The Art of Misdirection

Blog 03 Misdirection

So you’re convinced the protagonist is going to burst through the door, grab the antagonist by the throat and once and for all rule victorious over her arch-nemesis. What? She didn’t? The art of misdirection, or in this case, the plot twist all function on the same premise. The story sets your mind and heart up to expect a certain action and then does something entirely different. This is easiest to see in the context of a joke. The set-up line leads your mind to a logical answer, one of many usually, if the set-up line is good. You rack your brain trying to see where the comedian is going and ‘whap’, he twists your mind around to an unexpected punch line. What’s our reaction? We laugh. Why?

According to Kant originally, we do so because of the incongruity between what we expect and what happens. But in more recent years, philosophers have distinguished between incongruities as pleasant and unpleasant. Certainly the unpleasant incongruities, like a husband who is expected to be kind that is an abuser, is not one that makes you laugh. These modern day philosophers have developed an Incongruity-Resolution Theory stating that what makes an incongruity funny, is that you realize it can be resolved differently than what you had expected and this resolution makes us laugh. It causes you to rethink the situation and see it in a new way.

Good jokes and good stories use the art of the misdirection to keep the audience engaged. If I tell you everything that is going to happen “He is about to kiss that beautiful woman”, or in the context of a joke, deliver the exact line you were expecting, what is your reaction? In a movie it is most certainly boredom, and a slap in my direction with an admonition to zip it. In a comedy club, it’s a quiet room after the punch line falls hopelessly flat. Is it tough to write this way? Absolutely. It takes skill, practice, craft and talent. However, it can turn your stories, whether they be in advertising, marketing or learning – into powerful messaging delivery mechanisms that move your audiences in the direction you intend.


Get Ricochet's latest articles straight to your inbox! Enter your email address below:
Who is Ricochet Partners? We are story crafters working across the panoply of media disciplines to bring just the right story to achieve your objectives with your audiences.
Yes, I'd like more info about setting up a story session for my project: