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Psychological thriller opening: Spoilers vs not enough info (1 Viewer)

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Nicola

Senior Member
Hello all,

As the writer who knows the answers to how my psychological thriller plays out, there are many things I do not want to give away at the beginning of the story. Thinking Sixth Sense style, too much detail on relationships and even character names will limit me on revealing twists and turns later on. However, after receiving feedback from a handful of readers on my opening chapters, the majority said my MC was unreliable and unsympathetic, and they wanted to know more information about relationships with other characters, such as how long they had known each other etc, which would also spoil revelations later on. So instead of creating an air of mystery, it seems I have already put people off! :concern:

Has anyone else encountered this problem?
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I think you might have two separate things going on here - your MC's personality, and the hookiness of your story. I guess there's some overlap, whereby if you reveal whatever other info about your MC, you undermine the actual reveal later one. In that case, maybe foreshadowing? Maybe set up situations leading up to the reveal that people would be intrigued about, that might cause problems and so on.

But also look for spaces where there's no overlap. Have the MC "save the cat" early on or innocuously and passingly interact with some other character in a way that seems throwaway, to help flesh them out harmlessly without giving to much away.

EDIT: maybe they could save the metaphorical cat of someone who they will interact with revealingly later. A seemingly benign, minor act that both makes them more likeable at the time ~and~ paves the way to a juicy twist later?
 

Nicola

Senior Member
I think you might have two separate things going on here - your MC's personality, and the hookiness of your story. I guess there's some overlap, whereby if you reveal whatever other info about your MC, you undermine the actual reveal later one.

Yes this is absolutely the case! I am trying to set my MC up as being a likeable young female, but later on it switches POV to reveal she is not as sweet / innocent as she seemed. But another twist later on again changes this.

EDIT: maybe they could save the metaphorical cat of someone who they will interact with revealingly later. A seemingly benign, minor act that both makes them more likeable at the time ~and~ paves the way to a juicy twist later?

This is an interesting idea! I did actually have something like this at the beginning which I later took out thinking it was unnecessary to the storyline...perhaps I should add it back in!
 

Doodah

Senior Member
Nicola,

The type of questions that you pose almost always takes me to The Usual Suspects (1995). Kevin Spacey's character paraphrases a quote by John Wilkinson in his 1836 book “Quakerism Examined.”


"One of the artifices of Satan is, to induce men to believe that he does not exist:..."

If written deftly, you can add subtle clues, that as bdcharles pointed out, seem throwaway and inconsequential, yet in the final reveal, explodes the readers mind. A good baddy weaves their schemes with many smaller threads.

On another note, watch The Usual Suspects if you haven't. Fun and mindbending. The end is worth the watch.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Hello all,

As the writer who knows the answers to how my psychological thriller plays out, there are many things I do not want to give away at the beginning of the story. Thinking Sixth Sense style, too much detail on relationships and even character names will limit me on revealing twists and turns later on. However, after receiving feedback from a handful of readers on my opening chapters, the majority said my MC was unreliable and unsympathetic, and they wanted to know more information about relationships with other characters, such as how long they had known each other etc, which would also spoil revelations later on. So instead of creating an air of mystery, it seems I have already put people off! :concern:

Has anyone else encountered this problem?

I agree that this is a more complicated problem. You should be able to develop the character sufficiently without giving away key plot points.

For instance, you said 'too much detail on relationships and even character names will limit me on revealing twists and turns later on'. Okay, but some detail wouldn't, right? You don't really need to provide that much to make a character feel empathetic.

Consider The Sixth Sense. We really don't know that much about the characters, especially at the beginning. I don't know what Bruce Willis's favorite ice cream is. Yet it didn't hurt the story, either knowing or not knowing that. They could have included that detail and it would have exposed some aspect of his personality, made him more likeable. They could have included his favorite sports team. How he drinks coffee. You get the idea?
 

Nicola

Senior Member
Nicola,

The type of questions that you pose almost always takes me to The Usual Suspects (1995). Kevin Spacey's character paraphrases a quote by John Wilkinson in his 1836 book “Quakerism Examined.”


"One of the artifices of Satan is, to induce men to believe that he does not exist:..."

If written deftly, you can add subtle clues, that as bdcharles pointed out, seem throwaway and inconsequential, yet in the final reveal, explodes the readers mind. A good baddy weaves their schemes with many smaller threads.

On another note, watch The Usual Suspects if you haven't. Fun and mindbending. The end is worth the watch.


I haven't seen the film in so long that I can't remember anything about it! Thanks for the example - I'll have to re-watch it for some inspiration.
 

Nicola

Senior Member
I agree that this is a more complicated problem. You should be able to develop the character sufficiently without giving away key plot points.

For instance, you said 'too much detail on relationships and even character names will limit me on revealing twists and turns later on'. Okay, but some detail wouldn't, right? You don't really need to provide that much to make a character feel empathetic.

Consider The Sixth Sense. We really don't know that much about the characters, especially at the beginning. I don't know what Bruce Willis's favorite ice cream is. Yet it didn't hurt the story, either knowing or not knowing that. They could have included that detail and it would have exposed some aspect of his personality, made him more likeable. They could have included his favorite sports team. How he drinks coffee. You get the idea?


Thanks for your reply - Yes I do see the point you are making. I guess when working with a narrative such as this it takes a lot of trial and error to make sure every question is eventually answered and the clues along the way are still relevant to the overall story. Well at least for me that is very much the case!
 

Doodah

Senior Member
I do hope you find your rhythm with this. It is challenging but truly rewarding.

I'm currently working through similar details in my novel As I'm running through plot holes, I've come across opportunities to inject subtle clues or suggestions. By themselves they say little, but when the book is read and reflected on, can be fun little face palms for the reader.
 

Backstroke_Italics

Senior Member
There is a basic set of things you can do to make your protagonist engaging in the first chapter, and all of these should be possible without revealing major plot points.

1) Make your character want something. Trying to get into a shorter line at the DMV. Climbing a muddy embankment in the rain.

2) Give your character a relatable weakness. Fear of vulnerability leading to emotional self-isolation. Cat allergies.

3) Give your character a laudable goal. She wants to feed the children or solve the three body problem.

4) Give your character two contradictory beliefs: Everyone should be free to make their own choices... so long as they all find Jesus. I am never wrong... but I'm also a piece of crap who can't do anything right.

Whatever you choose it should probably be related to your MC's eventual arc, but it doesn't need to BE the actual arc. Cat allergies could be thematically related to the struggles she faces later in the book or something. Being able to speak in riddles is pretty much 90% of your job when you're writing a book like this, and I know it can be a huge pain in the butt.
 

Nicola

Senior Member
 I do hope you find your rhythm with this. It is challenging but truly rewarding.

I'm currently working through similar details in my novel As I'm running through plot holes, I've come across opportunities to inject subtle clues or suggestions. By themselves they say little, but when the book is read and reflected on, can be fun little face palms for the reader. 

Thanks - hopefully I'll get to the rewarding stage :encouragement:

Ah good luck with that - I do love a good reader face palm!!
 

Nicola

Senior Member
There is a basic set of things you can do to make your protagonist engaging in the first chapter, and all of these should be possible without revealing major plot points.

1) Make your character want something. Trying to get into a shorter line at the DMV. Climbing a muddy embankment in the rain.

2) Give your character a relatable weakness. Fear of vulnerability leading to emotional self-isolation. Cat allergies.

3) Give your character a laudable goal. She wants to feed the children or solve the three body problem.

4) Give your character two contradictory beliefs: Everyone should be free to make their own choices... so long as they all find Jesus. I am never wrong... but I'm also a piece of crap who can't do anything right.

Whatever you choose it should probably be related to your MC's eventual arc, but it doesn't need to BE the actual arc. Cat allergies could be thematically related to the struggles she faces later in the book or something. Being able to speak in riddles is pretty much 90% of your job when you're writing a book like this, and I know it can be a huge pain in the butt.


Some very useful tips there, much appreciated.

With many rewrites over the last few weeks, I have now amended my first chapter/ prologue to a flash forward of something that happens later on. It immediately raises a question which hopefully makes the reader want to read on to find out how she got there.

After this short section, I then go into the main part of the story to properly introduce the protagonist so using the want/ weakness/ goal & contradictory beliefs could be beneficial here. I'll reread what I have and see if I have managed to incorporate these things.

Thanks!
 
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