lasted fifty weeks, so long as you never explicitly state that fact. Serial novels, especially in the Young Adult genre, are great at this (if characters are seniors in high school, and they have to stay in high school for the plot of the series, it’s amazing how long that year lasts).
  2. Laser focus/umbrella description. By giving readers a single detail about a scene, authors ensure that the audience’s focus is on that detail. If there’s a knife that is absolutely important to the plot, it can be the only item mentioned for the first few paragraphs. As authors add details and objects, attention gets spread over each one, which can result in some interesting techniques (withholding information by describing something else, or extending so many nuggets of information that the truly important clues are hidden).
  3. Point of view. The basis for dramatic irony (when a character doesn’t know something that the readers do). Unlike life, where we only know the facts available to one character, by using multiple perspectives, an author can reveal information from several sources. Think of mysteries that start off from the killer’s perspective, but then move on to the detective’s. If the killer’s identity becomes known in that first scene, the question shifts. Instead of asking who the killer is, the audience wonders how the detective will figure it out (and often, whether he can do it before something horrible happens).
  4. Narrated thoughts. This is one that only authors can really claim (movies and tv sometimes attempt to add an element of a character’s thoughts to narration, but it generally doesn’t transfer well). In essence, a character’s thoughts reveal so much more about them than actions, and when used sparingly, can result in a stronger reader-character connection. If an author wants to show how their character is sarcastic or snide, thoughts are a great way to get that across. Or if they have something to hide, thoughts can reveal the secret.
  5. Purposeful dialogue. In writing, I’ve discovered that writing a straight conversation is dull, and tedious for both me and readers. Because of this, conversation is distilled into the truly important parts. Readers know that. They attribute more importance to what a character says in a novel than they would to a friend. You can play with that, either deliberately giving the wrong impression, or slipping in the character’s true meaning (a lot of readers don’t recognize this consciously, which is great).

Have some fun playing around with this (remember, as a writer your main job is to enjoy your work), and remember moderation. If you use any of these tricks too often, or too liberally, someone will notice, and call you out on it.

I hope you enjoyed this list. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. As a reader, do y’all recognize these when they happen? Do you have some tricks of your own that you like to use? Let me know in the comments down below.

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