Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If Things Are Going Smooth, Don't Tell the Reader

One of the best examples of this comes from the Dennis Quaid movie Undercover Blues.  Obviously this is something of a spoiler, so be aware.

Throughout the whole movie, the Blues portray themselves as in control of the immediate situation but still trying to figure out the larger picture.  Meanwhile they pepper the conversation with things like "(Morty) could be useful" which later turns out to be true.  You don't learn that they've been manipulating the larger picture all along until the end of the movie.

Likewise, Ocean's 12 has the same sort of situation where the gang is getting progressively caught more and more and thrown in jail while failing to meet the burglar's challenge.  That is right up until the end when you're told that they'd met the challenge days ago, before the target object had even reached the museum.

In both cases, things were running, more or less, according to the plan but in both cases the audience was left out of some pieces of information that made it easy to see that the plan was working.  They were given enough information, however, to reason out that this was happening.

For comic book people, perhaps the utmost example of this is "I did it 45 minutes ago" as spoken by Ozymandias in the Watchmen.

For webcomics, any of Dominic Deegan's plans might also qualify here.

For anime, this looks to be something like what is going on with Itachi Uchiha's plan in Naruto.

In order to keep the drama and tension of a piece, you want to show the reader that things aren't going smooth.  Or rather, you want to make them come to that conclusion on their own.  If you outright give them faulty information or cut out all possible clues as to the truth of the situation, then you are not following the advice about being predictable.

This isn't even the case of giving a red herring, this is more like the case of trying to pretend there isn't a masterfully cooked steak in the next room.  Instead of sealing off sight, sound and smell of the steak, you probably want to seal off sight and smell and let them assume something wild about the sizzling sound.

People will leap to all manner of conclusions if you give them the slightest provocation, use that.

Then, when the end of the story comes and the wonderfully complete masterplan comes into view, the audience can be appropriately wowed by the awesome foresight of your heroes or villains.

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