Have you ever been a participant in "Three Card Monty," or stood near someone who performed a fantastic "sleight of hand" trick, leaving you to scratch your head in an attempt to figure out how they did that, or been outright lied to, the worst trick of all, but still a trick.
What do these have in common, misdirection. A simple definition in the Merriam Webster dictionary is: to send (someone or something) to the wrong place, or, to give (someone) incorrect information.
I came across this article, The Art of Misdirection, by Michael Kurland, of Gotham Writers.
He writes; Misdirection comes in three flavors: time (the magician has the silk artfully placed in his hand before he begins the trick). Place (your attention is drawn to the magician’s right hand, while the move is done by his left hand, or his foot, or his assistant). Intent (the magician leads you to the decision he wants in such a subtle manner that you will swear afterwards that you had a free choice).
What is the value to the writer—or, better yet, the story — of these techniques? We writers can use these methods to smooth the pacing of a story, to slide information past the reader without waving it in her face, to change the direction of a story in mid-page, and to plant clues that will lie dormant until they’re ready to sprout.
WHY DO WRITERS USE MISDIRECTION?
In another article from Bryan Klems, of The Writer's Digest the perfect response was:
Why do we use subtlety and misdirection in the first place? And do they really enhance the way we build action and suspense? The answers lie in the simple equation that becomes an element of the partnership we develop with our readers: The longer we keep our reader guessing, the more attention they will pay to what they are reading. And subtlety and misdirection are two of the most effective tools available to keep the reader guessing and reading. It’s as simple as that.
THE UNRELIABLE NARRATOR-
Excerpts from an article by Tracey Culleton writes:
The narrator in any story doesn’t have to tell the truth! However, one absolute rule is that you cannot cheat the reader. The clues must be there, so that after the reader finds out the truth, she can look back and acknowledge that the correct information was there. You can hide the information using misdirection.
Ms Culleton continues with a reference to J.K. Rowling
Another good example of an unreliable narrator can be found in the Harry Potter books.
Nothing is what it seems in the Harry Potter – Rowling uses narrative misdirection to brilliant effect. We see the world through Harry’s eyes but he often gets it wrong. In every book there is a character who is not as they appear, whose identity is hidden. YOU CANNOT TRUST WHAT YOU SEE.
In the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s Snape with his black hair, long face, he is the epitomy of evil. During the game of Quidditch, Hermione and Ron see him muttering a curse to hex Harry Potter’s broom. It is only at the end when Professor Quirrel reveals that it was he(someone we thought we could trust) who was hexing the broom, that we realise that Snape was actually muttering a counter curse, and we see that Snape has Harry’s best interests at heart.
How many times each day in our normal lives are we being misdirected? I am sure numerous times. Take a moment and think about how you might have been misdirected and consider how you could weave that into your next fictional novel.
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