Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How TV Teaches

When I was a kid, my father always said that TV would rot my brain. Back then, perhaps he was right, but fortunately, only part of my brain rotted. The rest is fairly intact. I know this because tonight, I had an epiphany. TV taught me something about writing.

I am a huge fan of The Blacklist. James Spader won me over when he played Daniel in Stargate back in 1994, one of the most awesomest movies EVER! But that aside, The Blacklist is wiping up the Monday night ratings.

Have you ever heard of a Lexical Ambiguity? Sure you have; you just didn’t know what it was. Don’t feel bad, neither did I. Of course, I’m hardly a bastion of grammatical knowledge. I will say that I’ve learned more in a few years as a writer than I ever learned in high school, but that should surprise no one, considering today’s high schools.

In the season finale of The Blacklist, several characters were engaged in dialogue as to the identity of the bad guy. There was a flashback to several suspects who all said the same thing about a passenger handcuffed to a guard in an aircraft who escaped after the plane crashed.

“He cut his hand off.”

How would you interpret that statement? There are two guys, one good, one bad, handcuffed together when the plane crashed. The bad guy escaped. The guard is in the hospital.

“He cut his hand off.”

Noun: Lexical Ambiguity – the ambiguity of an individual word or phrase that can be used (in different contexts) to express two or more different meanings.

So? Who cut whose hand off?

I run into this all the time in my writing. It’s confusing. Who did what to whom? There is no way to tell when out of context, and sometimes, even in context. So to get around this ambiguity, I use the character’s name on one side of the sentence so the reader doesn’t go … “Huh?”

See? TV doesn’t rot your brain. Well … not all of it.


And I’m not telling who did what to whom.

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