Compensations For Compensations

In many ways these four techniques of displacement and misdirection contradict the eight methods of putting your curse right up front and toughing it through with all the compensations possible, which I discussed earlier.

I'd tend to use misdirection in situations of gradual revelation, when a mystery is involved and finding out the exact nature of the curse is the basis of the story (as in The Hound of the Basker-villes). I'd also use it when a melodramatic element is so outrageous that it needs considerable preparation, or when I wanted the reader to be expecting one thing when in fact I was planning to pull a switch (a satisfying, valid one, remember).

But, really, these are mix and match techniques—especially if your story is going to be novel-length. You may want to use one of the straightforward techniques early in the novel and some of the double-fakes later on, or the other way around. It depends on what you're trying to do in each particular section of your story.

And just as there are all sorts of melodrama—of events and of characters—these techniques can be used to prepare for and "take the curse off" any strong element in your story, whatever it be.

If the strong element is a very complex prose style, you may want to balance it with vivid, direct happenings and simplified, exaggerated characters, the way Faulkner often does. If it's a lot of unavoidable and concentrated exposition, as often happens in mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy, melodrama may come to your rescue, keeping the story moving until the necessary explanations are done.

Melodrama can be a compensation for any narrative element which tends to distract attention from the story and the characters. It's so strong that it's impossible to ignore, and the story falls back into an effective balance between showing and telling.

But melodrama, in turn, needs compensation because the reality it presents is so exaggerated and intense. Whether you choose techniques of straightforward preparation or buried preparation, you can use melodrama to show a heightened reality even truer than our more mixed and muddled everyday existence, where things seldom show as clearly what they are and what they mean as fiction can, and life is seldom so interesting and exciting as a story.

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