Writer’s Glossary: Hang a Lantern on It

In the Writer’s Glossary today…

Hang a Lantern on It

The Avengers Hang a Lantern on it

What is that? I think it’s…a credibility breach

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.

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2 thoughts on “Writer’s Glossary: Hang a Lantern on It

  1. I like this technique, but I’d argue it needs a light touch. I’ve seen it used for evil rather than good. I know of several instances in which derivativeness has been played off with characters acknowledging the similarity of their actions to those of a pre-existing fiction, the most galling example of which was a cartoon I remember watching as a child. In it, characters were up against aliens that could change shape. In one scene, an alien was frozen, shattered, pooled together, and reformed, rising out of the floor as a blob only to then take its proper form. One of the protagonists spouted something like “shades of terminator” and the plot moved forward. That was a couple of years after Terminator 2 had come out and the film was obviously at the forefront of the screenwriters’ minds when they penned that scene.

    As you say, sometimes no amount of lanterns will fix an issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point. Yes, definitely less is more, even if you’re good at funny, like Joss Whedon. Plus you’ve got to make sure it’s appropriate for the tone of the story. Ideally, you should fix any logic or credibility issues. I don’t think anyone should write a scene with the intention of needing to hang a lantern, as in the example you quote – that’s just lazy writing.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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