Just yesterday, I heard a word I hadn’t heard or seen used for years. The word is Brinkmanship.
My definition for it (from the creative writing perspective) is “to bring Readers to the BRINK of solving the mystery, then strategically pulling them away from that answer, only to maneuver them onto another path.” When writers hone this skill, they produce wonderful adventures that not only challenge our logical thinking abilities but also satisfy the soul. Much like the tapestry illustration shown here, the various color hues (characters) and textures (plot/angles) intrigue us and bring us joy.
Agatha Christie is one of the best and most-read novelists. She instinctively knew how to weave the threads of Intrigue, Suspense, and Mystery into puzzle patterns creating beautiful whodunits that tantalize, frustrate, and bring us to the brink of giving up before they allow us to discover the truth. Here are some of the techniques she used.
Clues: A spot of blue ink is found under the desk. Ah! A clue! Clues provide information to one or more characters and to the Reader. These include tangible objects such as the blue ink pen found on the suspect’s desk, fingerprints, or a letter clenched in the victim’s hand. And, as in real life, other objects might be collected but have nothing to do with the mystery, which become false clues leading our characters (and Readers) to wrong conclusions—for a short time, that is.
Red Herrings: The technique that uses an event or statement to overtly mislead characters (and Readers). However, this allows everyone to deduce (logically) whether this piece of information is relevant to the story. These red herrings keep Readers from figuring out what’s really going on sooner than outlined.
The Suspects: Because I enjoy the complexities of well-developed characters, this is my favorite part of any novel, especially the Mystery. From the tailor to the butler, the undercover police officer to the priest, and the chef to the hobo—almost every character in the book could have a reason to be suspected, even though just slightly.
Disguises: These can also add elements of intrigue and suspense to both characters and the settings (atmosphere/environment) in which we place them. This is a camouflage of either people or places that gives our Readers pause to consider another possible (logical) course in the storyline and keeps those pages turning.
Successful authors who employ these techniques—no matter the genre—often use opening sentences that incorporate several points. Here is an example of the first sentence in a novel that does just that.
“When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first.” Richard Stark, Backflash
Immediately, the Reader is presented with several clues, a character/suspect with enough strength to crawl out of a wrecked car with a gun in his hand. When writing skills are honed to create opening sentences like this, publishing success is right around the corner!
ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene has been writing something since before kindergarten days and continues to love the process. Through her small business—DOYLE WRITING SERVICES—she brings more than 40 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their projects. She developed these blogs for Outskirts Press (OP) a leading self-publisher, and occasionally accepts a ghostwriting project from one of their clients. Her recent book release (with OP) titled FIREPROOF PROVERBS, A Writer’s Study of Words, has received excellent reviews including several professional writer’s endorsements given on the book’s back cover.
Royalene’s writing experience grew through a wide variety of positions from Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to Teacher of Literature and Advanced Writing courses and editor/writer for an International Christian ministry. Her willingness to listen to struggling authors, learn their goals and expectations and discern their writing voice has brought many manuscripts into the published books arena. December 2017 marked the end of Royalene’s tenure at Self Publishing Advisor. and we will be spending the next few weeks celebrating some of her all-time hits, her most well-received articles for our blog, in thanks for years of generous service.