Category Archives: Creating Anticipation in Dialogue

Five ways to make your novel a page-turner!

How to use emotion in stories.

Generating emotion in readers and audiences.
Generating emotion in readers and audiences.

Emotion can make or break your story. Robert Frost, highlighting the importance of emotion, famously said: “No tears in the writer no tears in the reader.” This is a phrase that bears much repeating.

Although Frost was referencing a specific feeling—sadness, it applies to the range of emotions solicited by great writing – compassion, awe, elation, fear, anxiety, jealousy, and the like.

Stories that evoke a range of emotions, emotions that are tested against the writer’s own experience, catapult the reader or audience into the story through identification, sympathy and empathy.

Accomplished writers understand that novels and screenplays that take advantage of this are difficult to ignore. The reader or audience is compelled to keep turning the pages or watching the screen in order to discover how those emotions play out.

Emotions cross the boundaries of age, gender, race, and even species. Animals, in particular, generate deep feelings in us—love, joy, despair and the like.

In setting up a scene to deliver compelling emotion it is important to have established the context, the backstory elements, that will allow the emotion to be unleashed.
Who can forget the anguished cry of devastation that Perry utters in Dead Poet’s Society, upon discovering that his son, Neil, has shot himself. We are reminded of his suppressing of his son’s desire to be an actor, and this provides the context for the scene. His son’s suicide has unleashed devastating pain, guilt, and regret in Perry.

Feelings of loyalty and appreciation are generated when Keating’s students risk being expelled by the conformist principal, stand on their desks, and proudly declare: “Oh, Captain my Captain!”

The context here is Keating having told his students how to address him in an earlier scene, and how to adopt different points of view by seeing things from a more ‘areal’ perspective. Addressing him as ‘my Captain’ affirms that, for some of the students at least, Keating’s influence has had a lasting impact on their lives, and will remain their ‘captain’ forever.

As a further example, consider this passage, taken from Margaret Geraghty’s The Novelist’s Guide, in which a character, Violet, tries to come to terms with the death of her beloved dog, Carey. Instead of the writer describing Violet’s feelings of sadness directly, she lets us experience these emotions vicariously through the of show-don’t-tell technique:

“When the vet had gone, Violet knelt down on the worn rug beside Carey’s basket. His was still, his mouth slightly open, one ear bent over like a rose petal, revealing the pink skin inside. He smelt a little. Nothing bad, just the way you’d expect an old dog to smell. […]

The detail revealed in words and phrases such as ‘mouth slightly open’, one ear bent over like a rise petal’ and ‘old dog’ serve to increase our felt experience of the moment.

The story continues:

In the end, she […] went to run a bath. Cleanliness was next to Godliness. She’d always believed that. When the bath was full, she went back to Carey, gathered him in her arms, and gently, carefully, lowered the stiff little body into the warm water. It was, she reflected, the first time that he hadn’t struggled.”

That last line in particular is a real tear-jerker, summing up all the years of love the Violet has felt for her dog in one heart-breaking moment.

We note that there is no abstract description of the character’s sorrow, her sense of loss. Instead the writer deploys a show-don’t-tell technique to have us experience the event viscerally, in close-up as it were. This gives us direct access to Violet’s emotions, and perhaps reminds us of a time when we too lost a beloved pet, making the character’s loss, our loss.

Summary

Use visceral emotion, steeped in context and backstory, to draw readers and audiences into your stories.

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How to Write the Character Flaw.

Unfettered ambition - the flaw that ruins Macbeth
Unfettered ambition – the flaw that ruins Macbeth

What is a character flaw, and how do we write it?

One way to think of it is as a glitch in our character’s internal makeup that affects his/her interaction with the world. In trying to hide or suppress this glitch, the character engages in an inner and outer struggle, which drives the story forward. 

character flaw may be born out of an internal cause, such as an emotional scar from the past, or an external one, such as an illness or a physical defect (which, in turn, creates a psychological response). It can manifest as an inability to trust others, a need to control or manipulate others, or a particular prejudice. 

Flaws that generate internal and external conflict make for interesting stories that resonate with readers and audiences.

Some of the best stories have revolved around the protagonist’s desire to conceal or overcome a flaw. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Thane’s latent desire to be king is brought to the surface by various external forces, such as the three witches and his manipulating and ambitious wife, while in Othello, the Moor’s insane jealousy and distrust of his innocent spouse, Desdemona, results in his murdering her.

A flaw generates questions about the story: What lies and obfuscations has the character created to conceal his flaw? How has the flaw shaped the fears, aspirations, and foibles of this character? And, crucially, what influence does the flaw exert over each of the major decision/action points in the story—the inciting incident, the first and second turning point, as well as the mid-point, and climax? 

Above all, a well-designed flaw allows for the synching up of the internal and external aspects of the Hero’s journey through the link of cause and effect, and as such, is one of the most useful techniques to master. It is often the “why” to the story’s “what”. 

In The Matrix Neo’s inner journey is to accept his role as The One. His outer goal is to defeat Agent Smith and the machine world, something that can only occur when he achieves the inner goal of moving from a lack of self-belief (flaw) to one of belief. 

This inner journey defines Neo’s character arc, influencing each major action in the story. It helps to shape the narrative as a whole. Additionally, it ties into the notion of want vs. need that I examined in an earlier post, by contrasting the external (want), to the internal (need).

Summary

A character flaw filters a protagonist’s responses. It helps to explain the true psychological motivation behind the character’s actions.

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Dialogue Techniques: Question-and-Answer & Repetition.

Dialogue
Dialogue techniques in Better Call Saul

Today, we’re continuing to explore a crucial aspect of storytelling: dialogue. This narrative component is such an important part of storytelling that it has given rise to countless of books and courses on how to master it. Specifically, we’ll explore what Dwight V. Swain calls dialogue continuity in his book, Film Scriptwriting – A Practical Manual.

Swain affirms that one of the markers of good dialogue is continuity flowing from a question-and-answer format, and the repetition of words. That is, lines of dialogue which acknowledge the ones preceding them. There are several ways to do this. Let’s focus on two of the most common techniques: the question/answer structure and repetition.

Repetition couched in a questions and answers.

Repetition, embedded in a question-and-answer format, can be a powerful tool in creating continuity and mounting tension. By repeating a word or phrase from one line to the next, and demanding answers to questions, writers create a flow that keeps the conversation cohesive and engaging.

A good example of this technique can be seen in the Better Call Saul episode, Chicanery. There is a courtroom scene where Jimmy (Saul) McGill cross-examines his brother Chuck McGill, a brilliant lawyer himself. Chuck claims to suffer from a mystery illness which makes him sensitive to electrical currents. The courtroom lights, except for the Exit sign, have been switched off, and all electrical devices such as cellphones and watches, removed from the courtroom.

Chuck is accusing his brother Jimmy of unlawful practices and wants to have him stripped of his law licence. Jimmy’s only defence is to have his brother appear so mentally challenged by his phobias so as to render his testimony against him unreliable. This scene masterfully uses the question-and-answer format, as well as some repetition of words to build mounting tension, only to have it released at the end, showcasing Jimmy’s mastery of the set-up.

Example from Better Call Saul, Season 3, Episode 5: Chicanery:

  • Chuck: The further away it is, the stronger the source has to be to have an effect.
  • Jimmy: Got it. Got it. So If I had a small battery, say from a watch or something, and I got it close to you, close to your skin, you’d know.
  • Chuck: I would feel it, yes.
  • Jimmy: Can you feel more current from any particular direction right now? From that back wall? Or from over there? Or up through the floor? Can you tell us where the nearest source is, right now?
  • Chuck: (Growing suspicious). Jimmy, do you have something in your pocket?
  • Jimmy: Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. (Takes out a cellphone from his pocket). My cellphone. From this distance you should feel it, and you don’t, do you?
  • Judge: Mr. McGill. You were warned to leave your electronics outside.
  • Chuck: It’s alright. It’s alright. May I? (Takes the cellphone from, Jimmy). Just as I thought. There’s no battery in here. You removed the battery. That’s a sorry little trick, isn’t it?
  • Jimmy: Yea. You got me Chuck. Dead to rights. I removed the battery
  • Chuck: God Jimmy. Don’t you know by now, this is real. I feel this? It’s a physical response to stimuli. Not a quirk. What do we have to do to prove it to you?
  • Jimmy: I don’t know, Chuck. Could you reach into your breast pocket and tell me what’s there?
  • Chuck: What now? (Chuck fumbles in his pocket and removes the cellphone battery that Jimmy has had one of his employees placed there surreptitiously. Chuck throws the battery on the floor).
  • Jimmy: Can you tell the court what that was?
  • Chuck: A battery. (Realising he’s been tricked.)

Jimmy explains to the court that he had one of his men, Huell Babineaux, plant the fully charged battery on Chuck when he bumped into him in the passage an hour and forty three minutes ago, disproving Chuck’s claim that electric currents make him feel ill, and undermining his testimony against Jimmy. The question-and-answer format, the repetition of the word battery have all served the flow and continuity of the scene, and have helped to bring it to a crescendo.

Embedding the repetition of words into a question-and-answer format, then, is an effective way of creating mounting tension while maintaining continuity. The technique keeps the conversation focused and dynamic, ensuring that each new line flows naturally from the previous one.

Other Techniques

While repetition and the question/answer format are powerful tools, there are other ways to enhance your dialogue, too, such as extended pauses, misdirection, a change of subject, and subtext which can add layers and depth to the dialogue. Regardless of the technique, however, the key is to ensure that your dialogue flows.

Summary

Repeating words embedded in a question-and-answer format is an effective way to create mounting tension and dialogue continuity in your novels and screenplays.

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Attitudes and Demeanour in Stories

The Sopranos: Character Attitudes
The Sopranos: Poker, Character Attitudes and Demeanour

How do character attitudes and demeanour, as well as reflexes and dialogue, support the authenticity of a scene? Let’s take a closer look!

As writers we sometimes concentrate on the events and actions that make up our stories without, perhaps, paying as much attention to the subtext that attitudes and demeanour, as well as ‘voice’, contribute to a scene.

The decision of Jackie Jr. to rob Eugene’s poker game, for example, demonstrates his reckless nature and his need for recognition. He is impulsive and easily influenced, as demonstrated by his decision to initiate the heist after Ralphie tells them how Tony and Jackie’s father gained their reputation for a similar heist. However, when the situation escalates and violence erupts, Jackie Jr. panics, leading to disastrous consequences. He comes across as nervous and out of his depth, and his impulsively shooting Sunshine and fleeing the scene betrays his lack of maturity and inability to handle high-pressure situations.

Carlo and Dino: Like Jackie Jr., Carlo and Dino are portrayed as young, inexperienced, jittery, and easily swayed by the allure of criminal activity. Their involvement in the robbery highlights their willingness to take risks and their desire for status within the criminal underworld, but their poor judgement, their lack of foresight and experience gets them killed.


Sunshine: Sunshine’s heckling of the would-be robbers, on the other hand, showcases his confidence, his defiance, and his refusal to be intimidated, even at the point of a gun. This is a man who has seen it all before and his demeanour shows it. His refusal to comply with the demands of the robbers ultimately leads to his demise. Sunshine’s character serves as a foil to the impulsive and inexperienced robbers, highlighting the consequences of underestimating one’s adversaries.

Furio: Furio’s nervous response to the robbers is to ‘take it easy’. Furio, who is an import from the mother country, is perhaps the least assured of the New Jersey-hardened mobsters. He ends up getting shot in the leg.

Matush: Matush’s decision to flee, abandoning his accomplices, underscores the theme of betrayal and self-preservation prevalent throughout the series. His panic highlights the fragile alliances and loyalty within the criminal underworld.

Christopher and Albert: Christopher and Albert’s response to the failed robbery demonstrates their self-assurance, authority and willingness to enforce consequences for disobedience and incompetence. They execute Dino outside. Christopher angrily informs the reluctant Tony about the need to kill Jackie Jr. This underscores the ruthless nature of their profession and the importance of sending a signal to their enemies to avoid being seen as weak.

For writers, this scene offers valuable insights into character response, conflict resolution, and the consequences of impulsive decisions. By understanding the different attitudes, reflexes and general demeanour of characters under pressure, we can create more nuanced and realistic portrayals of them and the worlds they inhabit. Additionally, the scene highlights how tension and high stakes may unleash catastrophic results, keeping audiences engaged.

