Cyranoids – Who Are You Really Talking To?

This fascinating article on Wired has been bouncing around Twitter today – about an experiment into “cyranoids”, a term coined by psychologist Stanley Milgram for “people who do not speak thoughts originating in their own central nervous system: Rather, the words that they speak originate in the mind of another person who transmits these words to the cyranoid by means of a radio transmitter.”

As it turns out, people aren’t really primed to question the source of the words being spoken by someone they’re interacting with. Even when it seems incongruous – or impossible, as in a case described in the article where a group of 10 people answered questions simultaneously – you just don’t expect that a person is only repeating words whispered in their ear.

It’s a concept that sets my mind racing on all kinds of ideas. What happens to a society that knows you can never be certain who you’re talking to, even face-to-face? John Scalzi’s recent novel Lock In has a concept that can play off this idea: in it there are individuals called Integrators, who loan out their bodies to be controlled by others suffering from lock-in, who cannot use their own. When speaking to an Integrator, you might actually be speaking to one of their clients.

There are all sorts of interesting storytelling dilemmas you could create from the idea that you might not really know who the person standing in front of you is. Really very interesting to consider.

Book Posts I Want to Write But Can’t Seem to Finish

It has been a long time since I’ve written full length posts about books I’m reading. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to say anything – it’s that the times I’ve tried to write, nothing has worked. There are several posts I’ve started since, oh, April or May last year that wound up languishing in my Drafts folder, forever unfinished, some of which are still there now. Here’s what I tried to talk about but couldn’t, for whatever reason:

Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin – This was the big one, the one I actually finished. I wrote 2000 words on Tehanu, the fourth book in Le Guin’s Earthsea series, and in particular on its strong feminist themes in contrast with the lack of women with agency in the three books that preceded it. I passed it to a couple of other readers to look it over before posting, and one of them came back and let me know that the premise of my post was fatally flawed. My option then was to completely rewrite the post with the new information in mind, which probably could be done. Turns out I’m terrified of revising. No idea where to start. The unaltered, incorrect post has been in my drafts for well over a year.

Women in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Until I sat down to write this bit right now, I could have sworn that last year I talked here on the blog about The Last Dark, the final book in Stephen R Donaldson’s ten-book, four-decade series, and mentioned that I wanted to write about the series’ issues with women. Looking back, I can’t find anything about it. Maybe I only tweeted it. In any case, I made a few attempts to write a big blog post, about the problems the series has in its depiction of women, and also the problems with fan response to the series’ female lead. I could never work out how to say it well, though, and found myself too often just describing plot points. Eventually I gave up trying.

Quick Book Thoughts on RupettaRupetta by N. A. Sulway was one of my favourite novels published in 2013, and was on my nomination ballot for the Hugo awards. Back when I was reading all those 2013 books for nomination ideas, I intended to do a quick thoughts post on each of them, but only got around to posting one – about Ancillary Justice, the eventual Hugo winner. I did make a couple of attempts to write about Rupetta, but could never quite order my thoughts in a way that formed a good post. I recommend the book highly, but still can’t work out how to write a full post about it.

The Eternal Sky Trilogy, by Elizabeth Bear – I’ve mentioned this one before, recently. I read the full trilogy in August this year, and it is really great. There are so many things I want to talk about regarding this series… but when I try to write them down, I can’t get it right. I have half a post written, but I can’t work out how to structure my thoughts in a way that works.

The problem I’ve been having for most of these, clearly, is “how do I put all these thoughts into the shape of a blog post”? When I try, I find myself very unsatisfied with the way my words are coming out. I’m much the same with fiction writing for the last nine months or so: nothing comes out right. I can’t say I’ve been all that good at book blogging in the past, but I’ve written some posts I still feel fairly happy about. I just can’t seem to hit that any more.

Frozen without Olaf

I saw Disney’s Frozen just before Christmas, and it’s a pretty good film. I enjoyed it a lot, and particularly liked its subversion of the traditional Disney “true love” trope.

What I didn’t quite enjoy so much was the character of Olaf, the talking snowman. Now, I know these films are targeted at kids, and there’s nothing wrong with putting in these goofy characters for comic relief. I personally just found him a little annoying, and not all that important to the plot.

Anyway, I was idly thinking about this and I decided I’d try to use it as an exercise in building a story, and write down how I’d change Frozen to remove Olaf without significantly altering the story. Here’s what I came up with.

Note: Spoilers to follow. Obviously.

The way I see it, there is one key scene in the movie where Olaf played a significant role such that his removal would cause problems. That scene is toward the end, when the protagonist Anna is locked in a room to die by her fiancé Hans, having just revealed his true nature. Olaf arrives comforts Anna, starts a fire to try to keep her from freezing, and ultimately leads her to realise it was Kristoff she should have gone to, not Hans.

