What Happened to the Dog?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
It often happens in news reports, that a story will go, "Today, a man drowned trying to save his dog, which had fallen through ice on a frozen river near his home. Rescuers managed to recover his body, but he could not be revived. Relatives have been informed."

As the title of this thread suggests, I always wonder about the fate of the dog. Sloppy reporting is one thing, but what about how we write fiction? Since returning to creative writing in 2013, I've had to learn to control a character trait that makes me want to over-explain things. This could be seen as a sign of honesty in day-to-day living in an open book way, but fictional stories require an air of doubt about what's happened, the current state of play and what's going to happen next.

Readers may be bothered by missing details, while secretly liking them. It's the 'But what about?' moments that are memorable.

'Good storytelling never gives you four; it gives you two plus two....Don't give the audience the answer; give the audience the pieces and compel them to conclude the answer. Audiences have an unconscious desire to work for their entertainment. They are rewarded with a sense of thrill and delight when they find the answer themselves.'

(Bob Peterson—co-writer of Finding Nemo, on what he calls 'the unifying theory of two plus two.')

It's particularly important to sow seeds of doubt over the fates of characters in a series. Maybe one of your supporting cast has a health problem, an addiction or a dangerous pastime that's described in one story, but which only impacts on the action in a sequel.

I've just read a crime novel called Fatal Sunset, which is the sixth in a series about a Spanish detective, written by Jason Webster. It concludes most unexpectedly leaving everything up in the air, as the hero Max Camara is gunned down in the street on the final page, with no indication of whether he survives. As a cliffhanger it's superb, and though I was slightly irritated, it had the effect of making me remember the author's name and to look out for the next story to see what happens. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall of the office when the author and his editor discussed the ending.

In my own writing, so far, I've only left the fate of one character in doubt, after a serial killer apparently perished in a sinkhole when a stone-age burial chamber, where he was hiding, collapsed. I may bring him back in a later investigation in my Cornish Detective series, or even give him his own series. In a short story, I nearly forgot to include an eyewitness whose evidence was crucial to saving a walker who finds a corpse and is accused of killing her.

I'm in good company, for even Raymond Chandler forgot to say who killed a murder victim in The Big Sleep:
'Famously Hawks even gathered his screenwriters, who included William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, together to unpack the dense narrative web of Chandler’s novel before finally just wiring the author to ask what does it even mean?! The way Chandler tells it in his papers, the filmmakers asked him who exactly killed Owen Taylor, a chauffeur whom audiences never met until he pops up as the second inexplicable murder victim in 10 minutes.

“They sent me a wire,” Chandler wrote. “Asking me, and dammit I didn’t know either!”'

Have you ever teased your readers with what happens to a key character...or completely forgotten to mention what happened to someone?

Have you ever teased your readers with what happens to a key character...

At times, but only normally for a few chapters. The first two books I wrote had a fair old mass of characters and at least 3 distinct plots running through them, so I could merrily throw one characters into harm's way then steadfastly deal with everyone but them for several chapters. No doubt, people found this annoying, but I enjoy making the puppets dance!

or completely forgotten to mention what happened to someone?

Sort of. Upon finishing the first draft of my unreleased work Sonnet & Calhoone, I carefully introduced a third character to the duo's well oiled madness to mix things up and give the reader a more normal perspective on them. However, I then, three chapters later, totally forgot about the poor bloke. Finished the book, wrapped it all up and realised that he was just never mentioned again!:mad: Had to go back and rewrite 8 chapters completely. Idiot.
No, not yet. However I do leave some things unexplained - simply because in some circumstances (typically intelligence work and espionage) no one ever knows the complete picture (ahem...not even the author ;)). @Paul Whybrow - that quote by Bob Peterson is spot on! Just imagine what juries face when they have conflicting evidence from witnesses who are absolutely telling the truth.

I read - somewhere on here I think - about a book (there have been several films too) which tell a story from several different perspectives - and the component stories are quite different. In other words - what would the dog's story be about falling through the ice?
No, I err in the other direction. Habits developed while working as an economist are hard to break. Then the strategy was: 1. tell people what you are going to say 2. say it 3. explain what you just said. This is not a good approach to writing a mystery. My editing often involves removing information.
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