Summary

Concentrate on your characters’ attitudes, demeanour and reflexes under pressure to achieve a nuanced and realistic portrayal of story events.

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Six Great Themes for Stellar Stories

Interstellar’s stellar themes
Interstellar’s stellar themes

Much has been written about Interstellar’s breathtaking visuals, sound effects, and musical score, but today, I want to highlight Nolan’s use of six great themes that elevate any story—themes that help to define us as a species.

  1. Good & Evil: The Duality of Human Nature.

Interstellar is more than just a sci-fi adventure story—it’s a profound exploration of the two sides of human nature. This is brilliantly illustrated through the character of Dr. Mann, played by Matt Damon.

At first, Mann is talked about as the embodiment of heroism, hailed as a beacon of hope for humanity. But as we peel back the layers, his mask crumbles, exposing a dark side driven by fear and desperation. The revelation of Mann’s betrayal on the ice planet serves as a stark reminder of how thin the veneer of civilization can be, warning us of the dangers of unchecked ambition and the loss of our moral compass.

When Mann sabotages Cooper and attempts to escape, we see the devastating consequences of his actions, underscoring the film’s cautionary message about the potential for evil within us all.

  1. Truth or Lies?

Interstellar boldly explores the theme of truth versus falsehood. One powerful example is the scene where Cooper confronts his children’s school about their false teachings on the moon landing.

This moment reminds us of our current struggle against misinformation and the manipulation of facts to drive specific narratives. Yet, as Cooper and his team venture into the unknown, the film ultimately champions the pursuit of truth in search of the awe-inspiring secrets of the universe.

Cooper’s disapproval of the school’s indoctrination highlights the critical importance of truth in an age of deception, setting the stage for the film’s exploration of cosmic realities.

3. Transcendence or Rootedness?

A central theme in Interstellar is the tension between the need to be grounded in one’s heritage, in one’s roots, and the desire to transcend them. Cooper embodies this duality, torn between his deep love for his family and his insatiable drive to explore space. This theme is poignantly demonstrated in his relationship with his daughter, Murphy, and his desire to help humanity survive by discovering a new inhabitable planet to replace our dying one.

Cooper’s heartfelt monologue about humanity’s need to look to the stars while staying connected to its roots is a powerful testament about finding a balance between exploration and home.

  1. Hope and Salvation.

Amidst the bleak prospects of a dying Earth, the film offers a story of hope and salvation. The missions Lazarus and Endurance symbolise humanity’s relentless quest for survival and redemption. The film’s hopeful message is encapsulated in the journey to find a new home for humanity, or, at least, a vast sample of the human genome, underscoring our resilience and optimism as a species. The awe-inspiring launch of the Endurance mission serves as a metaphor for the leap of faith required to seek out new beginnings and instill a sense of hope in the face of extinction.

  1. The Importance of Heritage.

Interstellar pays homage, through the sci-fi genre, to the past while looking to the future. This theme of honouring our roots and heritage is woven in throughout the film, from its references to literary classics to the cinematic techniques reminiscent of earlier masterpieces. By doing so, Nolan not only celebrates the wisdom of those who came before us, but also celebrates the power and guidance that stories are capable of offering us, if we are to avoid destruction.

The inclusion of books like The Stand by Stephen King in Murphy’s room and the visual nods to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey enrich the narrative, reminding us of the legacy that shapes our present and our future.

  1. Enduring Love.

But at its core, Interstellar is a story about love, a love that transcends time, space, and our limited understanding about the nature of our reality—such as the number of dimensions that truly exist. The bond between Cooper and his daughter Murphy is long and unbreakable—a thread that stitches the narrative together, showing the profound impact of love on human destiny. This theme is most powerfully expressed through their interactions and the sacrifices Cooper for humanity.

The gut-wrenching scene where Cooper leaves Murph, promising to return, is proof of the power of love that drives him to get back home and fulfill his promise to her. It drives his actions throughout the film, ultimately reuniting them from across the vistas of space and time.

Interstellar, then, challenges us to contemplate humanity’s place in the universe through its exploration of profound themes and masterful storytelling. It is a film that will continue to endure because it reveals the core of what it means to be human.

