Writing Tip #15

Keep ’em guessing — incorrectly. I’m one of those readers who likes to guess what’s going to happen in a book. “Oh, I just know that So-and-So is the mole!” or “The hero is going to find the treasure under the fountain at the mall! You’ll see!” Hence, the pressure on the novelist, particularly the mystery or thriller writer, to keep her readers interested enough to want to try and figure out the ending but confused just enough to get it wrong.

On Friday, I received feedback from one of Baby Grand’s readers, one of several who have read the book in its early stages, and I was very surprised to hear that this particular reader guessed all my little mysteries and surprises ahead of time. And here I thought I was being so thorough and clever and inscrutable. (Cue rain on parade.) Granted, she was the only one so far to make such a comment, but she certainly has me thinking about my story and whether or not it can be made less transparent — if, indeed, it is.

Right now, I’m reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and my mind is already racing with ideas for what’s going to happen — although I’ve been told that I’ll “never” guess (which makes me want to guess even more). And my feeling is that, since this is such a meaty and carefully plotted novel, if I do manage to predict correctly, I’ll likely credit myself with being such a perceptive reader rather than blame the book for being flawed.

Perhaps the same can be said of this reader, that her “guessing” the ending of Baby Grand was an aberration — a credit to her rather than a fault of mine. Still, it’s a good idea to take another look at my story and tighten the leaks, make sure my red herrings aren’t red flags. Because if I can keep even the most intuitive and seasoned thriller readers in the dark, then I will not only have done my job, but will have done it well.


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