Eliminate False Clues To Achieve Optimal Reading

I remember reading a book about the Holocaust when I was in elementary school. The book was well written, and I was reading along, and at the very last few pages, a big reveal happened. The reveal was obviously a big deal, but I was very confused, because the character who was key to the reveal had never been mentioned before in the book.

I actually went back to the beginning of the book, with this character’s name firmly in mind, and read the entire thing again, because I was sure that I had not been paying attention.

I finished the book for a second time, and still, the great and surprising reveal, that was clearly supposed to have a deep impact on me, the reader, hinged on a character whose name was never mentioned elsewhere in the book.

I was a little frustrated. The rest of the book had been great, but I felt let down and left out. Who was this person who had popped up out of nowhere? Why was their betrayal so shocking? I wanted to know why!

I experienced the opposite of this when I first discovered Agatha Christie. That lady is so consistent in her mysteries; I have read several of her books a second time, and each time I find that every detail is consistent. If I go back and reread a Christie with the killer foremost in my mind, I can see every red herring and flashing warning sign as clear as day. Reading Christie is relaxing; she doesn’t plant false clues, or bring an ending out of the blue.

Sometimes we, as authors, get a little worn down by the mundanity of our daily grind. We can easily forget how wound up in our stories the reader is likely to become, and when this happens, we are prone to leave little false clues in our books.

For example, do not have your hero meet a mysterious old woman in the forest, and have her utter chilling words that are never again referenced in the book.

Or, you know, don’t tell us that Ullar has a secret family, and then never tell us anything about said liaisons. Because your readers care deeply; they want you to be consistent.

Writing is not hard so much as it is demanding of consistency and intellectual honesty.

Burn all your false clues on the altar of your potentially dedicated readership.