On Indicators - by Debbie Bennett
We use indicators in writing too. Readers expect a level of consistency – even an alien or fantasy world has to play by its own rules and follow its own internal logic. I was watching one of the Harry Potter films over Christmas and the lack of any kind of internal logic drove me mad in places. I’m thinking Woah, there! He knew that X was at Y, so why didn’t he just do Z like he did last time? If they can transport themselves instantly when they want to, then why don’t they do it when they need to? Because it didn’t suit the plot, I imagine, but I won’t spoil the films for anyone who hasn’t seen them. My husband called it Harry Potter and the Wandering Plot.
To a certain extent, you can get away with it in films – and if you’re JK Rowling, you can get away with anything. Special effects and the sheer scale of cinematography can big up the smallest of plots, but when things fray around the edges I get frustrated. The current trend for unreliable narrators (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train) play with your expectations of what’s going to happen and turn convention and genre tropes on their heads. I didn’t much care for Gone Girl, as I found both the main characters to be needy, narcissistic and thoroughly unpleasant people who deserved everything they got, but I do concede that the writing was tight and masterful. Gillian Flynn can certainly write.
Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist. I like my stories to follow the accepted conventions of a beginning, a middle and an end. Anything else seems unfinished to me. I accept I may be in the minority now, but what’s this current new trend of twists? Blurbs with the twist you won’t see coming. Well, I’ll sure as hell be looking out for it now and that expectation will not only colour my reading of the early part of the book, but the twist itself will inevitably be an anticlimax compared to what my imagination has already conjured up! And you really can’t pull a twist out of a hat like some warped magician at a kids’ party; it has to follow logically from what has gone before. Indicators again; those little flashing lights to signpost the way. Just a hint of something, a fine balance between the obvious gun-on-the-wall and a subtle hint of a clue to indicate what might be to come. And to be fair – Gone Girl did exactly that. As I said, it’s masterful writing.
So what will the next Big Thing? The breakout novel that will spawn a million cheap imitations? So long as it works as a novel or story, I'll read most things. But vampires are dead and buried. Erotica came and went. Girl titles are becoming a bit sexist (The Boy Who Drank Blood, maybe?). Have twists finally snapped? What's going to make it big in 2017?