8.02.2016

What Is Professed

When you are mapping out a novel with multiple twists, an illuminating tool is a three-column chart of what each of your deceptive characters say, at which points in the book, and why. Note first that this is a chart. That implies a string of lies by a character. The more you can connect instances of deception, the stronger becomes the trapdoor that is opened.

As an editor, what I often see might be termed a “one-off.” Clarisse tells a lie about being somewhere in order to hide the secret that she was doing something she considers shameful, like consulting a fortune teller. When the heroine finds this out later, she confronts Clarisse and the incident is dismissed. Clarisse is basically a good person with a weird predilection. A minor faux pas, which equals a minor twist.

Twists gain magnitude only through clever plotting. Using the chart, you can list that first entry. The magic happens in the “why” column. Let’s say she claimed embarrassment about a fortune teller because it is a plausible excuse if her lie was ever found out. Now the way is open for a deeper secret.

Let’s say the real reason was that Clarisse was visiting the homicide victim’s husband. Again, ask yourself why. If she was having an affair with him, how does she think she’ll explain that away when confronted by the heroine? Does she dissolve at this point? Does she tell more lies that dig her in deeper—because the heroine can ask the husband to verify? Clarisse is more of a villain, but lust is not necessarily the worst sin.

Let’s make her a true reprobate. Clarisse was shacking up with the husband because she is running a Ponzi scheme. Clues pointing to this crime have been cited elsewhere in the book, causing the heroine to follow that trail of clues, which she thinks points to Hector, who turns out to be Clarisse’s cousin. The heroine doesn’t link the scam to Clarisse until the very end. And if you like, Clarisse herself is a victim of Hector’s, who is blackmailing her because of a childhood past with an abusive father.

You see, you can spin whatever skeins you like. But if you keep track of them, you can connect up dots before you write the first word. You keep asking why, and your answer keeps leading you forward.

Exercise: You can also play with the scheming vs. desperate factor. A liar may be digging himself in deeper despite the fact he’s a good person. The heroine, and the reader, can be aware that the guy seems out of his depth. Tension can stem from unpredictability as well as smooth-faced deception.

“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.”
― Dorothy Allison

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine

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