What is a Story?

  • by Gitabushi

I’ve been pushing this book lately, and not just on this blog.   It has the unwieldy title of “Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)” so from now on, I will just call the book “Story Genius.”

I love the book so much. It forced a paradigm shift on writing that excites me and convinces me I will be a successful writer. It also concisely explained much of the dysfunction we see in society, because so many people are laboring under misbeliefs.

For instance, Socialists are laboring under the misbelief that if they can win total political control of all major government and social institutions, they can transform and perfect society so that everyone is equal (at best) or that no one suffers from need (at worst).  There are so many misbeliefs in that assumption.  I think homosexual activists have a misbelief that their unhappiness comes from social rejection, so if they can just force society to celebrate their identity in more and more aspects, they will finally be happy.  The Right has the misbelief that if they just calmly and clearly explain their views and preferred policies, the Right will win elections, enact conservative legislation, and restore the US’ liberty and exceptionalism.  I could go on for days about these misbeliefs, but it is evidence that the book is correct that everyone has misbeliefs.

That’s how it improved my life.

I’ve been mulling on its application to writing for a month now, however.  *MUST* every story be a character development story?  *MUST* every story start with a misbelief that gets resolved?

I’ve really been considering this question. I’ve re-thought this question in light of “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and “A Princess of Mars” and “Coming to America” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jack Reacher novels and even “Game of Thrones”.

My answer is that no, not every story must have a misbelief that causes the main character problems and gets resolved over the course of the story.

But the follow-up questions to that are: Do you want people to enjoy and recommend your story?  Do you want to sell your story?  Do you want to write *great* stories, or merely write stories?

Heroic action stories can be enjoyable.  I don’t think the Jack Reacher stories ever have Jack Reacher holding a major misbelief or learning anything in the course of the story.  He’s pretty much unchangeable (except that the author gives him mental abilities needed for the plot that mysteriously don’t exist in other stories where they might have been useful, but the author hadn’t thought them up yet weren’t needed for the plot).  The interest in and success of those stories is the author starts with a perplexing situation, so you want to read to find out what is actually happening.

In “Game of Thrones”, the misbelief is actually on the part of the reader: George R. R. Martin set out to upend several major expectations of the reader, such as Plot Armor and Deaths Mean Something.  I think he’s struggling to finish and the books are kind of fizzling out because you can only deny the expected tropes for so long. If he wants to finish, he’ll have to resolve the story, and it’s going to be trope-y as all get out.

So from that perspective, even if you aren’t dealing with a character’s misbelief, you are still using misbelief to make the story more interesting.

That admission aside, I think that while it isn’t *MANDATORY* to use the techniques in “Story Genius” to load your main character down with one or more misbeliefs that are resolved in the course of the story, it still is a good idea to do it.

Because the book has convinced me that the point of stories is to learn from other people’s mistakes.  You can be entertained by the story, but entertainment is the bonus, and should not be the goal.  We are hardwired to enjoy stories from childhood, but that doesn’t mean we should focus solely on the entertainment aspect.  If we only care about entertaining, we might succeed, and the story might sell, but I don’t think it will have much staying power.  Sure, it might catch on and become famous, and it might be read for generations, like Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars”.  But that’s not the way to bet.  That’s not a good model to base your own writing career on.  When ERB wrote that book and invented those characters, there was no TV, there were no comic books, there were no smartphones, and even movies had no sound or color.  Many people don’t read at all, and we don’t have a unified culture that allows an iconic character like John Carter or Dejah Thoris to capture the imagination of millions.  Put another way: there is so much mindless entertainment already out there, it is advisable to do your best to find ways to stand out.

I think “Story Genius” gives you what you need to stand out.

“Story Genius” requires more prep-work, but in the end, it saves you time.  It’s right there in the title “(before you waste three years writing 378 pages that go nowhere)”.  It keeps you from getting stuck.  It demands you consider every development in terms of the character’s misbelief, which provides a motive force for the story, and only then write the scenes…which keeps you from wasting as much time writing unnecessary filler that you’ll cut anyway.

The book helps you to add layers to your story via subplots.  If everything ties back to both the misbelief driving the story *and* the visible plot developments, your story will have depth.  I thought I might not be able to succeed as a writer because I couldn’t hold an entire novel’s plot in my head.  With this book, I don’t have to.

I have a dozen stories that have foundered on the rocks of painting myself into a corner, plot-wise, or not knowing what to do next.  Thinking about them in terms of misbeliefs resurrects their viability, because it gives me new ideas of how to make them compelling.

