Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Buyer's Remorse, Red Herring, On the Nose, Occam's Mach 3, and Foreshadowing

buyer's remorse--a condition achieved by a reader when it becomes apparent that the writer has let story slip through his grasp, allowed to scoot about uncontrolled like a dropped watering hose; a situation in which the writer begins to rue having taken on a particular story or the mentorship of a particular character; a time when the reader feels himself the victim of too much promise and not enough delivery.


red herring--a false clue introduced in a mystery or suspense story; a plausible-sounding device that convinces the characters and readers of its material relevance to the outcome of the story.

The concept of the red herring had its origin in the training of fox hounds in Europe and, later, of scent hounds in North America, whereby an aged fish is dragged across the trail of such legitimate prey as fox, bear, 'coon, and the like to draw the hound's attention away from the true scent and, thus, the true prey. Check the times in well-crafted mystery stories when the seemingly red herring falsity of a clue causes the clue to be discredited or rejected out of hand at first blush, only to have it prove to have been right on the nose.

on the nose--a theater and dramatic writing expression, often accompanied by the gesture of the index finger tapping the nose, indicating a concept or idea is too literal, wanting a measure of a more indirect approach. The judgment of a thing being too much on the nose is a reflection that the explanation needs to consider the complexities and variations in operation between two or more humans, a warning to the writer that the simplest solution may be the best solution--but not in story. In story, plausibility trumps simplicity.


Occam's razor--a concept of logic developed by a medieval English Franciscan, William of Occam; an injunction against the logical construct of unnecessarily expanding universes (by which he meant arguments); best known among non-philosophers and critics for his "razor" which he applied to any argument, "The simplest solution is the best solution."


foreshadowing--a technique in which a person, place, thing, trait,or concept is introduced in a seemingly casual way for later moments of expansion and exploitation; the deliberate avoidance of bringing up a detail without the need for stopping the narrative to explain its relevance to the story.

As much as readers enjoy, even look forward to surprise, they equally enjoy the sense of a smoothly progressing narrative, one that allows them instead of asking What blue jacket? makes it possible for them to agree, oh, right, Mary's favorite blue jacket, the one she always wore on such occasions. Explanations of key events, objects, or persons seem less likely to have been dropped in conveniently if they have been foreshadowed. Thus this suggested guideline: Whenever a particular noun (person, place, thing) attitude or detail has enough importance in a narrative to support a beat, that noun, attitude, or detail is best served by being introduced in a foreshadowing moment.

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