Normally, I write at my kitchen table. Not today, though. I am currently sitting in a smoking minivan outside an O’Reilly Auto Parts in Finlayson, Minnesota. We made an unscheduled stop after a bad smell and the aforementioned smoke. According to the menfolk, the van is leaking radiator fluid. Instead of offering my opinion about the car, I’m thinking about writing. Writing … road trip gone wrong … basically the same thing, right? Anyone who’s written a book knows that the plot often starts leaking radiator fluid about one hundred pages in.
While there is always a tension between planning ahead and unplanned car trouble, some types of books probably require a firmer hand on the wheel. For example, a work of grand deception. When I say grand deception, I’m thinking of one of those books that leaves you gobsmacked at the end because the reality the author immersed you in turns out to be false. You aren’t just surprised about the killer, but the entire world the author created. When this works, the resolution is shocking. There is probably a German word to describe this experience. In the movie world, think The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. Gone Girl is a the most recent grand deception that rocked the literary world. God, I’m sick of talking about Gone Girl, but there it is again. It was a pretty good deception. The Westing Game also comes to mind, but it’s been so long since I’ve read it, I might be misremembering. I need to reread that one.
Car update: So the men have emerged from O’Reilly with a bottle of Stop Leak liquid aluminum, but decided not to use it after reading the directions. It would take too long, I guess. All seven of us are now on the road again—did I mention four kids are in the car? Also, there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic. So many things could go wrong. We’re definitely in Act II, the part where the chaos accelerates.
Unlike my real life, an author hoping to pull off a grand deception has to be in control of things. To create a false reality, while hiding the true reality in plain sight, everything has to be working in concert: plot, narration, character development, theme, and clever clues. If the deception isn’t built into the book on every level, it won’t work.
I don’t know if a detailed outline is required, but I imagine an author has to have a strong vision at the outset. Without an overarching vision, I imagine the thing would turn into a herky jerky mess, broken down on the side of I-35 southbound. Incidentally, I’m not there yet, at least literally. We are forty-five minutes from our final destination, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the van hasn’t produced any more smoke. As for my current writing project, I’m only seventy-five pages in. Plenty of time to break down still.
Can you think of any novels of the type I’m describing? Maybe there is a name for this sub-genre… Grand deception sounds a little stilted. The cool kids probably call it something else. If there’s a name, enlighten me.