Monday, June 8, 2009

The Other Shoe

other shoe dropping, the--a dramatic (emotional) payoff resulting from a previously foreshadowed clue; the literary equivalent of the aftershock following an earthquake; a degree of closure achieved from an earlier action.

The well-known trope of the other shoe dropping comes from the theoretical supposition of an individual preparing for a night's sleep in a cheap hotel or rooming house. As the individual settles down to sleep, a guest in the room one floor above is similarly preparing for sleep...removes his shoes and let's one fall to the floor with a thud. The individual of our focus is wrested from the brink of sleep by the sound above him; he waits for the second shoe, the famed "other" shoe to drop so that he can return his concentration on achieving sleep. Of course he cannot. The wait for the sound of the other shoe dropping has claimed his focus. It could well be that the guest in the upstairs room has realized the consequences of letting the first shoe drop. Out of consideration, he has resolved that the other shoe shall be set down quietly. But the expectant one cannot achieve sleep until he has heard the second shoe drop.

The other shoe dropping may be an actual physicality, such as the lodger in the upstairs room removing his shoes; it may also be an association made by one character or a realization achieved by a character. Oscar Madison, one half of Neil Simon's dramatic odd couple, is used to getting verbal suggestions and written notes from his roommate, Felix Unger, any of which serve to intensify the growing irritation Madison feels toward Unger. But as the narrator of Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado" puts it, "when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." In this case, Felix Unger's venturing on insult is not at all intentional but is nevertheless seen by Madison as having crossed a line, of having gone too far. What is Unger's step over the line, his dropping of the other shoe? Why, leaving a note for Madison signed merely with his initials. How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of a note signed FU?

Anticipation is a cherished dramatic force, whether the drama is comedic or tragic. Simplistic as it may sound to offer the council that the reader is in a constant state of expectation, it is virtually unthinkable not to mention anticipation

Hint: At some point during the revision process, see if there are any shoes being dropped, any event that would cause irritation or consternation to visit a character, perhaps even an event that refuses to go away. Then exploit it.

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