Monday, April 4, 2011

Foreplay For Readers

Darth Vader: There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you.
Darth Vader: Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.
Luke: I'll never join you!
Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me *you* killed him!
Darth Vader: No. *I* am your father.
Luke: No. No. That's not true. That's impossible!
Darth Vader: Search your feelings, you *know* it to be true!

You know that moment, in The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vadar reveals the truth. That's a great moment. Not only do you have the element of surprise for the viewers, but you get the total shock, disbelief, borderline disgust of the character who just had the rug pulled out from under them.

Yes, it's a great moment. Movies, TV shows and books are filled with moments like that, when a story builds up to a reveal. And if the reveal turns the story on its head? Even better. Think The Sixth Sense. Or The Usual Suspects.

But reveals are not the only way to grab a reader with a jaw-dropping moment. Sometimes, it isn't a revelation that you should be building towards. Sometimes, it's a reaction.

I love reactions. It's probably the reason I'm a sucker for Survivor. Man, last week, tribal council? That was beautiful. "Don't get overconfident." That was the icing on the cake. The look on the person's face was enough.

It's also the reason that soaps are so popular. I mean, the audience knows almost all the secrets, but what keeps them watching is the anticipation of the moment when the characters find out the truth... and the anticipation of what the characters will do when they find out that truth. You want to see a great reaction scene? Terriers. Watch the whole season. The whole freakin' show was one great scene after another.

It's important to play fair with your readers, and it's important to build a credible basis for any revelations that are coming in your book. If you feel as though the readers will figure it out and that moment of truth will lose its impact, just remember that anticipation is like foreplay. The sex is never as good without it.

(I picked both WIRE clips because the first event, at the end of season one, is what causes two would-be enemies to join forces at the end of season three.)


John McFetridge said...

Yeah, the moment where everything changes.

A lot of films have used the "dolly in - zoom out" visual technique to show this. One of the most famous is in Jaws.

Also the one in Goodfellas (though personally I think that one is kind of ruined by the voice over explaining it, but that's blasephemy, isn't it? ;)

And because you mentioned The Wire, here's a few from Season Two.

Of course, the book equivalent is a little trickier...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, some things come over better on TV, but I do love watching the fall-out with characters.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Here's something book related. In No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy the book becomes increasingly more violent as the story progresses but at the same time the violence is further and further removed from the page as the story progresses. So a lot of what you read are "reactions" to the violence.

The movie utilizes this also as it is a very faithful adaptation but it really struck me as an interesting technique when I first read the book and one that I hadn't seen before.

Steve Weddle said...

Yup yup. So often it ain't the action but the character's reaction that matters.

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