Mixed Signals

I am in Hong Kong at the moment, and on our first day here, my husband noticed this display, and I couldn’t help but take a photograph. Touch Media with a Do Not Touch sign on the display. LOL!

I love certain kinds of mixed signals, dislike other kinds.

The kind I love is when reading a book or watching a movie a character is saying one thing, and meaning another. Or thinking they mean one thing, but their body language is saying something totally different. It adds a wonderful tension to the scene. Will the other people pick up what we as the reader / viewer can see, or will they take what the character says at face value.

The kind I dislike is usually author intervention, when we are told one thing, but shown another. One book that springs to mind is the author saying over and over how intelligent his main character was, and then she did stupid thing after stupid thing, until eventually I stopped believing it. That’s reader or viewer dissonance, in my book. When two things are mutually exclusive, your brain has to pick one, and it won’t be believing the character is intelligent.

One of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett, does mixed signals so well. The character of Lord Vetinari in particular is good at saying one thing, and meaning the opposite. It’s a hard thing to pin down, but if you have a great mixed signals scene you can think of, let me know. If not, what do you think of mixed signals?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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5 Responses to Mixed Signals

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Ha! Great photo! It looks like you’re in a shiny place with lots of stores. Hope you’re having a great time. :)

    I’m a big fan of subtext, which I think is a close cousin of mixed signals – especially used as irony. This isn’t irony, but I recently read a story where the heroine kept saying she didn’t need help, though it was clear that she did. In this case, she might have died if he’d listened to her, so though I believe in strong heroines, I’m not sure how admirable it was. But of course he did help her – which was a turning point and the scene’s purpose.

  2. Misty Evans says:

    I love characters who give off mixed signals. I recently watched No Strings Attached and enjoyed it because there were lots of mixed signals from the beginnng to the end. And the motivations behind those mixed signals were believable.

    Have a good time in Hong Kong!

  3. Amy R says:

    I think as humans we are always giving off mixed signals. We are polite to people even if we are upset or angry about something or say we are okay when we really aren’t. Sometimes we want to be someone that we are not, so why should it be different for characters in books, right? I think mixed signals only make the characters more human and real to us. Hope you are enjoying your time in Hong Kong!

  4. How wonderful that you get to visit Hong Kong, Michelle! I hope you’re having a fabulous time ;).
    As for mixed signals/subtext, I think Jane Austen did that really well in all of her books, especially Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion. I love it when a character is written so well (like Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliot) that we, as readers, get to see them analyzing the behavior vs. the dialogue of another character and recognizing that the things that character said didn’t match his/her actions (like Mr. Wickham or like Anne’s hypocondriac sister).
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Winners & Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts!

  5. Liz Kreger says:

    Hope you’re enjoying Hong Kong, Michelle. I thought it was a fascinating (yet confusing) city the one time we were there. Certainly a different world.

    I enjoy mixed signals … when I get them. Sometimes they just fly over my head and I miss it completely. Very sad.

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