Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Virtual Ecdysiast, or Fanning the Reader's Interest

I just had a huge breakthrough in the shower!

(Does that sound kind of dirty, or is that just me?)

Anyway, what I had was a major plot breakthrough for my current WIP. I know whodunnit! Hooray!

At first I didn't see how this character could possibly have "dunnit," since they (the gender-neutral "they," not the plural "they") are already, you know, dead. (That can sometimes be an impediment to "doing it.")

BUT, it turns out they (gender, not plural) were only mostly dead, to borrow (=shamelessly steal) a phrase from The Princess Bride. Or, if you're a Monty Python fan, perhaps they're pining for the fjords.

Once I figured that out, several large pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Whew! I can almost see how the whole picture will look once I'm done. Though plenty of details are admittedly still fuzzy. Which is good. Really. Because if it were all clear at this point, I'd get bored with it and want to move on to solving the next mystery.

It's kinda like watching a stripper. Way more interesting as long as something remains covered up. Looking at complete nakedness, all laid out there, is just too clinical. Ho-hum.

Side note: I'm *cough* using my imagination with this analogy. Couldn't tell you *cough, cough* from first-hand experience, never having actually seen a stripper. (What's that you say? My nose? No, of course it's not growing. That's, um, just a trick of the light.)

To carry this TOTALLY VICARIOUS analogy further, if me watching the story unfold in my mind is like watching a stripper, then I suppose me revealing the story to the reader is like being the stripper.

Or, if you prefer a more professional term, the ecdysiast. Personally, I kinda like that. I'm thinking about having business cards made up:

Linda G., Virtual Ecdysiast

But back to the point. When you're writing a story, especially a mystery, you have to be careful not to reveal too much too soon. You have to show enough "skin" to keep your audience riveted, but not so much that they have their mental itches scratched before you want them too. We can't have them rolling over and lighting a cigarette before they reach chapter three, can we?

The trick is to always (until the end) cover something up as you reveal something else. Sally Rand, fan dancer, was an expert at this:



Like Sally, you have to give your audience something, a flash here and there, just to keep them hooked. But you also have to maintain the overall mystery until the end. Keep 'em guessing, or you lose 'em. You have to promise there'll be a payoff--tease them with it as mercilessly as you like--but make them wait for it.

And then you better follow through. Or else your reader might just throw your book against the wall.

20 comments:

Susan Adrian said...

YAY shower breakthrough!!

And your analogy made me snort. Though it *is* accurate...

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I did not know what an ecdysiast was before today, but now I can't stop giggling. Thanks!

Candyland said...

I've *cough* never seen a stripper either *cough*...
But I'd love a breakthrough in the shower (oh wait, that wasn't meant to be dirty?...)

LR said...

First I had to skim through this ('cause in a hurry) and I saw: shower, dirty, stripper, fuzzy, naked, flash, tease.

Then of course I read through it carefully again, and I totally agree. No matter what genre, you've gotta have some mystery going on. :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Wait, so doing it in the shower, stripping, and teasing?

Sorry, was there some kind of plot breakthrough here? :)

Linda G. said...

Suze -- It is, isn't it? A writer should always get in touch with her inner stripper. ;)

Elizabeth -- Kind of a clinical sounding word for stripper, huh? Sounds more like some stuffy scientist who studies bugs, or word origins, or fish.

Candyland -- I'll believe you if you'll believe me. ;)

LR -- Gee, it sure skims dirty, doesn't it? How'd that happen? And you're absolutely right--all genres require mystery.

Sierra -- Showers are the best places for breakthroughs. Something about all that steam really loosens up the...um, ideas. ;)

Piedmont Writer said...

Hey congratulations, shower or no, you had a breakthrough. I love those and usually get them doing yard work. And yes, I will admit, I have seen a stripper. (Was not impressed.)

Patty Blount said...

I shall embrace my inner stripper immediately.

KarenG said...

I get great ideas in the shower. And also vacuuming. So I think when I turn off my brain the ideas come. When I think too hard-- nothing.

Linda G. said...

Piedmont Writer -- Thanks! It had been stewing in the back of my head for some time, so it was a big relief to have it pop to the fore.

Too bad the stripper you saw was unimpressive. I figure if you're going to do something like that, you should at least get a good show.

Patty -- I bet she'll like that. ;o

KarenG -- Ironing is another thing that works for me, sadly. I prefer shower ideas to ironing ideas. More fun.

Karla Nellenbach said...

shower epiphanies are the best, aren't they? I do my best writing in there :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Wow, I learned a new word today! Thanks! Once I figure out how to pronounce it, I will trot it out in conversation and impress (read as: annoy) my friends!

Showers are great places for breakthroughs, as (I hear) are bathtubs. Eukeka!

Today, what helped me best was lying on a pool float, staring at the sky and letting my mind wander. Occasional startling encounters with the pool vacuum sneaking up on me only made it more exciting!

Tawna Fenske said...

Love this! It actually reminds me of one of my favorite short poems by Phil Dacey called "The Poem as Striptease."

Here it is:

THE POEM AS STRIPTEASE
There was a difference of opinion
afterwards
as to just how far
she went.

Clever, no?

Love this post!
Tawna

Linda G. said...

Karla -- Can't argue with that! I may have get a grease pencil to write them on the tiles, though, so I don't forget them in the time it takes to shave my legs. ;)

Dianne -- the pool-floating as inspiration sounds heavenly! Sadly, my neighborhood pool is usually too full of small, hominid-like critters to allow anything like "relaxation." ;)

Tawna -- Oh, I LOVE that poem! So true, with writing (and any art form) as well as striptease -- "how far" is all in the eye of the beholder.

Sharon Axline said...

First WHOOO HOO on the break through and not a through break! you know showers one false step and....
OOO and Sally Rand - she of the fan! Love the vid! And oo a mostly dead perp! And to quote Monty..I'm not dead! I feel happy! I feel Happy!

Linda G. said...

Sharon -- LOL! I think I want that on my tombstone someday: "I feel happy!" Not anytime soon, of course. ;)

Kelly Breakey said...

Okay, I am going to own this.

When I was in the Navy, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, I attended a Banana Show. They were all the rage with the single guys. So one night on watch all of the single females got together and decided we wanted to know why it was so "AWESOME" and made plans to go together to see this show.

I am not going to go into the actual show. But suffice to say she really was AWESOME when you got past the whole naked thing. Which after the show started; you really didn't see anymore.

So maybe it's okay to strip it all off because when you look at the real talent, no one is going to see us baring it to the world. What they will see is how great the story is.

coffeelvnmom said...

Breakthroughs rock. And the "mostly dead" part was great. I love that movie! Congrats!

Linda G. said...

Kelly -- Okay, will I lose all my Bad Girl street cred if I admit I had to Google "banana show"? [Note to readers -- Google it at your own risk, especially if you're at work. ;)] Wow! I'm impressed with your gumption! And you make a good point about the story. :)

coffeelvnmom -- Another Princess Bride fan! I don't think I've met anyone yet who doesn't like that movie. :)

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