Summary

Use the great themes in your stories—truth, survival, heritage, values, and love to explore the best in human nature, so that we may avoid the worst.

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How to Write Heartbreaking Subtext

Heartbreaking subtext in Dangerous Liaisons
Heartbreaking subtext in Dangerous Liaisons

Subtext in stories, when masterfully crafted, can create humour, levity, and a sense of play for readers and audiences, but it can also generate discomfort and raise story questions.

Subtext arises when readers and audiences are made aware of the true meaning of words and actions in a scene, but some, or even all of the characters in the scene remain oblivious to it.

Let’s see how it works!

In the iconic scene from the film Dangerous Liaisons, the Vicomte De Valmont, portrayed by John Malkovich, generates powerful emotions as he delivers a crushing blow to Madame De Tourvel, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a scene charged with pain, tension and emotional complexity, revealing the power of subtext and its profound impact on the audience. Here, the subtext—the connotative meaning of the words is that De Valmonte loves Madame De Touvel deeply, but his pride and personality will not let him admit it, lest it enslave him, so he denies his love, and goes out of his way to hurt her. The dramatic irony here is that he knows his love for her is so deep that it would control him—something he cannot abide.

  1. The Illusion of Control

De Valmont’s words, “It’s beyond my control,” is a phrase repeated many times in the scene, drawing our attention to its deeper significance. For one, it points to the illusion of control that people cling to. For another, despite his apparent freedom of choice in the situation, De Valmont absolves himself of responsibility by suggesting that external forces are dictating his actions. This mirrors a common psychological phenomenon where individuals rationalize their behavior by attributing it to circumstances beyond their control. It’s a coping mechanism, an attempt to reconcile their actions with their self-image.

This reminds us of the fable of the scorpion and the frog where the scorpion’s destructive nature leads to the drowning of the both of them, and is excused with the phrase, “It’s in my nature.”

De Valmont’s assertion that leaving Madame De Tourvel is “The way of the world,” echoes this sentiment. The audience is confronted with the disconcerting truth that people may choose to relinquish accountability rather than to confront the consequences of their actions.

  1. Manipulation and Deception

Throughout Dangerous Liaisons, manipulation and deception are recurrent motifs, and the subtext of this scene is no exception. De Valmont’s words are carefully chosen to manipulate Madame De Tourvel into accepting his decision, despite her heartfelt pleas. By framing his actions as inevitable and beyond his control, he effectively shifts the blame away from himself and onto external factors. This manipulation adds complexity to the scene, drawing the audience into the intricate web of deceit.

Again, De Valmont’s behavior reflects a broader societal tendency to evade accountability through a linguistic sleight of hand. Phrases like “It’s not my fault” or “I can’t help it” are often used to justify morally dubious actions, shielding individuals from the consequences of their behavior and their conscience. In this way, the scene serves as a poignant commentary of the ability of language to shape perception and manipulate reality.

  1. The Tragic Cost of Pride

At the heart of De Valmont’s decision to leave Madame De Tourvel is his pride, which refuses to allow him to give his love to a single woman. Despite his deep feelings for her, he chooses to prioritise his own ego over their relationship, ultimately leading to tragic consequences for both of them, which ironically is the ultimate proof of the love they shared. The theme of pride as a destructive force is a recurring motif in literature and film and lends this scene a poignant sense of enduring tragedy.

De Valmont’s reluctance to admit vulnerability or emotional dependency reflects his aversion to perceived weakness. By framing his decision as a matter of pride rather than love, he tries to shield himself from the pain of emotional intimacy, but ends up perpetuating a cycle of suffering for both himself and Madame De Tourvel. It’s a powerful reminder of the destructive power of unchecked pride and ego.

  1. The Echoes of Reality

As De Valmont bludgeons his lover with his fateful words, over and over again, echoing sentiments of inevitability and resignation, we are confronted with the uncomfortable truth that his behavior mirrors real-world attitudes towards accountability and responsibility. The scene is a microcosm of broader societal dynamics, where individuals often prioritise self-interest over empathy and integrity.

