Warning, False Alarm

November 27, 2009 at 5:10 am (Tension, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , )

I don’t think anybody likes alarms.  They wail and shriek and give you a headache and more often than not they serve no purpose because the alarm was being tested or it went off because of a fault.  That said, we aren’t likely to get rid of alarms in a hurry.  Despite all the false alarms there is a small chance that this time it is in your best interest to listen and to respond.

Warnings are another thing I don’t like.  Particularly on the computer. Warning, this site is insecure.  Warning, you are about to send your details etc.  I wouldn’t mind so much if these warnings came up when I was genuinely doing something stupid but they always appear when I’m actually playing it safe.  When I do something stupid they just let me.

My latest pet hate is the battery warning.  “Warning, your cordless mouse’s batteries are critical.”  They’ve now been critical for over a week and they still haven’t died.  Last time I continued to use the mouse for about a month and a half with the warning up before the batteries actually stopped working.  It is irritating. I just start ignoring all messages flashing in the corner of my screen assuming it is just the same old false alarm.  As such I probably miss a few important messages and more importantly, when the batteries are actually critical I won’t know it until the mouse actually stops mid-click.

It is the same in stories.  False alarms can raise the tension levels, certainly Jaws proved that.  Building up and then having nothing happen will keep people guessing and wondering what comes next.  If you do it too often, they become emotionally immune to the tactic.

Computer, I am ignoring your warnings.  Which means I will be unprepared when something actually does happen and I will be unhappy with the results regardless of how it turns out.  I don’t want my reader feeling the same way about my story.


  1. Carol Kilgore said,

    Good post. I have printer ink levels that have been generating a warning for six months. It’s a good reminder for stories, too. Thanks.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      That’s one I forgot. The printer that tells me the ink is low, only 400 more copies. What is that? Low means I won’t be able to print the enxt ten pages on 400. Thanks for sharing this comment.

  2. Sevvy said,

    Our fire alarm goes off every time something is in the oven.

    I agree, you have to be careful about overusing anything in your story, especially things like false alarms. I think a way to make the false alarm even better might be to make the reader think it’s going to be a false alarm ahead of time, then make it the real deal.

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