I’ve been saying this phrase a lot lately. And invariably, my brain helpfully supplies the rest of the line from Aladdin.
Hello My Imaginary Friends,
The Weditor and I were talking about genies the other night around 11pm while the Dragon roared herself to sleep. I’m sure that’s normal conversation for a married couple as they’re going to sleep right?
We were discussing how she had been surprised when a genie turned out to be malicious, and I really wasn’t. It’s not that I’m smarter (Hahaha, far from it). It’s that we were exposed to different kinds of genies. She was mostly exposed to Disney’s Aladdin and I Dream of Genie, while I spent my youth reading horror and adventure stories like Goosebumps and Bruce Coville. We’d been exposed to different Scripts for what it means to interact with a genie.
When I talk about Scripts, I’m talking about tiny stories and definitions that a writer doesn’t need to explain because the audience already knows them. It’s a form of shorthand that we use to create consistancy and fast paced narratives.
When someone reads Genie, they will assume certain things are true. (Eg. There’s a lamp, grants wishes, Middle Eastern origins, etc.) Scripts are extremely important and we use them all the time. Often when a character is alien to the main culture, them not knowing the Script is played for humour.
There’s an episode of Stargate SG1 where a character is telling the group they’ve been impregnated without having sex. When asked if they’d ever heard of anything like that one of the characters replies with, “Vader,” and a second replies with, “I was thinking of King Arthur,” to which a third character goes, “You were!?”
A virgin giving birth is a simple Script that we associate with Christian mythology. By naming other less known instances and avoiding it, the writers are playing with our expectations in a humorous way.
This subconscious use of Scripts is one of the biggest reasons that when you write you need to know your audience. Either while you’re writing or while you’re editing. Using an unfamiliar Script or a different version can not only throw someone out of the story, it can confuse them enough to stop reading.
Always make sure your stories go through multiple editors or beta readers and you’ll find how some people have no concept of certain kinds of Scripts, and others are so aware they think it’s obvious.
The next book of mine to be published is called The Sign of Faust and deals with a genie, D&D, and a lot of confusing wishes. It relies on the audience understanding certain fantasy Scripts. One of the editors had a little trouble at some points because they weren’t familiar with the Scripts, and because of that I made sure to explain a little more to avoid confusion.
I’ll talk more about Scripts and how they are similar but different from Clichés and Tropes in a later post.