Why catch the bus?

When writing fiction there are certain expectations your readers will have, even if they are not aware of them, and you need to keep these in mind when writing. This relates to my last post where I had my character say something, purely for the comic value, but my readers decided there was going to be a side story that never eventuated. If you focus too much on one character, or one thing, your reader expects that to be significant to the story.

After all, fiction is something the author makes up, so anything that happens in a story is only there because the author has put it there. This is even more the case in film…

** Spoiler Alert if you haven’t seen ‘The 6th Sense’ in next paragraph**

In one scene the two main characters catch a bus to a funeral. The moment I saw them on the bus I knew Bruce Willis’ character was dead. At no point beforehand had we been told he didn’t have a car, or he was particularly environmentally friendly, and they were heading out to a suburb with plenty of parking. There was no reason to catch the bus UNLESS he couldn’t drive. In real life I wouldn’t have questioned it, in a movie I knew they had to get a bus, put actors on it, rig the cameras to be able to film smoothly, in other words it would have been much harder to organise than a scene in a car, so there had to be a reason to put them on a bus.

Your readers will constantly have this little radar operating, so if your character notices a dog every day they walk along a certain street, if that dog doesn’t attack them, die, turn into a robot, something, then the reader will feel cheated. You can notice the dog once, but don’t labour the point.

The only time this doesn’t apply is when you are trying to throw in a red herring. If you are suggesting someone is going to be attacked, and your character notices the dog, your reader expects the dog to be the villain. So when the tiger jumps out from behind the garbage bins the reader gets shocked by the turn of events.

The key is to not inadvertently throw in the red herrings just because you thought you could get a bit poetic about how to describe the hanky on the clothes line. Unless of course you are writing literature, then I guess anything goes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *