Plotting your novel pt 3

Twists and turns in your novel

To engage and retain the interest of your reader your novel should have tension. Nobody would stick around to read a story where there is no challenge or obstacle for the protagonist to overcome. Together with the greater quest or overarching story you want to tell, your popular fiction story should contain the following.

Twists and turns: by putting unexpected challenges in the way of the protagonist or events getting in the way of the protagonist’s aims you make the reader become more involved with the story. These twists also provide the reader with an added interest in putting something unexpected in the way of their own expectations of how the story will unfold. This is most evident in the “twist in the tale” ending or the denouement of a detective story where the reader is caught out by the murderer being unmasked as being the least likely character.

An example of these twists is “The Three Apples” from The Arabian Nights. It begins with a fisherman discovering a locked chest. The chest is broken open and the dead body is found inside. The initial search for the murderer fails, but then a twist occurs when two men appear, separately claiming to be the murderer. And so on. The more ingenious the twist, while still remaining believable and being able to be resolved in an acceptable way, is a skill readers greatly appreciate.

Types of twists

Discovery where the protagonist’s sudden recognition of their own or another character’s true identity or nature. In “The Three Apples”, the protagonist discovers a key item towards the end of the story that reveals the true culprit behind the murder to be someone least suspected.

Flashback is a sudden, vivid reversion to a past event. This throws light on the current situation of the protagonist for either good or ill.

The Unreliable Narrator twists the ending by revealing that the narrator has manipulated or fabricated the whole story, forcing the reader to question their prior assumptions about the story they have been reading. Sometimes the writer plays with the reader’s assumptions on social class or mental facilities such as the examples in the multi-narrated novel The Moonstone by Wilkie Colins.

Reversal is a sudden change in the protagonist’s fortune, whether for good or ill, that emerges naturally from the character’s circumstances.

Deus ex machina is a Latin term meaning “god out of a machine.” It refers to an unexpected character, device or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction to resolve a situation. This device should be used sparingly to ensure your fiction emains believable. At the Pixar film studio they have a rule that conincidence can get a character into trouble but that the character’s own atributes and not conincidence must get them out of trouble and resolve the story line.

Poetic justice is a literary device in which virtue is rewarded or vice punished in a way that the reward or punishment has a logical connection to the deed and it is interesting how readers still want a happy ending for the main character.

Chekhov’s gun refers to a situation in which a character or plot element is introduced early in the narrative, then not referenced again until much later where its second appearance should be vital to the resolution of the story. Otherwise it can only be a red herring which is a false clue intended to lead toward an dead end for the protagonist.

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