I was watching a documentary series about different kinds of evil, and when I heard about this trick, I immediately saw its usefulness in just about any type of writing. Ready for it?
When people listen to a statement, they default to thinking it’s true. Usually they take a moment to process it, then decide whether that original assumption was right or not. What certain evil people do is make a statement they want someone to believe, then interrupt this processing time. The interruption prevents the listener from reassessing the original statement, and so in his/her mind, it will remain true.
This sounds pretty evil, right? Well, if misleading your audience is evil, then all writers are evil. Here’s how it would work. You want your viewer/player to suspect Joe, so you have someone who is trying to frame Joe say something like, “Joe is a killer just waiting for an opportunity.” Or you could have someone who’s just misguided about Joe say the same thing. Then immediately you interrupt your viewer’s processing of this information with a huge distraction. The distraction could be relatively mild, or something as large as an explosion. Your viewer/player will accept the idea “Joe is a killer” until you do the big reveal.
I’ve certainly seen plenty of movies where the clues are laid in, so subtle you can’t even find them. What’s interesting with this technique is it’s not so much a clue as a misdirection the audience will blame itself for not recognizing. Obviously Sally was framing Joe, or obviously Sally didn’t know what she was talking about with Joe, but for some reason, I believed what she said when she said it.
I wish I could test how successful it was in different media and also the degree of distraction you’d need for it to work. This technique would be the most difficult in prose, since the reader can interrupt him/herself at any time. I’m wondering if an act break, which might leave to, say, a commercial would be sufficient distraction, or whether that would leave the viewer with too much time to dismiss the statement. Anyone have any thoughts on this?