This reflection of reality in the subtext underscores the film’s enduring relevance and resonates with audiences on a deeper level. In a world where accountability is often avoided and responsibility shifted onto external forces, the scene serves as a reminder of the importance of confronting the consequences of our actions.

Summary

Subtext occurs when readers and the audiences are made aware of the true meaning of words and actions in a scene, but some, or even all of the characters in the scene remain oblivious to it.

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Dreams in Stories

Dreams in Storytelling
Dreams in Storytelling

In storytelling, dreams function as powerful tools that explore mysteries, characters’ psyches, and blur the lines between reality and imagination. The Test Dream (S5 E11) from The Sopranos masterfully exemplifies this narrative technique, showcasing how dreams can be utilised to deepen the narrative and expose hidden truths. Here are five points elucidating the significance of dreams in storytelling, supported by specific examples from this ambitious episode:

The gist of the episode features Tony’s problems emanating from his affairs, the problems they have wrought on his marriage, and a dream that reveals the assassination of mob members that can lead to a full-scale war. This hints at the prophetic, poetic power of dreams.

Exploring Subconscious Desires and Fears: Dreams provide a stage on which to act out the subconscious desires, premonitions, and the fears of characters. In The Test Dream, Tony’s dream sequences offer glimpses into his deepest anxieties and desires. For instance, his dream interactions with deceased characters like Gloria Trillo and his cousin Tony Blundetto reveal unresolved guilt and trauma. These encounters reflect Tony’s subconscious grappling with the consequences of his actions and the weight of his wrongdoing, adding depth to his character.

Symbolism and Metaphor: Dreams are laden with symbolism and metaphor. Freud and Jung spend their entire lives studying them. Dreams allow writers to convey complex themes sub-textually, in poetic and abstract ways. In the episode, recurring motifs such as the horse symbolise Tony’s problems with his marriage, self-control and self-worth. The surreal imagery of riding a horse through his living room serves as a metaphor for Tony’s attempt to navigate, with grace and authority, an increasingly chaotic life littered with affairs and criminal associations.

Blurring Reality and Fantasy: Dream sequences blur the lines between reality and fantasy, challenging the audience’s perception of what is real. The Test Dream dives into Tony’s subconscious world, creating a sense of disorientation, forcing us to try and make sense of what we are seeing. The blending of subconscious experience drawn from the materials from Tony’s life is juxtaposed against the fluid nature of dreams, where logic and coherence give way to surrealism and randomness, yet still manage to convey significance.

Foreshadowing and Revelation: Dreams can also foreshadow future events or reveal hidden truths that characters may not consciously acknowledge. In this episode Tony’s dream encounters with Annette Bening and deceased Detective Vin Makazian, Finn’s mother and father, and other deceased characters, foreshadow Tony B’s murder of Billy Leotardo and wounding of Phil because they murdered Angelo, Tony B’s former cell mate. These surreal encounters serve as harbingers of the challenges, assignations, and persistent conflicts that await Tony in the waking world.

Narrative Innovation and Artistry: Dream sequences offer opportunities for narrative innovation and artistic expression. The Test Dream is a proof of the creative possibilities of dream storytelling, with its inventive visuals, surreal imagery, unconventional narrative structure, and its inclusion of cultural references such as Chinatown, The Godfather, The Valachi Papers, Scrooge, and many, many more. Matthew Weiner and David Chase’s writing and the cast’s performances elevate the dream sequences from fanciful plot devices to evocative and poetic explorations of symbolism, character and theme. The result is a story that rises above its denotative dimension, lifted by its connotative, multi-layered wings.

Summary

Dreams enrich storytelling by dipping into the characters’ subconscious, employing symbols and metaphors, blurring reality and fantasy, foreshadowing future events, and showcasing the poetic dimension inherent in narrative innovation.

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Foreshadowing your way to writing success

Foreshadowing in The Shining

What is foreshadowing and how does it help you write engaging stories? Let’s find out!

Foreshadowing is the skill of preparing readers or audiences to consciously or unconsciously accept the actions and events that will unfold later in a story. There are two main types of foreshadowing: Direct, where clues are openly laid out for all to see, and Indirect or subtle, where the clues are subtly hidden a little deeper into the narrative. In terms of writing skill, foreshadowing often increases the sense unity in a story by tying together seemingly unconnected actions, events, or objects across narrative time.

