Monday, February 3, 2014

The Philosophy of Writing: The Reveal

I read a lot of comic books, naturally. One of the most common devices in comic books is the "reveal," a moment in which a pivotal plot point is uncovered in the story that arouses interest in the reader. Of all the aspects of a comic book the reveal, I argue is the most important feature of a comic book. Given that comics are read in sequence, and the issues are serialized for profit, a good reveal drives sales; it causes one to buy more comics, and feed the machine. The reveal I believe was honed and fashioned by the serial fiction imprints of the late 19th century, though eastern literature, such as Journey to the West has demonstrated this device in action for nearly 400 years.

The reveal, and it's power, is well executed if the plot has already been defined in advance. I've only been able to think up a few good reveal moments on the spot in my writing career. Generally, most good reveals are extensively plotted out, and you can tell when this isn't the case. Usually the plot feels rushed, or imbalanced in pacing. For instance, once my book, Spirit of Orn, was completed, my editor suggested that I move certain scenes around to enhance the impact of moments that occurred later in the book. Doing this also strengthens the motivation of characters as well.

Crafting a good reveal then operates around three distinct variables.

Intrigue - To generate interest in the plot, I loosely refer to as intrigue. Any television show that you watch like 24 or Lost, or some shitty CW program (i.e. Supernatural), incorporates a mood of subterfuge into dialogue, or has well crafted political systems. Actions are given weight; they have greater implications that span the rest of the plot. The curious thing about intrigue is that most of the time actions are inconsequential; they have no meaning. Getting the reader to begin second guessing themselves, however, wondering if what they are reader will come into play at a later point, is the sweet spot of shaping intrigue.

Motivation - Characters need proper motivation for them to accomplish tasks in the story. A good reveal moment operates around these actions. So, when the Joker is suddenly seen standing at the front door of Commissioner Gordon's house in The Killing Joke, we feed into that moment all of Joker's character motivation. Why is the Joker evil? How has his live motivated him to get to this critical point? We watch and go, "oh crap, this is really bad." Why we make this remark is answered implicitly, informed by the motivation the Joker has to commit acts that generate chaos. This feeds back into the previous category, Intrigue, which causes us to speculate and wonder what the Joker will do next.

"Seeding" - Our final category deals with two things. One, is holding back critical information. My biggest struggle in writing is taking things slowly. I tend to lay the entire plot bare from the start. But in doing so, what does that allow the reader to discover? Nothing, really. In fact it ruins the story effectively. The little bits of information that keep us going lie in the tiny details that the reader isn't aware of until they arrive at the points where they are critical and inform the text. These hints, or clues to the plot can be as insignificant as a word or phrase. Picking and choosing these details is the second aspect of seeding, then.

I gave you all a lot to think about, so take it into consideration. I'm off to my day job. Happy writing fellas.


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