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Margaret Lucke p4

Margaret Lucke talks about a future project...

READERSVOICE.COM: When you plan out a plot, how do you incorporate twists without losing the direction of the story?

MARGARET LUCKE: Any story is about what happens to the hero as he sets out to meet a challenge or solve a problem. In a mystery she wants to solve a crime. In a thriller, he wants to prevent a crime or some other disaster from occurring. Your job as the writer is put obstacles in his path to that goal. Every obstacle is an opportunity for a twist. As long as you keep the hero working toward the goal, the story won’t lose direction, even if there are points where the hero himself may feel lost.

To come up with the twists, play What If …? Suppose your hero finds an old suitcase full of cash. What happens next? What if … the cash turns out to be counterfeit? What if … a tracking device has been hidden in the suitcase to tell the bad guys where to find him? What if … your hero uses the cash to fly off to Tahiti?

For everything that happens in your story, there are a dozen things that might happen next. Let your imagination run wild. Try not to censor yourself too much in the early stages of planning your book. Eventually you may want to weed out the most preposterous ideas, but sometimes a really silly idea will lead to a great one.

Of course some writers don’t like to plan out their plots in advance. They prefer to set their characters into action and find out what happens the same way readers do, by watching the story unfold on the page. When a twist occurs, the author gets to savor the surprise, just as the readers will later.

RV: How do you make twists unpredictable, as I read one blurb describing one novel’s twists?

ML: That’s the tricky part–to come up with an unexpected twist and still maintain the logic of the plot. I admire writers who can keep readers in thrall while their plots go through a string of astonishing twists and turns.

It’s a bit like stage magic. Pulling it off takes a clever imagination and some literary sleight of hand. You set your readers up to assume that they understand what’s happening in the story, yet you are misdirecting their attention away from the truth. At just the right moment, you pull back the curtain and reveal all–or at least all that you want them to know at that point.

At the same time, you must play fair. The traditional rules of the genre say that readers must have access to all the clues that the detective has. That doesn’t mean you have to make the meaning of the clues too obvious.

RV: What are some of your plans for the next few months?

ML: I’ll be finishing my novel in progress. The working title is Mansion of Desire. In this story, a woman who is trying to come to terms with her psychic ability teams up with a time-traveling prostitute from the 1890s to solve a murder that takes place in a historic San Francisco mansion. I’m also planning some online classes on fiction writing, which I hope will launch in the spring.

Visit www.margaretlucke.com

-copyright Simon Sandall.