Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hanging a Lantern

You know something is not quite right, some fact is going to raise readers' eyebrows in question but at the same time, you want it in the novel. What do you do? One solution is to hang a lantern on it.

This is a topic that I heard on Writing Excuses. It was mentioned a few times, like in season 7 and a few others. I listened to a bunch on the long drives to Wyoming and Utah so the seasons blur after 10-20 hours of podcasts. But the point is, they are where I heard the term. Now what does it mean?

Hanging a Lantern
This is the act where a moment is in place in fiction/film/theater/etc where something could break the reader's willingness to suspend belief. There is something that doesn't seem accurate or believable but needs to be there anyways (or the creator wants it for any particular reason). Instead of doing it anyways and hoping for the best, this option means putting a light on it for a quick moment before moving on. Show the reader it is questionable, then move on from there.

Action scene where person does unbelievable tricks in order to survive, then looks back and asks how they managed to do that.

Shakespeare in a play mentioning that if something like that were to be done on a stage, the character would find it improbable.

Jeff Dunham in his act where he has the puppets point out what is required for them to talk and such. Or the Spanish scene where he doesn't "speak' the same language as them.

For more check out here:

What does this all mean for us?

Well, there are times when you don't want to lose the readers suspension of disbelief but there is that one element you want to keep. Instead of changing the story in order to make sure it all works on the right wave length, the option exists to hang a lantern on the issue. But there is probably a limit somewhere as to how much you can do in one story (pending genre and tone) unless you're writing Horror Movie 10.

I have one so far where I might use a lantern. It's a situation where a character really likes a type of movie but because of his past, he's sensitive to even things like fireworks going off. So, I struggled a bit with wanting to keep the character's medical/psychological issue in place but also not lose the way he meets the love interest. And in this case. It may just end up with him or someone pointing out that it's odd he likes those movies considering.  That is my lantern.

Okay this is one too, lol. A friend said the crane looked out of place but since it seemed fitting for this topic, I named the picture "Out of Place Crane". Nice lantern right? ;-)

What about you? 
Ever use a lantern (or lampshade) in a story?


Erin Kane Spock said...

Never heard the "hang a lantern" but I'm totally going to use it. Yes, in my last project, their entire relationship hinged on neither of them freaking out over being possessed and witnessing themselves have sex but not knowing what was going on. If you could get past that, the book was fine. Thing is, I wrote it and even I stopped and cocked a brow. Really? The fix was really simple, but I couldn't see the whole thing objectively enough to find a solution until almost a year after I finished it. I guess I hung a lantern on it. :)

Erin Kane Spock said...

btw, love the out of place crane. He really doesn't belong. Stick a red flag on his tail. :)

Dawn Embers said...

Thanks for the comments Erin Kane Spock. :-) Well, it's a lantern in your story in particular if the characters notice the implausible nature of it. Or that is how I understood the concept, at least.