1. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark

    Problems with fish-out-of-water scenario

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by HorusEye, Aug 3, 2009.

    Hi,

    My main character is very much a fish out of the water in my setting - familiar character in alien setting, not vice versa - so the reader needs as much explanation about the world as the MC does.

    However, I noticed that many of my dialogues are kinda one-sided: usually some other character explaining stuff to the MC, who then bases his actions on the knowledge given. That kinda turns him into a "dumb tourist" type character, I'm afraid.

    Many things can be shown instead of told, but there's a limit to that too.
    The story is a journey of enlightenment, but too many mentor characters makes any story flat, turning it into a school book. Any suggestions on how to get around this pattern?

    I guess the fish Nemo in Pixar's "Finding Nemo" animation is very much a "dumb tourist" type character - all his actions are based on what other fish tells him. But in this movie I guess it works because Nemo is just a kid, lost in the big world.

    In my story, using an adult MC, he seems to be more of a pawn.
     
  2. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Sounds like your story is heavily weighted to telling over showing. Try to take his revelations out of dialogue, and let him learn the consequences of his mistakes the hard way.
     
  3. Kas
    Offline

    Kas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2009
    Messages:
    567
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    The ***hole of the world
    Part of the problem could be having a character who always asks questions instead of trying to figure things out for himself.

    If your character is not a dumb tourist, show some of his mental process. He should be able to figure out certain things using logic, process of elimination, by drawing paralells between the new and familiar. . etc. Then he'll be more of an adventurer and less of a child at the science expo.

    Consider the Harry Potter series. Everything in the magical world was new to Harry and the reader. He did need to have certain things explained to him, (like what's up with this you-know-who guy) but for the most part, he learned through observation. And the reader is better served that way (showing).

    Doesn't your character feel just a little uncomfortable in revealing his total ignorance? Paint a picture through his eyes and let us guess what that mysterious gizmo is for.

    You could even deliberately mislead the reader sometimes. Then there's an "aha!" moment when things come clear. "I should have known."
    Usually in this scenario, the character is enlightened through experience. Life's lessons put his mentor's rambling into perspective, and he comes to understand that wisdom in a more meaningful way.
     
  4. Dcoin
    Offline

    Dcoin Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2008
    Messages:
    279
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    NYC
    I think there is a real opportunity here to lead your readers though the active discovery your MC will go though. They will learn as your readers learn. The trick is making active learning and not a lecture-based format.

    Fish out of water situation make for good reading, IMO.
     
  5. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Thanks alot for the inspiring replies.

    Thanks to you I'm beginning to see solutions to the weaker parts of my story.

    There's some tough parts though, concerning metaphysical stuff, the order of the universe and such, that my MC and the reader needs to discover.

    Let me use an example from a well known film (always works), which had a similar problem.

    Although my story is nothing like The Matrix in any way, that movie does contain the big problem of having to "brief" the MC and the viewer about how the world is put together, by a mister-know-it-all. As Neo has entered the real world for the first time, his mentor Morpheus goes into a lengthy lecture about Life, The Universe and Everything. It's backed up by visuals but they're all from god-perspective while the story of the machine empire is told. For all we know, Morpheus could just be making it all up, Neo none the wiser.
    I remember that whole scene felt like a really weak part of the movie for me, too. Like a time-out from the story, in order to pull out a big graph on an overhead projector and explain stuff to us.

    Any ideas as to how that scene could have been more involving for the viewer and the MC? Should Neo himself have found out (somehow, no idea how) that his purpose of life was to be an organic battery? It's a pretty tall tale, so just hearing it from a mentor you just met feels hollow, right?
     
  6. Kas
    Offline

    Kas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2009
    Messages:
    567
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    The ***hole of the world
    I understand your problem; I had a similar issue in one of my stories. Unfortunately, there's no easy solution.

    Do you recall the woman in the red dress? They didn't just tell Neo everything. Consider how your mentor character(s) might construct active learning lessons. It's the kind of method that know-it-all characters use in most stories, anyway, for obvious reasons.

    That probably won't solve the problem, but if you give it enough thought, it might help a little.

    There's also a good reason why so many fictional teachers are eccentric; it just makes the lesson more fun to read. I don't know if you'd want to radically change a character, or even if your story has room for it, but if you go down the 'crazy genius' path, or something similar, that should give you more creative options.

    Some epic fantasies just involve a lot of infodumping, and it can't really be helped. One such novel was "The Dragonbone Chair" by Tad Williams. It's been years since I read it, so I can't recall many specifics, but I didn't mind the dump, and I was 13 at the time. .

    There was a character called Doctor Morgenes, who, around the start of the book, told the idiot mc some lengthy stories about the history of the land and various other things. Honestly, that "infodump" was infinitely more interesting than the mc, who was the ultimate dolt-who-achieves-greatness cliche. Incidentally, Morgenes was a little eccentric.

    I didn't read and love the series because I liked the mc. I loved it for the incredible depth and scope and detail of it all. It was absolutely fantastic. Though I'm sure that many people here would find it dull. Some people just have short attention spans, and you have to decide whether or not you really want to write for them.

    Your book will have a better shot at publication if you do. But if you can't force the story to work that way, don't despair. There's a market for almost anything that's written well. . it just (probably) won't be the first thing you publish.

    I've dropped my 'epic' stories in favour of lighter stuff for now. . Once I get something standard out there, I'll return to my Grand Plan. You might have to do the same.
     
  7. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    You're right. I wiki'ed "plot exposition" and found a very interesting article. It stated a few methods and many more problems about infodumping and my final impression was that it's a necessary evil that only can be minimized by various tricks.

    Or perhaps too many writers have too little faith in the cognitive skills of their readers? I think the original Star Wars movies are great examples of how to tell a fantastical story with minimal info. Pretty much nothing is explained during the films but they leave you with a feeling of "totally getting the complexity".

    So, perhaps the big art of making epics, as we both like to, is to create this massive, complex and infinitely detailed world in our heads, but tell the story like we were in a hurry - i.e. cut everything nonessential away - and it may just still show through between the lines, because it's in our heads while we write?
     
  8. Kas
    Offline

    Kas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2009
    Messages:
    567
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    The ***hole of the world
    Yep, that's absolutely the way to go. . according to popular opinion around here. . except it doesn't always work. Like with your Matrix example, I still don't have a good answer. Morpheus pretty much had to explain the basics. Like you said, there are tricks of the trade that can help, but some dumps need to be there.
     
  9. Melonman
    Offline

    Melonman New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2009
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Canada
    I agree with HorusEye, giving away to much is never a good thing.
    Especially, in my opinion, for surrealism. When I think surreal I don't just think "mind flipping contradictions" I also think "hidden meaning".

    What I'm getting at is: when I write I try really hard not to give away more then I have to.

    If I were writing something like you described the people helping the main character out would know how to communicate to him as well as he knows how to communicate with them. what they say would seam cryptic or have a lack of description because of the culture gap.

    Of course that's just what I would do. There are plenty more ways of going about it.
     
  10. Forkfoot
    Offline

    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2008
    Messages:
    1,034
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    San Francisco bay area
    If the MC's in an alien setting and you want more show and less tell, there can always be a language barrier.
     
  11. Henry The Purple
    Offline

    Henry The Purple Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2009
    Messages:
    319
    Likes Received:
    1
    May I suggest seriously reviewing your MC? If he's the protagonist, he has to be likeable, or at the very least, engaging. You might want to shoot for something other than the dumb tourist stereotype, which is more than likely to inspire annoyance and anger in the reader than anything else. You should focus on your character's opinions and reactions to this alien setting.
     
  12. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Yes, this is why I recognised it as a problem - he was becoming passive in situations where those familiar in the setting would begin to take over. I agree that makes the character uninteresting or even annoying.
     
  13. Kas
    Offline

    Kas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2009
    Messages:
    567
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    The ***hole of the world
    I just remebered something else. .

    I recently read "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss. It was a very good book and a pleasure to read, but there was a ton of infodumping in that story. The mc was basically a genius in a fantasy setting, and some of the chapters were just the mc telling of the many things he learned and where/when/how/from who he learned them. It was 100% infodumping and 100% telling. "I learned how to. . " But it was written in a way that was interesting enough to make you want to read it.

    Incidentally, I think it's the first and (so far) only book that Rothfuss published. I know he was a high school teacher before writing it. Within like 2 years of publishing he was famous. . . So the info dump doesn't = evil. I'd highly recommend reading the book. Might give you some ideas on how to approach your story.
     
  14. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    I think I might :)

    I had my girlfriend test-read my story and asked her if she thought the mc was too much a passive clueless dolt, and she said she hadn't seen him that way - rather, it made the people he met much more interesting, because they were the ones supplying most of the color.

    Of course, I'm still trying to apply all the advice in this thread to improve the mc, but maybe I'm also being too hard on him, wanting him to be the one and only shining light throughout the story.
     

Share This Page