More useless advice from an unpublished author – plot sign posting

Reading carefully

This is one of my pet peeves as a reader, when an author doesn’t trust the readers intelligence and must make sure you don’t miss any important plot points. I remember it very clearly in one of Dan Browns books. I can’t remember which one as he is not an author I like to go back and re-read. His hero is in a science facility and the scientist demonstrates that even a small piece of cloth will arrest your speed enough to save your life if falling from a great height. The book then has the line ‘This piece of information saved his live a few weeks later.’ Or something very similar. Then lo and behold, a few weeks later he is thrown from a plane and use his jacket like a parachute which saves his life. Now why could Dan Brown not trust his readers to make that connection without making it blindingly obvious? For me it takes the fun out of reading.

A good author should drop these snippets of info in that become relevant later on. Let the reader remember and have one of those ‘oh!’ moments. The master of this, in my opinion, is JK Rowling (I bet you didn’t see that coming, me praising JK Rowling!) She has dropped snippets of info in her first book that don’t become important until the seventh. Now these books are aimed and children and slightly obsessive adults. If they can be trusted to make the connections, then why can’t an adult reader?

In my own book I have tried the same, dropping in bits of info some for the first book, others that will make sense later on in the series. I have to confess I have found myself sneaking in the odd sign post. That little voice that always says;

‘What if they don’t notice it? The plot makes no sense with out it.’

I have deleted the ones I found and made myself trust my reader (In my case it might just be one!). My advice is do the same trust your reader they might not be as thick as you think.

Any one have a different view on signposting plot point? Be brave speak up, I promise to be nice.


15 thoughts on “More useless advice from an unpublished author – plot sign posting

  1. A sound post. But then, as a former cryptic crossword setter, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Good to see Leon Garfield on your bookshelves. I have each individual one of the Apprentices in illustrated hardback

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Passing up comments on Dan Brown, they’ll only come across as sour grapes ’cause he’s rich and can write what he pleases. (Darn! there I go again)
    I agree with you all the way concerning signposting; aside from anything else it’s usually delivered with all the subtle touch of a brick dropped on a naked toe and has the reader then scurrying through the book looking out for ‘the moment’ while missing out on detail of the narrative in between.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A brick dropped on a naked toe – wish I had thought of that it’s a perfect way to decried it.

      Dan Browns books are fairly weak, but I can see why they a popular, they don’t challenge the intellect too much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And enough holes to drive a truck through.
        Tom Clancy went the same way…. the premise and strategy in ‘Red Storm Rising’ drove me crazy

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Welllll ok.
        This is a critical slam-dunk about a writer shoe-horning something into the narrative. I cite Red Storm Rising- published 1986
        OK Tom Clancy’s info & intel about military tech was legendary, and it’s understandable he would want to show this off in a set-to between NATO & Warsaw Pact…fine. He sets up a situation where Islamic terrorists blow up a major Russian oil refinery. The politburo decided to invade Persian gulf to seize it’s oil…..fine who wouldn’t? Now the USA will not be happy..yep!
        Now this is where it goes wrong. Moscow decides to attack and neutralise NATO in Western Europe, so they can invade Persian gulf unopposed.
        Militarily what’s wrong with this picture? The resources of the USSR would have allowed a relatively minor opp to seize those in a political-military opp with the aid of allies in the region and then face off with the USA who would have had to mobilise-consider the 2 Iraq Wars. But oh no they decide to set up a situation where they can commit the vast majority of their forces (using precious oil) to attack NATO, so the USA could do nothing about the Persian Gulf. A war where NATO is strongest, in West German and where it will be accepted the causalities would be high. Coupled with the fact that the war would cripple the economy.
        Oh plot-hole!!
        Talk about shoe-horning.
        See what I mean?….And people love the blasted book!..Argh!!
        Well, that’s off of my chest. After all these years of simmering….
        Thank you for the opportunity……


  3. I can’t say I’ve noticed these things much while reading…until I started writing. Now I can see scaffolding, transitions, conflict and plot manipulation. When it’s done well, I want to salute the author. When it’s done poorly, I want to throw popcorn and boo! My pet peeve is when an author drops a tidbit…and then never picks it up. It was a juicy point I savored waiting for a payout that never comes! *Boo. Chucks fistfuls of corn at screen!*

    I read somewhere—perhaps attributable to Checkov—that “if there is a gun mentioned in the first act, there had better be a murder by the second!”
    Don’t ever leave the audience/reader hanging. Or, yes, don’t underestimate their intelligence either! Don’t do that, is my advice!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. A red herring is one thing. It serves a function. But having a character point to a cutlass and say, “My great Uncle brought this back from the Boer Wars. He hinted that it held the secrets of a king’s treasure. But he died before he could explain!” And then have the rest of the story include absolutely nothing about a king or his treasure, the uncle’s death, or anything at all happening with the sword/cutlass ever again??? Inconceivable!

        Liked by 1 person

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