Three Dirty Birds Talk Story Trumps Structure: Twists


Three Dirty Birds are flying through this book–now we’re at Chapter 10: Twists.

Kate: Bored. Zzzzzzzz. Why did I get the boring chapter?

Ana: Because you’re a lady. You can’t take the more exciting parts.

Then I’ll just have to fix that, won’t I?

Ana: Is this going to be a plot twist?

Kate: If I told you that, it wouldn’t be much of a twist, would it?

Ana: But you could still make it a promise.

Zoe: We’ll just have to wait and see if Kate turns Ana on her head. I agree that it was kind of a snoozy chapter, but there was one bit that had me thinking even as I went on to read the other two chapters for this week. It was where he said to create a parallel story to the one you’re telling on the surface, so that readers think the story is one thing, but it’s actually this other thing, which you reveal…in the twist.

Kate: That was really the only point in the chapter where he had my attention. But it seems fairly obvious, too. You want to have the obvious implications, but hide clues to the real explanation inside the obvious stuff. I like to hide clues in lists of things, like when I describe a room. I’ll list a bunch of things the character notices, some of which are scenery, but at least one of which has significance with respect to the story.

Zoe: George R. R. Martin is the master of burying a teeny tiny important detail in a mountain of gastronomy.

Ana: I never find those because I skip his too lengthy descriptions. And I figured that everything that matters will be repeated.

Zoe: I just go on the /asoiaf subreddit and see what I missed.

But the descriptions are long for that reason–you have to be aware while you’re reading his stories, because the clues are anywhere. It’s a bit of a game to me, trying to pick out what’s probably going to have significance later in the book. If I win, I get a prize.

Zoe: The parallel story thing wasn’t obvious to me. My first reaction when I read that was, “Geez—isn’t it enough work coming up with one story?” Which is why it ran around in the back of my head while I read the other chapters…and by the time I was done, I realized I had actually already been doing that with the novel I’m working on. So it was obvious, but not consciously obvious…if that makes sense?

Ana: I think that goes for a lot of his advice. And writing advice in general, I guess. I often read something that’s new to me, but then realize I’d already been doing it that way.

Kate: I guess this is one of the few things that I was doing consciously. By the time I have my first draft done, the vast majority of the story is there. Then it’s passes for choosing wording that can be interpreted several ways, setting up any Easter Eggs, and dropping in clues that I intend for people to miss on the first read. It’s like an upside Hierarchy of Human Needs–the main story is the largest part and rests on the surface. But, as you drill down farther, the clues become smaller and more hidden, except that once you see them, it’s obvious. (That’s not to say I do a great job of it all the time, but it’s something I try for.)

Ana: I guess the reason I wind up with a lot of rewrites is that I often don’t find my ‘story behind the story’ or second story until I’m done with the first draft, and then I have a whole lot of things to add in the background. In the books I read I really like plot twists that, as he describes it, give new meaning to everything that precedes them. I think those are the books that, when you read them twice, they’re different the second time around.

Kate: I think this might be why I’m so slow a writer, though. You guys leave me in the dust with your wordcounts.

Zoe: I figure out the stories during the planning phase, so they’re there in the first draft. Usually my subsequent drafts are fixing character actions to make them more consistent with the character. I do like how he expressed the twist thing as parallel stories—I think that can help avoid the twists that come out of nowhere, if you’re thinking of it as a secret story that runs along with the surface story.

Kate: I think that comes down to a certain amount of ambiguity in how things can be interpreted. If you’re running a parallel story structure, you have to make sure that there are two or more possible interpretations for a choice, an action, or an observation. The obvious one, and the real one that makes sense once you adjust how you look at the story. Like those “Is it a vase or two faces?” pictures.

Zoe: And misdirecting readers comes back to the questions he told us to ask in Chapter Eight: What are readers expecting right now? What are they hoping for?

Ana: Yup, it’s all about reader expectation and manipulating it.

Zoe: I sometimes find I get in my own way, with wanting to get to what I’m hoping for—you know, the guys getting together or whatever. I have to watch myself with that. I’ve ruined a lot of story endings with jumping to that too quickly/easily/unbelievably.

Ana: That’s not a problem I have because sex scenes are hard and I’m lazy.

Kate: Lol. That’s what revisions are for. And The Editor In Question.

Zoe: Yeah, Games Boys Play had 20,000 words added to the ending in the second draft. (The readers who have issue with the published ending should get a look at the original. It would have brought angry mobs with pitchforks and torches to my front door.)

Kate: I like that on page 142, he basically consolidated the entire chapter onto two pages. I’ve stickied that, so I don’t have to comb through the rest of it, because I did find it kind of repetitive.

Zoe: That was two solid pages of questions…so I skimmed it. I should sticky note it so I can go back and actually read them at some point. (I did write “What are readers expecting? What are they hoping for?” on a sticky note and put it on my monitor. Next to last week’s note that said pretty much the same thing. But they’re good questions to ask!) (Ana: Which you’re never going to look at again.) (Right.)

Kate: I’ve got a few notecards up on my corkboard now, with some of his questions on it. Mostly the ones that will help keep me on track a little more.

Zoe: (The difference being that Kate will probably look at her notecards.)

Kate: They’re right above my monitor, which is where I always look when I’m trying to avoid writing.

Ana: I still look at my monitor when I’m trying to avoid writing. Just not at Scrivener.

Zoe: Me too. Or I go over to the couch and take a nap. I’m a big fan of naps.

Ana: I often plot in my head while lying on my bed. Sometimes I fall asleep. (Often.)

Zoe: My ability to plot while I “nap” is directly proportional to how far away something to jot notes down on is. The farther away, the better my ideas.

Kate: My best ideas come when I’m driving, because of course there’s no way to write anything down. And it’s usually on my way ‘into’ town, so by the time I get home–zip.

Zoe: On those kinds of drives, I wind up repeating key lines of dialogue in my head over and over till I get home. (At which point Mr. Rider wants to talk, and boom—gone from my head.) I tried using a voice recorder, but it’s just awkward. On long drives (I love road trips), I can plot out entire novels, and since it doesn’t rely on bits of dialogue, I can usually keep that intact in my head for a while (months even) before I write it down. But dialogue…ugh…get it down or lose it forever.

Kate: My stories always start with a piece of dialogue and one image, and then they grow from there.

Ana: For me it usually starts with specific characters I want to write about. Don’t ask me where they come from, they just wander into my head and refuse to move out as if they paid rent.

Zoe: A piece of dialogue will get my butt in the chair writing, but the story idea can start from anything. It’s frustrating when that happens on the road.

I’m thinking readers didn’t expect naps and road trips, so we’ve successfully twisted this discussion.

Ana: Yay. I’m still confused about Kate’s lady-status though.

Zoe: Maybe that’ll be resolved in the next chapter.

Kate: You’ll have to wait and see…

Tune in on Wednesday, when we talk about Promises You Make To Your Reader.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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