Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To Clue or Not to Clue

A post on a forum not too long ago discussed how important it is to give the audience a hint ahead of time to show how it's possible for a protagonist to extricate himself from a crisis or dangerous situation. He/she/it (can't remember) suggested that it's critically important that, even if only for a second or two, the audience sees that there's a way out or at least the potential.

I think this was specifically aimed at action writing but I'm not sure. Doesn't matter. I wholeheartedly disagreed with this premise regardless of the genre and, after a month or so of watching action films and reading scripts to explore the idea, I still wholeheartedly disagree.

It's not that I oppose giving the audience a hint that Richard Kimball might escape through a storm drain or jump off of a damn or viaduct or whatever that was, I just don't think it's critical or required in every escape scenario.

In some cases, sure, give the audience a hint. IF IT WORKS. The word "escape" reminds me of a scene in Finding Nemo where Dory and Marlin are fleeing from a shark who fell off the "fish are friends" wagon. In that scene, we do get a clue, a hint, a jab in the rib right before they escape. Dory's inability to read the word "escape" was both a comic element and a message to the audience that there is a way out. That may be particularly important in this case considering the young age of much of the audience and the need to keep it scary but not too scary.

But in film, we like to surprise the audience and the audience likes to be surprised. If we aren't careful about things like this, we'll get the ol' "it was so predictable" slap. None of us likes to be told what we wrote was predictable. That's like saying we wrote something flat or prosaic. One or two scenes where we see "it" coming could spoil the whole film experience for the audience.

That's not saying that it WILL. I'm saying that it COULD. There are some crisis situations where if we DON'T give the audience a hint, it may not make sense to them later or it will feel like a contrived deus ex machina.

I'm taken back to what my grandmother said about showing only a little ankle to make the eye want more. She wasn't saying we should always show a little ankle or never show more than an ankle. She said that IF you're gonna flash skin, don't show too much. I'm not saying we should never give the audience a clue, just that it is not always necessary.

Of course my grandmother also said "never show your cellulite until you're wearing a wedding band". I don't know how to translate that into film...


E.C. Henry said...

Maryan, all this "... a month or so of wathching action films and reading scripts..." It's only been a week and you're already starting to regress. What happened to just writing?

This is a general principal, PLANTS. They add credibilty to sometime outlandish feats. I use PLANTS all the time. NEVER sought a rule about this. It's a judgement call. Something your readers will cue you if they think your action isn't beliebable.

And all these musing about "revealing skin" makes me wonder what you're up to... What's next? A choreograhed dance routite involving a stipper pole! Not that in your case I'm all opposed to that...

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake

P.S. Ignoring the past tone of this responce let me say...


MaryAn Batchellor said...

Nothing's changed, E.C. I'm gonna let go and write and not hyper-analyze everything that comes out of my pen. But, I do need to stay on top of the craft. Otherwise, nothing will become second nature. Having a knack for something is a result of knowing it so well that you don't need to think about it.

Yeah, the stripper pole sounds fascinating but I couldn't choreograph a routine if my life depended on it. I do have a friend who was a Mavericks dancer, though...

And it is, indeed, going to be a Merry Christmas. For the first time since 1983, the family gathering is NOT at my house. Woo! Hoo!!!

Mike Scherer said...


'...never show your cellulite until you're wearing a wedding band...'

Translate to film: don't let the audience in on the secret/joke/what ever until you have the audience hooked on the story.

Happy Holidays and Keep Writing!

Grubber said...

...never show your cellulite until you're wearing a wedding band...'

I just thought that meant don't let Sharon Stone do anymore Basic Instinct movies.

Have a good New Years Maryan!
Word Verification: Triesses - it comes after twoesses

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Mike, good call!

Dave, no, no, no. Triesses is the opposite of give-upsies.