Sunday, 29 May 2011

Let Me Shine A Little Light On It. . .

As I wrote this, I was indeed humming the Pearl Jam song "The Fixer." Anyways, today I'm going to depart from my recent nonsense rants and talk a little bit about an actual mechanic of writing. I'd first like to refer back to my post about lies, and remind you of the fact I laid out there -

You are lying to your audience, and that's what they want. They respond to your lies with something called the Suspension of Disbelief, which is a special trigger that allows them to ignore the fact that you're spouting lies at them, and get involved in your world.

However, there are some lies that for what-ever reason are just too hard to swallow. As writers we have a special kind of technique for compensating here - we call extra attention to them by what I call "spotlighting."




The most popular variety of spotlight actually has a name of its own, and applies in situations where you know your reader isn't going to believe this shit - so how do you deal with it? Well, what if your CHARACTERS don't believe it either? This serves two purposes - it points out that you know this crap is crazy, and it makes your characters more relatable, by placing them in the same situation of incredulity that the reader is in. (fun fact: Chrome's spell-check doesn't believe "relatable" is a real word, but Google does.) This is called "Hanging a Lampshade," and it's a pretty cheap tactic, but is essentially unassailable from a critical point of view. It's best used sparingly, because of its very nature - - if you point out how ridiculous your plot is often enough, readers are going to catch on.


The next one I'd like to point out is easy, and probably the most widespread without anyone even realizing it. I call it GRANDSTANDING, or STAGE LIGHTS. Yes, that needed to be in all caps. Because that's exactly what this method does. It takes that element, and puts it in giant letters on the front cover and makes it the center of attention. Don't believe this happens? How about I put it this way:

THERE'S ZOMBIES IN THIS MOVIE
A GIANT ASTEROID IS ABOUT TO CRASH INTO EARTH
THEY'RE TIME POLICE!
HE RANDOMLY JUMPS INTO PEOPLE'S BODIES!

Science fiction is super guilty of this technique - because it OPERATES on the principal. If a crazy element is assumed to be the basic premise of a piece of work, then it allows you to skim over explanation, and leaves everyone ready to accept it and move on to the actual plot - surviving the zombies, preventing the asteroid, what case those time police are on this week, and the lessons he learns from being someone else. [More fun facts: One of the examples is generic, one is a popular film, and two of them are television series.]


The last spotlight I want to mention is the Searchlight. This spotlight goes -looking- for inconsistencies and oddities, and discredits them. This is a staple of mysteries and psychological thrillers. A companion to the Searchlight is the Red Herring, which is what the Searchlight most commonly finds - a distraction from the actual end game. This one is most forgivable, because without crackpot theories, missing leads and the game of tag between the Searchlight, the Red Herrings and the true culprit the mystery wouldn't last long.

None of these techniques are crimes in and of themselves, mind. They're tools with a penchant for abuse. Being aware of them, and using them only when absolutely necessary will make you a better writer, as will knowing how to use them to their greatest effect.

There are also MANY more types of Spotlights - so if you're looking for a game, here's some of my other tags - your homework for this week is to define these terms:

Security Lights
Laser Pointer
Blacklights
The Rave
A Mysterious Lack of Light

Have fun, and see you next time.

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