Without Olaf, Anna dies in that room. To make that part work, someone needs to come to her aid. The question is, who could? What other character could help Anna at that time, in that place, without significantly altering the story?

It would help if the film had included some other character in the palace who knew Anna and was close to her, but no such character has been established, and introducing one would require significant changes earlier on that might undermine the image it made of her isolated childhood.

After thinking about this for a while, the solution that finally came to me was to redeem the Duke of Weselton.

The Duke is introduced on the day of Queen Elsa’s coronation. He’s established as a greedy and selfish man whose only interest there is money: the kingdom has been isolated since the King and Queen died, and he wants the newly crowned Queen Elsa to reopen trade with Weselton. When things don’t seem to be going his way, he even instructs his men to kill Elsa, considering Prince Hans more likely to give him what he wants if he becomes King. At the end of the film, he is disgraced, sent home with the news that Elsa is severing all ties with Weselton because of his actions. He is a pretty clear cut villain of the film.

My idea would be to take a slightly different direction with the character. The differences would come in small.

When Hans suggests a search party to retrieve Elsa, he offers his men to help – but the audience would not see him instruct them to kill her. Their attempt on her life would come as a surprise, then, but not an unexpected one, as the Duke seems very much like a villainous character. Most likely the viewer will assume he has evil intentions regardless of whether they are shown.

But later, when Elsa is imprisoned by Hans, he would reveal that he had not intended to bring her back alive – he had, in fact, bribed the Duke of Weselton’s men to kill her, thinking to keep his own hands clean and blame it on the Duke.

Around the time of Anna’s return, when Hans announces that she has died after speaking her wedding vows, the Duke, ever looking to his own self-interest, would attempt to broach the subject if trade with Weselton. To his dismay, he would find that Hans intended to favour his own family’s kingdom, and had no interest in the Duke’s offer.

And thus it is that the Duke, his efforts to gain Hans’ support having been for naught, somehow comes across the room where Anna lies dying. Here, the Duke of Weselton’s true nature is revealed: he is horrified that Hans has left her to die. My Duke is still a weasel of a man, but not a murderer. He is too much a coward to confront the new King and his supporters alone (though he may promise to challenge his rule later, after gathering support), and in any case, Anna asks him to stay with her, believing that she is going to die regardless. So he lights a fire, and tries to comfort her – perhaps he even has daughters of his own, back home – and somehow his words cause her to realise that it is Kristoff she needs to find.

And so the ending proceeds as it did, and the kingdom is saved. And in the end, the Duke of Weselton is granted trade agreements with the kingdom by Queen Elsa (though perhaps not quite so favourable to him as he’d prefer).

The Duke is redeemed while keeping his essential character intact, and with very little difference to the remainder of the story.

And not a single talking snowman was needed.

***

If you’ve read all this, thank you for indulging my nonsense. I’ll just say again that Frozen was great, and I’m not claiming these changes needed to be made. I just thought it was a fun exercise to go through.

Quiet Again

I mentioned somewhere, before I started writing last month, how in past NaNoWriMo attempts I stalled after a week – and not only that, but after stalling I would stop writing anything for weeks or months.

Hello again.

Final count is no higher than my last entry. 30% of my super-low target. And I’ve stopped doing anything else, too. I barely even tweet.

Consider this post me trying to kick-start myself before these few weeks turn to months. I have other posts I want to write, but don’t know when I’ll get to them. Soon, hopefully.

(And I want to keep going on the novel, but lets not jinx that.)

Lack of Progress Update

This is the point where I have no choice but to stop thinking of or referring to this writing thing as a half-a-NaNoWriMo or anything like that.

The fact is, in the last week I’ve written about 1000 words. I am nowhere near target. And I never planned to stop when I hit 25,000, anyway. So, this is an ongoing thing with nothing at all to do with NaNoWriMo. I need to think of it that way. And get back to writing it.

Progress Update

Day 10. Current wordcount: 6,283 words.

That’s a little behind schedule, because I’ve missed three days, but it’s also a huge success. I’m not worrying too much about hitting every target so long as I’m continuing to make good progress – and every day I do sit down to write, I’m hitting my 800 word target plus some extra.

The writing I’m doing is absolutely terrible. But good writing is far from the point.

Rules

To keep myself going with my writing, I’ve formed a few rules as incentive.

1. I’ve recently gotten into the beta for the Warcraft card game, Hearthstone, and immediately became hopelessly addicted. So I’m not allowed to play until I do at least some writing that day.

2. Lot of good films out this month! So I’m not allowed to go see one unless I’ve made wordcount that day.

3. And I can’t go see one at all if I’ve done less than half my wordcount for the full week.

As with the wordcount, I am deliberately setting the bars low. This is what I think will work for me. Let’s see if it does.