Writing Thoughts: Short Story vs Novels

A topic that comes up frequently for writers is the difference between short stories and novels. At first brush one can simply say “length” however the more I’ve discussed and considered the topic the more I’ve begun to think there are fundamental differences between the mediums.

I’m going to use an odd but hopefully useful metaphor here:

The main difference in my head, or more specifically the reason that a short story isn’t simply a mini-novel is this, a novel is like a juggling act, the juggler throws a large ball (the main characters main plot arc) into the air and also whirls around several smaller balls/skittles/chainsaws (subplots etc). The whole performance is a masterpiece of swirling items that interact in dynamic and interesting ways until the final fate of the big ball is revealed.

The whole beauty of the novel is having the page-time to really develop a complex and intriguing story.

When is comes to short stories the juggler metaphor becomes a bit trite, its more like the performer simply throws the single big ball into the air and catches it again. There simply isn’t the page-time to develop the same style of plot. To be sure, a skillful author can manage that level of intrigue with minimal words and maximum skill. But ultimately my conclusion is that short stories are not a particularly good medium for short novels. Or more specifically pieces about characters traveling from A to B (thematically not literally) with 3 act structures and well crafted tension and reduction. I came to this conclusion after some asked an interesting question about building tension in short stories. Short stories do have tension but I noted that the same methods one might employ in a novel aren’t necessarily going to work in a short.

My favourite definition of a short story is a piece that takes a microscope to something, and the medium is used to examine it. So this could still include an action sequence, a horror trope a romance, but the purpose is more to intensely present some aspect(s) of such a topic. Where a novel might be about a layered journey and short story is all about that thing.

I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on the matter, also I haven’t thought much about novellas or even the more elusive novelettes. Thoughts comments and challenges much appreciated…

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Psychological Perspectives on #MuslimBan

I never really wanted to politicize my blogging, after all I’m still pretty sure most of my views come from people directly related to me (Hi Mum, hi bro) but like a black hole politics tends to suck in the people around, and also like a black hole crush their souls into incomprehensible pulp. Also I recently came to the realization that being an easy going person is fine, but to also expand that attitude to affairs of the world is to silently condone them. Not that I plan on making massive differences I suppose but to have a voice in the maelstrom is important.

Anyways the true point of this post is prompted by someone older and wiser than myself who pointed out that part of Donald Trump’s success stemmed from a complacency on the efforts of progressives, who simply labelled Trump as a bigot and did not provide coherent arguments against his statements. Now I can understand this because typically one does not feel that a thorough argument in needed against a man who blames critical interview questions on the journalist being on her period, HOWEVER equally if you want people to be better you need to give them reason to be (other than to avoid the label bigot)

If you’re with me so far, basically I want to provide a perspective on why banning Muslims from entering the U.S. is bad. Just for the sake of clarity I am aware that the immigration restrictions are more complicated than an outright ban, however this is the rubric many people understand the policy and I want to provide a coherent argument against it.

 

Main Point – the ban plays in people’s psychology in all the wrong ways.

Something we all do is generalize (for example me just then). Generalization is a necessary process that stops our brains from exploding, and in many cases is an accurate way of understanding the world. The problem with generalization in today’s global world is that our brains don’t really have an ‘off switch’ or some little cognitive angel on our shoulder telling us “That generalization is too big.”

And when it comes to BIG groups generalization to be frank is outright incorrect. Put it this way, the smaller the assumption the better chance you have of some accuracy, for example if I made statements about men in their 30’s in my hometown. When is comes to massive groups like religions, gender, even nations generalizations become hideously, sometimes disastrously inaccurate. For example if I make statements about women as a whole, I’m referring to something like 3-4 billion people, gender is NOT a good way to make assumptions about 3 billion people!

Anyway there are estimated to be 1.6 billion Muslim people in the world. That is a lot of people to make a generalization about…

But wait, one might ask, what about the terrorism thing. You know ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and so forth, there are/were all Muslims right? Not only that many of these people identify the reason for their animosity to be their religious belief!

Phew, OK this one is a bit harder to untangle but if anyone is following this argument please bear with me. First let me make a strange proposal, that is that we don’t take the word of the perpetrator for why violence occurs. In forensic or rehabilitative psychology it is not unusual to see perpetrators of crime have some form of plausible narrative about why they think they committed a grievous crime, suffice to say as a professional you don’t simply assume that their explanation is the more causative factors.

That probably sounded like gobbledygook (who would have thought Chrome would demand the correct spelling of that) so here is a real example:

A man accused of sexual abuse claimed that he had been hypnotized by the stars reflecting in his outdoor pool and committed this crime in a semi-conscious state. Now as a professional working with such a person, or even law enforcement trying to protect others you would seriously be wasting your time trying to prevent star hypnotism.

What has this all got to do with Muslim banning and terrorism. In short faith may be the explanation of the terrorist, however it would be wrong-headed to assume that the solution is to target their faith. It’s also doing something called “confusing the inverse” Confusing the inverse is when you understand that all dogs are mammals so assume that most mammals are dogs. 90-95% of prisoners are men, only 1-2% of men are criminals.

So I guess this diatribe has been a length argument for why restricting immigration for Muslims into the U.S. is a bad idea, beyond it being racist, or non-PC. I also believe such actions have serious consequences going forward including:

  • It galvanizes bad-thinking on behalf of the U.S. we all have cognitive biases and the more we allow them to inform decision making the less we can resist them
  • It also confirms the beliefs of those who do make the U.S. and western nations their enemy. I’m not saying that enemies can hold nations with emotional black-mail but I have always believed in humane treatment not necessarily because people deserve it but to maintain one’s own ethics.
  • Finally its simply not a good policy. Favouring Christian immigrants over Muslim plays into shallow thinkers hands terrorism has been conducted by people of all religions, again because its a big category its useless to generalize within it.

Anyway, time has grown short if anyone is reading this blog and has thoughts, criticism, arguments whatever feel free to comment.

Has Social Media Ruined Us?

First let me acknowledge the irony. Everything I write in this post in enabled by the technology and infrastructure of social media.

Second let me start by saying people will always complain, and for those who want to look at it that way, the world has always sucked Social Media is unlikely to blame. Social Media however fascinates me as in some respects the technology is the pinnacle of shifting away from our more naturalistic social groupings and into a world of unlimited connections. Not wanting to be guilty of naturalistic fallacies but social psychologists believe that many of our social instincts and cognitive processes are designed for a small tribe of 150 people. How does that relate to FaceBook, well put simply its nothing our brains are prepared for!

So what does Social Media offer that is so unique? I mean we’ve have TV, Radio, email, snail mail and whatnot for ages, what gives? Something I find fascinating about online interactions is they operate like a conversation with optional input operating over unlimited time…

huh?

What I mean is that if I post a status on Facebook, that status is there permanently like a general statement to the world (unless I should choose to delete it, even then many sites will still keep a post for people who have already commented and/or people may still see it through various loopholes). Now it terms of interaction, people may ‘like’ or comment and then in turn I might reply, or not. I might reply within minutes days or even years.

Now on its own-some this time frame aspect isn’t too odd especially considering people used to wait years for post to travel, but what I find it the fact that commenting on FaceBook is a low cost/low effort action so it can be just a varied as an everyday interaction.

So just to contrast this with interactions IRL (in real life) you can see the other person, you take into consideration the context, body language, all the rest and your interactions while not high-cost are limited to right then and there and appropriate turn taking and all the rest. I’m not trying to be a fuddy-duddy here and lament the loss of face-to-face interactions (because for one thing they are still happening) its just to point out the potential oddness of being ‘exposed’ to so many potential communications that normally one would not, and thats the topic of my next point.

The other really weird thing about social media is the cross-over between people. I think for those using social media to promote something professionally or a hobby or whatever this isn’t such a big deal because and audience is an audience right? However using the likes of FaceBook for ‘real’ socializing can draw some strange connections that probably wouldn’t have happened in person. Friends arguing with family (not theirs) workmates crossing paths with school friends. Sometimes this is really cool and much like the way we make friends IRL and some of it is downright awkward.

Which comes to my final point, Social Media gives everyone a platform. And oddly while we have lots of control over whether we use it, once you’re there its harder to navigate without being exposed to information you didn’t ask for and never wanted to know (i.e. you can’t choose to turn off your cousin Bob’s oversharing status’ the best you can do is block Bob, but then you don’t get the parts you do want and/or offend Bob). On the extreme end this means we are more exposed to opinions and stances then ever before. I’m reminded of that advice never to discuss politics, religion (and one other thing what was it again) at the dinner table – well Social Media basically says forget it, it’s All on the table.

There’s probably more I could go on about, fake internet points being a whole other topic on the subject, but I think I’d end on that conclusion (plus I see the clock turning over and alas I must work) Social Media hasn’t exactly ruined people, what its done is made opposing opinions much more in our faces!

 

Review (dissection) of Movie: Passengers

First of all thanks for coming to see my new blog host WordPress, going to aim to compile my old stuff from LiveJournal and Wattpad and chuck it on here too, but for now lets rant  discuss a movie: Passengers

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

I have to clarify first that I actually really liked this film, in the sense that it was a relatively solid piece and it did the thing that most writers attempt to do which it made me think – I was ultimately unhappy with many things about the film, but it succeeded in getting my attention and generating some though (you’ll come to get my point of view as the rant continues)

In order to explain I’m going to do a bit of a plot summary which is not usually my goal but I feel is needed to make sense of my worlds.

 

The plot of Passengers begins with a spaceship, running on autopilot the spaceship houses thousands of hyper-sleeping passengers and their crew on the long journal between Earth and a colony planet. We see an asteroid strike the ship, resulting in a malfunction which causes Chris Pratt to wake up early. How early you say? Basically 90 years too early, so early he is damned to spend the rest of his days alone on the ship as he dies of old age before the thing reaches its destination.

Now, a few people have critiqued this aspect of the film for having an amazing futuristic ship which seems capable of doing every magical thing possible and yet can’t get Chris P back into hyper-sleep (and/or that for all the advancements of this future doesn’t include enough life extension of some form). I’m willing to give this a pass because in any type of travel it makes sense to not include unneeded cargo (however it is a bit hard to believe that technology is so foolproof they don’t have any sort of back-up or contingency for a hyper-sleep pod malfunction)

Anyway I digress. The movie and Pratt do an excellent job portraying the horror and sadness of a man trapped in an unsolvable situation, and the other thing I love about this film is they make a major tension about a character’s choice . As Mr Pratt gets increasingly upset and lonely he stumbles about J’Law a veritable sleeping beauty that Chris’ character quickly falls for through reading and viewing her work as a journalist. We see the trauma of his decision as he considers waking her up, putting her in the same situation as him but ending his loneliness.

It probably comes as no surprise that he does eventually do it, credit must be given that the writers didn’t go for a soft move and have some other way for he to be woken. Nope they go whole character develop ham and make Chris do a very evil but very understandable thing.

From there to movie continues in excellent tension as we see a relationship blossom between the two, but of course eventually spectacularly fall to pieces when Lawrence learns the truth.

 

I’d like to pause here and discuss where I wish the movie had gone. Up until this point it was in my opinion a brilliant piece. There were several directions they could have gone to keep up the excellence for example the rest of the movie could have explored:

  • the relationship between the two as virtual prisoners stuck in each others company, would she had forgiven him what would he have done to restore her trust and so forth
  • Whether the pair woke more people, it would make a plausible plot that Jennifer’s character would have wanted someone else awake to divert attention, it would have been a cynical but awesome plot twist to be a movie about a cascade of bad decisions where more and more people get woken up
  • There could have been some other reason Chris Pratt was awoken that developed the plot further, like some sort of horrible deep space experiment or something

Anyway this isn’t about tooting my own plotting horn its just about how I didn’t really like what was done with the movie from then on. Basically what happens is as follows.

Between the angst of the two passengers a member of the crew literally McGuffins into the story when his pod opens (I think I’m using that term right) he basically appears to give the other characters access to other functions of the ship, lightly scold Pratt for his choice and, I kid you not, outright awkwardly not talk to J’Law about her perspective on his crime when she tries to talk about it. He then immediately dies (because honestly they didn’t want to have to work out the dynamics of 3 people hanging out in isolation together, I doubt it would be quite as ‘feel good’ as they tried to make this movie.

So yeah McGuffin dies and tells the other to look after themselves and to fix the ship. We’re then greeted to a number of sci-fi spaceship repair sequences and in my honest opinion an extremely far too drawn out scene of ‘will Pratt die or not?’

I think the whole bit was meant to show their relationship being forged together in the fire of adversity, but the whole section was really pretty forced. A lot of backstory effort is put into making the J’Law character desperate for true love, to make her connection to Pratt all the more significant, but can one really look past the issue of he is literally the only other moving human in existence for her. The final beat is that Jennifer chooses to stay with Chris even though they find an option for one of them to be put back to hyper-sleep and it all feels super awkward really. He doesn’t really make up for his horrible decision to wake her up (although I would like to point out an interesting hubris on her part, she is generally a blameless character although she reveals that her plan was to hyper-sleep to the colony, then take the first shuttle back to Earth, effectively zooming 200 years into the future all for the purpose of writing a famous story. The reason I say this is hubris is she is shown to leave loving friends behind and the suggestion is her goal of writing fame led her to instead being prematurely awoken).

The other dubious overtone, is there is a scene between the two in the movie where they discuss the financial gains of the colonizing company for the mission. The issues has a related scene where J’Law hassles Pratt for his life dream being the same as the company slogan ‘Start New’ finally he pairs major action from their awakening is to save the ship (sort of at the cost of their own lives, although admittedly they were already awake and would die too if they ship wasn’t saved). I say this is dubious because there is a rather uncomfortable message here about individual lives not mattering in the face of massive profit loss, and people should make the most of crappy situations by saving company products. I dunno maybe I am reading too much into it.

I’ve ranted too long by now, I loved the start of this movie because the drama and tension hinged on character’s decisions and the consequences of, I think they made a mistake then thinking it would be enjoyable to watch those characters run through a generic action sequence. Passenger was a good movie, but ultimately a frustrating one because the thoughts it provoked staled in the face of Hollywood storytelling. It’s a bit like being asked the question “what would you do in this situation” and rather than throwing any more ethical curve-balls just drawing out a brief adventure.