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Very short stories to read at the bus stop.

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It's nice how it's all neatly contained like that. All outdoors, stuffed into one tiny rectangle. Where I can keep an eye on it. Out the window. Neatly framed.

If you look out the window and blink your eyes away quickly, the list of things you thought you saw will be a much longer list than what you actually saw. Your brain fills in for you all the things you think you ought to have seen. And screens out a huge amount of what you actually saw that didn't jive with what you thought you'd see.

That's just how your brain works. If you don't like it, there's no one you can sue. Unless you're religious.

The upshot though, is that no matter how much you might want to see something new and unusual, no matter how inclined you are to see the magic, the fairies, the space aliens, the angels and demons, if they aren't already part of your experience, your eyes will just skip over it. Your brain will just skip over it, even if it catches your eye.

Here's evidence. Here's proof. There's something in this picture you won't allow yourself to see. No matter how hard you stare. See?

Don't cry. This happens to you literally thousands of times per day. Get used to it. Stay used to it.

And thank your lucky stars.


Posted by Laszlo Q. V. St-J. Xalieri

6th Aug 2008, 00:02   | tags:


jc1000000 says:


6th Aug 2008, 13:09

Further reading.

Anytime I try to write some kind of modern/urban fantasy, I put this at the root. You can see only what you can comprehend, and you comprehend what you see in terms of what you already know to be true, and what you know to be true is basically explained to you in shorthand by people you trust unless you're actually a scientist of some kind. And even then you only pry up the corners of reality you can afford to lose. Unless you're a complete nihilist.

For instance, it's been fairly entertaining explaining America's peculiar brand of Christian Fundamentalism (including the lovely mindset of people who are actually no kidding in favor of Armageddon and are wealthy and in politics) to someone who was raised nearly Catholic but mostly nonreligious. I may as well have been arguing in favor of fairies for the first few days of the discussion. Thankfully a scientific background has taught me how to lay out evidence logically. But in the end I felt like I'd backed over the family dog. There's such a thing as too much reality. The ice is pretty thin no matter where you skate.

At least with fiction your audience isn't putting up so much of a fight. :)


6th Aug 2008, 13:43

Dhamaka says:

are you sure about that last statement? I think the fight's the same but goes on at two different levels

nice story, pretty extra

8th Aug 2008, 18:06

Well, once someone has picked up a story you've written, they're already willing to listen. Even more so if they've paid money for the privilege.

And then there's the tendency for people to require a somewhat higher standard of believability for something you're telling them is factual.

It disturbs me, however, that "believable" seems easier than "factual". "Believable" plays on aesthetic sensibilities. "Factual" requires almost no sensibilities of any kind, or maybe just a stripped-down logical structure for which many people seemed to have skipped the training.

What's the nature of the fight as you see it?


8th Aug 2008, 18:24

Dhamaka says:

I think that the first level is getting people to want to read your piece. The first sentence / standfirst / first paragraph are vital but so is the feel of the piece - how it's published, the way it looks and of course your reputation.

Once they've decided to read the next level (in fiction, I think) is planting the idea.

When I sold risk management consultancy I soon realised that it wasn't enough to provide people with reasons and logic. In fact it was often better not to give them the whole string of reasoning. My most successful sales were when I gave people just enough to go off, think about things and get to the conclusion themselves. Risk management is a scary thing but I found that feeding them the entire chain of reasoning would inevitably lead them to going off on a totally unanticipated track of their own.

I believe that getting people to think seriously about real or hypothetical propositions included in fiction needs a similar approach - enough of a logical structure to start people off, enough information from which they can build their own logic, then 'extra stuff'. The extra's the challenge. Not just something intriguing or quirky or appealing enough to catch people up when they first read the piece but something that makes them keep thinking back.

That in my opinion, is the fight and I'm slowly developing my ammo

9th Aug 2008, 00:45

I agree completely, but I tend to think of those as two totally separate fights. The first part is marketing, and the second part is the actual writing. They require completely different sets of skills... most of the time. I'll come back to that in a minute.

I also agree that too many details turns people off. Use a few bold strokes to suggest a shape, some shadows and hints to fire the imagination, and then try to stay the hell out of the way while the readers' imaginations take over.

But as to the marketing standpoint, the only marketing I really know (not that I know it to be particularly effective) is to construct an interesting/intriguing character, call that the author (by way of pen name), and move into it the way you'd move into a house....


9th Aug 2008, 17:37