Being deceptive is a game between authors & readers, and screenplay writers & viewers.
Writers aim to stump, mislead and surprise. Readers and viewers try to figure out what’s happening before the ending. It’s as much fun solving the mystery as being surprised. It’s disappointing when it’s too easy.
Right now, I can’t think of a story were it was too easy. I’m sure I’ve read or seen one, but don’t remember. Guess that’s how unimpressive the story was.
It’s also a let down when there are no appropriate hints leading up to the surprise.
The movie Ocean’s 13 was a disappointment.
The heroes of the story were supposed to steal a valuable piece of art. They were in competition with another thief, who was a bad guy. The bet was to see who could pilfer the artwork first.
According to the storyline, the heroes lost. But suddenly, at the end, they’d won and the professional thief had lost.
There were no clues leading up to the reversal of events. I watched that movie twice just to watch for clues. The only one was a duffle bag on the seat of the train, which meant nothing.
In my opinion, the writers failed. They guided the story in one direction, but dropped in a completely different ending. Not cool.
In Gideon’s Corpse, Doulas Preston and Lincoln Child gave misinformation about one of their main characters. (I won’t mention who, just in case you chose to read the book.) The misinformation was well planed. The evidence was convincing. I disregarded the clues to the contrary. I should have been suspicious, but I wasn’t.
In the end, I wasn’t disappointed. The misdirection was part of the mystery.
There are novels and movies that are best told in a straight line. The story starts at the beginning and moves forward to the end. But suspense, mystery and intrigue are based on misdirection. It’s a puzzle to be solved. Questions to be answers.
A best example of this is the Matrix, which was brilliantly written, and one of my favorite movies.
For the first half of the movie, we didn’t know what’s happening. From the very beginning the characters tell us exactly what’s going on, but we just didn’t understand.
It’s not until Neil wakes up that we see the truth, but we still don’t get it. We’re too confused.
Slowly, as the story unfolds, we begin to understand – the matrix is a computer.
The confusion is not a disappointment. Instead, the confusion makes us want to continue watching because we have to know what’s happening.
When we finally get it, we’re amazed and declare, “How cleaver.”
The second, third and fourth times of watching the movie only enhances the story as we pick up on the clues we missed the first time through.
And that’s what makes a great mystery. We are purposely told the truth from the beginning, in such a way so we don’t understand. The mystery makes us want to keep reading or watching. Then after it’s all done and we have to read or watch it again.
The greatest complement for an author or screenplay writer is when fans want to experience the deception/mystery over and over again.
What’s your favorite mystery?