The Lighthouse Effect

Updated: Dec 29, 2020


enjoy all kinds of books, written from any and all perspectives. To me, each style has its own distinct, and sometimes, distinctive advantages and disadvantages. Let me explain. The first-person narrative has, by definition, a single perspective, but allows for deep insight into the narrator’s mind, which a third person narrative may find a tad more difficult, if not impossible to achieve. I’ve even read books where the author, very cleverly I might add, makes this style closer to a third person by swinging from a character’s perspective to another’s using first-person style of writing, impossible to achieve true third person narrative. This blog, for instance, is a first-person narrative. The third person steps out of the body of the narrator, who becomes omniscient, possibly even flitting from one character to another’s like the demon in Denzel Washington’s Fallen, which interestingly enough, begins and ends in the first-person narrative – yeah, movies can do it too, not just books. The advantage of omniscience is liberating, allowing the author to traverse bodies like Denzel Washington’s demon, telling a story from many different perspectives.

Now, my budding authors and readers alike, herein lies the rub. 

It can be damnably confusing and not just to the reader – the writer too. To appreciate one person’s point of view is hard enough. To appreciate two, like modern romances often portray, makes it interesting. Make it three, four or even five – alright. You get it. Try writing from a woman’s perspective, then a man, then a really bad man … alright, you get that too. Here’s another thought. Make it twelve perspectives. Now, as the number of perspectives increase, so, so does the problem, exponentially to both reader and author. How do you keep the audience engaged? How can you, or they, keep track of what the heck is going on? How do you keep them focused on the unravelling central plot?

How do you keep the audience engaged? How do you keep them focused on the unravelling central plot?

Agatha Christie, one of my favourites, sought both to confuse as well as misdirect the reader, but then she didn’t want the murderer revealed in chapter one, nor did she want the readers to register the clues. Not really. She confused them through the creation of the sheer number of main characters – read suspects – thereby increasing perspectives, although some of the shorter stories held only Poirot’s (her Belgian detective) point of view. 

With the Tech, I added to my miseries (miseries - plural and I’ll explain why later), by adding two more dimensions to the plot. Each chapter is a different situation – case or mystery to be solved – cataclysmic event to be resolved - in its own right, like the episode of a procedural. The second troublesome dimension was the omniscient perspective of the Cabal that seemed to know almost everything. In reality, one problem really solved the other. I’ll explain this later too.

"But - you force them to ask - is the case really solved? Why is that light still moving?"

What does this blog have to do with Lighthouses? Here’s what.

Imagine the central plot to be a lighthouse. From a distance, particularly a ship, the lighthouse appears to be a series of flashing lights. The light shines on different surrounding features, such as any one of a multitude of characters – good guys and the bad guys alike, or the case at hand (instead of a rock or the beachfront). Yet, you as the reader, will never lose focus because the spotlight comes from one specific spot in the horizon. 

As you approach the lighthouse, its features become clearer, the light bigger and the surroundings brightened considerably. When you reach the foot of the lighthouse, you yearn to climb it, and when you do, everything becomes clear.

I like to call this the Lighthouse Effect, drawing the reader in, slowly, inexorably, keeping them focused on the plot, yet shining just enough light as they get drawn to the epicentre of the storm.

But how, you may ask, as a writer, do you achieve this amazing effect – this blinding trick, this sleight of hand? 

The way to do it is achieving this effect is designing a spiral path for the reader to traverse. You draw the characters, the events, the situations, and drop clues to get the reader closer and closer to the truth. Each circle represents a case where the reader follows the spotlight around characters, sequences, until they reach the stunning conclusion of a case. The lighthouse, in this example, the plot’s Cabal, shines its light in a spiral path, not a circular one like a real lighthouse.  

But - you force them to ask - is the case really solved? Why is that light still moving? Have I not completed a circle, i.e. closed a case? Ah! There’s another one. Okay. One more circle, it is, then. And then another. What the reader may fail to appreciate, is how they’re actually getting closer to the end unless it’s almost upon them. What they will appreciate is that the cases follow a similar pattern, but that pattern is painting a better picture of – guess what? – the lighthouse. 

But how, you may ask, as a writer, do you achieve this amazing effect – this blinding trick, this sleight of hand?

In order to get the readers to keep turning back to the lighthouse, and have them focused on getting there, I introduced the Cabal’s perspective. It’s not a unique method, by any stretch of imagination. It’s been done before. And will probably be done again. Sometimes, the lighthouse can be depicted as a single person, like the mind of the serial killer the team are trying to catch, with each murder an individual case or clue to apprehending the unsub. I chose the Cabal because I wanted to mirror the motley crew of FBI agents with an almost equal number of super-baddies. But like the FBI team led by Cassidy, the Cabal is led by an arch villain. 

Here are some helpful techniques. While each episode (case, chapter, murder, what you will). As the writer, you'll keep the lighthouse in mind, revealing a brick here and a brick there, clues or breadcrumbs if you like the Hansel and Gretel allegory, in each sequence. It mustn’t be obvious, nor too obscure. Remember that it must interest and intrigue the reader. I used characters, mostly or plot sequences. But mostly, I loved using the protagonist, the shadowy figure of Michael Paterson. No technique is verboten. No ploy is either, except one that is contrived (non-essential to the plot, simply to serve the purpose of a clue) or one that jars the reader as it’s unrelated to the sequence. That’s okay for a day-time drama, or even a night-time one, but will throw the readers of a crime thriller. It’ll act as a cockroach in one’s soup – difficult to swallow (remind me to tell you my chicken corn soup joke). 

It mustn’t be obvious, nor too obscure. Remember that it must interest and intrigue the reader

When I started writing the plot, the Cabal was already central as the lighthouse. But it was also a misery until I figured out how to make it work for me. How could I turn a bunch of clever, evil bellyachers into a force to be contended with and use their meanderings in a meaningful manner? By happy coincidence, I literally ran into my other challenge – the almost never-ending spiral journey I wanted the reader to take towards the ultimate revelation.

Finding the right sequences was my next challenge, but more about that later. What is relevant to mention is that these stories should be relevant, strike a chord within the reader, but most importantly, never tempt you, as the author, to disappear down a rabbit hole.  I was tempted by Chapter Two – Wheels Up in Thirty. I feel very strongly about human trafficking, believing it to be the vilest act ever, a crime worse than taking of a human life. I managed to resist the temptation because, insofar as the Cabal were concerned, it was a mere means to their evil ends. If you’ve read The Tech, tell me what you think of this article and how it relates to the book. If you haven’t, well go on! Get it, read it and then tell me what you think.

Hope you enjoyed reading my blog. I know that I enjoyed writing it. Come back anytime. Ask me anything. I’ll be here.

Mark Ravine

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