Firefly Friday – Keeping Foreshadowing in the Shadows, guest post by Jim Ross

Today we have a guest blogger for Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip using the TV Show Firefly to help illustrate. This is my first guest blogger, so am excited! He’s a regular commenter on the Firefly Friday posts and graciously agreed to write a post for me. Thank you Jim Ross!

Jim Ross is a prolific reader who recently decided it was about time he tried his hand at writing. On his blog (www.jimrosswriting.wordpress.com) he is slowly working through the world-building for his first novel. He lives in Cambridge, UK and is a big fan of sci fi/fantasy, martial arts and cheesy films – the cringeworthier, the better. He enjoys kayaking, nature programmes, and is currently being distracted by Mass Effect. Again.

You’ve all seen it before. The hero appears to be disarmed but then pulls out a gun from the ankle holster that hasn’t been mentioned until now. The villain grabs the heroine in an attempt to use her as a human shield, only for her to throw him to the floor and put him in a complex arm-lock, despite having shown no previous knowledge of martial arts. Events like this will shake a reader’s immersion in the story, and it’s so easy to avoid. Perhaps earlier on the heroine mentioned that her father was in the military and wanted his girls to be able to take care of themselves? Even James Bond gets a quick run-through of what curiously specific gadgets he has available before they invariably come in useful later in the film. Openly setting things up in advance runs the risk of revealing the plot too early though. Foreshadowing works best when you hide it.

While it has an underlying plot, Firefly’s mainly a show of stand-alone episodes. Consequently, most of the foreshadowing of events happens in the same programme. River muttering “Two by two, hands of blue” in The Train Job sounds like crazy Riverspeak, and only takes on its full significance when we see the two sinister, blue-gloved agents searching for her at the end of the episode. In Shindig, Kaylee admiring the dress in the shop window looks like a bit of world-building and character-building for her and Zoe until she gets to wear the dress to the ball and when, in Safe, Captain Reynolds jokes to Simon “Don’t worry, we won’t leave you behind”, it feels like just the sort of thing he’d normally say – and then events force him to do just that.

Disguising the foreshadowing stops you from giving away the rest of the show.

Unusually though, Firefly also hides some foreshadowing that crosses the episode boundary.  For example, when the port compression coil fails in Out of Gas, on first watching I thought it came from out of the blue.  Certainly they hadn’t mentioned it recently.  When I rewatched the series though, it’s there right in the pilot.  When they land on Persephone, Kaylee asks for a new one, saying “if the compression coil busts, we’re drifting.”  In the next episode, The Train Job, we see her makeshift repair: “Were there monkeys? Some terrifying space monkeys that maybe got loose?” “…someone won’t replace the crappy compression coil!” It gets put away and enough episodes go by for the viewer to forget, and then… BANG!  They’re drifting, just as Kaylee said they would be all that time ago.

Then you have Shepherd Book.  In the first episode he disarms and knocks out a Fed in seconds, yet this clear indication of his fighting ability isn’t mentioned again until War Stories, where he displays impressive knee-capping skills with a rifle. Perhaps he has a reputation in some circles for being skilful – in Objects in Space, Jubal Early makes sure to drop him with the first strike before remarking “That ain’t a Shepherd.” All the other crew Early intimidates or beats up quite easily.  Perhaps he knew that Book would be a more formidable opponent? And just why did Book’s ident card get him preferential treatment on the Alliance cruiser in Safe?

We don’t get answers in the series, but perhaps that’s part of the reason Firefly became such a cult success. There are so many unanswered questions that make you want to know more, and the hidden hints to the future prompt you to speculate about how things might turn out. Why not try hiding your foreshadowing behind world-building or character development and seeing what a difference it makes? A bit of leftover mystery might even sell the sequel for you…

Have you noticed any other foreshadowing in Firefly done well?

Firefly Friday – Flip that Cliché, a writing tip

Last Friday I wrote a blog post on the spur of the moment – Writing Lessons from the TV Show Firefly - in which I talked about some of the common writing tips, especially in openings, that are well illustrated in the pilot of the cult TV Show Firefly.

I’m still getting my blog feet wet (ooh, dang, the water’s cold!) but one thing I know I won’t get tired of writing about, and that’s this show. That post has gotten the most traffic and comments so far, so I thought I’d try to do this weekly and call it Firefly Friday. I know there are other writers out there who are fans as well, so please feel free to view the comments section as your space too, to expound further!

Today, I thought I’d focus on cliché’s in writing, and how we can turn that cliché into something fresh, funny and/or unexpected. How to do that? Flip it! and flip it good! (okay, was I the only one that sang Devo’s Whip It there?)

What this means is to use a cliché and bring it right up to the point where the reader is expecting the typical ending, and then surprise them with a completely different outcome. The show’s creator, Joss Whedon, and his team of writers were very good at this.

Here’s a scene near the end of Train Job, which was the first show to air on TV, and so was the pilot, but was actually the second episode (Don’t get me started!). Mal, the captain, (in the brown duster) has turned against the person who hired them (for an excellent reason) and so is about to give the henchman (with the face tats) the money back:

Here we have the henchman giving a very melodramatic cliché speech (delivered very well), and I know when I first watched it I thought, okay, so this guy’s going to be the main guy’s nemesis for the rest of the series, and then wham!

Here’s another example, this time in Shindig, written by Jane Espenson. Mal has just won a sword duel against a superior (in skill) opponent. His supporters tell him he should finish off the opponent and why. Mal responds “Mercy is the mark of a great man,” but then watch what he says and does next:

Both scenes still get chuckles out of me. But they also illuminate character, so they don’t just serve as opportunities to get in a chuckle.

I’m sure there are more scenes in Firefly that illustrate this. What are your favorites? Have you taken a cliché in your own writing and flipped it? Share it below!

EDIT: For more on making clichés work for you, see Janice Hardy’s post You Spin Me Round: Making Clichés Work for You