I spent the first part of this week with my cousins in the mountains of northern Virginia. Cousin Katie has a lovely cabin in the thick of the woods bordering the national parklands of Skyline Drive. Deer browsed through the yard, looking for the most succulent of grasses, rabbits hopped across the gravel road, turtles crept across the drive.
The neighbor stopped to say hello and to make sure that we knew to keep dogs and children inside after dark. “Bears,” he said.
Yes, the black bear is alive and well and living in our Appalachian mountains.
I felt elated; could not WAIT to see a bear. So I immediately took a seat in the swing-chair on the screened porch awaiting their arrival. Nothing ambled along that night, but sure enough, early the next morning, I spied a dark form squatting on the lawn. Large and blacker than the night that was lifting. My pulse raced with excitement.
A few moments later, when the form had not moved, I began to be concerned. Was he ill? So tired from being chased by the neighbor’s hunting pack that he had fallen asleep right there in the open? Was he waiting for Suzanne to go out for her morning Camel so that he could have breakfast?
I waited a moment more and my questions were answered.
The bear was not a bear. It was an oval rock about three by four feet in size. I had wanted to see a bear, had expected to see a bear, so I saw a bear where only a boulder rested.
This is what a good writer taps into when they use misdirection. The reader understands what they expect to see from the narrative. My first drafts are exercises in misdirection for me personally. I know this makes little sense since I am the writer and so must surely be in charge of the story, right? After all, I always know the beginning and the ending when I start writing a book. In other words, I know whodunnit. Unfortunately — or fortunately — I have been wrong each and every time. This allows me to write solidly toward my assumed conclusion. Fortunately, my subconscious inserts clues along the way that build toward a very different ending.
Short stories are golden examples of misdirection. A successful twist with which to end them is every writer dream.