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Shades of Doubt

The definition of doubt is to be uncertain, consider questionable or unlikely, hesitate to believe, distrust, fear, or to be apprehensive about.

Your job as a writer is to instill doubt in your reader. Most readers go into a story expecting a happy ending. Some genres allow twist endings, down endings, or up-down endings. Either way, your goal is to make your reader doubt the final outcome until the climax of the story. 

You can plant a seed in the character’s mind that calls the reader to question the outcome in the following ways: 

1) Bait and Switch 

Pose a question at the beginning of the story then point the finger at an alternative answer. It can be a crappy alternative or a brilliant one. Make your reader believe the alternative is unavoidable until the climax. 

2) S-Curves 

Pose a question then offer a series of distractions and blind alleys before revealing the final answer. The distractions must be subtle. Oftentimes in mysteries, the reader knows it can’t be the first or second suspect; that would be too obvious. If you lead the reader on a blind chase, you can circle back to the truth at the climax. 

3) Loop the loop 

Pose a question and convince the reader the alternative answer is the best outcome at first, then circle around and change his mind by the climax.

4) Side by Side 

Offer two viable, attractive answers and make choosing between them difficult. Explore the pros and cons, staggering the attractiveness and cost for each choice. This creates a satisfying push-pull.

Learning to manipulate the reader’s expectations takes you from beginner to expert.

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