Monday, May 20, 2013

Miscommunication: Bad For Characters, Awesome For Authors

I had a discussion with a coworker recently about a common theme in books: miscommunication. It's one of the many sneaky tools writers use to add plot complications. Is it limited to a specific genre? Heck no! Name any genre you can think of, any author, and at some point they've used miscommunication.

So why is using this tool so common?

Simple. All of us miscommunicate on a daily basis.

It's such a strong part of the human condition that you can even find it way back in the Bible and the earliest recorded stories. Basically it comes down to one thing: someone is altering or concealing the truth for any reason. Shy/embarrassed/guilty/lying... none of that matters. It's all one big miscommunication stew-pot and we all brew it.

But for authors, miscommunication has an added bonus: it can create never ending plot twists, ratcheting up tension in your story.

Here's a quick sample of miscommunications
  • The character falsifies facts to make them self look better
  • Someone hides an embarrassing detail of a youthful indiscretion
  • A husband doesn't tell his wife about his new secretary because he knows she'll be jealous
  • The boss hears the tail end of a conversation and thinks someone wants his job
  • A character convinces themselves their memories are false to protect their world view
  • A teenager finds $20 blowing in the wind and buys something causing her parents to be suspicious
  • Someone doesn't trust anyone with personal information
But that's not all! There are dozens of ways you can tweak miscommunication in a story--and you should. Miscommunication resonates with your readers because every single one of them has experienced it before. While they may not have experienced the exact kind of miscommunication you're writing about, they will have experienced something similar.

Sound Off
So how have you used miscommunication in a story? What are some of your favorite ways you've seen it used? How can you use it in your current work in progress?


  1. Oh, definitely! It's such a great way to cause conflict and tension. Spot on post.

  2. I've used miscommunication. In my historical novel, I wrote about a troubled heroine who's suffered abuse at the hands of an employer. Since she's led a life of ridicule and ostracism, it's very easy for her to misinterpret the words of her romantic interest when he comes along.

  3. Thanks for the great information!! :)

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