21 and counting . . .

  1. Withhold the right stuff.

Keeping information from the reader can be a cheap trick, but there’s a right way to do it—by playing fair.

In his novella The Valley of Fear, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle keeps the secret of Birdy Edwards’ identity from the other characters and from the reader—but everybody’s given the same information. Characters and readers alike have a chance to interpret the clues, so when you come to the payoff, either you’ve figured it out already and your suspicions are satisfyingly confirmed, or it’s a breathtaking reveal immediately followed by, “Of course! I should have known!”

Withhold substance, but give tantalizing information.

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