So a banjo playing gargoyle, Groucho, and Shakespeare walk into bar…..OK, I know it’s a start to a really bad bar joke—but the writer in me keeps stirring these words, thinking of possible plots I could use these three characters in (and I have to admit I am going to finish the joke-line one day 🙂 ). I took the featured picture above in a Biltmore House gift store—pulling out my camera for a snap as soon as I saw these three intriguing creatures. A devilishly clever salesperson had set the display trap just perfectly for me, surely knowing that some poor customer would stop just long enough to be curious, and most likely purchase at least one of them (gargoyle’s now in California, what can I say…)
As a writer, I need to do the same thing for my readers to keep the plot interesting and engaging, building suspense, and eventually outing the bad guys. You want to make it impossible (or at least hard) for the reader to put your book down (and don’t forget to give enough them enough detail to make them want to buy your book in the first place). Here are four tips that help me when I’m developing a plot and its eventual twist(s) to keep readers on their toes:
Not All Should be Revealed
One of the hardest things a writer has to do is figuring out how much information needs to be divulged about a character or situation to keep the story moving and entertaining. You can set the scene using prologues or flashback techniques to give readers a condensed version of what they might expect without overloading them with TMI. You don’t want to give the reader mundane details that have little or no bearing on the story—I like to have just enough detail to introduce me to the situation and characters, and have a little more detail emerge in each chapter. You want the readers to turn that page to find out more, not close the book because it’s overladen with detail (I just finished a book where the writer was throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, almost made me throw the book out the window). There’s a time and place for everything…reveal accordingly.
Characters, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
I’ve written about the characters before—we all have a good and a dark side. Characters can and should evolve and change over time, sometimes with good becoming evil or evil turning good. The true nature of a person should come out as the plot evolves. What is going to set a person off? How will a character react to a dangerous situation? What attracts a character to another? What makes a character commit dastardly deeds? Writers need to develop multi-dimensional characters with traits that can surprise a reader. You never know what will bring out the redeeming quality of a character (or their dark side), or when it will emerge. As a writer, my characters surprise me all the time, and I love it when they do 🙂
Settings Should Have Some Mystery
I’m so glad Cherrywood Hall has 151 rooms (and counting), 5000 acres, hundreds of years of history, and is in close proximity to the quaint little village of Maidenford and the booming London metropolis. There is always a new place where Gemma and her fellow characters will find trouble (and maybe a little romance, and maybe a cocktail, and always fabulous boots). Mystery looms everywhere, even in a single room. What makes a place mysterious? Is it the hanging cobweb in the corner? The smell of moth balls permeating a room that hasn’t been used in a hundred years? The village road where no one dares to walk? The eyes you know are watching you from the woods as you walk along the sea path. You don’t have to hear creaking floorboards (although that usually means trouble) or falling logs in a fireplace (Aunt Pippa’s favorite way to communicate her ghostly wisdom). Give your settings something readers will remember, they may want to come back someday.
Expect the Unexpected
I love it when I can say ‘I didn’t see that coming…” A plot, especially a mystery plot, needs to keep the readers always a little bit in the dark. You think you know the answer or figured out who-dunnit, but do you really? Most stories have at least twenty characters involved in the plot—some are obvious bad guy candidates, but others not so much. I always like to have several bad guy scenarios that are feasible, to keep readers guessing to the end (and sometimes even I don’t know how or why something occurs until I’m writing). I like to come up with new methods too for devious deeds—I’ve fallen in love with drones (you have to read my books to find out why) 🙂 A little ghostly help is always a useful thing to have in your writer’s pocket too (Aunt Pippa would agree). Always mix in a little of the unexpected in your plot—it’s the seasoning to your story. Everything is better with a little spice in my book.
Finally, the one word of advice I received over and over again is to show (through the characters dialogue and movement), don’t tell (rambling narratives). This, to me, is the best piece of plot advice there is (my characters want to speak, especially after being cooped up for months in between books). What are your favorite plots and tips? Dying to know….
Crowns and Kisses,
P.S. I hope the pictures in today’s post kept you guessing 🙂 They are pictures of the walls in the Halloween Room, located down in the basement of the Biltmore House. Can you imagine the parties and events that have happened in that room? Lots of mysteries I’m sure. Gemma would approve 🙂