Thursday, February 24, 2011
Signaling vs Foreshadowing, or how I knew Lights Leary was going to win
************ warning, possible spoilers**************
In January, F/X premiered their new series, Lights Out. It's the story of a fighter who has been retired for five years, after having his belt stolen from him in a title match with Richard "Death Row" Reynolds. He has a lovely family - a wife and three daughters - a huge home, a gym where his father, played by veteran actor Stacy Keach, trains fighters, and a good life. But of course if it were that simple, why would there be a show, right? The economy is rough for everyone. Patrick's wife is in medical school. When she's done, she can do her part at supporting the family, and she's getting there. Patrick's brother Johnny is his manager. But Johnny is, let us say, less than honest. A former (so he says) drug user, who ruined his own marriage, and did some shady investing wit Patrick's money - and lost it. Times are so hard, that Patrick is appearing in commercials, and hiring himself out for cage fights and to strong arm people who don't pay their debts. As if this wasn't bad enough, he's been diagnosed with pugilistic dementia, a fact which only he and his snoopy daughter Danielle know.
The solution to their money problems seems simple - Lights has to go back in the ring. But faced with his diagnosis, and the fact that he's going on 40, this isn't an easy decision to make. Johnny arranges for him to fight against JoJo. It would have been a good match, too - if only someone hadn't hit JoJo's hand with a cinder block. The law is on Patrick's tail, and things are getting desperate. So he does what he has to do, thanks to Johnny putting him in bed with the devil - ie fight promoter Barry Word, and he agrees to a match - not with Reynolds, not yet, but with Javier 'El Diablo' Morales. The trouble is that Morales is an animal in the ring. The situation is further compounded when, during a sparring session, Lights gets a thumb in the eye, and now his vision isn't what it should be, and he's skating on thin ice here. But he forces himself to learn to compensate for that, cause he doesn't have a whole lot of options here.
By the way, isn't Lights hot?
Okay, so now we come to the fight itself, which was in this week's episode. How did I know, without reading the script or any spoilers (which I didn't do) that Lights was going to win? Elementary, I tell you, elementary. I read the signs. One: the season isn't over. If Lights lost to Morales, there would go his chance at a title fight, not without a long road. I didn't see that happening. Two: When the fight started, Lights was losing and things were looking bad. I really knew then he was going to win, cause it would be a comeback victory and therefore dramatic. And he won. It was still exciting, even though I called it (that would have meant more if I hadn't been watching it by myself). Although that doesn't mean the bad times are over, so of course we have to wait and see what's coming up this season.
Okay, I figured it out, but was it because they signaled it, or was it foreshadowing? Is there a difference? And if you're smart enough to figure out the signals, is that a bad thing?
I love foreshadowing. Especially when it's unconscious. Yes, it's easy to go back and plant something at the beginning of your story so that it looks like you foreshadowed, but it's even better when it flows naturally, in my opinion. Foreshadowing is more subtle than signaling, in my opinion, though signals don't always have to be blatant, just because you figure them out. Some are just givens, things you can assume and take pretty much for granted.
For example - you start out a show, book or movie with a guy and a girl. Or two guys, two girls, whatever. They have this automatic mutual antipathy to one another. Chances are they're gonna get together at some point and be a couple.
If you want a change-up on that particular stereotype, how about you start with a couple that's already together, and supposedly happy, and introduce the third wheel/newcomer aka the other main protagonist. You make the replaceable member of the couple a nice person, not the expected shrew/harpy/bastard, and now you have moral dilemma and sexual tension and drama.
In a horror film such as the ones that involve alien mutant creatures including but not limited to zombies, giant gators, and rabid dogs, you know without being told that good will prevail. Somehow. Good vs evil, good triumphs. However, in some recent films, that trope has been expanded a bit, so that the lines between good and evil are not as clearcut. In fact they're downright blurry. Hannibal Lecter, for instance - serial killer, psychopath (or is that sociopath) and cannibal. And yet he makes us like him, and root for his escape. Even the FBI agent, Clarice Starling, although she works to capture him, deep down I think she'd like nothing better than to let him go free. She respects him, at the very least. And if you read the book Hannibal, you'll see there's more to it than that, which the filmmakers for some reason chose not to go into, but which was a better ending, and very sexy.
Signaling is expected in certain books and movies, but when it becomes too obvious it can also be boring, cause if you've got the plot figured out from the beginning, why are you reading? If it's foreshadowing, you can figure it out, but you won't know if you're right unless you keep your eyes glued to the page. Did I mind that I knew Lights was going to win? Hell no, it was fun to see if I was right or not. It's all in how you make that journey - are you taking the dull train to Sameville, or the fast and exciting train to What's Gonna Happen Town?
I know that I foreshadow in some of my stories, but I hope that I don't signal. One reason that I think that I don't is because I am a pantser, not a plotter, so often I don't know what's going to happen until it does. Sure, I know broad things, but not necessarily specifics. So I feel that I can't signal what I don't know, which hopefully leads readers to want to know and keep reading. In Dark Love, it was totally accidental. I was at the end of the book, writing that up when I realized that I had foreshadowed something major, without being aware of it. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, I don't know. But it blew my mind when I realized it.
So I knew Lights was gonna win against Morales, do I see him fighting Reynolds again in the future? Of course, that's a given. Will he win? That I don't know yet, and that is what I can't wait to find out, not to mention there are bound to be other bumps in the road which will make this exciting to watch.
Signaling vs Foreshadowing - do you see a difference? Do you use either in your writing? As a reader, do you look for it in what you read? Tell me what you think, I'd love to hear it!