Monday, March 9, 2009

Nirvana Behind Door Three

I'm reading this book now ... OK, I'm being paid to suffer through this book in which the author pretty much telegraphed on page 20 what was going to happen on page 200. I imagined him sitting in the pool of light from his computer monitor late at night, chuckling, "Ha ha! Don't them fancy pants editors call this furshadowing? 'Cause that's what I'm doing now! Furshadowing! And NO ONE will ever figure it out!"

Ugh. Please pity me. On page 180, I had a wild hope he had tricked me after all. That I was wrong. That I hadn't guessed the ENTIRE book in the third chapter. But alas, no. It played out exactly as I dreaded. 

Which, of course, got me thinking about telegraphing your plot, foreshadowing and all sort of other goodies. I can think of three kinds of telegraphing as far as plots are concerned:

1) Clumsy. You give it all away like a drunken sailor. You think it's clever, you think no one will see it coming, but the truth is, it's obvious. You know why? Because THERE'S NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE. If you have a story with three people, and one is the good guy and one is in a coma, well ... you do the math. The other one is the bad guy.

2) Inevitable. Oh, this can be delicious. You know the train is heading for the cliff. You know it will head off the cliff.  But it cannot be stopped. The story is grinding inexorably toward its stomach-churning destiny. All that remains is for your characters to deal with the awful truth. Handled well, this can be magnificent. After all, who doubted Luke would confront Darth? But how, lovely readers, therein lies the magic.

3) Brilliantly. OK, this is plot nirvana. First, you have telegraphed multiple endings. But only one is the real ending. The rest are red herrings (a most delicious fish). And the real ending is shrouded in ambiguity and doubt even as it's being revealed. Can it be? Is that even possible? But doesn't that mean ...? It's a shock when the moment is unveiled, when your masterpiece is finally seen in full. Rebecca does this. The Sixth Sense does this. 

I'm usually aiming for door 3, but I'm perfectly happy to hit door 2. And if I suspect I've passed through door 1, it's time to tear the whole thing up and start over ...

How about you? Where does telegraphing fit into your world?


spyscribbler said...

Well, this is tough. When I pick up a book, most of the time I can see the whole book after reading the first few pages or chapter. It's obvious and inevitable. So a whole lot is clumsy to writers but may not be to the general reading public.

I do like to exploit reader expectations, but not on a grand scale. I don't like to be tricked, so I don't trick readers. But even if I do the same old genre conventions, I like to strive to do it in a fresh way, in an unexpected way.

I do believe nearly everything should be planted and/or present in the beginning in some way, but that's different than clumsy foreshadowing, for sure!

LurkerMonkey said...

Yeah, I hate being tricked, and there's probably a whole 'nuther blog entry in that. It drives me crazy when an author does something in the ending that just makes no sense at all. It has to stay true to its own internal logic.

Jude Hardin said...

What about ending a chapter with something like It turned out to be the last time I would ever see Janet alive.

We know Janet's going to die, but the suspense is in how.

JKB said...

This is an excellent post, LM...I'm glad to have found your blog! Wonderful!