Thursday, October 22, 2009

Revelations about musicals and houses...

*spoilers for early seasons of House M.D. and A Very Potter Musical are contained within*

It's been a while since I've been here, no?

I was thinking about plots and the revelation of plots recently, and was prompted to write based on my recent discovery of House M.D. and the wonderful website known as TV Tropes (specifically this entry).

House has the most wonderful way of setting up its episodes: giving us just enough information to get us hooked, then doing something to make us question, then slowly giving us information in less-than-obvious ways that nonetheless add up to one screaming avalanche of revelation by the end. It's so beautiful. (My favorite episode from Season 1, "Histories", is a prime example of this.)

I loves me the foreshadowing and vague references, but I really hate it when writers just shove it in your face. Audiences are savvy enough to know when something is going to be important later if you make it too obvious. It gives away the ending. (A lampshaded example: If you've ever seen A Very Potter Musical, when Snape gives the pop quiz, he mentions anything that will every be important as a MacGuffin, then asks "Does anyone know what Foreshadowing is?" They lampshade many other things that will become important later also. 'Tis humorously done, but the audience is completely prepared for what comes.)

This is not to say don't foreshadow ever, and don't tell anyone anything so that they are always completely in the dark, but don't make your intentions so blatantly obvious.

House does it where they give you enough information to speculate on, but in a way that you don't realize it's important until it is. For example: in "Mistakes", when you see the patient come to see Chase when he is distracted, he is on the phone. He hangs up and that is it. Later, he mentions that his father died without telling him. Well, wait a minute. A viewer who has watched the seasons all the way through knows that his father is going to die, but we haven't seen anyone tell Chase. Instantly, our antennae are up. Chase was distracted by this phone call... He knows that his father is dead, but we haven't seen him receive this revelation... Therefore... And we are all beautifully rewarded for our speculation when the scene plays out in its entirety when Chase gets the call that his father has passed away.

It's wonderful. It really is. It gets the viewer thinking, they come to a realization and then the realization is played out. Sometimes there is a twist, but when the end is finally revealed, the viewer can look back and see all the hints that were given. And none of it was in-your-face "Look! Look! A clue!"

The TV Tropes entry takes this and expands it to the idea of "plans" in fiction. You notice that when the heroes/villains make plans, the ones that they completely outline usually fail or are interrupted in some way. It is only those that are unspoken to the audience that manage to succeed. This is because the writer wants you to know what the plan is so that when the plan goes wrong, you know it. It's no fun if you don't know what the plan is and then it goes wrong, because you don't know that it's gone wrong. (Similar to goof-ups in theatre - I recall being told to just keep going even if you flub a line or say it in the wrong place. After all,  the audience doesn't know that you've messed up.)


So give the reader/viewer a little to chew on, maybe throw in some easy-to-notice-but-not-blatantly-obvious things to reference later and then cash in on it all later. Don't give away the twist in the beginning, please.

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