Misdirection builds suspense in your stories. When you begin a story, your audience does not know how it ends. If it’s your life story, you survived, so how do you surprise your audience?
The Story of the Sparrow, Part 4
Cat licked his lips and then his paw, his eyes on Little Sparrow. Daniel had apologised for putting her through this audience with the Oracle.
“So, what’s it worth? You don’t want me to eat the bird?”
“Tuna steak”, said Daniel. “Two this week, on condition you help us.”
“Done. I’ve heard there’s lots of new Folk from the reservoir. They’re having a scramble tonight. Get to know each other. Visit old friends before they go back underwater.”
“The prize is the silver asp. When Folk wear it, they become human for one day.”
Little Sparrow fluttered around, excitedly. She could enter and win and meet Josiah!
“Hah”, said Cat, “you’ve no chance. The Rabbit’s entering and no-one has ever beaten him in a scramble, apart from Bryony.”
“He’ll want to win when he discovers she’s taking part again.”
“Cat, she died before I was born.”
“He’ll think you’re her.”
“No, I … Look, I’m human, they won’t let me take part.” Daniel thought he’d spotted a flaw in Cat’s plan.
“Which is why I’m going to lend you my mask. With that they’ll think you’re Folk. And you’ll move like I do, with power and grace and not like a teenage boy.”
Cat rarely took human form. Daniel had never seen his mask. Cat’s true name remained a mystery.
Little Sparrow had every confidence in Daniel. How had he got roped into this? She wanted to know how to thank Cat.
“If I can’t eat you, there’s something you can do for me when you’re human. And it’s another tuna steak for the loan of the mask. The bird must fasten it on, you must not see the outside. It’s got ‘Idiot inside’ written on it.”
Daniel stood on the land in the reservoir, staring at a massive crowd of folk. Most expected Rabbit to win. He stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Fully armoured, snarling at any Folk who came too close. “That’s Rabbit”, said Cat unnecessarily.
Daniel wore the mask and mingled with the crowd. Then the murmuring began. “Bryony …. Bryony …” The rabbit turned and snarled at him. “I told you don’t race me again. This time I win and you release me.” What did he mean? Daniel had no idea, release from what? What had his grandmother done and when and how …?
The race was along the shore and then up the bank to a great oak and high in its branches, the silver asp glinted in the sun. Suddenly the crowd surged forwards and the race began. Cat had said use elbows and teeth, push them aside, be ruthless. Daniel found he was stronger more agile, cat-like. He shot ahead of all but Rabbit, who bounded along the shore. He was soon at the tree and began to climb. Daniel caught up and he could see the Rabbit was less good at climbing and his armour slowed him. He leapt onto the tree and began to climb but the Rabbit blocked his way. Daniel leapt onto the Rabbit’s back and then from his shoulder, leapt ahead, reached the asp, grasped it and fell to the ground below.
Misdirection and Your Audience
This part of the story is a massive exercise in misdirection. I’m not going to spoil the final part but notice what I’ve done here. The silver asp is a McGuffin. It is a magical instrument and its purpose is to bring the story to its conclusion. Very little else contributes to the resolution to the story. It raises questions about the relationship between Cat and Daniel, who Daniel’s grandmother was and why so many Folk know her, what did she do that the Rabbit wants to be released from?
Cat has his own agenda and this brings humour into the story. You get the impression, Daniel’s going to be paying for tuna steaks for some time. Note the way Cat and Little Sparrow assume Daniel will take part in the scramble.
You think you’re going to find out more about this magical world. You’re not. The story pivots as Daniel falls from the tree. That’s misdirection!
Concealing the Ending
The ending is consistent from what has gone before but it also has a different feel to it. The ground is laid in what has gone before. This is the point of misdirection, you set off in apparently one direction and then pivot the story in a different direction.
Humour is a common means to misdirect. You think this is a funny story and then the story pivots to tragedy.
In this story, Little Sparrow will either find the love of her life or else she will not. One of those has to be true. We can all see that. Can the ending surprise? Yes, it can.
Comedy and Tragedy
When you start a story, your audience does not know what will happen. Don’t announce at the start, this story is a comedy and has a happy ending. We see this in Rom Coms, there is always a point where the principle couple seem to be impossibly far apart. We genuinely believe they cannot possibly get together and then at the last moment …
There is a point where it could swing either way. The audience does not know what will happen. Comedy or tragedy? Keep them guessing until the very end.
Distraction is a close ally of misdirection. Here relevant material is divulged early in the story, where its significance is downplayed.