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Meta: The Noodle Incident

Written for a challenge over at tv_universe where we were asked to create a written entry, centered on a missing or filler scene. This can be fanfic, poetry, meta, etc. I choose to write a meta on a trope called “The Noodle Incident”.

The trope name comes from Calvin and Hobbes:

Hobbes: What about the noodle incident?
Calvin: No one can prove I did that!

In TV Tropes the trope of “The Noodle Incident” falls under the missing scenes umbrella and it’s one of my favorite tropes, not only when it’s used in shows (believe it or not) but it’s one of my favorite tropes to use in my writing.

There are some people who consider it lazy writing and I know that a great many fans are often upset when a seemingly awesome scene isn’t shown. I don’t see it that way, however, in my mind “Noodle Incidents” give the viewers ownership in the show in a way that actually depicting the scene cannot.

In order for this to work, though, four things have to be true:

1) It has to be very specific so it can be referenced in as few words as possible.

By having it be something very specific but yet very terse, the writer is able to reference the “incident” often and quickly without it being confused with something that may have actually been shown to the audience. For example: “Have you forgotten about the clown car?” is perfect. “Clown Car” is very specific; it has a lot of different aspects and connotations that go along with it. Once the “incident” has been introduced to the audience, it can be brought up easily again because “clown car” or “noodle incident” isn’t something that isn’t normally in a story.

2) It has to provide few details as possible.

Once the specific thing has been introduced (i.e. “clown car”, “noodle” or “purple dingy”) there can be no other details given. In fact, adding more detail will just diminish the power of the reference.

Character one: Come on. When have I ever been that gullible?
Character two: I have two words for you – clown car.

All we have established is that gullible and clown car somehow go together. That’s it. There’s no need to add anything else to it. In fact, adding details will just add problems and derail the story.

3) The “incident” needs to be kept between as few people as possible.

Incident’s, like secrets, are best kept between two people. The more people that know about it, the harder it will be to keep it quiet. In fact, as secret, it is best that there are other people who do not know what it’s about. That gives the reader a direct POV in the story.

Character one: Come on. When have I ever been that gullible?
Character two: I have two words for you – clown car.
Character one: Hey, I didn’t here you complaining at the time…
Character three: Clown car?
Character two: Yeah, probably best not to talk about it.

This is especially helpful if character three is usually in the know. The mystery deepens and the reader understands that it’s something that they really aren’t supposed to know about yet.

4) It also has to happen prior to the beginning of the show or the introduction of the characters.

By having it before the start of the show/story – rather than something that happened off-screen – it doesn’t let the reader feel cheated. When things happen off-screen the writer always runs the risk of having the reader feel that they should have gotten some really cool scene that the writer just didn’t care to write. Now in film and TV, there could be a problem with money and time and so they really can’t film the scene, so they just show the aftermath. It could be true in writing, too, when there are word or space limitations.

Having it be before the show also reinforces the thought that the “noodle incident” isn’t important to the plot, that it’s not a McGuffin that is being tossed in to be a driving part of the show or plot or character development. Anything that important needs to be shown, not just mentioned.

When done right, the readers/viewers get to take that little off-hand comment and make it their own. They get to fill in all the details as they think they should be done. They get to infuse the situation with their own impressions of the characters and their own preferences of what is funny or sad or whatever.

In my example, a reader or viewer who sees Character One as fairly gullible will have a completely different view of the incident than someone who sees Character One as someone who is never gullible.

Allowing those different views is extremely important for a writer. Sure, a writer always tries to make sure that the character they have created is presented in a specific way, but if you are too specific you limit the person experiences that different reader bring. You limit how much they can identify with the characters. You limit their ownership in the characters.

When you do that, you lose your readers.

It’s one of the reasons why fanfic that is supposed to explain the incident is often seen as divisive within the fandom.

Take, for example, the line in the first episode of Supernatural where Sam says to Dean: When I told Dad I was scared of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45!

There’s been quite a bit of fic written trying to explain that line and each one of them is colored by the attitudes and preferences of the fanfic writer. As a fanfic writer, we can afford to lose some readers. After all, we’re writing for ourselves and for those readers who share our views. As long as we like the fic, it doesn’t matter how many people read it.

Writers of the show -- or any original fiction for that matter -- are better off not ever explaining the incident. For Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson never explained “The Noodle Incident”. He said he decided against ever stating what happened, as he figured nothing he could come up with would be as outrageous as what the readers thought happened.


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Jul. 9th, 2014 05:14 am (UTC)
This is great! Never would have occurred to me to go meta, but I really enjoyed your insights on this trope.
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