Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Name Your Poison

Date: 01 Sep 2006

Chris wrote:

". . . when Scudder takes an interest in a second case in any one of the books, there's sort of a here-we-go-again moment where anyone who's read a mystery before knows that the two cases will be connected. That may not be real or true-to-life, but the character of Scudder has those qualities as down those mean streets he goes."

This kind of relates to some ideas I've been thinking about lately, about the separation between the fictional world and the reader's world. The reader has a certain genre knowledge (and expectations) that the characters presumably don't (unless it's some sort of reflexive exercise). So certain things will immediately alert the knowledgeable reader, like your example of Scudder's cases always dovetailing or, a favorite of mine, if a corpse is unidentifiable at first, it's never who it's assumed to be, the Laura model. So a reader sometimes jumps ahead of a protagonist. When that happens, the writer must make it understandable that the protagonist doesn't know what seems so obvious to the reader and the reader must suspend disbelief and make allowances for it not being so obvious in the fictional world.

Peter Abrahams took this separtion between reader and character to an extreme in Oblivion, where a tumor leads to the hero's losing all knowledge of a case he had been working on and having to reinvestigate it, so the reader is way ahead of the detective, "remembers" a lot of information the hero has lost. Unfortunately, the who that dunnit is so painfully obvious to anyone familiar with the genre that I had trouble sustaining interest.

Of course, a good writer can make this work for him/herself. This separation can be used to build suspense -- I just read a well handled open door scene where the reader's expectation of the corpse built suspense until that corpse was found. Or it can be used to surprise -- I recently read a book with a corpse that took some time to identify; I was so sure it was not who everyone thought it was, kept waiting for
"Laura" to reappear, that I was surprised when it actually was who it was supposed to be.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it's been on my mind lately.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 01 Sep 2006 EDT