Let’s say, as in the case of subtle foreshadowing, that the audience has unconsciously noticed something earlier in the story, but not paid much attention to it, only to have it suddenly snap into place a little later as something which makes sense of a current narrative event. This acts as a bridge across time, creating a sense of fullness and unity in the mind of the audience.

In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, we are presented with a masterclass in the use of foreshadowing. Firstly, let’s examine a couple of examples of direct foreshadowing from the film.

Direct Foreshadowing: There will be blood!

Direct foreshadowing places the audience in a heightened state of anticipation: The tsunami of blood in the elevator serves as a visceral example of direct foreshadowing. It leaves no room for misinterpretation, foretelling the horror and violence that will soon consume the Torrence family. This sequence represents the evil that Danny has foreseen—rooted in the hotel’s cruel history. (Tony, Danny’s alter ego, reveals to Danny that he doesn’t want to go to the hotel). The obvious suggestion is that more blood will be shed.

Here’s another example of direct foreshadowing: The hotel manager tells Jack that a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, killed his wife, two young daughters and himself at the hotel a decade prior, but it his duty to tell Jack about the event. The not-so-subtle hint to the audience is that Jack will do the same to his own family.

Subtle foreshadowing: Watch now, understand later

But it is subtle foreshadowing that truly helps to distinguish The Shining. While it works together with direct foreshadowing, subtle foreshadowing acts under the surface, building up a sense of unease that we can’t put our finger on. It trades the predictability of direct foreshadowing for a creeping anxiety that is only released in moments of revelation when the audience puts things together.

As the Torrance family arrives at the Overlook Hotel, for example, we catch a brief glimpse of the hedge maze from an aerial shot. This seemingly innocuous detail plants the seed of the maze’s significance as a symbol of the psychological labyrinth that will ensnare Jack Torrance and his family. But whereas Jack will become lost in the maze,, Danny will escape it. This is hinted at through the ease with which Danny navigates the labyrinth-like spaces of the hotel on his tricycle. The motif is re-iterated through the maze pattern on the carpets of the corridors.

Another example of subtle foreshadowing occurs when Danny’s mother takes the boy on a tour of the ground’s hedge maze, while inside the Overlook Hotel, Jack stoops over a model of the labyrinth, watching wickedly from above. Ironically the walk-through helps Danny to find his way out later when he is stalked by his axe-wielding father.

Jack himself is also the vehicle for plenty of foreshadowing: His slow descend into madness, for example, is hinted at by his repetitive typing of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This mindless activity provides a snapshot of his unraveling psyche.

Additionally, during a conversation between Jack and Lloyd the bartender, Jack’s preference for bourbon on the rocks seems innocuous at first. However, it subtly hints at Jack’s impending lapse into alcoholism which had once caused him to break Danny’s arm while drunk. This vulnerability will later be exploited by the malevolent forces within the hotel.

Mirror mirror on the wall

The use of mirrors in cinema often points to fractured psyches and altered realities. Mirrors hint at the existence of worlds within worlds, worlds where horrors lurk beneath the normal and the ordinary. But what they reveal may also serve as a warning to those who are able to interpret them correctly through their ability to shine.

The eerie appearance of the twins to Danny at the start, serves to foreshadow the growing emergence of the supernatural forces at play within the hotel—setting the stage for the chilling events that will unfold.

Examples such as these, then, demonstrate the ability of foreshadowing, whether direct or subtle, to prepare audiences for forthcoming events.

Summary

Foreshadowing can be direct or indirect. Both add to story unity. Direct foreshadowing creates immediate anticipation, while indirect or subtle foreshadowing creates ah-ha moments later in the story where actions, objects or events suddenly snap into place.

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Foreshadowing in The Shining

How Stories Critique the Powerful

The Boys is a Critique the Rich and Powerful
The Boys is a Critique the Rich and Powerful

Determining the best episode of a TV show like The Boys is subjective and dependent on individual preferences. Season 2, Episode 8, titled What I Know, however, is in my opinion, one of the standout episodes of the season. But its real value lies less in its ability to entertain and more in the subtextual critique it levels against powerful individuals and corporations who seek to control us under the guise of looking after us.

