Showing posts with label TV tropes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TV tropes. Show all posts

19 June 2019

It's So Crazy It Might Just... Be Crazy


The author (R) with lampshade.
by Robert Lopresti

I have been a fan of The Blacklist through all of its long and somewhat checkered career.  Today I was watching an episode which attempted to explain some of the convoluted conspiracy which is supposedly at the heart of what has gone on for the past six years.  At one point a character said: "That is absurd."

And my reaction was: "Wow.  Nice piece of lampshade-hanging."

I discussed this concept in passing once before.  It refers to a method of coping with a particular authorial dilemma.

Let's say your story involves a plot twist or coincidence so outlandish you are afraid the readers will roll their eyes and throw the book across the room.  That happens.  If you can't change the plot, how can you change the reader's reaction to it?

Well, one method is to "hang a lampshade on it."  This means that, instead of trying to draw attention away from the problem, you actually have a character point it out.  This seems counter-intuitive, but it often works.  Maybe you are indicating to the readers that you know how smart they are.

As the wonderful website TV Tropes points out, the ol' Bard of Avon could hang a lampshade as neatly as any pulp magazine hack:  Fabian: If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction. (Twelfth Night)

A related method is known as So Crazy It Just Might Work.  Do I have to explain what that means?  You've read it/seen it in a thousand action movies.  It is practically Captain James Kirk's middle name.*

But I would suggest you can divide SCIJMW into two types: Physics and People.  One is better than the other, I think.

Physics: "There's no way the ship's engines can pull us out of the Interplanetary Squid Forest, so let's go full speed ahead straight in! It's so crazy etc."

People: "They have hundreds of armed guards hunting for us everywhere. The one thing they'll never expect us to do is walk up to the prison and sign in as visitors.  It's so crazy etc."

Both are crazy (although not as crazy as an Interplanetary Squid Forest) but the second one seems more reasonable to me because it is based on reverse psychology.  And hey, that sometimes works in real life. Remember the event that was the basis for the movie Argo? Who would expect the CIA to sneak people out of the country by setting them up as a film crew?

SPOILERS AHEAD.

Another way of grappling with an improbable plot point is foreshadowing.   I think it was Lawrence Block who pointed out my favorite example of that technique.  In The Dead Zone Stephen King has a lightning rod salesman show up at a bar and try to convince the owner to buy, pointing out the building's location makes it a perfect target for boom.  The owner turns him down and the salesman drives off, his service to literature complete.  When lightning strikes the bar at the very moment the plot requires it the reader, instead of saying "How unlikely!", says "Ha!  The salesman was right!"

 Of course, foreshadowing can be used for different purposes.
In the brilliant TV series I, Claudius there is a scene where a seer witnesses what appears to be an omen.  He interprets it to mean  that young Claudius will grow up to be the rescuer of Rome.  Claudius's sister Livilla scornfully says that she hopes she will be dead before that happens.  Their mother says "Wicked girl!  Go to bed without your supper."  Guess when and how Livilla dies?

So if you are a writer how do you deal with an attacks of the Unlikelies?  And if you are a reader (and I know you all are) which types bother you the most?

* Yes, I know Captain Kirk's middle name is Tiberius.  Now go over there and sit down. 

07 December 2011

At the end of your trope


by Robert Lopresti



So, all you writers out there: have you ever been tempted to hang a lampshade on  a weak point in your plot?  Have you ever been reduced to the use of oven logic?  Or do you have no idea what the hell I'm talking about?

If the latter than you might want to discover a cool webpage called TV Tropes.  It is a wiki and, as the home page explains, it is "a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction."  Don't think it is limited to TV, by the way.  There are plenty of examples from literature, movies, comic books, and even video games.

If I have a problem with the execution it is that they love clever names for the tropes, which can make it hard to find the one you are looking for.  (If you find one that is almost what you are looking for, check the related tropes at the bottom.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Absence of Evidence  In mystery fiction this is known as the dog in the night-time. 
Black Best Friend  Doesn't need much explanation, I guess.
Bolivian Army Ending  As in Butch Cassidy.  Nobody here gets out alive.
Bond Villain Stupidity.  I found this one in the index by typing in "Goodbye, Mr. Bond."  The villain (not necessarily in a Bond movie) at long last captures the good guy, sets up an elaborate death trap, and then doesn't stay to see if it works.  The movie Austin Powers mocked this perfectly.
Bus Crash  A character is killed  retroactively, that is, after the actor has left the show (and therefore doesn't get a dramatic death scene).  Most famously, I think, Henry Blake on MASH.
Crazy enough to work  As the wiki noted, this is practically Captain Kirk's middle name.  I hate when it shows up in a story, but what about when it happens in real life?  Apollo 13, anybody?
Lampshade Hanging You have a plot point so weak or unlikely the audience may refuse to bite.  So, illogically, you call their attention to it.  As the page points out, even Shakespeare hung a lampshade or two.
Mr. Exposition  Hello, hero.  Let me tell you everything that has been going on, which you probably know, but the autdience doesn't.
Oven Logic  Old comedy  premise.  We need to cook it faster so double the temperature and half the time!
Red Shirt Army  If you ever watched Star Trek you understand this one.  Why can't the storm troopers ever shoot straight?
Tomato Surprise  A specific kind of twist ending, one that depends on the audience suddenly learning something that some of the characters have known all along.

And finally....
Not worth killing   The bad guy lets the puny mortal go, as not worth his attention.   But what I was looking for and couldn't find was the situation where the hero is about to destroy his career/violate his code by killing the bad guy in cold blood and the side kick says "Don't do it!  He's not worth it!"

I hope you find TV tropes to be worth your time.