Ban Psychics from Your Fiction

Mama Mia! is SHOCKED!

Mama Mia! is SHOCKED!

Novelists are often reminded to know their main character–I mean REALLY know her. While this is great for understanding character motivation, it can lead to a writer sneaking in bits of info that clog the scene and can stop readers.

Writing Tip for Today: What is the No Crystal Ball Rule?

Foreknowledge is NOT Foreshadowing

Writers sometimes sabotage their scenes is by interrupting the action and inserting knowledge the POV character cannot possibly know at that time. You can spot this flaw by looking for some future time reference: “Later, Meg would realize she already knew him.” or “In a few moments, Sylvia would learn just how much she hated broccoli.” This kind of foreknowledge is meant to add tension, but in reality only yanks readers out of the real-time scene. You can certainly write that Sylvia hated broccoli. Then when the scene arrives where she’s presented with a giant bowl of it, the reader will remember the earlier foreshadowing.

Let Scenes Unfold Naturally.

If you wish to foreshadow knowledge the character will later learn, use hints of body language or show the character trying to pinpoint why something seemed familiar, ominous or surprising. An example might be, How could Debbie know the horrors that awaited her? She was going to be sorry. Very sorry. You could rewrite this “foreknowledge” to read: “Debbie stopped. The hair on her neck prickled. Did she hear breathing or was it her imagination?” Readers would rather “live” the story as it unfolds. Use the No Crystal Ball Rule to stay in the moment.

Slow, Slow, Fast!

In many mysteries, horror stories or thrillers, readers are given red herrings to keep them from figuring out what’s to come. This lulls readers into a false sense of security. Then, POW! The real ghost/killer/scary thing roars into the character’s scene. By writing several slow sentences (using more clauses and modifiers), you can lull readers into thinking all is copacetic. Then, abruptly switch to a short, punchy sentence (even a fragment) to jolt them. The cadence of slow, slow, fast can be a very effective way to let readers live the scene. In your fiction, try to avoid projecting info that your character doesn’t yet know. By following the No Crystal Ball Rule, you’ll more easily keep your scenes taut and full of surprises.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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