Facebook-economy conundrum: How many likes is a comment worth? How many to a share? Do you count likes on shared content as well? Do I give away more likes than I get? Am I a loser or a winner? Or do you even count likes? Do you only count shares? God! I think I’m a loser!
In literature, there is a concept called to place “a bear on the beach.”
The origin of the expression is said to come from a silent film where the director wanted a couple of lovers to kiss on a beach, but in order to keep the kiss scenes from being boring, the director cut in shots of a bear on the same beach. The audience waited breathlessly for the kissing couple to discover the bear.
The technique of placing a bear on the beach is about displaying a threat or future problem that the characters are not aware of. This problem or threat then creates tension and makes it possible to lower the pace some and go into important details such as the background of novel characters, details of the story world or other background information.
You’re able to slow down the tempo without reducing the tension.
The reader knows that the threat is there and every delay until the confrontation becomes like pushing a needle against a balloon that refuses to burst.
The difference between placing a bear on the beach and letting the protagonist confront the bear is that when the protagonist does not know about the threat, it is possible to do other things than to wrestle with the bear.
Examples of “a bear on the beach”
The antagonist plans to kidnap, rob or murder the protagonist, while the protagonist is happily and ignorantly going through their everyday life.
The protagonist has tea with the killer, plans to go on a date with the killer, or visit the psychopath in his cabin in the forest for an exclusive interview.
Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs can be seen as a bear on the beach. Somewhere we understand that if he will continue to be imprisoned throughout the book, he will become a rather flat character. Will he get out, or will Clarice stumble into his cage? As the book progresses, Harris spreads more and more details about Hannibal’s ruthlessness, increasing the tension more and more.
In general, situations where the reader knows that the protagonist is unaware of a dangerous person or situation can be an example of “a bear on the beach.” Or the protagonist is entering a situation that is dangerous, preferably by deliberately planning to do something that for the protagonist does not seem so dangerous.
To consider when using “a bear on the beach”
This technique can create excruciating excitement if used properly, but there are a few things to pay attention to.
The more the reader is aware of the antagonist’s plans, the more urgent it is that the protagonist also becomes aware of these. Otherwise, there is a risk that the protagonist is perceived as stupid. But, if you want to do comics, there may also be one point in that.
However, this problem can be remedied with some subtlety. You don’t have to show the whole bear on the beach. Maybe it’s enough with fresh bear tracks? When the bear is more subtle, it becomes more ambiguous what is actually going on. It is not at all as obvious that the protagonist should know exactly what is going on because the reader may not be sure of it.
For example, we never get to know which flight plans Hannibal Lecter has in Silence of the Lambs. We never hear his thoughts and it is just before the flight that we understand that he is about to put his plan into action. Even then, Harris pushes the story even further, all the time not revealing more than that a deadly psychopath is about to escape.
Using a bear on the beach can definitely draw out the excitement, but it must be done with finesse. Just because you have a bear on the beach does not mean that you can spend page up and down with backstories, information dumping or other prose that lacks action. The story still has to move! But it can move at a somewhat slower pace.
At the doctor’s office
Doctor: We’ve found a shadow on your MRI. We can’t be sure exactly what it is before we operate, and that operation will be painful, but there is a very high risk this is a malignant tumor. You could die!
Patient: What are we waiting for! Let’s act now!
At the IPCC
Scientist: We’ve found some very disturbing links between carbon dioxide emissions and temperature rise. We recommend immediate action, even if that action will be painful. Temperature rise is bad news and there is a very high risk that several hundreds of millions of people will die if we do nothing.
Politician: Let’s wait and see what happens.
Now swap the answers!
Do you trust a politician that has not been able to do what must be done when hundreds of millions of lives are at stake, but will (if they are wired like any sane person) risk suffering to save their own life?
If the black boxes almost always survive a crash why aren’t the whole airplane made of the same material?
Because then it wouldn’t be an airplane. It would be an entirely different type of vehicle.
In fact, this type:
A: I don’t give a damn about your problems! This must be delivered this week!
B punches A in the face.
A: What the hell are you doing?
B: You just gave me such an urge to jump in front of a train when you said that, so I acted in self-defense…
A: I don’t get UFO-skeptics. They seem to say we’ve never been visited by aliens from other planets… but hey! Mexicans!
B: They are from Mexico.
B: Mexico isn’t another planet.
A: It isn’t?!
So, I’m carving out my manifesto, but I’ve hit a snag: should I go for a millennial kingdom, a kingdom that lasts for 2000 years or just keep it eternal? 3000? 5000? How many millennials do you usually need?
(I wonder what StackExchange would do if I asked them that… :o)
Remember in the old days when someone really rude didn’t want to talk to you? They’d push their hand in your face telling you to “talk to the hand.”
The modern equivalent of this, performed by every company on the web?
Talk to the Form.
You click on the “Start a Chat” button and get a search form. You type your question there and get a search result (duh!) Or you click on links until you reach a dead-end page with some generally worded advice equivalent to “have you made sure the power cable is attached properly?”
And then the company has “satisfied” your needs.
It is soooo great. And ssssoooo cheap.
I’m sure some types of managers are getting their rocks off right now. Good for them.