RAZORED ZEN: <a href=http://charlesgramlich.blogspot.com/2013/02/closing-loop-and-gun-law_2.html>Closing the Loop</a>

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Closing the Loop

Fiction gives the illusion of reality without literally depicting reality. A simple example of this is seen in dialogue. Real dialogue is much more open ended than story dialogue. In a story, good dialogue makes it “sound” like real people are speaking, but the dialogue carries weight and information that is not often seen in actual dialogue between real people.

Unlike real life, fictional stories and movies are self contained entities and pretty much every major aspect of said story needs to be self-referential to the story itself. For example, most of you are probably familiar with the statement that, if you show a gun in the first act, then that gun should be used by the third act.  Fortunately, this is not the case in the real world. A correlate of the “gun” rule in fiction is that the gun used in the third act should not be revealed only in the third act. It should be part of “setting the stage” for the third act.

The “gun” rule extends to other aspects of a story as well, particularly to characters. In the best storytelling, I believe, all the important characters in a book or movie should appear within the first half dozen or so scenes. I’d go so far as to consider it something of a cheat to introduce a new character halfway through or later that plays a major role in how the story ends. This happens in real life all the time, of course, but fiction and real life are not the same thing. If one must introduce a brand new character halfway through a book or movie, then I believe it becomes extremely important to tie that new character to someone who was introduced earlier. That helps, at least, although it doesn’t completely fix the problem.

All of these thoughts coalesced in my head this morning after watching the movie L o o p e r last night with Lana. If you haven’t seen it, you might not want to read further because I’m not sure if I can keep from giving away some spoilers.

There was some good stuff in L o o p e r, including some pretty good acting jobs, especially by this little kid actor who was awesome. It had some interesting ideas, but there were some huge plot holes that really took away from my enjoyment of the movie. It also had a violation of the “gun law,” which troubled me just as much as the plot holes. 

A number of characters are introduced early in the movie, and the viewer begins to make some judgments about them. As the plot unfolds, the viewer, this viewer anyway, begins to seek within the existing characters for the connections that will play out in the movie’s finale.  Then, halfway through the movie, two new characters are introduced, almost literally from left field. These characters have no relationship initially to ‘any’ character introduced before, but the whole ending of the movie revolves around them. The original characters come in contact with the new characters and the movie proceeds from there.  To me, the “gun,” the new characters, was introduced far too late to play fairly with the viewer and it left me feeling dissatisfied.

By its very nature, fiction manipulates the reader or viewer, but because of that the writer has to bend over backward to play as fairly as possible. Only in such a way will the reader or viewer feel as if they were part of the fun instead of being yanked around by a chain.

If you saw the movie, did this aspect of it bother you at all? Do you find violations of the “gun law” troubling?  I’d love to know.



At 10:19 AM, Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I thought Looper was brilliant. (It even won the Critic's Choice award for best Science Fiction.) Reminded me of Memento.
I didn't mind the late introduction of those two characters.
And guess I am screwed, because a pivotal character enters the story very late in CassaStorm...

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Cloudia said...

Charles, excellent job of shedding light on the construction of story. Your opening words on dialogue very revealing. Thanks & Aloha

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I liked Looper as well. And I really don't subscribe to the "gun rule" either. Too often writers buy into those rules so deeply that one can see things coming a mile away. I'd rather they didn't.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, these are interesting theories. The finer (and not so finer) nuances of a book or film are usually lost on me. Recently, I read a western where two key characters come in much later. I didn't think much of it at the time because these things happen often in a western. It didn't alter the story in a big way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I will look out for LOOPER.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, I know a number of people who liked Looper. I just really couldn't get caught up in it. Perhaps I was in too analytical of a mood when it started. I added an important character very late in the Talera series, as well, book 3, but I went back and wrote him in for the earlier books as well. Sometimes you wouldn't have the opportunity to do that, of course.

Cloudia, thanks. I've given quite a lot of thought to the dialogue question.

Chris, Lana and I were talking about the predictability factor as well. Of course, no "rule" is ever 100 percent and I've violated this one myself at times.

Prashant, I probably spend too much time thinking about these kinds of things, but I find the process of analyzing it kind of interesting.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I confess to have broken the rule more than once. I haven't seen 'Looper'. Maybe I'll feel the same way as you about it, but in writing, anything goes. I'll tie it in and the reader won't know what hit them. :)

At 2:32 PM, Blogger laughingwolf said...

am in your camp, charles

if the minions early on mention their boss, you know the boss will, likely, appear later... no one is surprised, you've already telegraphed/foreshadowed it....

At 2:59 PM, Blogger jodi said...

Charles, will watch for 'Looper' on cable. Not so clear on the gun thing..

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, there's a length issue too. In a short story, I stay by the "gun" rule more because there's so little room for anything anyway. It's not as bad in a longer piece, and I've broken the rules myself at times for sure. I shouldn't have made it sound as if it is law like gravity.

Laughingwolf, yes, good point.

Jodi, I probably shouldn't have called it a rule so much as a good suggestion most of the time.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Deka Black said...

I think all you say can be resumen in this sentence, that they say was pronounced by Tom Clancy: "The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense."

At 4:35 PM, Blogger pontalba said...

It's been a while since I saw Looper, but while there were some plot holes I just suspended belief. :) Re the "gun rule", umm, not necessarily. Surprise can be a good thing.

Above it was mentioned Looper was reminiscent of Memento. I fully agree, and I had to watch Memento a few times before I could come to any "realistic" conclusion about it. I suspect Looper is the same.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger sage said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I enjoy learning more about the craft of writing from you!

