Revelation

Both "Young Goodman Brown" and "Good Country People" demonstrate another technique, that of revelation. It's the basis of much plotted fiction, especially any story containing a mys-tery—and that includes far more than detective or mystery fiction. When a story's main dynamic is to have the protagonist find out something, or realize something, that's been true for some time, the story's motion is in the finding out, not in the discovered fact itself. Except for the secret, the mystery, the story would be quite static.

An investigation is the basis of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, in which a man goes deeper and deeper into thejungle to discover the final evil embodied by the unspeakable Kurtz, and of that novel's modern-day counterpart, the movie Apocalypse Now.

Often the framework of this kind of mystery/revelation story will be very simple: a quest orjourney which involves meeting people, getting into one situation after another, each demonstrating the story's central theme but otherwise unrelated to the others, each supplying some new information on the story's central mystery.

Much gothic fiction is founded on such a central mystery— Jane Eyre has Rochester's insane first wife in the attic all the while Rochester is romancing Jane; the story is Jane's gradual discovery of the unchanging but hidden state of things. Likewise Rebecca, whose plot is the disclosure of dead Rebecca's real nature and how her widower, Maxim, actually felt toward her.

Most of the central part of Lord of the Flies is the developing answer to the question, "What is the Beast?" Most of the drama of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is the reader's realizing, along with the strikingly unfortunate Fortunato, just why the narrator is carrying that trowel and showing his hated enemy through the family vaults.

Some long fiction has mystery and revelation as a subordinate element, but very often they stand alone as a novel's main motion.

The important thing to realize is that revelation is seen, by the reader, as motion, even if nothing has changed but knowledge or insight. Plot elements can develop and reinforce that revelation, and show how it matters to the story's world, giving it added importance and force, but they're not absolutely needed to make it work.

In The Empire Strikes Back,, the duel is far less important and has far less impact than does Vader's revelation of paternity.

If you choose to use revelation either as a substitute for plot or as a subordinate element within a plotted story, these are the things you should watch out for:

1. The secret must be something worth knowing. It must have a direct impact on the immediate situation. It has to matter, and matter intensely, within the story's context. Were Jane Eyre not a lonely girl in love with Rochester and on the point of marrying him, whether or not he had an insane wife upstairs would make little difference to her—or to the reader. Simon's decision not only to investigate the Beast but to tell the other boys what he s found out costs him his life. The revelation matters.

2. The build-up should give the secret a context and demonstrate part of its meaning, as well as providing clues. That Kurtz participated in unnameable savage rituals, if presented as a fact in the book's first few pages, would have virtually no impact. The story's journey develops the differences between savagery and civilized attitudes through the interaction between the civilized narrator/investigator and the increasingly disturbing tribespeople and debased Europeans he encounters. It establishes the "line" so that when we find out Kurtz has crossed over that line, the revelation has meaning.

3. The secret should be a simple thing, recognized the instant it's met, its impact not blunted by somebody explaining. The developing context should be arranged so that all except the fact itself has been made clear before the climactic revelation. Vader says, "Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father." Luke says, "He told me enough. He told me you killed him." Vader says, "No. I am your father," and the thing's done, the secret is out. It doesn't need qualifying or explaining to have its full impact. That's because the needed groundwork had been laid.

4. The secret can and should be hinted at, as part of the needed preparation; but it should never be telegraphed or disclosed even as a possibility until the actual moment of unveiling. Don't make it one of two possible alternatives considered from the beginning, and the revelation consists of disclosing which of the alternatives it is: that falls flat. Instead, as discussed in Chapter 7 in regard to valid tricks, you may want to hint at something different but related, or something considered as bad (or good) that proves to be only a pale reflection of the actuality. Misdirect the reader's attention and assumptions, but come through with something satisfying that's a genuine surprise.

Most stories founded on revelation have a double plot structure. The story moves both forward and back (sometimes, but not often, by means of flashback). The unraveling of the secret, perhaps against opposition, is paralleled by the move backward from the beginning to the source of the mystery itself. So the story begins at the literal middle, the point at which the investigation is set going. Like an archeological expedition unearthing successively more ancient settlements the farther down they dig, the story progresses by going back. Both motions should complement one another, so that the moment of revelation is also the moment of the deepest penetration into the past, the point at which the past's implications on the present become fully known.

If your story is founded on some static reality, some buried truth strong enough to speak for itself and have immediate emotional impact on the story's characters and situations when it's finally revealed, then the techniques of revelation may be all that you need.

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  • kinfe
    How to make a short story with a revelation?
    8 years ago

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