The power of the expect and conventional

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Svrtnsse, Dec 6, 2017 at 11:50 AM.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'm working myself up towards the ending of my current story and I got stuck musing on foreshadowing, expectations, and conventions. Here's the situation:

    Alene predicts that the enemies will attack Roy soon, and she comes up with a plan to help him out. She daydreams a bit about showing up at the last moment, turning the tide of the battle, and saving the day (and herself and Roy in the process).

    Now, conventional wisdom gained from taking in many a generic action story holds that things never work out as planned. As writers it's often suggested we make things worse for our characters.
    Most likely, Alene will end up complicating the situation in some way when she shows up (whether through any fault of her own or not doesn't matter). Things will go pear shaped for her and Roy. In fact, Roy would probably have just done fine on his own but thanks to Alene showing up the situation gets that much trickier.

    It's cliche and unoriginal, but that's how the story goes, right? You've seen the same thing in plenty of movies, right?

    It doesn't have to be like that, but it's kind of fascinating how strong the call is to write it that way. It's a bit like Chekhov's Gun. The easiest way around it would probably be to remove the foreshadowing and just have the events unfold anyway.

    To clarify, I'm not looking for suggestions on how to circumvent the expectations here (but that's welcome too), just musing on how strong the power of stories can be.
     
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  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    When I read this:

    I was like "Oh yeah!" can't wait to read how that all goes :)

    Which goes to show that even though it is "expected", it is what readers want. In my mind I didn't think "oh, that's so cliche". I thought "Yeah! Bring on the complications! This is going to be awesome."

    It's funny, even my six year old knows this. I've been telling him stories at bed time since he was a newborn and he "get's" it now. If I start a story with "Once upon a time there was a boy who played lego everyday. One day he entered a lego competition. He spent hours building his lego motorcycle, working on it every minute of the day...."

    And my son will ALWAYS, ALWAYS say "But he doesn't win does he mommy?" And I will say "Do you want him to win?" And he responds with "No."

    Why?

    Because he knows that it would be a hella boring story. The kid has to build his heart out and then lose. Then what? What is he going to do? That's when the real story starts.

    I always get caught up with "but it's so cliche" in my outlines too, but I get over that when I watch Netflix and remind myself that every story type follows a predictable pattern. It's just the details that are unpredictable and that's why we love them.
     
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  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Example: Did anyone not think Eleven was going to go back to Hawkin's to rescue her friends?

    Did that make it any less awesome when she did?
     
    Russ likes this.
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I hear you.

    Something's going to get messed up. I'm just not sure what.
    My predicament is I want to avoid putting Alene in a situation where she's the clumsy damsel who needs to be rescued by the hero. Partly, because that's not who she is, and partly because I want to build an image of her as very capable so that there's more impact when she eventually does get in over her head (next story).

    I did consider letting her plan work out as she envisioned it, but it feels really half-baked. It'd be like lighting a fuse and then have the bomb fizzle.
     
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  5. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    No it totally has to get messed up. I love that. It doesn't make her a damsel! We all to stupid things. She does the "right" thing, just in the "wrong" way, lol.
     
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Don't worry, it'll happen.
    She's got a pretty long list already. :p
    Yep. Something like that, or she has the right intentions but the wrong understanding - which may potentially be even more damaging.
    This comes down to execution I think. It might do, or it might not.

    I'm currently reading Damn Fine Story, by Chuck Wendig, and I just got through the part about Agency, so that's fresh in my mind at the moment. As long as I give Alene some agency within the situation I should be fine.
     
  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, crazy good stuff. It's hard to make sure your character is constantly "wanting" something and the story happens "because of them," instead of them happening "because of the story".
     
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    ...and it also seems I can't spell "expected" :(
     
  9. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Grandmaster

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    Alene is on her way to help, and the time line is such that she should arrive at the last minute, but something happens that slows her down. The modern day equivalent of a flat tire, and she doesn't have time to change the tire, or doesn't have a spare. Whatever. She has to find another way to get to the scene to help Roy. Once she gets there, she saves the day as she had hoped, but the question is about whether she'll get there on time.

    Maybe she gets the modern day equivalent of a phone call from someone else who needs her help. Someone who stands a lot to lose if Alene doesn't help--now. Someone as important to Alene as Roy. Now Alene must choose who to help, or figure out a way to help both. Again, she's still able to pull off her plan to help Roy, if she makes that choice. But what are the consequences of not helping the other person?

    The point is, there are complications you can throw at Alene that still allow her to save Roy the way she dreams of doing--if that's what you want to happen. The route I'd go would depend on how I wanted to portray Alene, and what complication best exercises the traits that support that portrayal.
     
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  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Okay, so I figured it out, I think, sort of...

    Alene's plan is still the same: show up at the last moment to help Roy win the impending fight. Roy is oblivious to the threat and is enjoying a quiet meal at a nearby restaurant. Alene expects the bad guys will attack him there, and has figured out a way to set up an ambush for them without anyone noticing. Only... once she gets there Roy has finished his meal and wandered off. He's in the middle of the town square and the bad guys have found him there and he's having a hard time holding his own against all of them. There's no time to make a new plan and Alene has to improvise...
    ...and then I'm not quite sure what exactly happens, but it won't be good (except, hopefully, for the reader).

    I'm shifting the mess-up from the fight and onto something else entirely. Alene's carefully laid out plans fall to dust and she doesn't even know what's happened or where Roy is or how he's doing.
    It's time to shut down for the night though, and I won't get to start writing this until tomorrow and who knows what new ideas I've had by then... ;)
     
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  11. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    I think films have conditioned us to the Reversal and the False Ending [like the first time I saw Aliens and KNEW the Loader had to be in the final fight - otherwise why show Ripley able to use it...]. In a book I don't think they are as useful. A film takes a couple of hours. A book can take a couple of days [maybe longer]. The pacing of a book lets the reader forget [a little] what has happened but then realised that they did know something after all.
    I liked how in LotR Aragorn gets a message to go somewhere suicidal [Paths of the Dead] when just everyone else heads off to battle. There is a comment about meeting on the field of battle and then he's gone for a long time [half a book?]. But then he pops up just as all looks darkest and [helps] win the day.
     
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