• Member Since 1st Aug, 2014
  • offline last seen August 20th


Discomfort is the feeling of horizons expanding against a closed mind.

More Blog Posts15

  • 4 weeks
    Visual Reference Guide

    From time to time various bits of imagery are sufficiently important warrant a physical representation, since MLP:FIM is primarily a visual medium, so I've created this listing to be updated as the need arises. Typically, this will include cutiemarks of characters in my stories as I publish them. Since this was growing larger than my main page needed, it's now here as projected.

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    0 comments · 11 views
  • 287 weeks
    CA: Theming

    A continuation of my Cumulative Advice for Writers blog, introducing one of the core elements of writing.

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    2 comments · 498 views
  • 288 weeks
    Still alive, still writing, and still kicking and screaming.

    Many may know I say that I write, and write, and write, but find I haven't published anything like the amount of stuff I've claimed to have written. Well, there's a reason for that, but I thought it was worth mentioning what it is I am actually working on, and what I'm working on is three stories at the same time; which can be

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    0 comments · 215 views
  • 288 weeks
    Outline: To Cure Deception

    Continuing on my work of providing examples for my Cumulative Advice blog, no advice is in need of examples more than Outlines. My previous outline posted for DotFR followed the format I call "Proof of Concept" being structured very much the same way a mathematical proof is. Different stories need different styles of

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    0 comments · 319 views
  • 289 weeks
    CA: Three Roles

    This extension of my Cumulative Advice for New Writers Blog helps distinguish and disambiguate three frequently used terms: Pre-Reader, Proof-Reader, and Editor. The goal of which is to help identify what each term means (through reference), so that when a writer is seeking help they know exactly what kind of help they

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    2 comments · 377 views

CA: What We Don't Know. · 6:46am Oct 15th, 2015

A continuation of my Cumulative Advice (for Writers) blog focusing heavily on aspects of the narrative section. Specifically: the value of unknowns.

As people we inherently want to believe we can understand, and appreciate, the position a person or character has been put into. We want to know what motivates them because that is the very basis for our frequently asked question "why" as discussed in Narrative as Communication. The old saying "what we don't know can't hurt us" is not only laughably false, but that falsehood is an intuitive guideline to the art of misdirection.

When I raise the question of what we don't know, I do so in more than just the context of character motivations, but will focus on those motivations as they tend to intrinsically be the most interesting part of the story. Diving right in then...

When we experience a story through a character, the main character usually, we're not really experiencing the world as it is. At least, realistically, we shouldn't be because there is much about the world that character doesn't know, don't understand, or simply don't think about. The consequence of this is that there is information the character lacks, that is vital to the understanding of someone, or something, else which results in the audience not understanding that character.

As discussed in Making a Character Wrong there are many methods, and consequences, of achieving this. The most common for new writers being that a character they've created, and loved, is never fully appreciated by their audience. Sadly, that's just going to be a fact of life. A fact we can set aside for the moment by addressing what the audience doesn't know that they know.

In the link above, I addressed information given to the audience implicitly through the actions of a character. That is to say, that actions implicate intent of some kind, most of which obvious, and some of which is not. The things we want our audience to pick up from the actions of our characters, or the events that unfold in general, are pieces of information that they may not know that they know. This form of subtly is not for everyone, as it is easy to miss, but it is something that happens in your real life every single day.

Simple courtesies, holding a door for example, imply a level of common decency in intent. Violent behavior conversely conveys a level of dedication and/or even a disregard of the suffering of others. Though not all actions have a cut-and-dry implication, violence the chief among them, but in aggregate actions build the context for their interpretation.

That got a bit confusing, so let's look to an example to help clear it up. I'll point again to Sunset Shimmer from the first Equestria Girls movie, because I feel this character has a lot about her we the audience "just don't know". Information that Hasbro has taken the time to clear up later in her IDW Comic.

