Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Mysteries of Pacing Part 5 How Fast Can A Character Arc

Mysteries of Pacing
Part 5
How Fast Can A Character Arc?

Previous parts in this series:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 - where we discussed the TV Series Outlander

Part 4 Story Pacing

In Part 4 we talked about Story Pacing, using the term Story to represent what is going on inside the Characters, and Plot to represent the events going on outside the Character.

The Story is the progression of the Character's attitudes toward life, their own identity, the limits of what they can or can't do, the motives of others, etc.  The Story is driven by the Character's internal conflict, and the story ends when the Conflict joined on page one finally ends in a resolution.

Likewise Plot is the progression of events outside the Character, what we have previously termed "the because line."  It is a sequence of Events caused by the Main Character's first action on page one.

The Main Character is determined by which Character acts in such a way that causes (because) external Events to happen.

The Main Character may not be "in charge" or deliberately determining what will happen, but what happens can be seen by the reader to be the result of what this Character did.

Very often, new writers produce whole manuscripts focused on the wrong character.

Editors presented with an elevator pitch will often ask, "Whose story is it?" and the facility with which the pitch presenter answers can determine whether the editor wants to see a Chapter.

So once you have an Idea for a story, a world, a situation, and something to say about that, you must explore the material to find the Character whose story is happening right in that frame.

To learn to explore a fictional world, to frame an angle on that world as a videographer frames a wedding picture, just explore your everyday world.

Art is a selective representation of reality.

Select the right bits and pieces, arrange them just so, and you can convince the audience that this impossible place is real, and that there is something to be learned about reality by studying this fantasy.

People, (humans, anyway) view their life as reality.  To reduce infinite Reality to something we can encompass, we filter out the irrelevant information.  We work with a subset of what is actually there, viewing our world from an angle, and ignoring what we deem as not pertinent.

That's how we judge a potential lover, and that's how we tend to fall in love, then awaken to the Big Shock when the Honeymoon is over.  We have misjudged what is relevant about this person, or possibly about ourselves.

So how fast can a Character Arc, or change their point of view, or reformulate their filter and still seem "realistic" to the audience?

The final step in that change of view of Reality is, in everyday life, just the snap of the fingers.  The aha!  The oho!

It seems FAST because we don't ordinarily notice or record the many tiny steps leading up to that big reveal.

In a work of fiction, though, readers do look for and notice those tiny steps.  If the Character just suddenly Arcs, or changes their filters to discover information that they've been ignoring, (he's cheating on me!) without those incremental steps, the audience may regard the Character as "cardboard" or the plot as "contrived."

That's right, readers (even experienced beta readers) may point to the plot as the problem when in fact it is the story that needs work.

The plot will seem contrived if the Main Character acts in such a way as the reader expects Event A to occur, but the writer wants Event B to occur, so the writer just writes Event B.

The reader expects Event A  because in their everyday life, that's what would happen.

How could Event B happen instead?  If the previous Events have impacted the Main Character's view of reality such that the Main Character comes to a new understanding (however fallacious) of what is really going on.  Think about optical illusions.

In other words, if the writer has shown the Main Character changing their mind as a result of the Events happening because of the Main Character's actions, it becomes plausible that the Main Character could change their entire take on the nature of Reality.

For example: being kidnapped by a UFO and becoming part of an Alien work of Art.

One of the writer's most powerful artistic tools is Cognitive Dissonance - a mismatch between what the Character assumes and the Reality of the Character's Situation.

Cognitive Dissonance is one of the Artist's tools.

Carefully airbrushed into a story, that dissonance can rivet the reader's attention, and even spur the reader to reassess their own mental filters on their everyday reality.

Think back to the books you have read that changed how you think about leading your own life.  Maybe reread some of them and look for how the writer used cognitive dissonance.

As you build your Main Character's strength of personality, creating a Character your target readership can identify with, consider how much drama (Pluto driven events of change, loss, war) will be necessary to crack that Character's defenses.

A person's "defenses" surround the opinion-structure to keep out information that could change that opinion (my husband would never cheat on me because I would never cheat on him).  What would it take to change that opinion? Walking in on him having sex with the chamber maid?

What would it take to make a human finally notice they had married a non-human in disguise, on Earth to spy us out for a takeover?

How strong is the defense of denial built into the mental filters?  That is the resistance that must be overcome by Plot Events and force the Character to Arc.

Now will the Character dissolve gently by stages, crack and disintegrate into insanity before reforming into an unrecognizable new person, or just finally accept what they've known all along, "I really didn't understand this."

How the Character changes, how fast is plausible to the reader, depends on the detailed and careful construct the writer has presented.

In Comics, Characters just learn their lesson after one lesson.  In Reality, it usually takes years and years of repetition to drive a point home.  In a Selective Recreation of Reality - it will take 400 pages, and 4 "Acts" of the drama to morph a Character to the end of their Arc.

Even in a Series, a Character must Arc definitively at the end of each novel, with something left over to wonder about.

In Part 4 of this Series, we noted how the Story starts on page one where the Main Character is presented with a Conflict and the Reader just knows this Character "has a lot to learn."

The Genre to choose for your story (Genre determines Plot), depends on which readership will "just know this Character has a lot to learn."

That's the suspense element that glues the reader to the page. The Character must learn what the Reader already knows, but clearly this Character will resist.  How hard will the Character resist, and how long will the fight last?

Who else might come along to disrupt and redirect the Plot?

Keep them guessing, and that will keep them glued to the page.

But you must deliver the satisfaction of the Character learning the expected lesson, even while learning an unexpected lesson, a lesson the reader doesn't know.

Think about what has made you change your mind as you have lived life.

Think about what has made you determined not to change your mind, no matter what.

Consider how to convince your target readership (using what you know about the group's characteristics, age, gender, etc) to think about that unexpected lesson as a question they don't know the answer to.

One thing that will make the unexpected lesson stick in the reader's memory is the emotional satisfaction of the expected lesson.  To relive that satisfaction, a reader may reread a novel years later, and notice that they first learned the unexpected lesson via that novel.

Fiction is most entertaining when it asks questions, but leaves the reader to formulate their own answers.  Usually, no two readers will come to the same answers, but all will be engrossed, and talking about that novel for years to come.

Write an Alien Romance; Start an Argument.

Think about Pon Farr and Sarek's answer to the question of why he married Amanda.  "It was the logical thing to do."

The setup for that famous one-liner, and all the arguments about it that have raged for decades, began with the first episode (not the pilot) of ST:ToS.

Set up your raging question just as carefully, and remember it is all about the theme.

Star Trek was Roddenberry's way of depicting humanity's future as having learned (species arc!)  to be wise.  He chose "the genetic wars" as the turning point, and from then on humanity became wise.

Wisdom had something (unspecified) to do with emotion ruling our actions, so the First Officer (Number One, a woman) was to be a character who acted without being driven by emotion.

Paramount would not buy the series if there was a woman giving orders to men, so Number One and Spock (who had emotions) were composited into one character, a First Officer Alien Without Emotions.

But that didn't violate the theme --- humanity can become wise.

It did, in fact, show-don't-tell huge numbers of questions about human nature, while at the same time creating one of the sexiest Characters in Television History.

Note that, series to movie to series, Spock and Vulcan "Arc" or change on impact of Events caused by their existence, presence, and actions.

Character Arc is one of the drivers of Pacing in fiction.  How fast does the target audience want to see the Character change his/her mind, emotions, opinions, politics, religion?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Scrape Off !

My landline telephone number was misappropriated by scammers. I'm not sure if one would call that scraping, because they could have used a local telephone directory.

The first I know of it was an early morning call from a gentleman who sounded suspiciously thrilled to be "returning" (my) "call". He seemed to think that I might be coming to Idaho. Goodness knows what he imagined I would do for him when I got there!   Then, there was a man returning my call (or not), who was under the impression that I wanted to buy a car from him. By the time I received a midnight call from a distraught woman in Canada who thought I was a hospital with horrific tidings for her, I had figured out that my Do-Not-Call-Registry-listed number had been spoofed.

What one should do is calmly and kindly tell such callers that one's number has been spoofed; that one is very sorry for their inconvenience and distress; that they can call the FCC at 1-888-225-5322 for further information. What I did, not having the FCC number to hand, was tell them the good news that if they had answered "my" call in real time, they would have spoken with a scammer.

I have since received a call from Australia, repeated calls from someone's infantile grandchildren, an eager call back from a realtor in Louisiana who thought I wanted to rent a property, and a couple of calls from a site that is silent for a while, then thanks me for calling them. I'd probably pay phone sex rates if I stayed on the line out of curiosity.

411.com for one site selling phone number information  is highly unreliable. I looked up my phone number, and to my astonishment, discovered that I live in California. So much for Artificial Intelligence!

Apparently, it may not be illegal to sell inaccurate information.  It is also, not Computer Fraud And Abuse to "scrape" information from social media sites and sell on that information for commercial profit.

Karl Bode, writing for vice.com  recently discussed the lawsuit by LinkedIn against HiQ for "scraping" information that LinkedIn users posted on LinkedIn about themselves, and selling the information to others.


However, the problem may have been that LinkedIn did not have rights to the information that HiQ scraped. The LinkedIn users might have rights that have not been asserted, such as their own copyright over the information they wrote for their profiles, or privacy rights.

The details are well explained by Michael A. Jacobs and  J. Alexander Lawrence on the Morrison Foerster law blog:

As Rob Nussbaum points out for Saiber, on the Trending Law blog, social media site users should be aware that what they post on public sites can be scraped up and monetized by others.

Beware what you post that others can scrape.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 

CASE Act Vote is in the House Tuesday Oct 22nd

The Authors Guild is asking all interested individuals to contact their Representatives with a message as simple as "I support authors' rights, please vote for the CASE Act HR 2426".

To find your representative, reply to one of their emails to you, or go to

You may get the run around, but persist. You may have to enter your address more than once, and depending on your email address, you might have to enter that more than once, also.

Once you are on your home State, click to find Representatives (not Senators this time). Then, find the right Rep for your district by re-entering your home address, unless you know who your Rep is and which is your District. Click on their photo for a link to their website, when you can enter your address again to prove that you are a constituent, and you should be able to offer your opinion on how they should vote on the CASE Act.

You can be sure that the copyright infringement profiteers will be lobbying heavily to make sure small copyright owners cannot afford to enforce their rights.

Thank you,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Sequels, Prequels, and Reading Order

Should the audience for a sequel be able to understand it completely without having read the previous book(s)? The EPIC e-book contest allowed judges to subtract points if a novel required familiarity with a prior book to be fully understood. I thought that criterion was unfair; in many fiction series, a story arc continues from one volume to the next, so that each installment legitimately depends on the previous ones. The Harry Potter series and Stephen King's Dark Tower saga are obvious examples. And some trilogies or series are actually single stories divided into multiple volumes, such as the Lord of the Rings. I recently read the final volume in Theodora Goss's delightful "Athena Club" trilogy, starring the daughters (born or created) of the classic 19th-century mad scientists. A reader might be able to understand and enjoy the second novel, EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTROUS GENTLEWOMAN, without having read the first, although a lot of nuance would be lost. The third, THE SINISTER MYSTERY OF THE MESMERIZING GIRL, however, depends too heavily on the others to stand alone.

On the other hand, with most mystery series the reading order doesn't matter so much. Although the detective's character may develop from book to book, so that taking the volumes in order enriches appreciation of them, it's not necessary. Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey stories fall into this category, mostly, except for the ones involving Harriet Vane. Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple novels, on the other hand, can be read in any order with no loss of appreciation.

C. S. Lewis fans disagree on the proper order in which to read the Narnia books. Lewis didn't commit himself on that point. He agreed with a child reader who preferred the internal chronological order, but the context suggest he was just being polite. At first sight, chronological order within the universe looks logical. Most fans, however, seem to support publication order. They reasonably point out that many details in THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW don't have their full impact if one hasn't read THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE first. Although LION... takes place later in the timeline, it was published first, when Lewis had no idea of writing further books in that setting. Marion Zimmer Bradley encouraged new readers to approach Darkover in publication order rather than internal chronological order, because doing it the second way meant they would encounter the earlier-published novels (which she considered inferior to the later-published ones) before books written when her craft had matured.

When my husband (Les Carter) and I started plotting LEGACY OF MAGIC, the previous-generation prequel to our Wild Sorceress trilogy, I planned it so that it could be read either before or after the trilogy. Someone who picks it up first will find that it works as a stand-alone fantasy romance. For someone already familiar with the trilogy, LEGACY OF MAGIC answers some questions about the background of the characters in the other three novels and contains "Easter eggs" that will be meaningful to those readers. For people new to that world, I painstakingly tried to avoid including spoilers in LEGACY OF MAGIC that would reveal secrets meant to come as a surprise in WILD SORCERESS and its two sequels.

I'm currently working on a sequel to my recent light paranormal romance novella, YOKAI MAGIC. It might more accurately be called a spin-off, though, because the hero and heroine of YOKAI MAGIC appear only as minor characters in the new story. Prior acquaintance with them isn't necessary for understanding or enjoyment of the sequel/spin-off. Most of Mary Jo Putney's Regency-era romances work this way. Recurring characters (protagonists from previous novels) pop up from book to book, but nobody needs to read the earlier novels to enjoy the newer ones. Recognizing the established characters, however, enhances the pleasure. That's how I've structured my Vanishing Breed vampire universe. Aside from CHILD OF TWILIGHT, the immediate sequel to DARK CHANGELING (the first one published), the novels, novellas, and short stories can stand alone, with almost any one of them serving as a viable entry to the series. Similarly, readers can enter Bradley's Darkover or Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar at almost any point, as long as they read the individual books in the various sub-series in the proper order. For marketing purposes, that would be the ideal way to arrange a series. But most series with long-term story arcs building steadily from one book to the next just don't work like that.

And then there's the question of how much background information to include in a sequel. How much effort do you make to accommodate a new reader who might pick up a book in a series out of order? Or do you assume (as is more often than not the case) that a person reading a sequel is familiar with the earlier book(s)?

How do you handle sequels, prequels, the risk of spoilers, and the chance that readers might feel lost if they start in the middle?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Mysteries of Pacing Part 4 - Story Pacing

Mysteries of Pacing
Part 4
Story Pacing 

Previous parts of the Mysteries of Pacing:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 - where we discussed the TV Series Outlander

"Pacing" is a property of both Story and Plot.  Along with Theme, the Pacing techniques are what tie together these levels or layers of the work of Art.

If the story goes at one pace, but the plot goes at another pace, the reader/viewer will have no idea what's going on and little interest in turning the page.

Art is the result of extracting elements from the pea-soup of real life and arranging those elements on a canvass or background that brings the meaning of life to the fore.

In real life, we get lost in the details, or swept away by the huge forces knocking us off our intended course.  In fiction, we can get a grip on events, understand the connections, and find new ways to think about our real life experiences.

One trick used to make fiction seem like real life is to use the pacing of the story to generate the pacing of the plot.

Alternatively, the writer can use the pacing of the plot to generate the story.

Each way is favored by different genres.  In science fiction romance genre, we are inventing the protocols as we go along.

Science Fiction has been defined by editors to be "action adventure" -- I have always disputed that.  I see "science fiction" genre as Relationship Fiction.

You can't have a Relationship without at least two Characters, each of whom is on a Character Arc.

A Character Arc is just what the name implies -- not a straight line.

In real life, our notions of who we are, what we can or can't do, how we can get to a comfortable place to live, with good people as friends, lover, ally, do not develop in a straight line.  We, as humans, rarely go directly to our goal.

We swerve, dodge, retrace steps, stagger sideways, fall flat, pick up and go on.  At each point we reassess the value and importance of our goals, and even change goals.

Falling in love has a tendency to wipe out everything we thought about ourselves, morphing our self-image.  We can become more dominant and more compliant, more self-sacrificing and more self-assertive, all at the same time.  Our real life character arcs, our strength of character as a person arcs.

Humans are interesting -- imagine how much more interesting the Character Arc  of an Alien can be, especially when the Alien has fallen in love with a human and is desperately trying to figure this person out.

How you, as a human writer, figure people out is something to study carefully.

Watch your mind as you assess a new acquaintance, ponder them as a love-interest, think of who you know that might make a good mate.

They say first impressions are lasting.  Maybe that's not true for your Aliens?

Think of meeting a person for the first time.  The Story of your Relationship with that person begins at that point, where you decide if you will say hello, or veer aside and pretend you never saw that person.

Take a mental snapshot of that moment of decision and dissect it.

Just seeing a person, maybe hearing the voice, watching posture, gesture, watching them assess you, sets off a cascade of free association memories and experiences.  Millions of data points flow through your mind creating a picture of what would happen if you said hello.

None of those data points have anything to do with the particular person (or Alien) before you.  Those data points have been collected from interactions with other people, many of whom are no longer in your life.

We love novels that start with Love At First Sight, or even Hate At First Sight.

The Story of the relationship starts At First Sight -- which is not always Page 1 of the novel.  The best Page 1 content is the Event that kicks off the Plot, and gets it rolling.

Characters Arc in response to Plot Events - so the Plot Event comes first, then the Character's response to that Event changes the essence of the Character.

Character Arc is about how the Character changes in response to Events.

We decide whether we like a person, or not, by how they RESPOND to stimuli.

Think about it.  In the sexual dimension of Love and Romance, isn't it all about stimulus and response, and the two characters becoming engrossed in stimulating responses in each other - mutually?

So the reader's first impression of the Main Character you present on Page 1 will be the reader's personal assessment of that Main Character based on the very first action the reader sees that Character make.

All good novels BEGIN with the Hero, the Good Guy/Gal, the Main Character who has an Internal Conflict that will Resolve on the last page, acting.

The Main Character's story begins with the PLOT ACTION that will set the Rube Goldberg plot-dynamics into convoluted action.

The Main Character's first action may simply be to pray for something, to wish for something, to see something they disapprove of and just WISH they could act to fix it.

As in real life, a THOUGHT is an action.  An EMOTION is an action.

The reader assesses the nature of the Character by the Character's assessment of their situation.

For example, if a Character staggers down the gangplank onto a cargo dock and sees a thief making off with a crate (full of drugs or guns or whatever), and the Character responds to the sight of the thief as sexy, some readers will know this is a "bad-boy" novel and turn the page for more.  Other readers will think the Character is an idiot and toss the book aside.

The nature of your Main Character's FIRST ACTION on page 1 determines your Target Readership, which Agents might handle the manuscript, which editors might be interested in buying it, all by how these professionals think readers will assess the Main Character.

Is this someone I want to spend time reading about?  Can I relate to this Character?  Do I understand this Character's view of reality?  Or do I even want to find out?

The first page has to be a hook, and has to be baited for the kind of fish you want to catch.

But how do you learn how to create such Plot-Story opening moments?

Well, of course the first thing you do to learn is to read a lot of books and make a shelf, or file folder, for the books that grab you right on page 1.

But beyond that, you must study yourself, slow down the lightning fast mental processes that are always running in the back of your mind, and make them run step-wise, so you can see what you're thinking and why.

Watch yourself assess people.  Watch what makes you change your mind about the nature of that person's character.  Watch yourself leap to assumptions and discard facts that don't fit.

A pervasive mantra of our times is, "Don't be judgmental."

But writers must be judgmental because their readers are.

The trick in being judgmental is honing judgement until it becomes reliable.  That takes practice.  A lot of writers, actors, photographers, producers, anyone in The Arts, spend a lot of time "people watching."  At shopping malls, on Facebook, at movie theaters, sporting events, even political rallies of the opposite persuasion.

Watch people assessing other people.

Watch yourself choosing what to wear to a particular place according to how others would categorize you.  You know people judge you - and you want to guide their judgement to certain conclusions.

So right away, you already know how to guide your reader's judgement of your main Character to certain conclusions on Page 1.

You want your Main Character who acts on Page 1 to be seen by your Target Readership as someone "who has a lot to learn about life."

What your reader knows about Life that your Main Character obviously does not know is your HOOK.

From that point on, your reader is lusting to watch the Character learn that lesson.

Humans (maybe not Aliens) learn by having their head handed to them on a silver platter, (as the saying goes).  Experience is the only teacher that matters.  Pain is the only measure of whether the lesson has been learned -- "no pain; no gain."

Maybe your Aliens don't function that way, but your reader knows that humans do.  This is why "the ink is still wet on his diploma" guarantees the person will make every amateur mistake in the book.

Humans don't learn from theory.  Humans learn in the school of hard knocks.

However, humans with a solid, broad grounding in abstract theory learn faster from hard knocks, learn more, learn deeper lessons, and come out of their first year on the job with an extremely accurate judgement.

So your Main Character will "arc" faster, in response to softer-blows, to more subtle hints, more gentle promises, if the Character has been through a theoretical schooling while young.

A child who has been abused (say a cabin boy on an old sailing ship) into forming hard opinions, who has bled because of wrong decisions, will need much harder blows, much louder instruction, and more convincing that the promises are real. 

In other words, humans "know" the things they figure out for themselves under the duress of life-or-death situations.  In later years, it takes a much more crushing blow to get them to change their minds, behavior, values.

For example, a street tough dealing drugs at age 10, killing their first man at age 12, caught and thrown in jail at age 18 might take twenty years of privation to change, maybe gain religion.

When was the last time you changed your mind because someone yelled obscenities at you, expressing their contempt for you?

Instead of changing your mind on the issue, you probably adopted a low opinion of the yeller of obscenities -- and possibly answered with even more blistering contempt.

Think back to such a moment in your life, and then find another "aha!" moment of enlightenment where you understood you had been totally wrong about something and set about  changing yourself.

Contrast and compare those moments.

When you changed your mind, your character arced.

When you did not change your mind, did not see you had been wrong, your Story stalled.  The plot of your life went on - and you were engaged in external conflict aplenty as you fought back against the one yelling at you.  But your STORY did not move.

This happens in real life -- sometimes decades long stall outs as your opinions on matters don't change, but you fight hard against the forces you think are wrongfully attacking you.

In real life, the plot of your life (the sequence of Events) is inexorable, but the story of your life moves in fits and starts (if at all.)

In fiction, story and plot move together in the same (often complex) rhythm.

Fiction is art, a selective depiction of reality, not reality itself.

What we mean in real life by the term, conflict, is not the same as what we mean in fiction by the term, conflict.

In real life, Evil is what tries to make us change our minds and Good is what agrees with our opinions.  In real life, we see our opinions as facts.

Those facts have been acquired in the school of hard knocks.  Thinking differently is risking death. It takes heroic courage to change our minds in accordance with new, incoming information.

That's why readers love stories about a Hero who is "open" enough to accept new information.

As noted in many previous entries, Romance is a condition of mind and soul often timed to coincide with a Neptune transit to the person's natal chart.

Neptune dissolves old opinions and allows new ones to form.  In the process, it often coincides with the dissolving away of life structures (job, marriage, house and home), as does Romance.  Falling in love can make you willing to sell your house, quit your job, and move to another country (planet?).

Under such a Neptune transit, such change is a whole lot less painful, but just as permanent once the transit is over.

While in the fog of a consuming Romance, a Character's story can proceed at the exact pace as the plot. To anyone who has experienced falling in love, this easy Character Arc will seem realistic.  To anyone who has not, it will seem contrived.

Internal conflict drives the story while external conflict drives the plot.  Both conflicts must be structured from the same theme.

A good example of how to construct different plots from the same theme is the TV Series, BLUE BLOODS.  It uses the same techniques used in the old TV Series, THE WALTONS.

Just as the first page presents the Main Character acting on a judgement call originating deep inside them where the incontrovertible facts forming the Character reside, so the last page presents the resolution of both the internal and external conflicts.

On page 1, the reader sees a Character "with a lot to learn" -- and on the last page, the reader sees that Character "learning the lesson."

One of those incontrovertible facts hammered home by the school of hard knocks has proven false.  A new incontrovertible fact now replaces it at the foundation of the Character.  The reader experiences affirmation of the life-lessons the reader has learned in that school of hard knocks.

That affirmation is the reason most readers buy books, or follow a given author.

Most of the science fiction readership, however, looks for an affirmation of how much more there is out there to learn, rather than of what is already known.  Science is all about enjoying the shock of discovering how wrong we were.

Romance genre has that element, too, the joy of discovery.  Love has a way of changing your mind about the nature of reality, and life itself.  Love really does conquer all.  But it takes a hero to dare to love.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rampant Disinformation

Victims' rights lawyer Carrie A. Goldberg, author of the book, "Nobody's Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls", shared an article with TheTrichordist.com recently.


It seems that American law protects Big Tech publishers of untruthful speech, even if it is harmful speech, doxxing, or something akin to revenge porn... as in the case she describes of a vengeful ex impersonating his former lover on an online dating site.

Writing for Australian audiences and the law firm Gilbert + Tobin, legal bloggers Alexander Ryan and Andrew Hii discuss deep fakery, and the reality that if a deep fake is used to defame a victim, the conventional defamation defense (that the damaging information is true) cannot be used.  It is a fascinating discussion of criminal deception and disinformation.

Lexology version:

Original article:

In the USA, some legislators have introduced a bill, The Deep Fakes Report Act of 2019, to look into the growing problem of technology that can generate videos of people appearing to do things they never did, and recordings of people saying things they never said.

Lexology version:

Wilmer Hale original version:

Meanwhile, we cannot believe our eyes or our ears.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Why Does Writing Get Harder?

Kameron Hurley's latest column tackles the question of why writing fiction gets harder instead of easier with experience:

Why Does Writing Get Tougher?

Some reasons she suggests: With greater experience, we can more easily identify the flaws in our works. With this realization, we recognize the need to edit more meticulously. "There was a time when I could burn through a writing session on full steam without pausing to review." Now, though, she explains that aspiring to create novels with more complex structures makes it impossible for her to write that way. "Leveling up" in writing skill also becomes harder the longer we've been doing it for a reason that's obvious once it's pointed out: The first improvements can be made in giant leaps. As one's skills grow, one runs out of large, obvious ways to improve them. Later stages of growth come in smaller increments. The closer one gets to the ever-retreating goal of perfection, the smaller those increments become. So of course the process feels more arduous. "Holding oneself to a high standard makes each subsequent book more difficult." Hurley connects the craft of writing to the ability to recognize patterns. As we get better at that task, we can have confidence that even if the work gets harder, producing a better book is possible, because we've done it before.

Her answers to the question, "Why does writing get harder instead of easier the more we do it?" can be collectively summarized in her concluding statement, "Writing books gets tougher because we become better at it."

My own feeling about this problem roughly corresponds to Hurley's answer, although she doesn't frame it in quite the same way. I think writing has become harder for me than in my teens and early twenties because then I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't notice when my characters behaved unrealistically or the plot fell off the "because line." My story ideas excited me (it probably helped that I didn't realize how not-original most of them were), and words flowed as fast as I could get them onto the page, whether by typing or handwriting. (Now I shudder at the thought of the latter; my fingers and wrist cramp with pain after scrawling a page or two.) Now that I have a computer to minimize the physical labor and make it easy to correct typos and insert changes, my writing should have become even more fluent, shouldn't it? Alas, no.

I do think my writing has improved over the years, not only from practice and passage of time but because the word processor enables me to make revisions, including very minor ones, without no worries about whether they're significant enough to justify retyping a page. The whole process has become slower and more painstaking, though, rather than easier, as Hurley says she's heard from every writer she has discussed this issue with. Like the centipede who's paralyzed when he stops to think about which leg to move first, I now know too much to compose with the "first fine, careless rapture" of my teens. I can't escape noticing my errors and weaknesses or recognizing the problems in plotting and characterization that need to be solved. It's a bit like hearing from my physical therapist that, since I'm doing all right with the current exercises, she plans to add harder ones in the next session. "Leveling up" does make creative work tougher.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Mysteries of Pacing Part 3 - Punctuated by Plot Twists

Mysteries of Pacing
Part 3
Punctuated by Plot Twists

Previous parts in the Mysteries of Pacing series:

Part 1

Part 2

We're going to talk a little about Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series,

as I assume you've all read the novels. If not, you've seen the TV Series.  I prefer the TV Series, but the entire story hits a nerve.  So think about what it takes to create a series like Outlander, and how to turn it from Fantasy Romance to Science Fiction Romance -- or maybe use it to found a new genre.

When first drafting, often pacing is the last thing you think about.  First you just need to TELL THE STORY.  You need to "get it out" so you can look at it and see if it is marketable anywhere.  Before you know who would want to read this story, you need to know what the story is.

To get a grip on what the story is, you might have to write it all, or just a scene or maybe just a character sketch, a bit of dialogue in a bar weeping over drinks and telling the bar tender the tale of woe.

But that isn't where the NOVEL starts.

The novel that can sell to a specific imprint starts where the two forces that will conflict to generate the plot (the because-line; the "what happens next" ) first crash into each other and divert the life-paths of your protagonists -- and best of all, divert the life-path of the antagonist.

In other words, the novel BEGINS (and choosing a Beginning is the determining factor in the PACING) where the Plot kicks off the Story.

In these blogs, I stick to the following definitive difference between the terms Plot and Story.

Plot = External Conflict Resolved by sequence of deeds causing events which motivate deeds; the because line of what happens next

Story = Internal Conflict Resolved by the effect the events have on the Characters changing understanding of how the world works, and the emotional import of shifts in understanding

Plot and Story conflicts should RESOLVE in the same Plot Event.

In the opening, the plot kicks off the story, and in the ending the story absorbs the impact of that kick.

In the Ending of a novel, the "world" of the protagonists has changed for them, their perception of it, and the world's perception of them.

Conflict is the essence of story - and story is the essence of change.

Readers are captivated by what happens between the kick and the integration of that impact into lives.

In other words, the essence of real life is "How do you roll with the punches?"

People read to find out how other people deal with problems.

Watching real people, you only see the outside, and you can only interpret that outside by your own inside assumptions about reality.

Reading good novels gives you the chance to use an alien set of assumptions about reality to interpret Events, try different responses, and arrive at different destinations.

So to frame a novel to write, first find a kick, a punch that is common enough to be recognizable as a punch, yet at the same time different enough to be interesting.

That punch is the kick off of your plot.

The next pacing problem to tackle is "who" gets kicked.

"Who" the protagonist is determines the assumptions in place that the kick must call into question.  It's always the protagonist who gets kicked and the antagonist who does the kicking, but the novel always opens on the protagonist's action which triggers the kick.

In fact, that is the definition of "protagonist" or Main Character, or Hero.  The active force that aims and energizes the trajectory of the plot is the protagonist.

The reactive force that is driven by the protagonist's action is the antagonist (or obstacle which the main character must overcome to achieve a goal).

This setup of protagonist as "active" and antagonist as "passive" is the only one that leads, plausibly and inevitably, to a genuine HEA not an HFN, or happily for now.

Correctly identifying the protagonist (Hero we root for), the antagonist (Villain we root against) and the moment in their lives where they first clash, is the bit of world building that fabricates a reality in which an HEA is plausible and even inevitable.

In everyday reality, most people can't see their own lives from a perspective which allows for identification of the forces at work, shaping their lives by their own actions.  Real life is a stew of cross-currents and muddy waters, along with what seem like random events and overwhelming odds.  We look to fiction to clarify the muddy waters.

The Artist's job is to see life from a perspective that does reveal the forces and counter-forces that shape personal life, group life, and even the lives of Nations.  But seeing is not enough.  Writing is a Performing Art, as Alma Hill taught me.  The Artist's job is to see, and the Artist's job is not done until that Vision is transmitted.

The novelist paints in emotional colors.

But the Characters feelings are responses to the plot-kicks predicated on the Characters ideas of how the world works.

Story is the step-by-step change in the Characters understanding of how their world works.

Plot is the step-by-step response of the world to the Characters actions.

Mostly, humans (maybe not your Aliens) fuel their actions with emotion.

I've worked with many other professional writers and editors team teaching new writers who want to go professional, and every one of the professionals has had, and applied, this distinction between plot and story.  However, very seldom do such professionals agree on terminology.  Most have learned, or figured out, the distinction I've sketched here on their own, and invented their own terminology.

The terminology doesn't matter.  The underlying concepts do matter.

The core of PACING lies in the interaction between plot and story.

For example, if Characters too fast, too completely, without internal conflict wrestling with emotional matters, the reader will feel as if they are reading a Comic Book (not a graphic novel).  If a Character faces an Event that contradicts their entrenched world view, and just summarily (within minutes) adopts a different world view and suffers no consequence to the emotional-violence, no adult reader will believe that Character is a person.

As humans, we wrestle internally, resist to the death, and suffer (and inflict) pain to avoid changing our minds.

Faced with the impossible, we just don't see it, don't incorporate it into our next action.

In other words, in everyday reality, we dismiss anything that doesn't fit our entrenched world view.

Novels are about a Character who completes the process of changing an entrenched world view from first kick of Reality to final adoption of a new way of seeing the same thing.

In other words, beginning and ending are symmetric, and that symmetry is part of the Artist's toolkit for convincing the skeptical reader that these Characters have achieved the Happily Ever After, not just Happily For Now.

Misery, in fictional characters and real people, is caused by a mismatch between Objective Reality and Subjective Reality.

No human (that we know of) has a Subjective Reality identical to Objective Reality.  But each life-arc, if lived out to the full, has at least one, sometimes two, hard course corrections (kicks from an external source) that bring Subjective Reality perceptibly closer to Objective Reality.

We "live" in subjective reality, and so the philosophy that states there is no such thing as objective reality is very popular.  Objective just doesn't exist for most people.

Several times in ordinary life, we get kicked by objective reality, come face to face with the facts of life, and must change our subjective assumptions.

Story is about the successive steps in that shifting subjectivity that leads closer to objective reality (HEA) or farther from objective reality (HFN).

The Happily For Now ending implies another kick is gathering force to explode into this halcyon situation.

Happiness is not real.

For happiness to be real, there must be an element of certainty, of unchanging stability, of concrete reality.  That sense of rest on certainty comes from the AHA! moment when subjective reality shifts closer to objective reality.  That moment of SHIFT is the ENDING of that Character's story.

Whether that Character is the Hero of a single novel or a series of novels depends on how many steps the Character needs to transform from where she was at the Beginning to where she needs to be for the HEA Ending.

Sometimes, it takes ten novels to bring a Character to a new understanding.

It is possible to take too many tiny steps for a given audience, or too few large steps for a different audience.

In other words, how many steps and how large they are, as the protagonist adjusts his/her subjective reality to match objective reality, is entirely genre specific.

In Science Fiction, readers who are themselves professional scientists, tend to encounter an aberrant factoid, ask questions, fabricate experiments, observe results, try to get others to repeat the experiment with the same results, then just -- "Oh, well," accept the result and change their view.

So, to the science fiction readership, Romance genre does not seem plausible because the main characters don't accept proven results.

As Romance Characters suffer internal doubts and wring their hands, science fiction readers scoff and toss the book aside.

Plausibility, immersiveness, is a result of pacing.

How long does it take, how many steps, what size steps, does it take to get the Character to change perceived reality and act on the new perception.

In Romance, that's the final, "I love you," declaration in the Will You Marry Me ending.  What does it take to convince a Character of love?

In Alien Romance, what if your Alien has no cultural reference for Love, and no concept to which to relate "I love you?"  How does a human woman teach an Alien to understand reality as containing the dimension "love?"

Very likely, the answer is the human woman doesn't teach the Alien.  The Plot Twist does the teaching.

A plot twist is the sudden unexpected, highly improbable, Event that redirects the plot toward a new goal, or strategy.  The "that changes everything" event.  Such as, two lovers are marching into city hall to get married, and suddenly the radios are blaring WAR HAS BEEN DECLARED - and World War Two twists their lives into new directions.

A plot twist is sudden, shocking, immensely significant, and changes the reader's vision of what the ending will be.

A plot twist is not a new problem, an obstacle, detour, side-trip, or delay in the plot's development.  A plot twist is objective reality intruding into the subjective realities of the protagonists and becoming a major factor in decision making.

For example, as above, War is declared, or a key Character is assassinated, or a secret diary is discovered, or a long-lost family member turns up (an alternative heir, a dependent, or someone needing rescuing).  An expected pregnancy can become a plot twist.

A plot twist must hit the reader as a complete shock yet once it appears, the reader thinks, "I should have seen that coming."

So a good plot twist has to be foreshadowed, but never telegraphed.

When a plot twists, it must redirect the story.

The Characters have to draw upon their inner resources to meet the sudden new demand.  They must "do the right thing" (and bid a brave goodbye while marching off to war; give the family fortune to the new stranger-relative; have the baby anyhow).

To be a good plot twist, the event must pressure the Characters to adopt a new world view, to include something in their subjective reality that they previously rejected.

In modern Fantasy, that's often shapeshifters, demons, fae, or other supernatural beings.

In science fiction, it's often First Contact with an Alien from another solar system, or perhaps another dimension.

The foreshadowing that works best is built into the world that showcases the Characters.  A plot twist is usually what the Characters least expect, and have proceeded to plan and act as if it so unthinkable it was never thought of.

For example, in The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, the ghost haunting the house is not part of the Reality until he appears.  And then the whole plot twists to become about their Relationship.

Where in the plot your twist should appear depends on the audience you are aiming for.

If you're writing action oriented science fiction, the plot twist will likely be the mid-point of the novel.  This would be a discovery, or knowledge of a distant event arriving, right where the plot sags, where the characters pause to catch their breath and think things over, and causing the Characters to ditch their carefully crafted plans and race against time to the Ending.

The plot twist can, at the mid-point of a novel, serve as a "raise the stakes" moment, when more lives are suddenly at risk.

To craft an HEA ending, you need to craft a mid-point where all is lost, where the Characters decide to give up, if not in despair then in noble sacrifice.  But the Twist whirls them into a totally new calculation, they can't give up, must survive to save more lives.  At the 3/4 point, they're beaten, and at the end they triumph.

Plot twists can also be effective at the 3/4 point where decisions have been made and a point of no return passed.

Plot twists don't work well at the Ending, though, because either the reader sees it coming for too long, or to prevent that, you've left out the foreshadowing and the external event seems contrived, deus ex machina.

Wherever you place your plot twist, it is a vital part of the pacing.  After the twist, the Characters must redouble their efforts to achieve the goal.  That means the opposition, the antagonist redoubles efforts, too.

This increased effort increasing the pacing - makes the story go faster, makes the reader read faster.

Description and exposition slow pacing, so all the visuals of the settings you want to use and all the explanations of what is going on and why have to be sprinkled as tiny pieces into the narrative before the twist.

The plot twist has to reveal something about their reality that the Characters could not or would not encompass before this event.

The concept of Soul Mates presupposes the objective reality of the Soul.

Fate, Luck, Destiny, -- "we were destined to be together"  -- presupposes an objective property of Reality that interacts with, perhaps overrides, the Soul and individual will or free choice.

Luck, sourceless and random, without meaning, is often used as a Plot Twist.  For example, OUTLANDER, the Scottish historical romance by Diana Gabaldon, starts as World War ends allowing sundered marriages to rejoin. Claire's experiences have made her a different woman, and her man likewise has changed.  By accident, she touches a standing stone in the Highlands, and is wafted back in time a couple of centuries when the ancestor of her husband is an evil villain.

In a science fiction romance, the entire plot would be all about figuring out how that stone does time-travel, gaining control of the mechanism, and returning to her own time, very possibly as a twist, bringing her Scottish Laird husband with her.  The focus would not be on a modern woman's irritable response to being treated as chattel.  The focus would be on the physics driving the mechanism of time travel, while the romance would be a knotty complication.

The natural plot twist to a science plot about time travel would be the sudden, irrefutable discovery that the superstitious drivel spouted by the natives living near the standing stones had an actual basis in cold reality.

For example, the locals think there's a sprite, or pagan gods, or some entity playing havoc around those stones -- but Claire the Scientist from the future does an experiment to determine if that's true (maybe to bribe the sprite into returning her) and discovers that it is in fact an Archangel sent by the Creator of the Universe specifically to inculcate a Soul level lesson in her.  As she has resisted so successfully, the Archangel resorted to time travel to teach this lesson.

The Twist would be the introduction of real supernatural creatures to this Outlander world building.  As written, the supernatural is just religion, things people believe.  And that is underscored by the children's adventures visiting a ruin and eating a plant that appears to be the benign native plant, but is in fact an interloper, and poisonous.  In that adventure, Claire uses science to see through the illusion of superstition.

This establishes that in that world, the supernatural is not part of objective reality, but it is part of subjective reality.

This is the raw material of the Plot Twist.  The firm belief in the supernatural that is only subjective suddenly gains objective manifestation, proof positive.

In this case, the supernatural the locals believe in is what we call superstition, fairies.  But they also believe in the Christian God, in the Bible, and won't allow any challenges to that belief.

In Outlander, the series, the priest tries to exorcise the child who poisoned himself, thinking the poison is a possession acquired at the ruins.  Nobody dares challenge that priest.  Later, after Claire cures the poison, the priest apologizes publicly at her trial for being a witch, saying she was correct that the problem was no possession.  But he doesn't say possession is not a real thing.

In that world, Christianity and Superstition are inextricably mixed.

A plot twist can separate them, put a whole new frame around the concept of time-travel-via-standing-stone, and give your readers a new idea of what life and love are about.

To pull this kind of twist off, you need to establish the real elements of your world as you build it for the reader.  Gabaldon used "love" and "magic" to get readers to suspend disbelief long enough to plunge Claire into Scottish politics.

The opening sequences with her modern husband serve to answer the question "how did she, a nurse, know all this Scottish history and lore?"  In the course of showing, not telling, where she learned all she knows, we learn a lot about who she is.

Actually, a woman born about 1918 would not have had the spunky attitude toward her new Scottish husband when he whipped her bare bottom for disobeying him.  Men beating their wives into submission was common even in the USA at that time, even the women who won the war as nurses, pilots, riveters.  In the Appalachians, it has persisted as a common habit.

So Claire's 21st Century attitude in ancient Scotland just doesn't "work" dramatically.  It is too implausible.

What would make it plausible?

The introduction, by plot twist, of an Archangel sent by the Creator of the Universe to administer a soul-level-lesson to Claire.

Why would such an Archangel be sent?  Well, we've seen enough of Claire's personality that we could easily imagine that, had such an Angel been sent to teach her to be more compliant to her husband (maybe not to become a front lines trauma nurse?) but failed, and instead she acquired 21st Century attitudes (Angels don't fail like that, so we know there's more going on than meets the eye), the Archangel in charge that failed Angel would have to take a hand in schooling Claire.

Well, to pull off such a plot twist (the time-travel-stone is not magic, and not Alien science, but an Act of G-d), we need a Theory of Angelic Hosts Organization and Structure.

There are many extant, from all kinds of Christian, Pagan, and Jewish sources, and I expect the Muslim sources abound with great source material.  You can construct a plot twist using any of them, or one you make up.

If you make up a whole new theory of Angelic Hosts that you want readers to have the patience to pretend has credibility, you'd do best by learning a few of the theories people do know, or believe.

The Bible is full of source material for three major religions, so it is a good springboard for world building the majority of readers world-wide could understand.

Here is a short article on Archangels.


Note that, unlike people, angels cannot multitask. That’s why G‑d had to send three separate angels to visit Abraham—each one was tasked with a separate mission: one to bring Abraham the news of Isaac’s impending birth, one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham.2

And although people can have multiple modes of serving G‑d—love, awe, etc.—when it comes to angels, each one has its own specific form of Divine service that does not change.

Michael and Gabriel: Fire and Water
In the Midrash, Michael is called the “prince of kindness (chessed) and water” and Gabriel “the prince of severity (gevurah) and fire.3” Thus, Angel Michael is dispatched on missions that are expressions of G‑d's kindness, and Gabriel on those that are expressions of G‑d's severity and judgment.

However, as we explained earlier, angels don’t multitask. Therefore, although Michael may be the chief angel or “prince” of chessed, he has many underlings, angels that work under him and represent a service of chessed.

--------end quote-----

So maybe the Angel who failed to impart the exact lesson to Claire worked for Michael, so it was up to Michael to repair the damage.

So maybe Michael's plan was to waft Claire back in time to meet a prior incarnation of her husband, and by comparison learn just how VAST a change can be wrought over a few lifetimes - from cruelty to gentleman.  She needs to make a Soul  level shift of that magnitude.  She is his Soul Mate, and needs to stay in step with him.

Or possibly, this novel would be about how Claire impacts the Soul of this prior-incarnation of her husband, and turns him into the gentleman he is in the 20th Century.

But of course Claire, being Claire, goes and marries the Fraser Laird.

Angels, even Archangels, it says in that article are not terribly flexible.

What would Michael do?

That deed is your Plot Twist - it would reveal the objective reality of Angel-kind to humankind, and thus upset the course of History.

Or would it?

Scots are famous for knowing things others around this planet don't know.

In other words, the Plot Twist is how the science behind the time-travel-stone is actually mysticism, or Soul Science - the science of the immortal soul.

The series would trace the journeys of several Souls through incarnations, shepherded by the extremely frustrated Archangel.

Using Angels as Characters is not new. It's been done often on TV, sometimes well.  So you need a new theory of what an Angel is, and how they become involved in individual Soul development.

You need a scientific theory of what a Soul is, and how (or if) it changes, reincarnates, etc.  You need a theory of what an Angel is, what an Archangel is, and what the limitations might be.

In addition to that bit of world building, you need a theory of what a human being is.  We make so many assumptions, thinking we know what we are. Do we?

And in addition to all that, you need a theory about what Life is, whether Destiny, Fate, etc is real, and whether free will is real or in any way free.

Gathering all those pieces, you can drop your Characters into the mix and let them discover what you have determined is objective reality.

Here is an item that meshes perfectly with the article on What Is An Archangel, called "What Is Divine Providence."  The Hebrew term for divine providence or supervision of this world is Hashgacha, and hashgacha pratit means the very personal and individualized involvement of the Divine in our individual lives.  Hashgacha implies a two-way interaction between Creator and Creation -- e.g. you can argue with your Creator and sometimes add a plot twist to your life's path.


This article barely scratches the surface, but does outline the argument (conflict) between whether the Creator leaves the creation to run like a machine, or keeps molding and re-designing as we go along.


Jewish philosophers, however, saw G‑d in a more passive role. To them, the degree of divine supervision corresponds directly to one’s transcendence of earthly matters. A tzaddik is wrapped up in G‑d’s supervision in every detail of his life, whereas a coarse, materialistic person is cast into a world of haphazard, natural causes along with animals and flora. In this lower realm, the philosophers see hashgacha applying only insofar as an event affects the divine plan. Yet, even according to this view, “chance circumstance has its source in Him, for everything stems from Him and is controlled by His supervision.”4

The Baal Shem Tov is credited with the reintroduction of the idea of hashgacha pratit—detailed divine supervision of every occurrence and every creature. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the foremost early proponents of chassidic thought, articulated a rational basis for this view, linking hashgacha to another vital theme in Jewish thought, continuous creation.

--------end quote------

Other traditions put their own subjective twist on these ideas.

Think about the Time Travel By Love And Magic concept, and see if you can find a mechanism for Time Travel that would make a basis for Science Fiction Romance.  The plot would have to be driven by probing, exploring and conquering the mechanism of time travel, even if that means making friends with a frustrated Archangel whose purpose for existence is to be kind.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Signature Abuse

Have you noticed that email signature "files" are exploding?

Authors have long used the space below their name for self-promotion. In addition to a tag line and urls for websites, there may be banners, .gifs, cover art,  lists of current releases, quotes, awards, and quotes.  Estate agent, and lawyers, and CPAs do it, too.

Some email providers limit the number of lines that can be auto-added to every outgoing email. Some online forums try to limit the size of sig files.

There is an etiquette.

There are also risks.
This week, an alien eml file caused me first embarrassment and then consternation. I politely requested some business information that I had not received. It could have been a royalty statement (it wasn't). Someone who could have been my agent (but wasn't), sent me an email with 4 attachments. Two were unnamed small-KB attachments that I ignored, and two were labeled MB files, obviously containing the info which I had not previously received.

I replied to thank the man who forwarded his copy of the info, and noticed in the email stream of my reply two sig files from a stranger named Wanda that seemed to suggest that she had sent me these files the same day, and that I had in fact replied to her email providing the info I wanted  with my claim that I had not received that info.

Those small-KB attachments turn out to have been eml files. They did not just "populate" the email sent by Wanda to my male correspondent. They also populated his fwd, and they populated my reply to the man although I did not include any attachments.

In times when emails are considered legal documents, proof of contracts, or of credibility or of incriminating contact with persons one swears one has never met or corresponded with, the ability of other peoples' eml files to infiltrate your clean stream is problematic.

Lesson learned. Always read through your email stream

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 



Thursday, October 03, 2019

Bait-and-Switch Book Beginnings

Stephen King's latest novel (which I consider one of his best recent works), THE INSTITUTE, starts with a long section from the viewpoint of a secondary character (who doesn't reenter the story until close to the end). It then switches to the protagonist, a 12-year-old boy with a slight degree of psi power who gets kidnapped by the titular Institute. Both characters are deeply engaging, and their separate stories end up skillfully meshed. It's Stephen King, so it works! Nevertheless, spending that much space at the beginning of a novel on a secondary character before even introducing the protagonist is definitely not what most readers expect.

What I think of as "bait-and-switch" narrative is common enough, in a modest way, with suspense and horror fiction. Such novels often start with a brief introduction of a character whose main purpose is to get killed. (A regular reviewer of the SUPERNATURAL TV series used to call this type of victim "doomed teaser guy.") Even in those novels, however, I feel sort of cheated if the author allots too much wordage (more than a few paragraphs or at most a couple of pages) to a doomed character. The writer has fooled us into mistaking this short-lived person for the protagonist, luring us into an emotional investment in her or him, after which we have to start all over getting engaged with a new character.

The sense of being "baited and switched" can pose a difficulty with prologues. If the prologue focuses on a character other than the protagonist of the main text, we may feel as if the author has started the book twice. We get all excited about the prologue's main character and may feel let down when he or she disappears or fades into the background in favor of a different focal character for the story as a whole.

Some readers may feel "baited and switched" by the entire opening volume of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. While I wouldn't say I felt cheated, I was certainly shocked by that first exposure to his "anyone can die" authorial strategy, when the man I assumed to be the protagonist of the entire series didn't survive to the end of the first book.

Assuming this kind of shift at the beginning of a book is sometimes justified, how can an author pull it off so the reader won't feel tricked? Or lose interest when the focus switches to a different viewpoint character after the opening scenes have lured us into caring about the character first introduced? It's a little different, although still potentially tricky, when a narrative repeatedly switches perspectives throughout, presenting scenes through the eyes of two or more equally important viewpoint characters, as Martin's series does. In reading such a text, I sometimes have trouble getting back up to speed, emotionally, after each switch.

This let-down feeling doesn't have to result from a change in viewpoint characters. Long ago, I read a book intriguingly set in an alternate present where supernatural creatures exist openly, and social and economic structures are accordingly different from those in our primary world. The protagonist is a private detective who works with supernatural-related cases. (At that time, this worldbuilding concept was new and uncommon, not a familiar trope as it is nowadays.) In the first chapter, the protagonist deals with a vampire in a very funny scene. "Oh, goody, a cool vampire novel," I thought. Alas, nary another vampire in the entire book, although it wasn't a bad story on its own terms. Granted, this kind of problem isn't necessarily the author's fault. Other readers less vampire-focused than I might not assume from the first chapter that the point was to launch a vampire plot rather than (as it actually was) to introduce the protagonist's profession. Still, in my own case, I approached the rest of the story with a negative bias as soon as I realized my initial assumption had been mistaken.

Then there was the bait-and-switch of a successful chick-lit novel called MUST LOVE DOGS, whose inciting incident has a friend persuading the protagonist to place a personal ad in a dating venue. The friend gets her to include "Must love dogs" as a way of attracting nice guys, although the heroine doesn't have a dog and knows almost nothing about the species. Between the title and the inciting incident, I was expecting a romance with, you know, lots of dog content. Nope. The story soon leaves that premise behind. Maybe I would have felt less cheated by the plot if the inciting incident hadn't been combined with the title and a dog-centered cover (neither of which might have been the author's fault, admittedly, especially the cover illustration).

Do you feel "baited and switched" by these kinds of abrupt turns in a novel? And, as an author, how do you handle them if you have reason to write them?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Mysteries of Pacing Part 2 Romance At The Speed of Thought

Mysteries of Pacing
Part 2
Romance At The Speed of Thought 

Part 1 of this series is:
and is about how digital assistants can now read the text you type back to you aloud.

OK, it's not a dramatic reading and is paced very slowly compared to how a reader reads a book to themselves without subvocalizing.

But it can help a writer spot grammatical and stylistic quirks that could well annoy most readers.

In learning to "pace" your storytelling, you are both adopting a style (or Voice) and targeting a readership.


I don't know if there have been any studies of genre-taste vs I.Q. or any other measure of "intelligence" currently being tested.

But I do know that Science Fiction originated as "The Literature of Ideas" written by scientists for scientists as the recreational play-time for the extremely intelligent.

If you survey the early days of Science Fiction, you will find Ph.D. attached to the names of writers quite a bit more often than in other fiction genres.

It was once thought women had generally lower I.Q. than men.  Consider that!  Today, employers are having a hard time getting women interested in learning "coding" (computer programming), and nobody really knows if that's cultural, genetic, I.Q. or gender-related.

Today, with the extreme emphasis on "equal opportunity" and equal pay in the workplace, we are striving with all humanity's might to erase differences among us.

In the early years of Science Fiction, the fans of the genre (who were actually, also the writers) repeated the mantra, "Different is dead."

For the most part, fans and writers considered themselves socially rejected because they were different from the majority.

What is that difference?

Nobody knew then, and until today, as far as I know, it has not been defined.  It isn't I.Q.

However, we saw the same pattern among the devoted and active fans of STAR TREK.

There is a quality of some sort that distinguishes this tiny slice of humanity.

It may be 1%, but I think the slice is more like 10% who read at least one novel a year.

I have also seen the persistent statistic that book-buyers, readers in general are only about 5% of the total population even in a Literate country like the USA.  Books just aren't the central interest of most people.

Among those who center their lives around novels, reading, writing, publishing, reviewing, book clubs, and associating with people who have read the same books, there is a vast difference in taste in entertainment.

Some read Chemistry textbooks, or the encyclopedia for fun.

Some read best selling, popular fiction -- Tom Clancy, Stephen King -- things you see made into action-packed films.

Some prefer cerebral mysteries - who-dun-it or procedurals, open and closed.  Some prefer relax by concentrating on solving the puzzle of the mystery, and some prefer to solve the puzzle of Romance (e.g. What Does He See In Her?)




And some, of course, read Romance.  Among readerships, Mysteries and Romance are the biggest categories, though Westerns used to rank with them, all trailed by Science Fiction.  Times have changed, as have the very definitions of what constitutes each of these genres.

But one element that unites all genres is that each genre has a unique style preferred by its readers.

Historicals can use long, involuted sentences, flowery language, and obscure names for articles of clothing, all slowing down the reader's eye, tripping up the mind, evoking images.  Mysteries have to "play fair" with the reader, not hiding the facts needed to solve the mystery, but obscuring them amidst many irrelevant words.  Westerns have to be terse, action packed, and fast paced as does Science Fiction.

Each imprint within a genre has a preferred style.  In Romance, for example, certain imprints require a certain number of sex scenes with a particular amount of nudity and explicit description.  So which publisher you aim to sell to determines a lot of the style you must mimic or adopt.

I have not been able to identify a certain level of intelligence (I.Q.) common to readers of particular genres.  But studies you can find on Google have identified connections between scores on I.Q. tests with reading speed.

Google turns up this interesting statistic:
The average person in business reads no faster than people did 100 years ago. The average reading speed is 200 to 250 words a minute in non-technical material roughly 2 minutes per page.
-----end quote-----

The average screenplay films about 1 minute per script-page.

If it's true that reading speed goes as I.Q., then higher I.Q. individuals would likely tend to read faster, even when reading fiction.

I suspect that no matter your I.Q., you can train yourself to speed-read with fair comprehension (in any subject area you are well familiar with), but you can read faster than your emotions can biochemically shift.

In other words, reading fiction, especially Relationship based fiction, has an upper speed limit dictated not by word-comprehension-speed, but by the body's ability to produce emotional responses.

So the writer aiming at an audience of I.Q. 130+ people would have to use a lot of words to showcase a given emotional pitch.  You don't want the reader to zip through a scene and not feel the impact even while fully comprehending what happened.  It's like watching a movie on Netflix where the lips don't sync with the sound-track voices.

Aiming for an audience of I.Q. 90 people, the writer would use fewer, sharper, smaller words to depict the high impact emotional scenes so the reader doesn't have to read as fast to keep the emotional sweeps in sync with the words.

The objective would be to get the rise and fall of emotional tension in the story to match the reader's progress through the words.  A match like that would produce the greatest, most memorable, and most talked about reading experience.

So which kind of story should naturally engross which kind of I.Q. readership?

What material do you aim toward which I.Q. segment?

Would the story that entertains a low I.Q. person also enthrall a high I.Q. person?

Science Fiction, as I noted above, is the Literature of Ideas, of hypothesizing about abstractions.  Romance is about imagining the Happily Ever After.  Both are about making those abstract imaginary situations into concrete Reality.

Genre publishers have focused science fiction on making scientific advancements real via war, explosions, mayhem.  Romance publishers have (hitherto) constrained Romance genre to non-violent relationships.

All of those constraints have been lifted, especially with small publishers, and self-publishing via electronic means.  The Gatekeepers no longer have a gate to keep.

As a result all sorts of exploration is currently in progress, novels pouring out online, looking for readerships.

Here is a graphic that purports to depict the social spectrum by I.Q.  This is a result of meta-analysis of data collected over many decades, now being re-analyzed in ways that weren't possible when the data was collected.

The methodology and results are sketched in this article:

Which, near the top, has a note [see illustration] which is a link leading to this graphic:


This article explains a factor of Intelligence called g.  Just the letter g.

This entire thesis on human I.Q. may be completely wrong, or have no actual basis in reality, but it gives us a jumping off place to start thinking about the market for our fiction, and how the target reader chosen affects the style that will work best for the story you want to tell.

This graphic, with a breakdown of percentages of a given I.Q. level by social and Relationship activity, may give you an idea of how to Target an Audience by giving you an idea of what activities feature prominently in that Audience's common experience.

For example, the legend of the graph shows that 0% of young white men of  I.Q. 130 have been incarcerated.  Only 9% have been divorced within 5 years of marriage. Only 10% have been out of work for a month.  But only 5% of the total population has an I.Q. of 130.

Note the scale doesn't show all the way to I.Q. 200, but I've known people of I.Q. 220.

The I.Q. 130 slice of the white male population may have been poor for a while, but they don't LIVE IN poverty.

Only 2% of I.Q. 130 women have had illegitimate children.

And 0% of I.Q. 130 dropout of High School.  College might be a different story - as there are way smarter ways to make a living than getting a degree that makes you "over-qualified" for the most fun stuff you want to do.

Look at the line that says Career Potential and think about those 4 segments as you choose a readership to target.

To get the most book sales, you need to target a bigger readership.  The number of people under the middle of the distribution curve is that bigger readership.

So to sell a LOT of books, you need to target Clerks, Tellers, Police Officers, Machinists, and Sales people.

Notice how "Chemist" (e.g. scientist) is over the I. Q, 130 section of the curve -- that's where you find the preponderance of dedicated, avid, talkative, networked, science fiction fans.

There aren't enough to support a publishing imprint under the print-warehouse distribution model.  Certainly not enough to support a blockbuster film, or a TV Series that are just too expensive to make.

Hence purveyors of the Literature of Ideas have to include an element in the story that will entertain everyone down to I.Q. 90 -- for which purpose they have chosen "action" which is easy to understand but hard to actually do.  Very few fans of Action Genre are physically fit enough to perform the feats of speed and strength the Hero of the story executes routinely.

However, also notice that Romance, while as a genre has become focused on the more highly intelligent woman with the education of an even more intelligent person, still appeals to everyone across the spectrum.  Note also that these highly intelligent, over-educated women gravitate to Romance genre reading during the years when they are raising children (i.e. performing the duties of food service worker and nurse's aid 24/7).

Now, when you combine Science Fiction with Romance, you get a new genre that has the "reach" to engross I.Q. 130 and above, all the way down to I.Q. 90.  In other words, "Romance" acts as the "Action" ingredient to broaden the reach.

Explain the life-experience and point of view of one segment of this population to the other segments using Characters from the various segments, and you could find you have written a Classic.

The article which this graph illustrates only pertains to YOUNG and WHITE ADULTS in the U.S., so don't expect any rule to hold true across the real population.  There will be scatter blurring the categories.  Just see if you can absorb the implications and use them to extrapolate how the arrival of Aliens From Outer Space might impact these social segments differently.

Which segment might accept a human having an affair with an Alien?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg