This week’s video compares authors to magicians and talks about why the art of misdirection is a crucial skill.
A couple weeks ago we talked about how important it is to be honest with our readers. But today I want to totally flip that advice on its head and talk about how important it is to fool our readers. Now, I’m not talking about lying to our readers, I’m not talking about faking suspense or conflict, or sticking in random plot twists. What I’m talking about is misdirection. I’m also going to be talking about Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me, and, just as a warning, I’m going to be talking a few spoilers.
This story is about magicians, and, more specifically, about figuring out how their tricks work. Although, in my opinion, the ultimate payoff is pretty much a cheat, for a number of reasons, the most interesting thing about this story is how the magicians’ technique is, in fact, a mirror of the author’s technique. A lot of emphasis in this story is put on misdirection. An ex-magician explains to the protagonist that magicians use their assistants to misdirect the audience’s attention. Well, guess what? This is exactly what the author has done to misdirect his audience’s attention in an attempt to keep them from figuring out the true culprit in the mystery.
Most stories are going to have at least some little factoid that the authors don’t want the readers to know about ahead of time. But, to play fair, we have to plant all the clues in plain sight, so that everything makes sense in time for the big reveal. In other words, we have to foreshadow. But with all those clues dangling around in plain sight, how do we keep readers from just plain figuring it out?
So, what’s the answer? Misdirection! We present the true clues in a subtle, almost off-handed way, while at the same time emphasizing the fake clues that will send readers sniffing down the wrong scent. This is exactly what Now You See Me did when it focused attention on the culprit’s assistant, so we would suspect her and see right past the truth.