Orson Scott Card’s “Characters & Viewpoint”

First and up front, I’ve never enjoyed an Orson Scott Card book. I could never get into them. They didn’t interest me. When a reviewer favorably compared my The Augmented Man to Card’s Ender’s Game, I scratched my head. Grateful, of course, and still confused.

However, Card’s Characters & Viewpoint?

Another story (forgive the pun) entirely.

Although titled “Characters & Viewpoint”, the subtitle is “How to invent, construct, and animate vivid, credible characters and choose the best eyes through which to view the events of your short story or novel.” Tear that subtitle apart and you get (or, at least I got):

  • Character
  • General story building elements
  • Story concept
  • Scenes
  • Story structure
  • POV
  • Narration

I so dog-eared this book my folded pages made it twice as thick as normal.


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Four pieces for a workshop

I’m taking an online writing workshop. For several reasons.

First and foremost, I know I can improve.

Second and notquitemost, I enjoy learning.

One assignment had four parts, shared here (to give folks a break from The Goatmen of Aguirra):

Write a Character Description where the Character isn’t happy with their appearance
Mary said yes.
Yes!
I can’t believe she said yes.
To me!
Why me? My god, does skype show all those wrinkles? Or the gray? How come I didn’t trim my beard today?
And I smiled a lot. I should have spent that extra $100 for the whitener the dentist suggested.
But she said yes!
My eyes are bloodshot. I can’t believe my eyes are bloodshot.
At least she couldn’t smell my breath over Skype.
Or can she?
Maybe that’s why she was smiling so much. Her pretty, whimsical smile. All teeth and curls.
She wasn’t smiling at saying yes, she was smiling because she could smell my breath, knew I just woke up, hadn’t even had a coffee yet, hadn’t brushed my teeth, combed my hair…
Why did I take that fucking call?

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Describe something from nature
Cool, night air.
The musk of woods swirling about our feet like hungry raccoons pecking at our toes.
Bright, Autumn moonlight leading Orion through the sky, away from dawn.
Wolves howl, owls hoot, loons call.
The gentle touch of my lover’s hand in mine.

Describe someone’s perception of nature
What’s wrong here?
The trees are at their posts, the rivers course on their ways, the clouds dance correctly overhead.
What’s wrong here?
The bees buzz on their flowers, the ants carry leaves to their nests, the spiders sit lazily in their webs.
What’s wrong here?
The snakes slither after toads, the toads snatch hatchlings on the wet, wet bottoms, the salamanders spread their toes like firewalkers on parade.
What’s wong here?

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Show People Realizing they’re not where they should be
I catch my wife’s eye and nod towards the end of the vegetable aisle.
“What’s he doing?”
“I’m not sure, but the two people with him don’t look happy.”
“She’s trying to calm him.”
“That boy’s getting ready to scream.”
“Should we alert the manager? Does this store have security?”
“A place with food this expensive in this neighborhood would have disguised Pinkertons walking the aisles. They’ll act if they have to.”
“Bullshit. Look at the clothes they’re wearing. They’ve got money. Nobody’s going to throw them out.”
“How come everyone’s ignoring them?”
“How come we’re not going up to him, asking him if there’s a problem, asking him if he needs help?”
“Because he’s a fucking lunatic, the way he’s behaving. You want to get near that?”
“I don’t want that boy – “
“Oh, my god! He whacked that boy!”

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Faith Untested

This story has been haunting me since 2013 and has gone through four revisions. I believe there’s one heck of a story here…somewhere…comments welcome…


Faith Untested

Many years ago Ben grabbed William by an ankle and dangled him outside my third story dorm room window. It was a warm, Spring afternoon that suddenly got hot. Ben, a muscular wrestler, spoke calmly. “Tell me where the Jews are.” Ben’s quiet voice reverberated in my room like a rifle shot.

Some of us gathered to discuss an Ethics class assignment: It’s The Holocaust. You’ve hidden Jews somewhere in your home. The Nazis burst in the door demanding to know where the Jews are. What do you do?

Some confessed they’d cave. Some professed they’d stay resolute and hoped they could endure torture. Much was said between these two points. I was in the resolute-endure-torture camp but secretly knew I’d go with the crowd: “Want the Jews? Well, here they are! All wrapped up and neatly waiting for you in my basement! Aren’t I a good doobie? Getting them all together for you like this?”

My room was at the end of a hall, tucked away in the top floor southeast corner of the dorm. A perfect place for lively discussions.

None of us noticed William, not in the Ethics class, on the other side of the doorway in the hall, standing stiff and attentive, listening, bible in hand. His father was a Bible answer man at a Christian radio station. In an era of long haired hippie freaks, William stood out in his close cut hair, pale skin, a perfectly starched and ironed white shirt with thin black tie that hung on his closet-hanger shoulders and billowed about his once-a-week-fasting frame. Blond and blue-eyed, he took every opportunity to evangelize us. He wasn’t a pain or a nuisance, though. He was more like a gnat.

He cleared his throat and we looked up. “I would tell the truth, tell them where the Jews were, and trust Jesus to perform a miracle and save them.”

“Really.” It wasn’t a question. It just sounded like one.

“I’d have to tell the truth because that’s what God requires of me.”

“You tell the truth, the Jews die. This is what God requires of you? You can’t lie and trust all that forgiveness of sins crap you talk about?”

“My faith tells me God and His Son Jesus Christ will save those Jews.”

“You mean a miracle of some kind? The Nazis go blind? Or just decide, fuck it let’s knock off early and grab some brews? Maybe the Jews disappear? You think God’s going to pull some kind of Jedi mind trick?”

“Please don’t curse.”

Ben, his massive arm eclipsing my small black-and-white TV on my bureau, chuckled at the Jedi remark. Moonless midnight sky black hair and always in need of a shave, he laughed when we described him with “arms as big as legs and legs as big as people.”

Ben lost people in The Holocaust.

He listened patiently, his brow furrowed, his lips silent, his eyes fixed on William and squinting as if William were some bright light on a close horizon. William started insisting that telling the Nazis where the Jews were hiding would be a test of his faith.

Ben quietly opened a window. He put his hands on the window sill, inhaled deeply, upturned William, grabbed him by an ankle and held him outside the window, three stories up.

“You have ten seconds to decide. Tell the truth, sacrifice the Jews and hope for a miracle, or lie, convincingly, and save your life. In ten seconds you’ll fall three stories. You may not die, but you’ll be badly hurt. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be spared in either case. You admit there are Jews in your house and you’ve harbored Jews, you’re an enemy of the state and will be killed as an example to others. You convince me there are no Jews here and I may kill you anyway as a warning to others.”

“Ten…”

We didn’t think Ben would let William drop. He’d never been violent or even angry that we could remember. Even when we went out for pizza, he was the one who stopped arguments and shoving matches with reason and quiet good humor.

Now he relaxed his grip a few times. Whatever blood should have been rushing to William’s head never made it there. He was blanched white and screaming for Ben to stop.

“Nine…”

William never called for Jesus to save him. He begged Ben to bring him in. He screamed at us to help him.

“Eight… Where are the Jews?”

More screams. We could hear people outside on the college quad shouting up at this strange play. Somebody hollered for others to call campus security.

“Seven…Where are the Jews?”

William screamed hysterically now. Hysterically. “PLEASE DEAR GOD SOMEBODY MAKE HIM STOP!” I remember thinking, “Does that count as a call to God or is he just using the adjectival modifier?”

“Six…You are going to drop to the ground unless you tell me where the Jews are. Where are the Jews?”

At this point one of the other fellows in the room said, “Ten dollars Ben can’t hold him the full ten seconds.” Ben wasn’t breathing hard. He looked like he could hold William out the window forever. I said, “What?”

“Five…”

A window in the room next to ours opened up. Somebody shouted “William says he’d let Nazis kill the Jews and hope for a miracle. Ben’s going to drop him unless he changes his mind.” There was a quick response from the crowd, “Let the fucker fall!”, but nobody laughed.

“Four…Where are the Jews?”

William screamed, “I don’t know! There are no Jews!”

“Three…I’m not convinced.” He took his eyes off William, turned his head and looked at us, “Are any of you convinced?”

Somebody said, “Ben, come on. Enough’s enough.”

“Two…Nobody here’s convinced, either. Where are the Jews?”

William is crying now. Screaming and crying, hysterically begging for someone anyone to help him. He’s calling to Jesus Christ and all the saints and not in ways I think they’d recognize as calls for help.

“One. Time’s up. You die.”


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Usability Studies 101: Knowledgeable Interface (Re)Design

[I’m resurrecting this post – originally on iMedia from (drumroll, please) 2005 – for Terry Melia who had trouble setting up his Galaxy phone…]

You’re obsolete!
– from the original Twilight Zone episode 65, “The Obsolete Man

 
I attended a presentation a while back and witnessed something fascinating. There were five people speaking and the MC asked for their PPTs so he could load them onto the laptop hooked to the projector. One fellow pulled out a miniCD-RW. “Here you go,” he said. “There’s enough room for everybody to burn their presentations so you won’t need to fumble with lots of disks.” He was thanked and the CD was passed around. One panelist had a very flashy little lap..noteb…palm…something. No CD drives, no floppy drives. Incredibly fast little machine which could find any wireless network from ground level to the ISS and with enough USB ports to pilot an aircraft carrier through heavy seas. This presenter pulled out a USB drive on a keychain, copied his presentation to it, pointed to the presenters passing around the CD and said, “That’s obsolete.”
Continue reading “Usability Studies 101: Knowledgeable Interface (Re)Design”

A Good Samaritan Suggested…

Beware those boring and dull people. They can exhaust you.

A kind hearted soul read my LinkedIn profile and offered assistance.

I read through his suggestions and thanked him. The Samaritan’s suggestions are based on his belief that I must want a job. He has this belief because he wants (and just got) a job.

I have no such desire. In fact, I actively tell people I’m not for hire. If they insist, I quote my fees. They are considered high. They are high because I don’t want to return to the life I led before authoring full time.

Quoting those fees puts a stop to them.

But let me blend my past and present professions for a bit. A standard problem in marketing is not understanding the audience. Unless you’re in the target audience your opinions don’t matter. Funny that this is also a standard problem in writing workshops and critique groups: unless you’re familiar with the genre don’t critique the storytelling, critique the storycrafting.

In marketing, critique what will cause desired consumer behaviors and actions. If you’re not in the audience for the types of sneakers your client is selling, don’t critique the sneakers, critique how the sneakers are presented.

But let’s go over the Samaritan’s highlights…
Well you started by saying you think you’re boring and dull. Who wants to hire someone like that?

Well…no one, I hope. That’s why I wrote it that way.

You then say your friends would say otherwise- so you’re not boring and dull, but you think you are.

I explain my penchant for self-description in Inside the Worlds of Joseph Carrabis, author of The Augmented Man. I have no desire to be around someone who self-describes as exciting, thrilling, et cetera.

Do you like to be around people who self-describe as thrilling, exciting, et cetera? Really? I like rollercoasters. Watching them. I like space-diving. Watching it. I’ve had enough adrenaline pump through my veins in my life. Now, a warm fire, a good single malt, feeling my wife’s hand in mine, playing with our dog and cat, these are exciting and thrilling enough for me.

Want me to advise you on being thrilling and exciting? That I can do. If you’d like. I charge a lot, though.

Besides, who you going to believe about me? I may have an overblown ego (can you say “self-aggrandizing behavior”? Can you say “lying about yourself”? Can you say “They looked good on paper”?). You wouldn’t be able to trust any self-referencing statements I make.

But lots of other people who say roughly the same things about me? Even if it’s 180° different from what I say?

In the world I came from, that would be considered market research. It’s a must for success in business. Probably in life, too, although few would call it market research, me thinks.

Let me give you an example. Long ago I mentioned I’d done “a little research” on something. Most of the people in the room politely smiled. Most of the people in the room dismissed me. One person asked, “What’s a little research, Joseph?”

“Not much. About fifteen years so far.”

Back to my Good Samaritan
That makes it seems like you’re not confident in yourself and might not be confident in your work.

There’s a fascinating phenomenon known by most people in the psych fields as “If I am a thief then you must steal.” It means people apply their own filters to others. If the Samaritan started with “I consider myself boring and dull” he’d do it because he has no self-confidence.

Me?

I do it because I don’t want to be bothered. I know what exciting and thrilling is and don’t qualify.

At the end you have a bit about the “don’t buy into the boring and dull line,” but employers aren’t looking for your life story- they want something quick and snappy or they’ll move onto someone else.

I can but hope. An employer not doing due-diligence on an employee commensurate with the position they want to fill is an idiot. A quick and snappy review of my credentials ain’t gonna happen. If I come up in a search for something “quick and snappy” then either the search algorithm is crap or the person doing the search is an idiot. Anybody wanting “quick and snappy” will hit my profile like a wall and quickly and snappily move on.

To which I reply, “Success!”

Check out my about section- it’s short, it’s to the point, and most importantly it allows people to finish it and move onto my experience. You’ve got a good deal of employment, but people scared off by a big wall of text won’t get that far.

But you, Good Samaritan, did. (and wait, there’s more)

…but on LinkedIn, you’re competing with other people. If it’s between someone who says “I’m the best person in the world” and someone who says “I think I’m boring” to get the job, they’re going to go for the vain, slightly annoying person, because they’ll give that one a chance to show they’re not full of it.

Fascinating and I suspect my Good Samaritan won’t last long in a recruitment position. The vain, slightly annoying person is going to annoy co-workers, customers, managers, …, they’ll probably be high-maintenance and an HR headache.

Give me the boring and dull person. Provided they have the background, credentials, references, et cetera.

My Good Samaritan offered a rewrite:
“I’m a master storyteller with a sharp sense of humor. I work to aid businesses in promoting top level research as well as multicultural understanding in my field. In my free time I write speculative fiction and conclusive nonfiction, and aim to help others follow their bliss every day.”

Fascinating Deux. He’d have to read my entire LinkedIn profile to get some (and not all of that) and then read through some of my blog posts and/or google me.

About half an hour after his first message came in, I received:
I just saw that you’ve got great reviews on Amazon- that should be a starter. You barely even mention that to start out, I’m a published author on Amazon with a 5* rating is immediately impressive.

And a half hour after that:
… one click away shows you know what you’re doing with your writing because you have 5* reviews on Amazon. I’m a published writer. Click. Bam. There it is, people can see you have books for them to purchase, right now.

In all cases, my “boring and dull” line made him work to find out more about me.

Let me emphasize that: My “boring and dull” line made him work to find out more about me.

Well, not quite. It’s my “boring and dull” line juxtaposed with other people’s opinions of me. People don’t like confusion. Minor confusion they’ll investigate. Major confusion they’ll back away from.

The “more” you’re waiting for
First, I completely agree that I’m not going to get called in for lots of “quick and snappies.”

That noted, I did get under my Samaritan’s skin. More appropriately, I got into his head. I stayed there long enough for him to do lots of research on me. Chances are I’m going to stay in his head for a good long time simply due to the effort he put in researching me.

That happens a lot. I don’t get lots of requests from people – my profile causes major confusion to people seeking quick and snappy. The requests I do get demonstrate come from people already convinced I can help them – they solved their minor confusion.

They’ve done their due-diligence.

My work here is done.