Foreshadowing is something I haven’t really written about on the blog before but it is incredibly important when it comes to writing a cohesive story. I have to thank Hart Johnson on Confessions of a Watery Tart for reminding me why it is so important in story writing.
She actually uses a very good explanation of one of the stronger parts of the Harry Potter series in that very little just appears as it is needed. The polyjuice potion is mentioned well in advance of it ever being used and so as a reader you aren’t left thinking – this author got herself stuck and then had to magic her way out of it. Yes the mention was deliberate because you knew they were going to use it later but it still made the whole story stronger. And it was the same with many other items and events within the Harry Potter series. By being prementioned and then gently reminding the reader at certain points, by the time the event or object become critical to the story it was like it was there all along and it doesn’t feel like a quick fix.
The best way to explain why foreshadowing is important is probably to look at what happens without it. The scenario is where your hero is backed up against a wall with thirty villains closing in, all armed to the teeth with more weapons than I could name, there is a bomb about to explode, a damsel in distress hanging from a helicopter two blocks away screaming for assistance and a tidal wave is closing in. Okay, I erred on the side of melodrama when writing that scenario.
Suddenly your hero…
Anything you end this sentence with is going to sound lame unless it was previously set up. This situation is clearly impossible. There is no way your hero can get out of it and save the victim, and disarm the bomb and stop the tidal wave. Unless they are superman which leads us to the question of how did he get into this situation in the first place.
Are you suddenly going to whip out a magic make everything offensive go away potion?
However, if you had thought about this scenario and gone back earlier in your story and tweaked a few things it is quite likely that the hero’s side kick is currently trying to disarm the bomb, and sweating profusely while doing it, and the hero is in point of fact simply keeping the villains busy. But he’s doing it by projecting a hologram (using technology that was of course demonstrated far earlier in the story) and he is actually cutting the victim off the helicopter. What you’re going to do about the tidal wave is anyone’s guess unless the hero is planning to use the bomb, retrieved by the side kick, to somehow interrupt it (which seems pretty unlikely to me).
Foreshadowing: possibly making the impossible slightly more plausible.
I love watching old movies. The good guys all wear white or at least tan and other pale colours and manage to keep their hair in perfect formation (maybe one strand will blow across their face) and they save the day with minimal loss and pain. Perfect feel good moment. I hate reading stories like this though.
Maybe it is because I look for different things from the movies I watch to the books I read. Movies can have a terrible story, bad acting, awful effects, it doesn’t matter as long as I’m being entertained. Yes, I prefer movies that actually have a story and good actors, the effects can go either way, but entertainment is all that is required. From books, I expect far more. I expect an intelligent and intriguing story and characters with depth that draw me in. I expect that the good guy won’t just be good because he’s (she’s) written that way but that they are actually given some sort of purpose and motivation.
My favourite protagonists when I read, have flaws. Massive and horrible character flaws usually. While I love reading David Eddings stories (the Elenium Trilogy is amazing) there is only one David Eddings character that ever made my list of favourite characters and that was Althalus. All of his other heroes are good because they are good and work together because it is the right thing to do. Althalus on the other hand was a thief and was coerced by a goddess disguised as a cat into saving the world. That appealed to me on a number of levels.
People in real life are never all good or all bad. And they aren’t the same in every situation and around different groups of people. I think characters in stories should reflect that to an extent.
That said, just going entirely the opposite direction and having an anti-hero can feel a bit old as well.
Who is your favourite good guy and why?
I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.
You may have already noticed, but I am a female. As such, most of the stories I enjoy and most of the my writing tend to focus on female characters, or at least have female characters doing more than fainting and swooning over the hero of the tale.
Females have come a long way in fiction. Even though I was born in the eighties, I grew up watching a variety of television shows that were dated even then (battlestar galactica and buck rogers to name a few) and what used to trouble me was that even the women who came on tough in the beginning would ultimately end up waiting for some guy to rescue them. Or in the case of Apollo’s wife (battlestar), they would just shoot her in the back on some planet and that was the last we’d ever hear of her.
The nineties were an amazing time for females in fiction. On television we saw Xena, Buffy, Charmed, Alias, Dark Angel, and on and on the list goes of females who were taking control. Not always convincingly and sometimes one had to wonder why there wasn’t a single capable male in the Buffy-verse (not taking a swipe at Angel but seriously, even when you turned evil your girl-friend ran you through with a sword and sent you to hell).
During the nineties I started reading Traci Harding and Katherine Kerr, who were the first female authors I encountered who were really trying for epic fantasy. There were probably others out there, but I hadn’t really encountered them, and this was a really great moment for me, because it made me feel not so out of place for enjoying the genre. Katherine Kerr particularly managed to show a balance of characters in her Deverry Series with strong, weak and every character type in between, for both men and women. Her characters were dynamic and realistic, they evolved over time and just read very well.
