Plotting and Story Devices
- Part I: No "V" Without "Masking"
- Part II: The Theater of Character: One Stage At a Time
- Part III: Exposition + Scorn-then-Embrace
- Part IV: The Necessity of Surprise + Minor Complications (Inserting the Irritant)
No Verisimilitude Without "Masking": Foreshadow, Aftermath, Discussion, and Repercussion Application
The novel should be a long and interesting story that must make sense with no room for artifice or clunkiness. Novels should exhibit a phenomenal yet natural flow. A crafty author utilizes a variety of devices in order to create the smoothest flow, while still delivering the necessary information and creating tension and pause in the action. Having knowledge of these methods in advance allows the author to storyboard with more creative flexibility, to push forward past problems that would otherwise confound and frustrate the inexperienced writer.
Certain events must take place to move the novel forward, and often the author must use skillful storytelling technique to produce verisimilitude, making the occurrence of the event seem natural rather than too convenient or contrived. "Masking" refers to the sum of this technique, the cumulative effect rendering a necessary yet potentially awkward event believable. Use of this process allows you more freedom to explore the introduction of unusual and/or surprising events and gives you the ability to seamlessly integrate elements that have the potential to feel awkward or forced.
In Nabokov's Lolita, Charlotte, Humbert Humbert's wife, conveniently dies so that Humbert Humbert can proceed, unencumbered, with his plans to seclude himself with Lolita. Here's how Nabokov uses masking to make this believable and authentic in the world of the fiction:
First, the event is foreshadowed. Humbert Humbert receives a phone call from a neighbor stating that something has happened to his wife. Next, (beginning a new chapter) Humbert Humbert goes outside and witnesses the aftermath carnage of the accident. The scene is complex with objects and nearly surreal in portrayal. The police show him the body, he observes the details of it, etc. All of this lends credibility to the event. A few pages later, a repercussion of the event occurs in that a discussion ensues with a man who arrives to hash over accident details with Humbert Humbert. Through masking--foreshadowing, aftermath, repercussion and discussion--the question of the event's verisimilitude is settled.
In The Great Gatsby, Myrtle Wilson, the mistress of Tom Buchanan (Daisy's husband and Gatsby's enemy), is struck dead very coincidentally by Gatsby's own car, thus setting in motion the events which later culminate in Gatsby's death.
First, the event is foreshadowed. Tom Buchannan (who had been following Gatsby's car) sees the crowd and confusion gathering in the distance before he arrives at the scene. Next comes the aftermath where the reader and Tom see Myrtle's dead body, the crowd, the despairing husband. It is revealed that she was drunk and fighting with her husband before it happened (the foreshadowing of this accomplished earlier). Someone in the crowd mentions the color and style of the car that performed the deed, which indicates that it was likely Gatsby's car. Later, Nick accidentally discovers Gatsby watching Daisy's house and, Surprise!, in the ensuing the in discussion, Gatsby reveals it was Daisy who was driving the car that killed Myrtle. The repercussion comes as Myrtle's husband seeks revenge, killing Gatsby. Thus, verisimilitude is achieved.
In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the author decides the fate of a major character, Phineas, by means of a bizarre mock court trial held in secret somewhere in a secluded spot of the school, and the unfolding of the event seems perfectly reasonable.
Though this technique by Knowles differs from the two examples above, it is nevertheless instructive. Several separate and distinct instances of foreshadowing precede the event: First, an event of this type was spoken of by one of the characters; second, there is talk of a secret society within the school (the organization that would conduct the event). The reader also gets inward glimpses of the peculiar character who would conduct the trial and engineer it to such a climax. In the case of the latter, it was therefore not unbelievable that this person would conduct such an event.
If an author wishes to create a fantastic or unusual event or scene but isn't sure how to get there, he or she uses foreshadow/masking technique to achieve what might otherwise be impossible.