Guest Post: Janice Hardy on "Trail Blazing"

Friday, October 22

We’ve all read stories where clues were so seamlessly dropped in along the way that until the big secret was revealed, we never even realized they were there. But when we finally did, all the pieces of the story fell into place and we were awed by the skill in which that bread trail had been left. Those writers made it look easy, as if they knew from page one what clue went where and how it would all come together in the end.
I’m sure there are bound to be a few writers out that who really can write that way, but for most of us, those clues are either planned ahead of time, inserted after the fact, or happy accidents. Sometimes, (heck, probably most times) a combination of all three.

Planning the Trail
Some clues we know about in the planning stage of the novel. Those details that came to us as we were brainstorming and writing our outlines or making our notes. Important clues we work hard to build a scene around. Often these are the things our protag’s will discover down the line in some fashion and a critical plot twist may even hinge on them. They’re important, which is why we know about them from the start.

Stumbling Upon the Trail
Then there are those details that just kinda happen, and it isn’t until after that we realize that throwaway detail could be so much more. A bit of backstory or internalization that suddenly has greater meaning, an off-hand setting element that becomes the perfect hiding place for a long lost secret. The types of details that lurk in our brains and leak onto the page, and somehow, always seems to be better than the stuff we actively think up.

Marking the Trail
Last, there are those details that we go back and add in once we’ve figure out how the story unfolds. The purposeful red herrings, the hidden clues, the telling off-hand remark. Each detail is inserted at just the right spot so the reader can follow that trail, even if they don’t realize they’re following it.

Keeping the Trail Clean
No matter what type of writer you are (outliner or pantser), odds are you’re going to go back at some point and edit. Doing an edit pass for clues, hints, and foreshadowing isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’re not one of those mystery writers who think of these things naturally. (I think mystery writers are born with this skill) If you’re not sure where to leave those bread crumbs, try asking…

When do I want the reader to start suspecting things?
Sometimes you’ll want a surprise, other times you’ll want the tension of trying to figure it out to help pull your story along.

When does my protagonist start to figure it out?
Readers often spot things long before characters, but if it’s too obvious, then your character might look dumb if they haven’t figured it out yet. Make sure you have a good balance between reader hints and character hints. If your protag needs to know something by page 45, leave enough clues before then so the realization feels plausible.

Are there any slow/weak spots that could use some freshening up?
Weak spots in need of help could be opportunities to create a scene that links back or foreshadows another. Would adding in a layer of mystery help?

Do the characters encounter anything thematically or metaphorically linked to the thing?
You know how someone can say something and make you think of something different? Your brain picks up on it because there’s some link between the two things. You can do the same thing with your characters. Something they’ve heard or experienced might be the perfect trigger for a memory or realization in a later scene. Or, you can go back and add something that can make this happen.

Trails are made by folks wandering back and forth over them, so it makes sense that a good plot trail might take looking at from both ends of your novel. Knowing where a plot or subplot ends up makes it a lot easier to figure out where it starts. The more you wander that trail, the more you learn about it and the more you can share with those starting down it for the first time.

About Blue Fire

Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Buy it here.

About Janice Hardy
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices.
Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

3 comment(s):

Shaynie Friday, October 22, 2010  

Wow, very cool! I enjoyed this!

E. Arroyo Friday, October 22, 2010  

Great post! It's hard for me to find balance when I know what's going to happen. I sorta like it when it just happens and I'm surprised because I know the reader will be too. Well, I hope.

Janice Hardy Monday, October 25, 2010  

Thanks! I have the same problem sometimes. I know when I start boring myself, it's time to shake things up. Even if that's finding a new way of looking at what's boring me.

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