Writing

The Secret Plan

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in fiction, including among authors I admire. It works like this: The protagonist and company have a plan that’s going to lead to the novel’s climactic scene, and they discuss the plan, but we don’t get to hear it.

The reason for this device, presumably, is to surprise us when the plan is executed, but here’s what makes it especially problematic: The discussion of the plan doesn’t happen “off screen.” Instead, it’s perched right there in the middle of an otherwise packed scene, its place held by a little line that read something like “They discussed it, and everyone agreed.” And then the action of the scene resumes, minus any further talk of the plan.

I’m not sure exactly why this bothers me, but my first inclination is that is smells of lazy writing. I can even be forgiving of a protagonist having a plan but not choosing to share it with anyone, including the reader, but when the characters suddenly go off-page just in the interest of building anticipation in the reader, it seems like a cheap ploy.

Here’s an example. Right now, I’m reading Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to his scare-the-bejeezus-out-of-us-all novel The Shining. I’m enjoying the book so far, and I’ll admit a large part of that is nostalgia over reading about a grown up Danny Torrance battling demons, some of them his own and others of the supernatural variety. On top of that, King is a stone-cold expert at writing compelling characters, placing them into horrifying situations and unlikely alliances, and letting the chips fall where they may.

As you’ve probably already guessed, Doctor Sleep features a Secret Plan. In fact, it has at least two of them, and maybe the reason they stand out so starkly is that it’s a King book, and I usually expect better from him. If it were a mid-list mystery or thriller, I might not even give it a second thought. Unfortunately, here, it reads like a scene from The Three Stooges, where the boys go into a corner and huddle, and we hear the conspicuous hissing sounds as they formulate a hasty plan.

Or maybe it’s just me.

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