You don’t want your readers to feel tricked, but you might want to trick them. Embrace your inner “Bwahaha” nature
- Create unreliable characters in-the-know: Consider moving beyond the common liar. Unreliable characters might be pathological liars, have a memory disorder, be in denial, or have myriad reasons they might omit truth…be creative with dysfunction!
- Foreshadowing can mislead the reader: A clever reader (or one who believes she is clever, but not as clever as you, brilliant author) may interpret the few mentions of a rope hanging from the rafters as being a tool for a future suicide, when in fact, the rope could have an unexpected use later on.
- Flashbacks are open to interpretation: Example: A secondary character smashes her mother’s treasured vase. The reader believes she’s angry with her mother, when, in fact, she’s destroying the vase for a completely different reason. She secretly knows her father stole it from a museum. Remember, as the author, you control what you want the reader to think.
- Your POV character can sway readers with passionate beliefs: If you main character believes something with all her heart, so will your reader. Both can be surprised to find out she was flat out wrong—or maybe she was right—or maybe what she is after is not the important question, after all.
- Likeability does not mean trustworthy: Make your least trustworthy characters the most likeable and your reader will fall for their lies. Remember: Even pathological liars can be charming, sweet people.
- Make the reader sympathize about the lie’s effect on your poor character before the truth is revealed: Your eleven-year-old character can’t read. Make him be “painfully shy”, suffering as a teacher repeatedly calls on him to read out loud and humiliates him publically for his inability to speak up. When the truth comes out, the reader will already be invested in the character’s suffering and will likely have an emotional response at the true reveal.
- Focus the reader on one question, while secretly setting up an unexpected one: Focus on Is she Jane Doe or isn’t she can occupy the reader, when the final twist answers a related, but surprising question: Who, exactly, is she?
- Develop believable and complex reasons to hide a secret: What’s at stake if the truth comes out? Make it big. Dramatic. Universal, even. The reason behind hiding a secret, no matter how abhorrent, can be believable and relatable. Most people are sickened behind the concept of Lolita, and yet Humbert Humbert does a remarkable job justifying to the reader his love for the young girl.
- I don’t have a nine.
- Or a ten (but who likes lists called “Top Eight Secrets to Writing Secrets”?)
STOLEN SECRETS (Boyds Mills Press, 9/19/2017)