In the Writer’s Glossary today…
Hang a Lantern on It
This is a trick writers (especially screenwriters) use to draw attention to a plot inconsistency or credibility breach, rather than hiding it. We all have those moments when we just need there to be an escape route or that certain character needs to be in a certain place at a certain time, but it’s out of character or stretches the credibility a bit. Well, that’s when you ‘hang a lantern on it’.
I know I quote Joss Whedon a lot, but he’s the master of this trick. In the last Avengers film Age of Ultron, cornered in the midst of battle, Scarlet Witch has a crisis of faith and Hawkeye’s pep talk is, “the city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense. But I go out there because it’s my job.” It gets a laugh and it gets the audience on side and moves the plot on.
In another example, I’m currently reading our very own Martine’s Blightspawn. At one point, the protagonist is looking for an escape route from a room, and when she finds one she says, “a secret door? Seriously?”. A classic ‘hang a lantern on it’ moment.
Remember last week’s ‘info dump’? Well, you can ‘hang a lantern’ on those too with a simple “You guys don’t get out much” type quip, when one character has to explain something to another. It’s a way of saying to your readers “I know this is a stretch or I realise this is an info dump, let’s laugh about it knowingly and move on.”
Be warned, you can’t use this technique to hide major plot holes. If you’re reading group has a little niggle about something, it could be time to pull out this trick. However, if it’s a major lapse in logic, then you’ve got to go back and fix it because no amount of lanterns will help.
Which terms would you like featured in the Writer’s Glossary? Let me know in the comments and I’ll put them in future posts.