As a writer, I have been working hard over the last few years to improve my inclusion of male characters. Reading some of my earlier story outlines, every significant character was female. The female princess with the female bodyguard (envied by all the male soldiers who of course were completely useless), who was then attacked by the female assassin who was sent by the female evil sorceress, and on it went. That was highschool.
In all honesty I was probably trying to counter Eddings – who I read a tonne of and was very influenced by, but had this nasty tendency to have only one or two female characters who would sit on the sidelines and assume the role of mother and nurse and that was it.
And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.
I’ve previously looked at heroic traits and my favourite heroes but recently I’ve been thinking about why some heroes just don’t live up to their hype.
Personally, I have never liked Superman. I know, this is a terrible thing I am saying and many of you are staring daggers at the screen but I’ve just never really connected with Superman. Why? Because the man in the red cape and blue lycra has it far too easy. The only reason he’s ever in peril is if someone manages to get hold of one particular kind of rock (which is meant to be hard to find but there seems to be prolifically spread throughout the stories) and you just can’t care about someone who is mostly invincible. I did like Tarentino’s take on the Superman story as explained in Kill Bill 2. It may be a long winded scene and the story itself has very little connection to the story of the movie (there is a very loose tie-in at the end of the tale) but it is fascinating hearing Bill’s perception of the man of steel.
So where do other heroes fail and why do they fail? And is it actually failure or is just a matter of these heroes not being directed at the right audience?
Examining movies the obvious character to pull apart would seem to be Riddick (or at least it would be obvious if you were currently inside my head). Riddick was an incredibly interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black and his characterisation and development were smoothly executed, he had some of the best lines of the movie, and while he was the hero of the story at no stage did he make you want to gag because he didn’t have that sudden epiphany of “what have I been doing with my life”. He was who he was and his essential personality did not change.
Then we move on to Chronicles of Riddick and while it might seem a pointless exercise to attack Riddick’s character when the entire movie had issues, I’m going to do it anyway. To start with, the minor developments of character that he underwent in Pitch Black are gone and we seem to be back at the beginning of Riddick’s character development. In their haste to try to develop a back-story we have info-dumps all over the place that weigh our character down and don’t really help us to understand him any better. As a hero he fails to appease the audience because at no stage do we care if he succeeds at overcoming an incomprehensible ‘evil’ army. The worst thing about his character here is that he becomes less heroic and more unlikable by the minute in this film. Heroic failure – though feel free to disagree if you found some redeeming qualities in Riddick.
If I look to books then I start to think about Janelle from Ann Bishop’s Dark Jewel’s Trilogy. I love these books and the stories. Janelle’s character is fascinating and frightening and completely mesmerizing, but as a hero she doesn’t really do much for me. Her changeable nature from passive, to fragile, to furious in the blink of a few pages makes her an interesting character, but hard to support as the hero. The characters surrounding her are more what you could call traditionally heroic, but even they are deeply flawed individuals. Great story but hard to find the hero.
Does it matter? Do we need a ‘hero’? Do we have to like the hero for the story to be effective? Clearly in the case of Ann Bishop I didn’t like the hero on reflection and can see all the flaws in the other candidates and yet I still loved the story. In the case of Pitch Black, I liked the development of the anti-hero but found the break down of Riddick’s character in the sequel to be tiresome and boring which completely undermined the little story being told.
Who are the heroes that you never liked?
What makes a hero work for you?
Okay, heroes come in all shapes and sizes but when we just think the word hero there are certain things we do think of instantly. This is my list of 5 heroic traits (though just because I associate them with heroes does not mean my heroic characters exhibit them):
- Totally selfless – this is kind of a nasty one because we all want someone to selflessly help us but people who don’t have a sense of self are kind of boring. It is the selfish nature and little hang-ups a person has that makes them interesting and yet that isn’t what we want from a hero. That must be contrary human nature.
- Brave – Should go without saying. You can’t be a hero if you are hiding under the table but brave does not mean fearless. People without fear are unimaginative.
- Strong – No point being brave if you can’t do anything. Strong is definitely something we all want our real life heroes to have.
- Smart – Maybe not on everybody’s list of heroic traits but it is definitely on mine. I would like to believe that heroes can think their way out of trouble as easily as into it.
- Flawed – Forgetting everything in 1 – 4 a hero has to be flawed in some way. Otherwise they are untouchable and a little unbelievable. There have to be flaws.
What is on your list of heroic traits and how much fun is it to create heroes with few to none of them?