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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: William Noble on Subtlety and Misdirection

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Excerpt from Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble:

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: William Noble on Subtlety and Misdirection |

We speak of subtlety and misdirection because the story moves with veils and whisps and bare outlines, and there’s no attempt to ring a bell or blow a whistle so the reader’s attention can be lassoed like a runaway calf. What this type of writing requires is a careful assessment of how much or how little to offer the reader, keeping in mind that we don’t want to be unfair, and we don’t want to obfuscate beyond a reasonable point. It means we must come up with at least one plot-hyper [an element of uncertainty and tension], and we must plant the key somewhere in the text. It doesn’t do much good if we expect the reader to deduce things from vague clues because, then, we’ve exchanged subtlety for unreasonable expectation. Go back to Conan Doyle and Poe—both planted their plot-hypers in the body of their stories, the subtleties and misdirection came, not from obfuscation or vagueness, but from knowledge of the way we tend to think. How many of us are lulled by the steadiness of routine? The same thing done the same way at the same time and in the same place. Would we wonder about sinister consequences if the routine broke down once or twice? Human nature, we’d call it, nothing works perfectly every time!

Of course, Sherlock Holmes wasn’t quite so fooled.

Work Cited:

Noble, William. Conflict, Action & Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing). Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1994. 122. Print.

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