Author’s Intent, Misdirection

I frequently like to surprise my audience by leading them to expect one scenario then switching to another without warning. This is especially true in my scripted work. One of my comedy sketches, Take Another Little Piece, starts out as though it’s about an overzealous police officer, but quickly takes an unexpected turn once another character’s unusual habits are revealed.

Often, I’ll stack the deck in describing someone to lead the audience to draw conclusions about how the character behaves, then reveal “the rest of the story” that gives insight into what makes that person tick. One example of this is toward the end of my play Another Mother when Barbara, who has been presented as a devout Christian who is anti-science, suddenly reveals what caused her to adopt those beliefs. The moment adds depth to Barbara and leads to reconciliation between her and another character.

Verbal slight of hand can also be employed for comedic effect and plays a large part in driving the action of my short holiday play Don We Now Our Gay Apparel, in which the situation a son needs to reveal to his parents isn’t what they’re prepared to hear. Both the parents and the audience are led to believe the son is about to make a different confession than what he actually does. This story turns the tables more than once.

Misdirection works best when the audience brings their preconceptions into a piece of work, believing they know what an author is implying when, in fact, a different message is being conveyed. Who among us hasn’t made assumptions about where a story is headed only to realize we’re wrong? As a writer myself, I frequently try to guess the outcome based on the tricks of the trade an author is employing. It’s always fun when the writing surprises me by leading me somewhere I wasn’t expecting.

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