E is for Elephant
You know, as in the elephant in the room, y’all. Today we’re talking about the elements of a book that either the main character knows about and ignores or that the reader knows about before the protagonist does. That last one is sometimes also called dramatic irony.
Personally, I’m a big fan of this. I once remember shouting at a book character not to get in the car with Craig because he was the killer. Granted, I usually figure out the big twists or whodunit well before that moment when the writer beats you over the head with it just before the final reveal, so I have a lot of these moments when reading.
Unless I’m reading Agatha Christie.
Seriously, I’m glad that whole “having a dead character write a letter to the authorities to explain how they killed everyone in the house without dropping the readers any clues before they offed themselves” thing isn’t common in modern fiction. I LOVE And Then There Were None, but it really wasn’t much of a mystery, more a “see how much smarter I am than you, dear reader” book.
But back to modern fiction…
Um, no elephants to see here
Let’s skip right to the good stuff instead of dwelling on what the protagonist pretends not to know because we could debate about whether it’s a necessary plot point or an author oversight until my fingers fall off.
And I’m rather partial to my fingers today, y’all.
No, instead, let’s dive into to all those wonderful things that we as readers get to know while the protagonist remains blissfully in the dark. I love that moment in a book when the big bad baddie’s scenes switch from “he” to “insert character’s real name here.” Either it’s glorious because I get to give mental high fives to the brain cells for figuring it out or it’s glorious because I finally get to be in on the secret.
Either way, I know something the main character doesn’t know.
Or maybe there was never a question of who was the master of all evilry. Maybe the question was why they were feeding food colored-sugar to ants to build a rainbow army of insects. Or it could be a matter of when our hero is finally going to tell their boss that their delicious pie wasn’t just filled with chocolatey goodness. Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaaaaa!
That last one only counts if we knew about the pie before the boss did though.
My second fave manifestation of this is when the hero would have all the information they need to defeat the villain with the curly mustache if only their best good pals would get around to telling them about what they found out from their psychic 59 pages ago. This one is always fun because, seriously, if dude just had better friends then he wouldn’t have had to travel into the Crystal Cave of Suck in order to learn that the Magic Nail File of Beat Anyone wasn’t there.
I could go on and on with real and imaginary examples of this from books and movies, but I’d rather turn it over to y’all. (Okay, and hubby just walked in with dinner and who can type with waves of deliciousness wafting in at them?) What are some of your favorite elephants in the room when you’re reading? Which ones do you hope to never see again?
Next up: F is for French
© 2013, Sydney Katt. All rights reserved.