It’s been a while since we’ve sat back and talked about a writing trope or two. With that in mind, let’s take a casual day today and talk about an interesting bit of trope-y-ness: the Noodle Incident. Sometimes known as the Throwaway Backstory Event, a Noodle Incident (NI for the remainder of this article) is some piece of past history a character in a piece refers to, but never elaborates on, usually with the implication that the event was too ridiculous, unbelievable, or over the top to need to be elaborated on. Whatever the reason for doing so, the NI remains a point of untouched history and, in a long series, may be referenced multiple times.
In its most basic form, if not overused, the NI can serve as a point of off-handed humor, as it is usually used in reaction to some other mind-blowing event happening in the work itself, in a sort of ‘Oh no, not again’ fashion. It also helps invest the reader’s imagination, as a well-timed NI makes them go on flights of fancy, trying to figure out what exactly the NI was. The primary danger in using a NI like this is the one that most tropes suffer from, simple overuse.
Unless shooting for absolute absurdity (which can be done well, of course), you can only invoke NIs so many times. Go to the well too many times and the reader will stop wondering about the NIs themselves and wonder if you, the author, has any actual story to tell. Remember, this trope requires that suspension of disbelief to work. The reader likely knows that you have no concrete idea of what the NI actually was, but part of the fun is in them thinking that you do and thus guessing at it, investing them in your narrative and characters.
Another interesting use of the NI that is less often talked about is the sense of history a NI can invoke, especially common history among characters. We’ve talked about the need to instill history in narratives before, the feel that two friends, for instance, have actually known each other for a long time. The best way to do this is, of course, well-written characterization, but a NI that is in their common history can help as well. It can provide another point of commonality to link them, as well as providing a mutual incident that they can both react to in the past, showing how they react either similarly or differently to an identical situation.
Most of all, it just feels natural. Don’t most friends and families have things that happened, mutual stories, that they don’t have to retell in whole to understand? A quick reference and everyone is nodding about the inside incident, while the rest of the room is scratching their heads. That’s a real life NI!
So consider adding some noodles to your pot in your next story! It might just make the soup that much more flavorful! As always, if you have critiques, comments, or questions, leave them below. Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!