Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lack of a Reaction: When Questions Go Unanswered

**Scroll down for an important exciting announcement! 8D**

Now, on to the post:

Supernatural Boy: “I don’t have much time to explain, but long story short, you’ve just been sucked into another dimension and are actually our long-lost princess. You’ll also develop astonishing powers you’ve never even hinted at possessing before in about fifteen seconds, after we’re attacked by the witch trying to steal your throne.”

                Female Main Character: “Okay. Let’s do this.”

                See any problems here?

                Yes, there are a few, but the one I’m going to focus on is our FMC’s reaction to the news that her life has just gotten a whole lot more complicated.

                Specifically, I’m going to focus on her lack of reaction. There’s no frantic questions, no denial, no burst of laughter, and no sarcastic comments regarding the sudden need for an insane asylum… She just accepts it. And the story moves on. And any questions the reader has – which, by the way, should be more or less the same questions this MC would have – are completely and totally ignored.

                We do not want to ignore our reader, folks. Not once you start preparing your book for others to read. We have the answers all in our heads. Our readers, and often our characters do not.

                A show I rather like kind of inspired this post, because I see the writers ignoring readers’ questions on a regular basis. Granted, there’s only so much you can fit in a 30-minute episode, but isn’t that what cliff-hangers are for?

                Take for example one episode in particular. Up until that episode, our MC was an amnesiac, and his whole ‘thing’ was trying to find out his past, where he’d come from, why he had the abilities he did…

                And then suddenly, in this episode, his long-lost brother appears! His bro should have all the answers! He can finally clue the readers in on what’s going on! Finally, things will start to make sense!

                Except they didn’t. Partially because his long-lost brother is a quirky, crazy guy, a bit out of touch with reality, but mostly because our main character didn’t even bother to ask the questions in the first place. This is his chance to find out everything, and he doesn’t seem that concerned about it. There wasn’t a single question about his past, or his life before amnesia. At the start of the next episode, it was like his brother had always been around. Still no answered questions.

                Which left me, the viewer, wondering two things.

o   What is he waiting for? This is his chance, so why isn’t he taking it?

o   Now that he potentially has all the answers… Where are they taking this character, and this plot, and this series?

                It also made me start to think, “Is this show really as fantastic as I thought at first?”

                And this is not something we want our readers to be thinking about our books.

                Like I said, there’s only so much the writers of that show could fit into one episode. Similarly, there’s only so much we can fit into a novel, or a chapter, or a scene. If our characters are right in the middle of a chaotic battle, they’re not going to have time to sit down and talk things out right away.

                But that shouldn’t stop the questions from eating away at our main character. It shouldn’t stop them from asking those questions at the earliest opportunity, and it shouldn’t stop them from demanding answers. It shouldn’t keep our characters removed from all the emotion they should be feeling after a major development…

                Because if the emotions and questions in our reader’s mind keep prying them away from our character’s thoughts, things won’t match up. Our reader will feel disconnected, and frustrated, and they might even feel like closing the book entirely.

                The show I’m referring to, I think, has been trying very hard to keep things light. Comedic. ‘Fun’. Which is good, I suppose, except I feel like they’re sacrificing all the messy, emotional meat of the character reactions that I love. The questions are still roaring through my head, episodes later, as a new huge event was just brushed over with little fanfare. The long-lost brother is still there, but I’m no longer sure why he matters, or if he matters, or if our main character’s history was ever really important (even though that was the whole starting premise of the show).

                I’m not matching up with the characters. They, and the plot of the show, don’t feel as real to me as they once did.

                And if your characters or plot don’t feel real… Then it’s just a show. Or just a book.

                I can turn off a show. I can close a book.

                Appropriate reactions aren’t just a matter of scenes and chapters. They’re a matter of keeping your characters believable. And they’re a matter of making your story more than ‘just’ a book.

                Have you ever read a book or watched a show that skimmed over extremely important events? Have your characters ever inexplicably accepted something impossible? What do you think the balance is between addressing questions, and getting overloaded with them?
And perhaps a better question, have you figured out yet that I get really excited about Character Reactions?

Announcement Time! 8D

I'm proud to announce that I shall henceforth be contributing to a new collaborative writing blog, begun by myself and three amazing friends from Young Writers Society.

Scratchlings is now officially in business.

Feel free to check it out. :)

1 comment:

  1. I've run into this in reading and show-watching, and it's so irritating! I get all invested in the plot and characters, and then it's just over. =/ I'm sure I've done it before, in my first draft, but I've hopefully dealt with all of them now, haha. ^_^