There is No Way This Could Fail. None.

You know that moment in Mockingjay when they finally rescue Peeta, and Katniss spends a paragraph or so thinking how happy she and Peeta would be and how she would hug Peeta and tell him all the things she was never able to tell him before?

And was anyone surprised when Peeta wasn't okay?


I think this is becoming a pet peeve of mine, in YA especially, where the MC starts thinking about how great it will be when their plan works then (of course) the plan doesn't work.

(This goes the other way, too. Whenever the MC is dubious about a plan or is certain someone has died, it's a sure thing the opposite has occurred and everything is going to be okay.)

It shouldn't bother me. It's just a trope, right? I mean, you can't have the MC go, "Was that his voice in the next room? It had to be. Of course it was! He was back home safe, and everything would be like it was." And then he's really there and everything is just like it was. That's boring, right?

But when I read a narrator's thoughts like that, it either makes me feel like the MC is dumb or it blows away all the tension ("Well I thought it might be him for a second, but now...").

But what to do about it? I'm sure I do this all over the place, and it can't be a bad thing all the time, can it?

Seriously, is this even an issue? Or should I file this under temporary insanity (too late)? What do you guys think?

I think what I want is for authors to be aware of the signals they send the reader. We (authors) go, "I'll trick the reader into thinking everything is okay then BAM!" But the reader is all, "Do they actually think I'm buying this? Oh, look: 'bam'."

We need to find a better way.

14 comments:

Leigh Ann said...

Oh, I don't know. Don't get me wrong. You make a good point.

But I think it *is* a trope, and it works because it's based on a very human thing, right? Like how many times have you thought, "This all just might work out for the best" (*cough cough* *querying*) and then it all comes crashing down around you? (Not that that example is immediately applicable to me or anything...*whistles*)

So, yeah. When a character thinks, "now everything will be okay," my heart kind of soars with her, because even though *I* recognize what's about to happen, I've also been in that spot, where you think you might just beat the odds. And you think, well, maybe this character will, you know? And because of that identification, you're crushed when she's crushed.

(So, no. Not bad all the time. I don't think. :))

Awesome post! I'm definitely going to be more aware of that now!

Erik Winter said...

"'Was that his voice in the next room? It had to be. Of course it was! He was back home safe, and everything would be like it was.' And then he's really there and everything is just like it was."

And then the next day he flips out and kills the whole village because someone dropped a spoon.

Matthew MacNish said...

I think it's just another one of those things. Love triangles. False antagonists. When they work they work, and when they don't they don't. It would be nice if there was some kind of formula for figuring it out, though.

That Ninja site is hilarious, Erik.

Rick said...

You raise an excellent point, Adam - but I think of this less as 'duping' and more as foreshadowing. If it's supposed to be a plot twist, I agree with you that it almost always fails; but read as dramatic irony it makes me wistful because the character is all like "Oh! I get to be happy soon!" and I'll be sitting there reading, thinking, "Oh honey, no."

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Hey, wait! I resemble that remark!

Still working on the right way to fix it. Stay tuned... :)

Angela Brown said...

Some tropes are just that. A trope. It is used, abused, turned into a pretzel then someone else straightens it out.

Or it could be that need to play on the emotions of the reader, hoping they don't see the ploy then hit 'em with a blindsider. For some, it still works.

jjdebenedictis said...

Stories are built around reversals. Having the protagonist think the opposite of whatever will happen next is just a technique to build tension so that the subsequent release of tension will be more emotionally powerful.

But you're right that readers get savvy to techniques that are used too often, and this one is. Anything that broadcasts the upcoming reversal is going to weaken the story rather than strengthening it.

Indigo said...

I think some element of foreshadowing is needed, but tend to agree at times it's a bit too obvious. Which doesn't make it necessarily foreshadowing at all...

I think what authors need to watch out for is, their fail safes becoming predictable. Once in a while you can get away with it. Falling back on those same tropes each and every single time, readers won't be hooked. They'll see it coming a mile away. (Hugs)Indigo

Iliadfan said...

I'm reading a book like that right now. Every time a POV character gets excited about something, I roll my eyes because I know the exact opposite is coming next. But this is the first time I recall reacting like this to a book I like. I'm guessing if it weren't so predictable, I'd be just fine.

Adam Heine said...

@Rick: I really like that way of looking at it. Maybe I can try that next time I see it.

@Erik: Awesome link. Makes me want to write about ninjas EVEN MORE.

linda said...

I really like Rick's point on dramatic irony, too. I think the trope is ok if it's done well, because even when you know the character is wrong about how things will turn out, it's not always obvious how things will actually be.

And I actually liked that trope in Mockingjay. Sure, I didn't expect Peeta to be perfectly fine, and worried on Katniss' behalf because I could tell she was about to get her hopes crushed (similar to what Leigh Ann mentioned), but I also didn't expect him to be THAT incredibly messed up. So for me, that particular example worked because there was both anticipation and surprise.

But yeah, if it's too obvious what's going to happen, or if it seems like the author actually expected us to fall for it, or if it's overused, then it won't be effective. All in the execution, as with everything else, I suppose.

Victoria Dixon said...

I think there are ways and places to do this. I have a scene where my hero has just found out someone near to him has been murdered and of course he doesn't believe it. Denial is the first stage of grief and the reader would think it odd if he DID believe it straight away. He does, in fact, hear the other man outside his tent - only it's not him. It's moving precisely because he's in mourning and the reader understands that it's not his friend, though they (hopefully) will wish it was.

Myrna Foster said...

I'm trying to figure this out in the revision I'm working on. Out of five readers I only had one who had issues with it, but her comments were enough to get me thinking of solutions. I don't want readers to think my character is stupid or overly naive. Of course, if main characters did everything right, all the time, stories wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

Jemi Fraser said...

I think it depends on the story and how the author handles it. If I'm deep enough in the story, it doesn't seem to bother me as much! :)