Revealing Clues in your Story? Just Go from One to Ten

One, Two Buckle My Shoe,
Three, four shut the door,
Five, six pick-up sticks,
Seven, eight lay them straight,
Nine, ten a big fat hen.

Does everyone remember this fun nursery rhyme?

It teaches kids how to count from one to ten but not in a rote or boring way.

There are simple steps for kids to follow - buckle, shut, pick-up, lay - and then one surprising and goofy line that reinforces the last line of the rhyme; the last two numbers in the series.

Why does it work?

The verse makes use of timing and rhyme. Kids learn the order of numbers while they giggle along with the silly instructions.

It's designed to help them learn to retain the important information in a relatable way.

Writers do something similar

Maybe we don't use rhyming verse but it's our goal to share information in a way that takes the reader from one to ten - whatever that means for our piece.

Our main goal is to take a reader from beginning to end in such a way that they fully comprehend what they read.

In fiction 'one' is the opening of the story, 'ten' is the conclusion, and all those other numbers are the little or big things that push the story along.

That could mean 'three' is where she meets her dream man, 'two' is where the body is discovered, 'five' is when the bad guys look like they might win. But each clue or plot device is brought out at just the right time.

As a writer of suspense and mystery I use tension and revelation of clues as the mileposts in a story. Those hints along the way are what make a reader want to go to the end of the story - to 'ten' - to find out how each clue falls into place.

Rhyme time

Like counting from one to ten, it's important to reveal info in the correct order so the reader can sort and file it in their imagination. Reveal something too soon and the reader of your story could guess the ending.

And who likes figuring out a killer's identity, the boy she'll choose, if they'll save the planet, or any other resolution, too early? I sure don't. It makes me not want to finish the book.

We all want our stories to work, to resonate with a broad audience; the one we’re setting out to entertain or inform. As I open a story I have no idea if that’s the point where the final product will actually begin.

I have no idea if the characters, or situations I put my characters into, will hold up for the final draft. But I don’t get bogged down in those details on a first draft. I remember this:

“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.”
- James Michener

Because, just like when you were a kid and needed a hand in rhyming 'shoe' with 'two', to remember which number came next, a story sometimes needs rearranging to fall into place.

As you edit your first draft you might find it's missing number five. Or maybe you discover number three is set up to come after number seven. Those are the things no reader sees because no author publishes a first draft.

You'll rearrange and re-write as needed during edits to line up your story details more creatively and effectively.

However, I'm not saying to write in a formulaic way where the narrative feels stiff or too contrived. Not at all. Because rules were always made to be broken.

If 'three' should come after 'seven' in your book so certain revelations will hold more weight or be even more surprising, then leave it alone. Just make sure you've got all the important pieces in there so when your reader gets to 'ten' they say:

'I can't believe the killer was a big fat hen!'

Image courtesy of Oliver Scholtz (& others)

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