Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where's Waldo?

You know, the concept of the Where’s Waldo seek-and-finds is so very simple: find Waldo, Wenda, Odlaw, Wizard Whitebeard, and Woof, along with their missing objects. That’s it. Just find them. I mean, they’re wearing bright red stripes, for heaven’s sake (except for Odlaw, who prefers the bumblebee look).

The problem with this, as thousands of children (and college students) have figured out is that everyone in a Where’s Waldo book is wearing red stripes.

I mean it. Suddenly, red stripes are as trendy as…oh, who am I kidding? I don’t know anything trendy to put in this analogy. I don’t even know if the word trendy is trendy.

The point is, in a Where’s Waldo book, people are wearing candy-striped ties, tights, jackets, canes, capes…practically anything you can think of. So your eyes dart every which-way, trying to land on a familiar face and wishing like anything that Waldo had thought to bring a cell phone so he and the rest of his group could stick together for once.

For those of you who read this waiting to see how I connect my early paragraphs with writing, there are three ways this post could go. (Maybe I’m wrong in assuming that people do this because that’s what I do when I read what others write. I also try to predict what pastors are going to put in the blanks of their fill-in-the-blank notes.)

Way #1: I could talk specifically about mystery stories, and how if you’re trying to hide something, you should put it in plain sight, and distract the reader from noticing it by treating it like it’s perfectly normal. Kind of a red-and-white-striped herring.

Way #2: I could go on a minor rant about clichés. In this case, I don’t really mean overused phrases, but plot devices. You know, every Christian romance with a woman looking into the distance on the cover. There’s a fine line between following conventions of a genre and making your story predictable and generic. Most people can’t pull off breaking all the rules of a genre (a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but fiction can easily become a landmine of trite clichés, like you’re checking things off a list of “Top Gadgets Every Sci-Fi Must Have” or “Cruel Actions Meant to Make the Reader Hate the Villain.” (Hmm…that last one sounds like a future blog post. Dibs.)

Way #3: I could apply this more specifically to character development by talking about how characters shouldn’t look and sound like each other. One exercise that can be helpful with this is taking a page or two of your story where there’s a lot of dialogue and converting it into stage play format. Then look at the script and think about whether any of the lines could be given to another random character. Unless every phrase could only be said by the character who says it, you don’t have it right yet.

But wait! There’s another option. Suppose the writer of this blog just really likes Where’s Waldo books and decided to write a blog post about them, assuming that nearly any everyday object could be turned into a metaphor for the writing process. And that writer decided to write out a list of possible ways to turn Where’s Waldo into a meaningful and memorable post, then couldn’t decide which one she liked best. So she found a sneaky way to include all of them.

Maybe that could be a possibility too.

Has this completely damaged my credibility as a blog writer? Probably, because now you know that I’m writing by the seat of my pants (which, speaking of clichés, what on earth does that one mean?).

Do I care that this completely damaged my credibility as a blog writer? Not really. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stop writing this and check out a Where’s Waldo from the library.


  1. Seat of the pants. I bet it's from horse-back riding -- like riding bareback vs. riding in a saddle, because if you're riding bareback and not an Indian, it's probably because you're in a hurry to get somewhere (or away from something) so you didn't have time to get a saddle and you didn't plan ahead so you don't have a saddle.

    I think I figured it out.


  2. "Early aviation parlance" for using gut judgment rather than instrumentation.