Something out of nothing

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Don’t bother me unless it’s good news

If you tried to push a deal on someone whereby they got money for doing precisely nothing, they’d (quite rightly) be very suspicious. Why then, why, do writers think that it is acceptable to create a mystery around a non-event?

Let me explain using two particularly popular examples.

We’ve got a ‘whodunnit’ style of story (this could be anything where one of the main protagonists is being sought out by the other characters), and the author needs to describe the ‘Mystery Guy’ (MG henceforth) doing whatever MG does. In order to preserve the secret of MG’s identity, the author writes in the First Person (as MG) without mentioning anything identifying about themselves. Analyse this and it becomes very silly as it seemingly presumes MG doesn’t know who he or she is. Unless they have amnesia, that’s not a likely eventuality.

The answer is to either describe MG’s actions through ‘discovery’ by the other characters or to attach a name to MG in the same way as newspapers love to label serial killers or bank robbers. If it works for them, it can work for you.

The other popular application for ‘something out of nothing’ is in the writing of a twist-in-the-tail story (some people use ‘tale’, I realise). The ‘twist’ frequently turns out to be an ultimately trite ‘If only I’d known’ type of solution. Again, analysing the story only leads to dissatisfaction with the author as the twist is really not a twist, just a case of the author playing games with their readers by choosing not to reveal a blatantly obvious fact until right at the end.

These are just two of the aspects I look at when assessing the plot and story quality of a submission.