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10/26/2005 - Larry Turman's Thoughts (No. 11)

A writing device I love is dramatic irony. That's when the audience knows something a character doesn't. It pulls an audience into the story. Rent the classic old comedy by Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve. It utilizes dramatic irony at least a half a dozen times to funny, involving advantage. That old master storyteller Hitchcock said, "Suspense is nearly always better than surprise." In fairness, suspense was the genre he owned. The best example is: a guy is running along, slips on a banana peel, and takes a fall. A funny surprise. But, if that same man is running along, then we show the audience the banana peel, back to the man running as he gets closer, back to the banana peel, then back to the man who slips and falls. That's suspense. It involves the audience in a more direct way, for a longer time. It's also an illustration of dramatic irony. We the audience know about the banana peel, while the character doesn't. In that case, you get two for the price of one.

At the end of Charlie Chaplin's great City Lights we the audience know the blind flower girl he befriended can now see thanks to him having lovingly paid for an operation, unbeknownst to her. Blind before, she never knew what Chaplin looked like, so when she now sees him, she of course does not recognize him as her benefactor. Then they touch and she realizes it was he who earlier befriended her. But until they touch, I, and I'll bet the whole audience (my students), was leaning forward, using body English, silently shouting "He's the guy! He saved you! He loves you!" It's heartbreaking and wonderful even though they do not get together at the end.


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