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"Bolt out of the Blue": How to get the audience to accept the improbable?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Logos&Eidos, Nov 25, 2016.

  1. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    For me, the fundamentals are clarity of rules (best if "shown" rather than "told," or revealed through dialogue), consistent application of multiple rules, exploration of multiple rules throughout the story, and unanticipated but fully acceptable application of one or a few rules near the end of the story.

    The question becomes one of what you consider as being the "rules" of your story. They don't have to only be environmental or magical. You could have the behavioral patterns of a character as a set of rules. This is why Heliotrope can claim that all good stories do this.
    FifthView likes this.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think it is natural for readers to think ahead. Given a set of events, reactions, physical limits, and so forth, the world and characters are "built" for the reader, and the reader can begin to anticipate events and reactions when new conditions occur. This of course doesn't mean that a reader will (or must be allowed) to anticipate correctly.

    I've been watching the anime Naruto lately, and in the first two seasons the creators do something rather great with that character. He learns new abilities, tries new things out, and we begin to anticipate how he'll put together this knowledge and succeed in defeating a foe in combat. But Naruto so often whips up some new use of previous abilities that seems both surprising at the time and entirely plausible given what we've already seen from him. The overall effect is to show how incredibly clever he is. (Even when he copies what he has seen others do, he does so with a twist, combining what they have done with his own peculiar style of fighting.)

    I would say that the way to use environment/setup in a surprising way revolves around establishing potentials but without making those potentials narrow. This might involve being rather vague, merely suggestive, of potentials; i.e., don't spell it all out. Also, complexity would help, or suggesting a wide variety of potentials. So often, creativity and surprise involve new combinations of familiar things. A reader might be able to anticipate some events but not all events if the set of potential combinations of factors is .... limitless.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
    Michael K. Eidson and spectre like this.
  3. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

    @ FifthView
    Here's my question how do to that without having a Convenient-Idiot as the protagonist?
    By Convenient-Idiot I mean characters that are largely ignorant of things that should be common knowledge/sense in their setting, for instance the basics of magic in a setting were magic is a trade as opposed to a closed practice who's workings and perhaps existence are known to a privileged few or gunpowder that burns blue or levitating vehicles?

    This also ties into description and point of view.
    When I envision my setting and the stories that I want to tell, the audience is looking in at the world almost as though they are watching a documentary and while they are made privy to what they POV characters think and feel, the audience isn't seeing the world through the characters eyes; thus description isn't limited or filtered through character perception, information unless stated to come through a character can be treated as objective.

    What point of view and style captures how I want the story to be experienced?:confused:
  4. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    Even experts in a field learn new things all the time. I can write a story with a competent, educated, knowledgeable protagonist and still have that character not know how to deal with every situation. It's easier to create tension in a story when the protagonist has a lot to learn, which may be why so many authors like writing stories with protagonists who are still learning the basics. If you have two experts going at each other, the kinds of problems they must deal with for the story to be dramatic may be more difficult for the author to devise, but as a reader I find these kinds of stories more enjoyable when done well.

    Watch some of the Dr. Who shows. He's no one's idiot, but he often lacks some key piece of information that he must deduce or discover or make an educated guess about to save the day. Sometimes he even guesses wrong, but the wrong guess helps guide him to the right path later.

    Description doesn't have to reveal everything, even when it's from an omniscient perspective. If you demonstrate some of your rules, you don't have to explicitly state them all. The POV doesn't really matter. If the story flows, the style shouldn't matter either.
  5. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage


    I asked about view point because I'd been researching the subject, I wanted to find a style that suited what felt most natural to
    me, instead of trying to force my thought process my Voice into a style that didn't fit, the very popular third person limited.
    I found third person objective/cinematic and a book on the subject helped out .

    There was also the fact that I want my audience to experience the story the way I see them, as outside observes rather than the erroneous "participants".
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I personally enjoy the novice type of character. It's a very useful type of character; readers can discover the world even as the character discovers it and learn with that character.

    But extremely competent and knowledgeable characters can work great as well. Michael is absolutely right: no one knows everything. So being careful to decide context–exploit the savant's weakness and blind spots–is one method for creating surprises, tension, and so forth when using a knowledgeable character. Take as an example Sherlock Holmes, who has a vast reservoir of knowledge and yet in every story he still has a mystery to solve. The fact that mystery can still happen for such a character is a great metaphor for the blind spots that the extremely competent have. A person who is an expert in one field, or several, may be completely stumped when faced with elements outside that field or even with aspects of their own field that are just beyond the very edge of current understanding in that field.

    Omniscient third provides more opportunities for keying into a character's thoughts, feelings, and subjective perspectives than objective third or cinematic approaches, but even with omniscient third you can choose what to describe and what not to describe. Additionally, when keying in to these subjective perspectives, you can exploit the common tendency for people to become narrowly focused. I.e., people tend to think from inside a box that is limited by their own biases, histories, experiences, and to overlook anything (or incorrectly interpret anything) that doesn't fall entirely into that box.

    With objective third/cinematic, you basically have only three ways to clue a reader in to what a character thinks and feels:

    1. through dialogue,
    2. through description of that character's physical actions and reactions, and
    3. the less common approach of some sort of third-party access and reporting

    #1 and #2 will usually be indicative, suggestive, but not a direct report of thoughts and feelings. For instance, in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Cap is standing in an elevator and notices sweat running down the side of another occupant's face, along with other signs that the other occupants are tense. These signs do not report an exact set of thoughts and feelings; they can sometimes be interpreted incorrectly. Dialogue may indicate thoughts and feelings in the way it always does; just think back to any conversation you've had with another person when you were trying to read their thoughts and emotions from what they've said.

    #3 is something like what happens when Mantis touches Star-Lord in the new Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer and says aloud what he is feeling. Or it could be something like one of those excerpts from, say, an autobiographical work heading a chapter, written long after the events in that chapter, that reveals what the character will be feeling or thinking in the scenes about to follow.

    Objective third seems to fit what you say you are wanting to do, the impressions you are wanting to give readers, although you could use an omniscient third but simply limit omniscient description and storyteller interpretation of settings, contexts, and other elements.

    I've always thought that movies are a great way for getting a feel for objective third/cinematic because that is their fundamental style of information delivery or portrayal of a story. (Although, some omniscient perspectives and devices sometimes add to the objective delivery.) So looking at ways movies can surprise, and the ways that movies fail when trying to surprise, would be helpful.

    I'd tie all of the above back into my previous comment by considering Chekhov's gun:

    "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

    For me, movies often fail to surprise when they conspicuously place an element into the first few scenes because that element is going to be key for resolving the conflict later in the movie. A lot of movies that involve some special ability (magical, physical, intellectual, technological), will show its quirky use early and then latter....wham! it comes in handy. This usually annoys me, although I can overlook it because I've grown used to this happening; it's almost a convention of some styles of movie making.

    Other approaches can place elements early in order to build tension and suspense. Horror movies will often open with a quick flash of evil at work before skipping to the ignorant and unaware characters who just happen to be moving into the house, arriving at the campground, getting ready for Halloween parties, etc. This, basically, is a type of foreshadowing.

    So if you want to surprise without using foreshadowing, you don't want to display Chekhov's gun so conspicuously. You can mix it into a lot of other miscellaneous detail so that it doesn't stand out (complexity, ambiguity). Or you can hang a fake Chekhov's gun on the wall–a type of false flag. You can hang 15 of those guns on the wall, but the key element later will be the nails or contraptions holding them to the wall, not the guns themselves. (I'm using Chekhov's gun metaphorically to stand for any elements in the story. Items, characters, forces, cultural traits....whatever.)
    Heliotrope likes this.
  7. spectre

    spectre Sage

    omniscient works good for that imo

    Sent from my Alcatel_4060O using Tapatalk
  8. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage


    @ FifthView

    While Convenient-Idiots are useful, however after all these years of consuming stories especially shonen manga.
    I've just gotten sick of them, a sickness that has only worsened when I realized that the purpose of a Convenient-Idiot is an exposition excuses;one that compromise the character when said Idiot is the protagonist is by having them not know things that ought to be common knowledge in their setting.

    I'm kinda sick of a lot of genre and literary conventions, a sickness that grows with my understanding of the technical side of writing grows;though I do not know all the conventions by name. For example the humble hero or the prideful hero who inevitably is made to deal with humility. Why can't my hero be an a somewhat anti-social, arrogant prick who never learns the value of friendship or is ever humbled; which isn't the same as never experiencing set backs?

    Why do stories have to end as soon as the hero has their stuff together and is ready face down godlings? The answer is that many stories are a metaphor for growing up with varying degrees of obviousness and once the protagonist has"grown up" the story is done. Why not a story the says you've beaten the Evil Over Lord/Grown up now what? Is there a follow up to the Hero's/Heroin's Journey where the Protagonist must deal with the consequences of Victory/Maturity?

    The Second Novel of the Mistborn Trilogy, is closest thing that I've seen to answering that question.

    Next spontaneously developing the ability to draw and just making a graphic-novel.
    Third-person Omniscient is the POV for me, Third Person Objective feels too limited and Third Person
    Limited gives the impression that the story is coming from the perspective of a character. To me the story is window into events and not through a specific character's eyes.

    here is a part of me that wants to Checkov with his own gun. The story takes place with in a world, the world doesn't exist solely to serve as a stage for the story to unfold thus there are things present that have no relevance to the events of the story. Imagine how empty a scene in graphic-novel,video game, or film would be if the only things on screen were things that had to do with the plot; there would be massive voids where bits of the world should be.

    Coming back to foreshadowing(which has left us all spoiled) we have returned to my query.

    A Bolt of the Blue: Something that happens with next to know warning.

    A Bolt out of Storm cloud: Something that has been precipitating.

    How do you get the most out of both bolts and use the second as little as possible?:confused:
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    This reminds me of The Chronicles of Riddick, a guilty pleasure of mine I've watched multiple times. Riddick does face down "godlings," but at the end of the movie he's just sitting on a throne he never expected nor wanted looking out over the crowd of former enemies who are now his followers with a "WTF do I do now?" kind of expression on his face. We know from spending time with his character that he is definitely not the right person for the job, heh. One of the reasons I love that scene so much is that it had a strong Conan the Barbarian feel; I'm sure I've seen a cover of some comic with almost exactly the same pose for Conan as the Barbarian becomes the King.

    Basically, I approach my settings similarly. I like to plan out a novel in some detail before I start writing it, and this includes an understanding of other areas of the world, various customs and worldviews of the people of that world, etc., that might or might not appear in the novel as the need arises–in minor ways.

    For instance, I find it helpful to know whether a character might naturally "think" a metaphor when he encounters something new by using some beast, holiday, or whatever that will otherwise never make an appearance in the novel. He might experience a small scratch from a poisoned dagger, not enough to die from the poison (perhaps it's not fatal), and think that the pain shooting up his arm is exactly like the pain he felt once as a boy when a Vendarlic scorpion once stung him. Vendarlic scorpions might never be mentioned anywhere else, and indeed I might never again reference that specific trip he made in childhood to Vendar, but I like having an awareness of the fact that those scorpions exist somewhere in the world and/or an awareness of the fact that my MC once traveled to Vendar when he was a boy. (In actual practice, I'd probably just make up the Vendarlic scorpion on the spot; but I'm more likely to already know the background info on my character's childhood.)

    Having those ready-made references handy while writing is a major help to me. So I like always having a greater awareness of the milieu, the larger context, while I'm writing. These "out of the blue" references (heh) also help to give the impression of an authentic world, a richness to the world.

    Now, of course, if Vendarlic scorpions are going to play a major role in the plot fifteen chapters later, then this early off-hand reference will become foreshadowing. But if the scorpions are never mentioned or used again in the novel, then it's just flavoring for the world. The secret, then, is to build a rich, detailed world, with enough such references made off-hand, so the reader begins to experience them as flavoring and won't expect whatever significant reappearance you utilize later, if any.
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Lev Grossman does this with The Magicians as well. I'd suggest you step away from Manga for a while and read some more "literary fantasy" you might be suprised what you find. The stuff you are talking about is not as rare as you think it is.

    Also, if you want to write an asshat that learns nothing from his adventures then what is stopping you? The reason certain "rules" exist is because many readers like the concept of redemption and change and that is the stuff they buy, but if you don't want to conform to that expectation then don't. Do your thing. Have as many bolts out of the blue as you want. You don't have to try to convince anyone that you are right. Just do it.
  11. To add to this, neither of these things is particularly new. There are plenty of books with arrogant MCs that never get humbled or deal with humility. Neither is there a dearth of books of "adult" people that are highly competent going through life nor is there a dearth of books where the character isn't coming of age. The Alloy of law for example is a book that isn't a coming of age story. Nor are the sequels. The story line for Logen Ninefingers in the First Law books, dude is grizzled and competent no coming of age. And in other media you have Rogue One. No coming of age growing up story there either.
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Just popping in with a note: I discovered last night that season one of The Magicians has officially appeared on Netflix. I'd watched the first episode on Amazon when it was free, but wasn't very impressed so I never bought the others. Now that S1 is free, I'm going to have a look. (I never read the books.)
  13. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage


    @ FifthView

    The world itself being the foreshadowing is what I'm trying to do.
    The ratio of what to give away to the audiance and what to hold back so that it hits with no warning beyond the fact that world works that way, is what I'm trying to find.

