I heard something interesting the other day: that writer’s are illusionists. Like magicians using misdirection, authors and directors are supposed to develop characters with a clear motive. Whatever that motive may be, it can some times be used as misdirection for a more important overall motive that the character discovers nearer to the end. A good way for this to be done is for it to not only to be hinted subtly throughout the build up before the reveal, but also to have this “important motive” be at odds with the character’s
“original motive”, allowing for some beautiful inner conflict.
The real problem with using this formula is the method of delivery from the character’s viewpoint. The writer should give the reader all of the information needed to discover this important goal, but have it all be viewed through the eyes of someone only trying to accomplish their original goal. This way both the character, and the reader, are only seeing how this information might be used to accomplish it, giving a narrowed interpretation of a larger plot. This type of subtlety, when done well, can catch the reader off guard despite everything being in plain sight.
A recent example of this being done well was in The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence. Throughout the first and second book of this series the main character’s motivations has been to clear his gambling debts. Everything the reader sees that is to do with the larger plot is observed through the lens of how much things might be worth in case he could sell them to get rid of his debt. All the while he is slowly acknowledging little bits of information regarding a specific object that he’s already in possession of. Nearer the end, the character is offered all of the of the money he would ever need to cover his debts and live a happy life if he just hands over this object.
This is perfect example of inner conflict. It reveals how nearsighted he has been up until this point when compared to importance of this hidden motive, and through putting the pieces of the puzzle together, we are given a brilliant inner look at this character’s sudden development through this understanding. What makes this revelation brilliant is that you are given all of the information you would need to figure this out on your own, but the character’s first person narration colors this information in a way that we either don’t take it seriously, or are only seeing it through the lens of how it could be used to pay off his debt or impress some woman.
I try to do this in my own stories, but it takes a level of mastery to be able to do it well. When your motive is to get good enough to do certain things only to discover how fruitless this improvement was in the context of your situation, (one element of Stuck in the Game) it’s almost ironic in my own writing when I’m constantly discovering things like this that I could be better at which would be more useful to me. To be able to deliver such plot elements with this amount of subtlety, enough to catch the reader off guard, is a skill that I will endeavor to get better at. I can’t help but have respect for writers and directors who have the skill to pull off this kind of subtlety for such an effect.