Example box:
In Equestria Girls I, we see Sunset Shimmer introduce in the human world as an atypical school bully. Unflinching, and ruthless, she is absolutely committed to her actions and worldview. Though we the audience don't fully understand her motivations at the start, we're painted a pretty clear picture early on they center around being a jerk, or at the very least being true to her inner-self who happens to be a jerk. As her actions mount, and the tensions build, we see something else in the context of the situation that extends far beyond just being a jerk, and that's how the crown was handled.

For whatever reason, that we the audience don't know, Sunset Shimmer gave Twilight Sparkle the opportunity to get the crown back. I'd like to reiterate and emphasize that point. We, the audience, don't know why this happened and therein lies the magic of this aspect of storytelling.

By establishing this point as both important, and leaving it unexplained we're able to really be in the position of the character that came in with no reason to know it. Given what we know of Narrative as Communication, the question "Why?" this might be the case—why something so seemingly important may be chosen to be left unexplained—is raised implicitly. In so doing we are encouraged to draw our own conclusions, and therefore get invested in finding out that "why".

While we can't say for certain what the authorial intent was, we can certainly say there was some authorial intent when raising the question. We can easily see, when confronted with an unknown, how we the audience might be encouraged to begin making assumptions of our own. This is especially easy to see if the main character makes them as well. The assumptions our characters make carry weight with our audience. It is, after all, their perspective we want our audience to share so hopefully we can get them to draw similar conclusions.

By getting the audience members to share the same assumptions as the character they're following, we've established established a mindset, and level of immersion that we couldn't get when the audience knows something the character doesn't. This isn't the only method of story telling, of establishing immersion, but it is a powerful one.

One of the great strengths that fully utilizing this negative space (Wikipedia), these things the character (and audience) doesn't know to motivate the story is that as the character (and audience) comes to learn these motivations—as they come to understand the world itself—the world is allowed to grow with the character, without actually changing any of its elements.

Another opportunity is, as alluded to earlier, making the main character wrong and having them learn from their own false assumptions of how the thing they don't know have shaped their understanding of it. As well as how those assumptions have colored their own motivations regarding their interactions with it. In summation of this point I'd like to provide yet another example, as I feel illustrations are helpful to incorporate the abstractions.

I'm going to break from tradition to illustrate the point by providing a (spoiler free) example from my own story.

In To Cure Deception, there is an underlining implication that is never directly addressed; which is where the Elements of Harmony come from. Fans of the show may know by watching season four that they came from the Tree of Harmony. That knowledge is pivotal to understanding why the scenario I wrote is unwinnable, and therefore defined as a Tragedy, but is never utilized directly in the story itself. It is only implied to be relevant.

Though the scenario is just a back-drop for delving into other unknown, that little bit off knowledge the audience has that the characters don't exemplifies the aspect of What We Don't Know. The audience doesn't know that they know something of great importance that the character doesn't, and that lack of awareness let's them follow from the character's perspective.

In Making a Character Wrong I alluded to the case when the audience knows something that the character doesn't. In this example the audience knows something to be true—a thing that is true even of the world I wrote—but that they don't know is true of the world they're reading.

Manipulating unknowns is a challenge because of the subtly inherent to communicating through implications. It's a difficult process, that relies on getting readers to make intuitive leaps from context to idea, rather than feeding them the idea directly. There is also a whole world of consequences for doing so (the least of which is having your work called 'contrived'). I would preface that with the qualifier of "failing to do so" but each success is a personal achievement in one's ability to connect with their reader and manipulate their mind directly. But, don't let that risk scare you, as there is also a world of benefits to be had for even attempting it.

As authors learning to communicate through situational context and interpretable action alone gives us greater understanding of those pieces of a narrative, as well as how they interact with other pieces. That better understanding our indirect communication options give us a more solid understanding of direct communication.

And that is the basis of any quest—of any narrative: having our characters come to understand something they don't know, after being confronted with their lack of knowledge.

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