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Travis Cody said...

I learned foreshadowing very early on in a creative writing class. But when I was a kid, I enjoyed Agatha Christie mysteries and she often threw in a clue or character very late in the story.

So I guess I don't mind either method.

Haven't seen Looper. Might need to check that one out.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Pietro said...

Very good article. It's odd, I often find more truth in fictions than in reality.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Riot Kitty said...

I haven't seen it, but violations of the gun law bother me. Here I am spending an hour paying attention to clues that were...not clues at all.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger Keith said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Looper, in spite of the plot holes. It's been a while since I saw the film, and I only saw it once, but wasn't the identity of one of the two characters you mention introduced fairly early on? Or least who that character turns out to be in the future? If so, then the foreshadowing works for me, and I wouldn't consider this a violation of the gun rule.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Deka, Yes, that encapsulates it nicely.

Pontalba, I actually never saw memento. I typically have some problems with time travel movies, but there were some particularly large holes in looper, I thought. For example, if you're using time travel to dispose of bodies, then 1) why not send them back in time 4 billion years and let 'em die in the primitive earth, or 2) why not kill them first and then send them back to be disposed of. Anyway, I often can suspend disbelief but wasn't quite able to on this one.

sage, thankee, man.

Travis Cody, I'm not sure where I picked up my preference to have things like the gun rule followed. Somewhere along the line, but ERB surely didn't do it and I enjoyed him as a youth.

Pietro, you and me both. I've said the same thing quite often.

Riot kitty, that was probably part of my problem with Looper. I was playing particularly attention to one clue and it turned out to be not even an afterthought.

Keith, there was a mention of a character in the future, who turns out later to be one of the two new characters introduced late in the story, but it still felt tacked on to me. When that future character was mentioned, I began looking around in the already introduced characters for the tie in, but that wasn't to be the case. Part of the issue with Looper too, for me, is the elaborate but completely unneeded set up for how bodies were to be disposed of. I mean, there would have been a much simpler way than the elaborate time travel and looper set up. Of course, there wouldn't have been a movie then. :)

At 4:57 AM, Blogger Angie said...

On whether the gun rule is a good one or not re: predictability, as always there's a difference between a rule being bad and a writer's execution of that rule being bad. I've seen the gun rule executed horribly too, where it was painfully obvious what was going on and yet the writer treated the story like a mystery, with a "Tah-DAH!" at the end that got only crickets in response, at least from me. But introducing the gun five minutes before it's used is cheating, and it's incredibly tough to pull it off. Not impossible, of course, since a good enough writer can make anything work, but you're definitely setting up a hurdle for yourself by deliberately breaking a rule this basic.

It's like a murder mystery where the murderer turns out to be someone the reader or viewer has never met before. The detective says something like, "Oh, yeah, we found this fingerprint and it was this guy, so we arrested him," and the reader/viewer is going, "Wait, what??" while closing the cover or watching the credits roll. It's as if the writer didn't know that one of the rules of a mystery is that you give all the clues as the story goes, and the reader/viewer should have at least a chance of figuring out whodunnit before the detective announces it. You can break that rule and make it work, but you have to work hard and have a lot of skill to pull it off.

You can break the gun rule too, but again, it takes a lot of work and skill. And for that matter, it takes some skill to make a story work even if you follow the rule(s). The fact that some writer blew it doesn't make the rule a bad one -- it just means the writer failed in that instance.


At 7:40 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Sorry to hear the movie left something to be desired. It sounded like a cool premise.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger the walking man said...

The gun law is different in reality..if you wait to the third act once it's shown to use it ..your dead.

But yes I agree you when writing fiction have to telegraph what's up the line. Introducing a plot element halfway through seems to me to be similar to the South's trick of tying into telegraph lines and sending fake messages that mislead the northern generals during the civil war.

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, Well said. I prefer it when the writer follows the gun rule but does it subtly so that almost despite myself I'm surprised. That means I'm asking a lot of the writer. But no one said writing was easy. I've seen a mystery like you described, where the killer came from left field and it just really took the fun out of the movie for me. So I think it's important, even if it is tough to carry off.

Greg, it was OK as candy, a quick treat, but not one that I'll really want to see again.

Mark, yeah,reality can get away with just about anything. Fiction, not so much.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Tyhitia Green said...

I haven't seen Looper yet, but I like the way you explained the "gun" rule. I love learning new perspectives on writing. :-) Thanks.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Tyhitia, glad you liked it. :)

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Be sure to stop by today, Charles.

At 11:58 PM, Blogger pontalba said...

Charles Gramlich wrote: Pontalba, I actually never saw memento. I typically have some problems with time travel movies, but there were some particularly large holes in looper, I thought. For example, if you're using time travel to dispose of bodies, then 1) why not send them back in time 4 billion years and let 'em die in the primitive earth, or 2) why not kill them first and then send them back to be disposed of. Anyway, I often can suspend disbelief but wasn't quite able to on this one.

I hear ya, otoh, I appreciated the poetic justice in having them dispose of themselves...a little warped humor going on there. :)

Memento is well worth the time put in.

At 12:16 AM, Blogger Angie said...

I second the rec for Memento. It's a great movie, not time travel at all but an excellent story, told perfectly.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, I did and I really appreciate the kind words, man!

Pontalba, true about the disposing of themselves. That was the nice hook for the movie. I will have to have my wife get Memento from the library.

Angie, I'll definitely be on the lookout for it then.


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