Revealing Secrets & Plot Twists in Storytelling: Guest Post by Laurel Mayer

When I first set out to write a novel, I had no idea of the intricacies and strategies involved in getting the story onto the page — in a way that would hook readers and hold their attention. Since my head-first dive into NaNoWriMo a few years ago, when I cranked out a first draft in linear form, I’ve read several books on story structure, considered the balance of narrative and dialogue, and played with writing devices like tension and pace.

Today, Laurel Mayer, debut author of Pushover, talks to us about one important device in storytelling: revealing the secret. As with most things writing, several factors come into play at once to create a successful experience for the reader.

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The Art of Revealing Big Secrets in a Novel

Secrets, plot twists, and conflict are the basis of many novels, and for good reason. The unknown is a powerful source of imagination and curiosity for writer and reader alike, creating suspense, wonder and surprise that make for a page-turner. But, plot twist is a tricky writing device. The slow, steady, subtle unveiling is as important as the secret itself. Revealing too much too soon can leave the reader deflated and make a dud out of what could have been a bombshell. It takes careful crafting and patience to create a convincing plot twist that captivates readers.

PLAUSIBILITY

While creative license is at a writer’s discretion, the plausibility of the plot twist or secret should fit into the context of the novel’s genre. Paranormal or fantasy fiction lends itself to secrets that are supernatural or out of this world. Mysteries and detective fiction are typically based in realism, allowing the reader to pick up on tips or hints along the way. As a contemporary women’s fiction author I allow my characters and story to unfold in a conceivable fashion. The actions of my characters are true to their personalities so that as the reader advances in the novel, the twists and turns are genuine to the story.

IMPACT

Beyond believability, secrets and plot twists should have significance to the plot and characters of the novel. The last thing as an author I want a reader to say is, “So what?” This is a complex challenge because all components of the novel are related. If characters are not fully developed, readers cannot invest in them, and if that happens the impact of the secret or plot twist is diminished. The twist itself should have some magnitude to the novel, and tie into the conflict so as to not seem trivial or random. Just how meaningful the secret is relies greatly on the author’s ability to illustrate a story, sketch characters, build emotion, and ultimately reveal an unknown that forces a ripple throughout the plot.

TIMING

Traditionally plot twists occur later on in a novel. Revealing secrets too far in advance doesn’t give the reader much time to prepare for the twist, decreasing the impact of the reveal. Premature twists can also make for a less exciting second half. While the plot twist is a finite moment in time, the reveal is an artful, understated slope upward in the storyline that occurs over many pages. There are traces of the secret so that when it is ultimately exposed it is surprising, but not unfathomable. The suspense must be carefully timed to create a sense of anticipation for the reader and perhaps the characters, leading to a crescendo that is both an answer and in some ways a relief to the intrigued reader.

INVESTMENT

As a writer I truly appreciate when a reader takes a moment of their limited free time to read my novel, “Pushover.” This reader is investing in my novel, and it’s up to me to provide a story that is engaging. Part of this is developing characters and plots that are interesting and entertaining. But, this build up needs to lead somewhere. Plot twists require depth and dimension, creating an unveiling that equals or exceeds the investment. Make it an ultimate discovery that leaves the reader to marvel at the consequences of the secret revealed.

The art of revealing a big secret in a novel is largely subjective to the writer. Twists and turns provide the opportunity for the author to flex creativity, dexterity and wit in the story. The sudden spins take the reader on a ride that leads to a range of emotions. It makes each book exciting and fresh for the reader, and tests the writer’s skill to seamlessly spin a story.

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What do you find most challenging when revealing secrets in your stories?

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Laurel Mayer is the author of the debut novel, “Pushover.” A graduate of Boston University, Laurel lives outside of Boston with her husband and three sons. For more about Laurel and her writing please visit www.laurelmayer, “like” her author page on Facebook, follow @Laurel_Mayer on Twitter, or watch the official book trailer for “Pushover.”

About her book, Pushover:

Dani Wilder is a rising star on the Hollywood culinary scene, and she thinks she has finally found the perfect locale for the launch of her first restaurant. The prime spot sits on Sunset Boulevard, highlighted with rich wood beams, a vaulted ceiling, private booths and a stunning loft so high that the fall could kill someone. In fact, it did.

As this mild-mannered chef prepares to open L.A.’s “it” restaurant, she stumbles upon the sordid, dark secrets of her otherwise perfect boyfriend’s past. Impossibly handsome and pediatrician to celebrity kids, Jack has it all – including a former fiancée he never mentioned, or got over. Accused of pushing a woman to her death in the space on Sunset, Rebecca Sterling shares more than history with the restaurant, she was engaged to Jack and now she’s back in town.

Yes, Rebecca returns to do what she does best: spin a web of lies and get her way. And her deceptive methods work as usual with Jack. It’s certainly awkward for Dani, but is it dangerous? Dani suspects Rebecca got away with murder, lied to Jack, and is sabotaging the restaurant. Dani’s love, life, and livelihood are entangled in Rebecca’s scheme, and at what cost? After all, the only thing Rebecca loves more than making an entrance is making an exit.

Pushover is available as an eBook through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Christi

About Christi

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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9 Responses to Revealing Secrets & Plot Twists in Storytelling: Guest Post by Laurel Mayer

  1. Planning plot twists and turns is one of the most difficult things about writing a novel. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Laurel Mayer says:

    I agree, Heather. It’s a fun challenge, a creative calculation of sorts. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Laurel Mayer says:

    Thank you for hosting me, Christi! I appreciate the opportunity to be a guest on your insightful writing site!

  4. Beth Hoffman says:

    Terrific post on a very important but too often misunderstood topic!

  5. Christi Christi says:

    Laurel, Thank YOU for your post. Certainly, as Beth and Heather said, this is a tough writing device to tackle. I think for me, the biggest challenges are plausibility and timing. The story on which I’m working right now has the potential for too many reveals. I keep going back and forth between nixing one or keeping it. I’m glad to have your post as food for thought!

  6. First time here. Nice blog and great post. Well done.

  7. Revealing too much too soon is a trap that I am struggling to avoid in the telling of a story that I have been working on for a long time. The opening is a very dramatic and horrific scene which happened a long time ago. It explains the main protagonist’s motives for what later becomes the very dark side of her otherwise lovable character. The reader will therefore know who the murderer is from the very beginning, although the characters in the story will not. By the time that all is revealed, I want the readers to be so in love with the character that they will be on her side and be really upset that her deep secret is uncovered so that she might be brought to justice.
    I don’t know how to do this, other than cut the first scene and allow the readers to experience the voyage of discovery alongside the characters.
    Any ideas?

    • Lance,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. This is a tough one. I wouldn’t necessarily consider changing the structure of your novel (deleting the first scene) just yet. I recently read an excellent book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass, that touches on ways to reveal more about a character, pull at readers’ emotions, so that they do exactly as you hope: fall in love with the character no matter what they’ve done. I posted a review on the book with a bit more on what I took away from it (http://christicraig.com/2017/09/06/your-next-book-studythe-emotional-craft-of-fiction-by-donald-maass/). I can’t praise the book enough. I’d start there, if I were you. There are plenty of exercises within the pages that might help direct you to a better reveal without too much reveal. Good luck!

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