Conman Magician Detective
The Faces of the AuthorTo be an effective writer one has to wear many masks. Having a good idea for a story is the easy part, but writing a great story is like climbing Mount Everest, in a blizzard. Yes it can be done, but it is slow going, and you must take the proper steps to get there. For the writer to scale the lofty peaks of great story telling they must evolve through a series of faces to get the job done.
The first face or mask if you wish, that the writer must wear is that of the conman. Any good conman will tell you that a successful con starts with a good story. If you start with a good story the mark, or in our case the reader, will be distracted from the sleight of hand you are about to perform before their very eyes. If you have ever seen anyone perform the classic shell game con, you may have noticed they set you up with a story. As the operator perpetuates his con upon his audience, he keeps them engaged with the back story. He moves the shells around and around as quickly as he can while weaving a tale and just as the story gets good… he stops and asks “Where is the pea?” Of course you thought you were paying close attention and knew right where it was at. You were wrong. The writer / conman performs the same kind of feat. They begin to weave a tale, as this tale progresses they shuffle you around from character to character, and story line to storyline and just when you think you know where things are going… Yes they pulled a switch on you.
The second face of the writer is that of the magician. Magicians start out just as the conman, but they get a little more sophisticated. They begin by weaving a story. They throw in some misdirection. Then they invite you, entice you, and coerce you into suspending your disbelief of magic. Why would they do this? Well the conman sucked you in so that he could take something from you. In the real world this usually takes the form of your hard earned cash. The Magician’s motive is to impart something to you. He or she is trying to impart to you a sense of wonder. They want you to believe for just a moment that anything is possible, that magic could be real. In writing he is trying to take from you all the things outside of the story, that may pull away your attention. For the writer this is vital to the story. They are creating for you a new world, and new reality and for you to accept this reality they have to lure you into a suspension of your disbelief. When the author is successful then the real magic takes place. You become part of the story, a participant in the illusion. You believe in and identify with the characters and take invested interest in their story. If the magician has done his job well, it now feels like your story.
The third face the writer wears is that of the detective. Through the course of their story they reveal to us a mystery. Though the author may at many times during the tale, switch back to conman and magician, their most important role is that of the detective. Just like a detective in the real world they must discover the mystery, and then they move us forward step by step revealing the source and the solution to said mystery. I love mysteries. They are like great intellectual puzzles that can be solved when enough of the pieces are revealed. A printed mystery or one on the screen usually follows one of three forms. Form one leads you along from clue to clue (not necessarily in any order) in a way that gives you enough clues to solve the mystery yourself. Form two leads you along giving you random clues but still keeping you rather in the dark until the detective in the story presents the solution. This form usually implores what has been termed as the great reveal where the detective calls all of the players together in one place and walks them through the facts and timeline of events finally revealing the truth at the end. The third form brings you along gathering clues and following a logical order of facts and events. Then at the reveal proves all of these facts to be misleading and reveals the opposite of the logical conclusion you and the detective were forming.
As a good detective the writer has to give you certain information. First they have to present you with the mystery of course. Then they must lead you to discover hidden clues. Those clues have to be plausible when laced together to form the story. A few obvious clues can be sprinkled in along the way. These clues are little tidbits that on their own seem insignificant, but when placed alongside the weight of the greater evidence suddenly impact the story. The detective must also discover the players and what their motives are. As with all mystery characters the three important elements are motive, means and opportunity. As the detective discovers these clues to the characters we are brought along with them getting to know each character in turn.
If the Author wears all of these faces for us and presents them well, at the end of the story we have been pulled into a whole new reality. We have suspended our sense of disbelief and become open to magic. We have become part of the story, and we have met new and interesting characters with which we can identify. We have been there and back again and feel richer for having taken the journey.
What mask are you wearing today?
Good writing my friends.