RULES OF FICTION with KEN BROSKY
Title: What Are You Hiding?
Alice got lucky. That’s the only way to describe her situation: abducted as a child from her home in a small Indiana community, she could have been doomed as another number in the grim statistic of missing persons. But against all odds, her policeman father managed to find her and rescue her. All grown-up now, Alice spends much of her free time searching for other missing persons on The Doe Pages, trying to reunite families with their loved ones. That is, until she recognizes one of the faces she comes across …
That’s the initial premise of Lori Rader-Day’s awesome mystery novel, The Lucky One. With the help of her friends, she uncovers more about the kidnapper and quickly learns that unraveling his past will require perseverance and more than a little help. That help comes in the form of a young woman named Merrily Cruz, who knew the kidnapper and regarded him as something of a father figure.
There’s a tension here between the two characters, who trade off chapters in Rader-Day’s book. Alice has nothing but scorn for her kidnapper (obviously very understandable, given her circumstances!) and Merrily is conflicted. He seemed kind to her. But there are gaps in her memory, just like there are gaps in Alice’s memory of the abduction. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that both of the novel’s main characters are going to have to accept that they’re in over their heads.
What makes Rader-Day’s novel so fun is the alternating perspective. She uses what’s know as “limited third-person narration.” This means that when the chapter is focused on Alice, the narrator can only get inside Alice’s head. When the chapter is focused on Merrily, the narrator can only get inside Merrily’s head. It’s a good approach for mysteries, because it allows the writer to keep any potential suspects’ (or antagonists’) thoughts to themselves. But Rader-Day uses this on an even more impressive level: in switching between the two main characters, we as readers get an intimate look into what they’re hiding from each other.
And that is the rub: they’re trying to work together. But they don’t trust each other. And neither is interested in being 100% open. Conflict and tension simmer under the surface, and readers get to be the all-knowing audience!
Consider, for example, this early passage from one of Merrily’s chapters, when she’s hosting Alice and her friends for the first time:
Merrily realized too late she should have brought out some cake. Maybe some lemonade. But then they’d have needed the gas station bathroom sooner, and she wasn’t ready for them to leave.
Merrily is withholding her normal hospitality to get more information out of this mysterious group of women!
Now contrast this with a later passage from one of Alice’s chapters, when Alice realizes how close Merrily was with Alice’s kidnapper, named Rick:
Merrily’s hope that Rick … would be OK? That this would all end up with Rick Kisel being returned to her life? It made her sick …The guy hadn’t really been in her life. Not that the dumb girl could tell the difference.
I love the tension this builds, chapter to chapter. And I love how Rader-Day plays it out in her book.
Writing Activity: The Dueling Perspectives
Start by developing (or choosing from your own writing) two characters. You’re going to write two chapters, one from each of their perspectives using limited third-person narration. Give them a goal they’re trying to achieve together. You can let your imagination run free here: it can be two co-workers, or it can be two private investigators, it can be two explorers, or it could even be two murderers!
Once you’ve got your characters and their shared goal, make a list of everything each character knows about the goal. Make sure that their knowledge is distinct and incomplete. They need to work together.
Finally, decide which information each character is going to withhold from the other. To add conflict, decide how each character regards the other. If they respect each other and are willing to share everything, nothing interesting is happening!
When you’re finished, read over your two chapters a second time. Where can your story go from here? Explore and continue writing!
RULES OF FICTION with KEN BROSKY
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