Sunday, June 15, 2008

Seeing Opportunities

Warning: I discuss blood and gore here, in a modestly graphic way. Thou hast been warnéd.

I'm televisionally-challenged. El Husbando and I haven't lived in a house with a TV for about a decade. Thus, when we go to a friend's home to watch movies, it's quite a treat.

We saw Cloverfield last night, and I really enjoyed it, but the movie featured one cliché that annoys me in horror/thriller films. Someone gets a deep gash or bite, and then they proceed to run around. Okay, sure, when the ghoulie-monster is after you, you must run or die--but at some point you must also keel over from blood loss.

When I had gum grafts done, I made the mistake of walking down the street afterward. I got two blocks and then had to start spitting out mouthfuls of blood. From walking. The periodontist had stitched me up tight, but a sedate amble down the sidewalk set me leaking again. There is no way Susie Hero who got impaled through the shoulder should be able to run full tilt for three blocks, even on pure adrenaline. At the very least, she should wind up with her sweatshirt soaked red, her face drained grey, and in such deep shock she can't remember her own name. And then she should spend the rest of the movie deflated in her hidey-hole, incapable of even standing up.

And while I'm on the subject, movie injuries never seem to hurt enough. If I whack my finger in the cupboard door, it leaves me cranky and inclined to whine. In House of Wax, the main character has someone sew her mouth shut and snip the end of her finger off with bolt-cutters. Then she escapes, runs around heroically and makes coherent verbal plans with her brother.

Um...shouldn't she be whimpering in pain every time she has to move her lips? Shouldn't she grimace occasionally, or look down at the stump of her finger and burst into horrified tears? The lack of snivelling strikes me as unrealistic.

There are rich opportunities to be had in refusing to use narrative conveniences in your work. I wrote a story once that featured a character fainting from blood loss while he was trying to get himself to safety. It upped the tension of the story beautifully to have him slipping around, thinking flakey thoughts and occasionally waking up on the floor while the emergency gets worse around him. Keeping the situation realistic didn't just increase the stakes, either; it also gave me another level of conflict. People who suffer sudden blood loss become insanely, intolerably thirsty. When my protagonist was almost to safety, I had him spot a water faucet. Oh, the dilemma.

Writer Brenda Carre passed along to me a bit of advice she got from Donald Maass; when you see something that annoys you in the books you read, put it into your own work and make sure you (unlike everyone else) get it right. Every time you see something that makes you go, "Yeah, right...", that's something you can use--it's a cliché or a plot convenience you can overturn in order to slap your reader with the verisimilitude of the worlds you create. It's something you can potentially shock the reader with when you flip their preconceived notions inside-out.

In other words, when you see a cliché in someone else's work, it's really an opportunity for your own. Use it!


What bits of illogic annoy you in books (and films)? Have you ever made a point of skewering that logic in your own work, or found a book that does so brilliantly? If you could convince Hollywood to flip one ubiquitous cliché inside-out, which one would it be? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: