In Trite Tropes we revisit the classic gimmicks used by writers of every medium, discuss why they were great, why they’re not anymore, and how to make them fresher.
We’ve all watched a movie or TV show where someone, because they’re either angry, drunk, or an angry drunk, make a fuss and wakes the baby. This scene is especially effective at manipulating the emotions of the viewer for two reasons: first, it directs our anger towards one character while eliciting sympathy for the other, and second, it allows the writer to stop the scene at exactly the right moment.
And it works.
But it’s bullshit.
When a baby starts crying you don’t say, “Oh no, now you woke the baby.” You say, “Mother of God, you rat bastard fuckface, now I’m going to stab you in the eye,” because when someone wakes your baby it’s like getting kicked in the testicles by a mule. If you have three testicles. And the mule’s a cyborg. I’m not kidding. I don’t care what the problem is: alien invasion, bank foreclosing on the farm, or zombie Jehovah’s Witnesses, now they’re all exponentially worse because we’ve added a wailing infant to the mix.
And that’s no small thing. Unlike the Terminator, a T-Rex, or a madman with a gun an angry baby can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be cajoled. It can only be rocked, rocked, rocked until it’s asleep or you’ve been embraced by the loving arms of madness. So the next time you see a couple fight on TV, and one of them wakes the baby, just realize if it was accurate the other person would brain them with a tire iron.
So what’s a writer to do if they want to avoid the cliche but still get the benefits that ‘waking the baby’ provides? Easy. Have the character you want disliked kick another person’s puppy. The smaller and cuter the better.
Yeah, it’s awful, and I feel bad suggesting it, but it’ll do the trick for reasons I don’t even have to explain (though I will). Instantly the viewer knows which character’s bad and which one’s good, just like when we wake the baby, but their redemption will involve something believable, like petting a sad puppy until it’s happy, as opposed to calming a crying baby, which is harder than drilling a kraken’s cavity.