andyk

Character / reader knowledge gap

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This week's episode of WE discussed some of the dangers and pitfalls of gaps between what characters know and what the reader/writer knows. So I'm curious, what examples can you guys think of where this works really well or really badly?

 

For my money, J. B. Priestley's play An Inspector Calls does this pretty well, if a little heavy handedly. There's a dinner party loaded with dramatic irony in which characters living in 1912 make reference to what they expect from coming events, and people watching the play know that they're all wrong and living in a cosy bubble of ignorance.

 

The Hunger Games does a similar thing, but in a different way. Katniss has a far worse understanding of her situation and mental state than the reader does, and this creates tension.

 

What other examples are out there, for better or for worse?

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Well, it is hard to say sometimes if an example is good or bad. What works for one reader may not work for another. For example, in Steelheart, David repeatedly stated that handguns are never accurate. However I know that with proper training and at apropriate ranges, handguns can indeed be very accurate. When I read Steelheart I realized David was young and hadn't had training in handguns, and knew that this was just his belief out of ignorance. My sister, however kept thinking it was Brandon that believed that handguns were never accurate, and it drove her nuts. I had to keep telling her to just finish the book because david does change his and admit handguns can be accurate. Of course my sister had just taken a class with an instructer who is an amazing shot with a handgun before reading Steelheart, so she was a bit more sensitive to the issue.

But if even an experienced writer can miss the mark with a dedicated fan, don't feel bad if you mess up your first few times writing.

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I'm thinking of a line of Death's narration in The Book Thief: "The day had been a great one, and Nazi Germany was a wondrous place."

 

Obviously Nazi Germany wasn't wondrous at all. I think this one works because it's obvious that life is hard, but the characters are happy amongst that, so there's a contrast built into the story, not just the line.....I'm not entirely sure how this one works though. I certainly didn't read that thinking that it's what the author believes.

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I'm thinking of a line of Death's narration in The Book Thief: "The day had been a great one, and Nazi Germany was a wondrous place."

 

Obviously Nazi Germany wasn't wondrous at all. I think this one works because it's obvious that life is hard, but the characters are happy amongst that, so there's a contrast built into the story, not just the line.....I'm not entirely sure how this one works though. I certainly didn't read that thinking that it's what the author believes.

 

I'm not familiar with that one, but I like it as an example. I feel like it works because no reader is going to think that the writer believes Nazi Germany was wonderful, so the reader and writer are sharing the irony straight away. There's not much risk of misunderstanding about the author's intentions, but there is a nice darkness to the line.

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I'm not sure that quote is a great example of the character-reader knowledge gap. I mean, in The Book Thief, that line is literally said by Death, the creature that harvests souls. Of course he thinks Nazi Germany is wonderful; for him, it is. Plenty of souls to harvest, which is always fun.

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I'm not sure that quote is a great example of the character-reader knowledge gap. I mean, in The Book Thief, that line is literally said by Death, the creature that harvests souls. Of course he thinks Nazi Germany is wonderful; for him, it is. Plenty of souls to harvest, which is always fun.

I'm going to presume you haven't read the book then. Death is actually totally sick of harvesting souls, is horrified at what people do to each other and actually spends much of the first chapter lamenting on how he's stuck with his horrible job because there's no one to take over from him. It's exactly the unexpected viewpoint of Death that makes the book so brilliant, actually.

Edited by Delightful
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I instantly thought of Welcome to Nightvale as an example, because it has a very wide gap. In fact, the fandom generally admits that it has no idea what's going on at all. That's what's so great about it, in fact. The script for an episode is almost as if it's a randomly generated sequence of words where anything can happen, but it still has character development and plot arcs, so we can assume (or hope) that the writers have an idea of what's going on beyond the main characters.

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I instantly thought of Welcome to Nightvale as an example, because it has a very wide gap. In fact, the fandom generally admits that it has no idea what's going on at all. That's what's so great about it, in fact. The script for an episode is almost as if it's a randomly generated sequence of words where anything can happen, but it still has character development and plot arcs, so we can assume (or hope) that the writers have an idea of what's going on beyond the main characters.

I think I'm as confused as the fandom here. Can you please explain what you mean?

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Alright, I'll word that better :)

Basically you can never guess what's going to happen in Nightvale. Whenever almost anything happens, a listener could easily say 'I have no idea what's going on here.'

For example, in an early episode a child is born. That child is nothing but a severed hand. The parents don't mind. You can say This post has been reported for attempting to skirt the rules now.
But in a later episode, that severe hand is a character. For anything that happens, the writers have a plan for what's going to happen later on. There's a lot of things like that, such as the Apache Tracker plot arc, and the Angels no one but Old Woman Jose knows exists. Everything has it's own logic in the end.

The fun is that there are so many things we can guess about, even if we only understand a very little bit. In fact, that's why there's forums like these. Imagine trying to figure out how the Cosmere works if you had only the strangest out-of-context snippets out of the books.

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Alright, I'll word that better :)

Basically you can never guess what's going to happen in Nightvale. Whenever almost anything happens, a listener could easily say 'I have no idea what's going on here.'

For example, in an early episode a child is born. That child is nothing but a severed hand. The parents don't mind. You can say This post has been reported for attempting to skirt the rules now.

 

This post has been reported for attempting to skirt the rules

 

But in a later episode, that severe hand is a character. For anything that happens, the writers have a plan for what's going to happen later on. There's a lot of things like that, such as the Apache Tracker plot arc, and the Angels no one but Old Woman Jose knows exists. Everything has it's own logic in the end.

The fun is that there are so many things we can guess about, even if we only understand a very little bit. In fact, that's why there's forums like these. Imagine trying to figure out how the Cosmere works if you had only the strangest out-of-context snippets out of the books.

Wow....that....I'm not sure if that's intriguing or horrifying. How....how do you even get past the first episode? How....*why* would you even....I'm so confused.

 

In relation to WE - I guess that falls into the camp of "The audience don't know what the characters know and we're just gonna ignore that and let you figure it out". Or something like that?

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I just found another one in the Lift Interlude.

 

 Besides, Wyndle kept complaining that she used the awesomeness too often. That she was at risk of malnutrition, whatever that meant.

 

This one works because we already know Wyndle speaks fancy, it's obvious Lift isn't educated, and pretty much most readers know what malnutrition is. Plus it's used as humour which makes it more awesome (pun intended :P). I do wonder if this breaks the 4th Wall a little, even if it's not obvious enough to pull the reader out the story.

 

 

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