    If I had the right literary term I''d be using it, i'd make this conversation easier.

    @ Heliotrope
    I have watched the Magicians, didn't try to read the book when I first learned about it though. It just pinged as pretentious as well as being a mean spirited jab at the supernatural child adventure story genre, especially Harry Potter.

    The last adult fiction that I completed I think should be classified as Indie,Arcan the missing nexus.
    Prior to that I'd started reading Dark Tower...and didn't get back to it.

    I can look up the Hero's Journey easily along with the seven basic plots, but has anyone done a write up of what happens after the Hero's Journey? Once a child becomes an adult, followed the coming of age narrative
    to its conclusion where do you go with the character?

    @ Brian Scott Allen

    While reading The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.
    I came across the bit information that said most plots are in fact some form of maturation

    The Hero starts in place of weakness,cowardess,irresponsibility,pride, some trait deemed a sign of immaturity or hubris by society at large. And through the course of events is forced to literally or figuratively "grow up" and deal with the world, and once the hero has means to deal the story ends soon there after;because the point of the story was the transformation and everything else served as means for that to take place.

    While Alloy of Law isn't about a man growing up Wax is in his what early thirties at least, he is forced to confront and ultimately accept responsibility.

    Jen Erso of Rogue One goes through similar transformation.

    I can't speak for the The First Law series, I've only read the few issues that comic adaptation got.

    I'm trying to learn the rules so that I can break them deliberately, rather than as a consequence of amateurish stumbling.

    Is there a post Hero's Journey?
  14. Well, I mean yes otherwise the story would be boring without some kind of growth, unless that story is a tragedy. But I disagree with the writer who said that cowardice or pride are signs of immaturity but that's a minor quibble. The writer is correct stories are about growth of some kind. Or, perhaps more accurately, change. Macbeth has change, if not necessarily growth but that is a tragedy. Same with Hamlet not a whole lot of growth but there is a whole lot of change. But in almost every story with a happy ending there is growth, which is a positive change. It is, in my estimation, inescapable.

    But a story about growth is not a hero's journey per se. Like I said, every story is about change and growth. A Hero's Journey is just a specific type of story that deals with change. Take for example The Alloy of Law, that is not a Hero's Journey. Whatever similarities it has to the hero's journey is coincidental. So, is there a post hero's journey, I would say there can be stories post hero's journey. That could be a "sports story" where the hero gets a gang of misfits to work together to overcome some evil. However, the problem with these stories is that you will need to have the hero of the original hero's journey story become a less important character and be part of the ensemble and that often comes across as unsatisfying.
  15. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage


    @ Brian Scott Allen

    The whole part about cowardess and bride is from me.
    There are stories that are more about what a character does than becomes: Indiana Jones,James Bond, maybe Jason Born.

    While it is afield from what I started this thread to learn about, stories of heroes doing are what fascinate me in part because most stories end soon after the hero gains the strength to do;an anime I watch called Ergo Proxy did exactly the that. After years of seeing stories end right when they got good, I've started to wonder what happens next?

    What Story is told after the Hero's Journey ends?
    Assuming that the Hero survives their final trail and doesn't lose their powers, they are likely a powerful an influential person in their setting. So what happens next? The Hero's and Heroin's Journey are both metaphors for growing up, so what is the story for navigating the adult world.

    Some have suggested that apotheosis is what follows the Hero's Journey?
    Which leads me to ask what are the steps in an story of ascension?
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >Which leads me to ask what are the steps in an story of ascension?

    Dante has a couple of tips on that. It's not a bad read, though Inferno is rather more fun than Paradiso.
  17. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

    I might just, I download Dark tower for research into stories that are told from a more cinematic perspective.

    When it comes to what happens after the Hero's Journey, I've looked for but haven't found a named post Hero's Journey story map/guide, however I've noticed that there are many different stories that are using this nameless pattern...


    The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution.

    Kung Fu Panda 2&3.

    Iron Man 2&3.

    Capitan America 2&3

    The second half of the anime series Tegena Topa Gurren Lagan.

    The last two books in the Mistborn series.

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