Hey! Listen!

Have you ever played a Zelda game, specifically Ocarina of Time?

If you have, you know how annoying Navi can be. (Hey! Listen!)

Don’t watch the whole video. It’ll drive you crazy.

For those of you don’t know, Navi is the main character’s guiding fairy/guardian angel/annoying pseudo parental figure. Whenever there’s something she thinks you need to know, she says, “Hey! Listen!” and you have no choice but to do so. It’s maddening because she does it often, occasionally she repeats things, and her info-dumps detract from the action of the game.

Sometimes writers do this too. You want your reader to pick up on something important about a character, so you spell it out for them. And then three chapters, you spell it out again. And again. And again.

Why do we do this? Sometimes it’s something really important about the character. Sometimes we think it’s too subtle for the readers. Sometimes we forget that we already did it once.

My main character in Shaken is an alcoholic. I never come out and say it, especially because the book is told from her point of view, and she would never say, “Hey, I drink too much.” No, I just show her drinking coffee from the thermos she carries. She drinks from it several times in a chapter. Awhile later, she mentions that the coffee is laced with whiskey.

This isn’t a great example because I’m being vague.

Okay, let’s play ‘Bash Twilight.’ Sorry. It’s been done, and I know we’re all tired of doing it, but it’s an easy example. And, yes, I’m about to reveal just how much I know about the Twilight series. Let the shaming commence.

In the final book, Carlisle gives Bella a long speech about how the immortal children  (human babies turned vampire) were Very Bad. They killed people, had no control, and ultimately bought their makers a nonnegotiable ticket to an irrevocable death by dismembering and burning.

This speech is revealed in retrospective: a conversation Bella had awhile ago with Carlisle about yet another character’s back story. Bella then has a dream about these evil babies.

This is the author smacking us in the face at the beginning of the book: THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER ON.

We get it. These kids are scary–but how about letting us decide that for ourselves? Show us what they look like, show us how they act, let them scare us, but don’t tell us to pay attention to something revealed out of context. Work it into the action.

And before you start nagging me in the comments, I know why Meyers did it, that the books are meant for perhaps a less sophisticated audience, et cetera. It’s still a poorly used plot device.

Have you seen other examples of an author playing Navi? Have you done it yourself? I know I have.

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3 thoughts on “Hey! Listen!

  1. I Used to do it all the time. I like to think as I’ve grown as a writer I’ve become more skilled and subtle, but that’s not for me to decide. The point is – my first novel? Sometimes, it reads like a textbook on the world. I did a lot of world-building, and while writing tried to include everything. The narration should pause everything to talk about the nesting habits of a particular bird, and its diet, and so on. But that was years ago.

    I’m better now, I hope.

    Anyway, The Ocarina of time is my favorite LoZ game.

  2. I like that they changed the fairy to a bell in Majora’s Mask, a game that’s amazing. The first time I played it, I wasn’t impressed with the time limit until I learned that I don’t have to do everything over and over again. In fact, I highly recommend playing it due to its character-driven nature and themes. Ocarina is good, too, but MM just seems more… deep. 🙂

    This post reminds me of the literary device “Chekov’s Gun” which alludes to something irrelevant is introduced very early only to have it turn out to be more significant than it is. Sometimes, it’s subtle and a fantastic author can make you realize “HOLY SH!T” when they use it, making the reader as surprised as the characters.

    Other times, they fail miserably and you know the twist because it’s so heavy handed. I’m reminded of an episode of an anime that was titled “THE DEATH OF .” What the hell, people? I would never have known this character would die in the episode but you just had to go and tell me before it even started! COME ON!!

  3. One of the biggest lessons a writer can learn is to trust the reader — I think that’s where a lot of the fear they won’t get something comes from. The more writers let go and just tell the story well, the more those little subtleties just arise out of the words on their own.

    Of course, I think all of us go through that period of “Hey! Listen!” 😀

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