Use Distraction to Hide Something Important

Last time I explained misdirection.  Distraction is related: here you conceal something significant early in your story.  The audience forgets about it until it reappears towards the end.

The Story of the Sparrow, Part 5

Daniel landed catlike on his feet.  Folk cheered him as he held the silver asp aloft.  Cat and Little Sparrow were at his side and Cat moved them on.  Little Sparrow removed Daniel’s mask and gave it back to Cat.  Daniel slipped the asp onto Little Sparrow’s wrist.

Cat reminded Little Sparrow she’d said she’d reward him.  He smiled his wickedest smile.  “Stroke me!”

Little Sparrow froze in terror.  Daniel objected.  Why did he insist on tormenting her?  “Because I’m a cat, it’s what I do.  It’s up to her.  If not, it’s another tuna steak!”

Little Sparrow knelt down and held out her hand.  Cat walked towards her and as her hand touched him, began to purr.  Daniel stood there open-mouthed.

“I’m off home” said Cat, “Don’t stay out all night, she can look after herself.”

Daniel and Little Sparrow walked toward Josiah’s village. Suddenly, Little Sparrow stopped, Daniel walked on a few paces before he realised.  “Daniel”, she said.  “Yes?”  “May I hold your hand?”

He held out his hand and she slipped hers into his.  “Oh, it’s so cold!”  She pulled her hand away.  “Sorry. No, no it feels good!”

And so they walked on together hand in hand.

Near the junction with Josiah’s road, they stopped.  Little Sparrow let go of Daniel’s hand and faced him.  “Daniel, friend.  I thank you.”  She bowed.  Then she turned and ran down the road to her beloved. 

That was the last Daniel saw of her.  Except …


A few days later Cat was annoyed at Daniel’s moping.  “Forget her, she’s gone”. 

“I know.  She’ll be back under water now.  It just hard not knowing how it went.”

“Well, that’s easy, go and ask him.”

A few hours later Daniel walked down the lane toward Josiah’s house.

As Daniel approached the gate, the old man looked up from his roses.  “You must be Daniel.”

The old man said he’d never forgotten Little Sparrow.  He believed she was gone, drowned.  He’d married, had children and grandchildren and passed his love of birds to them.  “I’m so grateful to you”, he said, “my time is close and now I have a name for my lips.”  He’d prepared a gift for Daniel.  An album of photos of birds.

Back home, Daniel and Cat, turned each page.  Cat thought it would make a good take-away menu.  They turned the last page and there was a different photo.  Josiah and Little Sparrow, arm in arm, looking into each other’s eyes.  No mask.

The Gun in the First Act

The playwright, Chekhov, said that if you see a gun in the first act, it’ll be used in the last.  The challenge is to introduce the gun in such a way, the audience forget about it.  When it’s used, it’s been present all along.

How well have I done this in the five parts of this story?  This is a story about loneliness.  I probably need to make more of Daniel’s loneliness in part 1.  The fact he’s accepted an invitation from friends, shows him coming out of his shell.  Perhaps it helps him understand Little Sparrow. 

In between we have scenes of possession, comedy and the dreadful rabbit, not to mention the mystery of Bryony his grandmother.

This final part brings us back to this underlying theme.  Cat shows Little Sparrow can overcome her fears.  Daniel perhaps doesn’t see this so clearly.

The love story plays out but it is not the key relationship.  It is the friendship between Daniel and Little Sparrow.  He understands she must know whether Josiah remembers her. It’s important the lovers are reunited.  But the emotion is in Daniel’s empathy for Little Sparrow.

Provide Information Early

Now you know the end, you understand what motivates Daniel in the middle.  Why does he go through so much for Little Sparrow?  Once we know the end, we see the initial description of Daniel’s loneliness informs everything that follows.  The magic, the strangeness of the world he inhabits does not matter.  What matters is why he does what he does. 

Note how misdirection and distraction reinforce one another.  Is this a story about magical Folk?  Or is it about a teenage boy with compassion?  The magic is largely misdirection.  It distracts us from Daniel’s state of mind.  We know he’s lonely from the start.  We see the significance of this towards the end. 

Using Distraction

Distraction is finding ways to conceal the importance of some detail.  I’ll share a few ideas but if you innovate, you are more likely to succeed. 

Remember you know the end of the story and your audience does not.  This means you can relax.  It may seem obvious to you but it won’t necessarily be obvious to them.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Describe a scene and conceal something important in the description. 
  • Show the important thing being used for some other purpose.
  • Mention a weakness when describing the villain.  You could depict the weakness as a strength. 
  • Hide it in plain sight.  For example, the container that holds something of value might be more important than its contents.
  • Describe something from the perspective of the protagonist, who might not appreciate its importance at that moment.
  • Build a foreground scene that conceals something in the background.
  • A departed character makes an unexpected reappearance. 

This concludes this sequence about storytelling for the present. 

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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