The scene was an excellent example of character innocence.
|We're all going to die, aren't we...|
The character doesn't know he's in a horror movie. As far as he knows, he's out in a cabin with his friends -- who he treats as friends, because he doesn't know they're going to die -- and weird, bad things are happening. He acts like the reasonable, stand-up guy that he is, in response to that.
The observant viewer of the movie knew what was going to happen. It creates either dread, for the observant, or a gut-punch for those who forgot about the set-up and got this nasty reminder.
"Well, of course the character wouldn't know he's about to die." Yes. But keeping characters in the dark can be easier said than done.
Disciple is told from a first-person perspective. Mostly. Because of that "mostly," the readers know some things, going into Part VI, that my narrator does not. My narrator is trying to deduce what those things are, and it's difficult to write because I hate for her to be wrong -- and because I know the truth in great detail. I wrote it. It happened.
Why can't she just come to the right conclusions? Because -- like what happened to the guy in Cabin -- the truth is something she has no reason to expect. Letting her make that kind of intuitive leap, without sufficient clues, would ring false. It would take away her "innocence."
Authorial knowledge creeps in very subtly. It can be very difficult to put your finger on. In a lot of situations -- genre movies in particular -- the audience is more than complicit. They expect it, to a degree. And yet the story is always better when the characters are completely innocent.
A lesser writer, to go back to Cabin, would've had the guy just announce "I'll go get help!" and head off to his doom. Because it doesn't matter what he says or thinks -- he's going to die. This is a horror movie and characters are expected to die. The fact that a character didn't say or think, in such a situation, is a form of admission that he knows it doesn't matter what he says or thinks.
But in Cabin, the characters gathered round for a moment to give meaning to this one character's departure. It validated that this was real and serious, to them, which is what real people would do.
No real person wants to be the redshirt. So no "real" character should act like one.
I've been collecting a list of "subtle things" as I've been thinking about that vast, foggy land between "serviceable writing" and "excellent writing." We've all heard the standard writing advice maxims: Show, don't tell. Characters need to be sympathetic. The story needs to progress toward a goal. Don't forget to add a backdrop for the action. Etc.
All of those are guaranteed to improve one's writing. But they won't win you a Hugo. At a certain level of writing skill, personal tastes, audience expectations and artistry come into play -- and it's no longer a matter of whether you did something right, it's whether you sold it to the reader. The elements of good writing that can be pinned down become -- subtle. Small. Argue-able. A sentence here, a few words there. Which, if taken out of context, may not look particularly good in and of themselves.
So you will see these posts pop up, as they come to me and as I find examples. What are some subtle hallmarks of good writing that you've noticed? I've got seven more on my list...