Writer Wednesday: Hanging Flags

It’s Wednesday and that means a special post for all you writers out there. Woohoo!

Lately I’ve been enjoying the wit of comedian Jim Gaffigan. He’s clean and several of his routines are on Netflix, which is a double bonus for those like me that need something funny to unwind to after a long day and can’t exactly head out to a club. Babysitters are expensive.

Once of Jim’s signature elements in his routine is that he will insert his own criticisms into the flow of the joke. You know it’s coming because he turns to the side and impersonates a generic grandma from the audience, I imagine his mother. It is these asides that make his routines unique and even funnier than if he did a straight up routine. It is also a brilliant way to draw more attention to the joke itself and make it even funnier.

While watching, it got me thinking about using “flags” to point out things in a story that are either out of character or perhaps a little strange for your world.  It’s for when you break one of your own rules in your world, you need to “hang a flag” on it to ensure your reader knows that you are aware you just broke one of your own rules.

I’m not talking about the laws of the land. When we hang flags it’s more to show a break from the normal for that world or that character. Say your character always orders a cheeseburger when they go out and then out of the blue gets the chicken sandwich. That would merit a flag, something should be said to explain the break in the norm. Maybe he’s going through a break up and they ate cheeseburgers on their first date. Maybe he’s found out that his cholesterol is out of control. Maybe the last time he ate a cheeseburger he found a dirty band-aid under the patty.

If we didn’t say something about the change in the norm we’d be missing out on giving that character a little extra depth.

Flagging is for intentional rule breaks. If a rule is set in a world and unintentionally broken it needs to be fixed. Often it is a way to inject humor or to push a plot point in a different direction.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to have rules in your world or for your characters and you find that you have to break those rules, you have to either point it out or fix it.

Happy Writing!

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