The episode unveils several key events, including the revelation of Stormfront’s true identity and nefarious past, Butcher’s confrontation with Homelander, and Starlight’s decision to expose Vought’s corruption. More importantly, it delves into the universal themes of accountability, justice, and the consequences of unchecked power.

One of the chief lessons to be extracted from the subtext of What I Know, and from the series as a whole, is the importance of standing up against injustice and corruption in the face of overwhelming power. This is particularly pertinent today: As the world’s population becomes increasingly aware through the proliferation of social media channels, of government, corporate and individual corruption, shows such as The Boys become thinly-veiled instruments of critique and parody against unfettered power, and as such are worthy of study.

Characters like Starlight, Butcher, Hughie and others, demonstrate courage and resilience as they confront powerful individuals and corporations which are supported by politicians and state machinery, all of whom seek to control society for their own advantage. The hopeful message here is how the few can stand up against the tyranny of the powerful and the corrupt.

The What I Know episode suggests that individuals do indeed have the ability to make a difference, even in a world dominated by the most powerful superhumans. By taking a stand against the lies and coverups, Starlight, as a Supe herself, acts as a kind of moral compass, against coverups of excessive and violent actions. She demonstrates that morally centred individuals can challenge authority by attempting to reveal the truth behind the corruption, even though she may ultimately fail. Good can defeat evil, even if the good is often less than perfect in itself.

The broader irony here is that both the political Left and Right, in the real world, can point to narrative events in the series in order to critique their opposition. Huge pharmaceutical corporations tasked with saving lives in the face of global pandemics are food for parody here under the guise of compound V, as both sides of the political spectrum have argued for and against the efficacy of restrictive mandates, and the like.

Which brings us to the power and utility of accomplished storytelling: it contains a connotative layer underneath its external or denotative meaning, which allows it to speak across social, political, and historical boundaries, remaining relevant beyond specific moments in time.

Summary
Stories can be used as a Trojan Horse of critique, highlighting the corruption, lies and tyranny of the rich and powerful.

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The Art of the Hook: Crafting Compelling Stories!

How The Boys uses the hook
How The Boys uses the hook

Today, we’re learning about how to hook readers and audiences into stories, drawing from episodes from The Boys.

1: Immediate Intrigue

A strong hook doesn’t just grab attention; it sets the stage for the entire story. It grabs the audience’s attention from the very beginning, leaving them eager for more. In Season 1, Episode 1 the shocking death of Robin sets the tone for The Boys, instantly hooking viewers with its unexpected and tragic twist.

2: Unexpected Events

But it’s not just what happens in your story; it’s who it happens to that truly captivates your audience. Introduce unexpected events or revelations that challenge viewers’ expectations and drive curiosity. In Season 1, Episode 4 the revelation of the Nazi origins of Compound V, the Superhero juice, flips the superhero genre on its head, injecting fresh intrigue into the narrative and prompting viewers to question everything they thought they knew.

3: Character Introduction

Introduce compelling characters that resonate with audiences and compel them to invest in their journey. In Season 1, Episode 1 Hughie’s relatable struggle and tragic loss immediately draws viewers into his world, setting the emotional foundation for the series.

4: Tension Building

Tension is the lifeblood of storytelling, driving the narrative forward and keeping the audience engaged. Build tension early by establishing conflicts and obstacles that hint at larger confrontations to come. In Season 2, Episode 1 the escalating tensions between The Boys and The Seven create a palpable sense of anticipation, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

5: Moral Confusion

Incorporating moral complexity adds depth to your story, elevating it from mere entertainment to thought-provoking commentary. Explore the moral ambiguity and complexity in your own characters to challenge viewers’ perceptions and provoke thought. In Season 2, Episode 6 the revelation of Stormfront’s true nature forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about power and privilege, adding depth to the story and its characters.

6: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing hints at future events and developments, enticing viewers to stick around for what’s to come. In Season 1, Episode 6 the disappearance of Butcher’s wife foreshadows a larger conspiracy at play, teasing viewers with the promise of future revelations and twists.

Summary

Crafting compelling hooks is the key to drawing your audience into your story and keeping them invested until the very end.

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