“Story Genius” tells you that the misbelief has reached a crisis in the character’s life.  The character has kept the misbelief up until that point because it worked more or less. The misbelief perhaps kept the main character from enjoying life more, or from fulfilling some aspect of life, but it also kept the main character from disaster.  But now the misbelief’s impact on the character’s life has come to a head.  If the character retains the misbelief, their life will be destroyed.  But if they accept life’s lessons and give up the misbelief, their self-image will be destroyed. Everyone thinks they are correct.  Giving up a misbelief is not only admitting you were wrong (very hard for anyone to do), it also is admitting that you damaged your own life for years by not realizing it sooner.

People double down on mistakes. That’s how we hold onto misbeliefs.  That’s why we hold onto misbeliefs.  Only if everything you hold dear is threatened by the misbelief are we forced to actually confront the fact that what we beleived, what we thought kept us safe, was wrong.

Doesn’t that, as a writer, excite you?  Wouldn’t you love to be able to write a story with that sort of impact, that level of import?  “Story Genius” will show you how, and walk you through it.

If the main reason we like stories is because it allows us to safely learn from other people’s mistakes, then yes: underneath and on top of whatever else your story is, you should include a character development aspect. You should make your main character’s misbelief the driving force behind the story.  It will make the story better, and will attract readers.

The only possible downside I can see from this is that it makes it harder to develop a character and setting and write an infinite number of stories in your “franchise”.

Frankly, I don’t see that as a downside.  With the possible exception of Lois McMasters-Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, and the actual exception of the Jack Reacher and Matt Helm series, I don’t want or enjoy series focused on one main character.  There can only be so many self-image-threatening misbeliefs in one character.  Most authors don’t use the same character over and over.  They invent new characters, and new settings.

My favorite author, CJ Cherryh, is my favorite writer because she was good at this.  She had her universe, but she made new main characters for new stories to reveal different aspects of her universe, and it made it better.

Now she’s written an endless “Foreigner” series and I lost interest after book 6.  No one learns anything. The main character is always right. I mean, maybe that’s not completely true, but it’s true enough around book 5 or 6 that I lost interest.

Same with Steven Brust’s Jhereg series.  Same with the Miles Vorkosigan series, but only after book 10 or so, and that was because McMasters-Bujold used different viewpoint characters, allowing her to play off of the new characters’ misbeliefs.

Your fans may want an infinite number books with the same main character. I say, don’t give that to them.  Make new, fresh characters.  Wow them with your ability to create new compelling viewpoint characters, and stun them with your insight into human nature. “Story Genius” shows you how.

Two final thoughts:

No one enjoys message fiction, i.e., “Now I’m going to teach you something I think is true.”  I think “Story Genius” helps you avoid that, by letting you put a misbelief into the main character.  If I wanted to write something against Socialism (and I will), I would make my main character believe that humans are perfectible if they just have the right rules to follow and the right people in charge.  And then I’d show that character how that misbelief will threaten everything they hold dear.  Result: a great story that doesn’t seem preachy.

I haven’t finished my short story, and I haven’t started my novel (waiting to finish the short story).  So maybe I’m wrong about all this.  I don’t think I am. I’m stuck on some mechanical aspects of the short story (what traps or threats can I put into the underground crypt that will drive and highlight the main character’s viewpoint changes?), so I might just drop it for now and start another short story from scratch using this process.  If so, I’ll let you see the results and let you judge if it results in a compelling story.


The Way the World Works, Pt 1: Three Tiers of Organization

  • by Gitabushi

Okay, I realize there’s more than a little hubris in the title.

I guess I have wanted to be a kind of Jordan Peterson since long before Jordan Peterson was a thing. My goal is to do my best to understand life, to figure out what the most basic rules of human nature and human interaction are, and then write them down and share them, for others to evaluate, and use or reject as they see fit.

I relish the idea of helping others.  I want to help everyone have a better life, to the best of my ability. I hope others can learn from my mistakes, and what I’ve learned from my mistakes, without having to make those mistakes themselves. My intent is to help make the world a better place to some degree.  And, of course, my ability to analyze and reason is, to some degree, validated by those who are helped by my writings.

So there’s some ego involved. But I hope you can ignore that and find something helpful in my posts.

I think the main points of this topic should be pretty obvious to anyone who spends any time thinking about it at all.  Pessimistically, that means it isn’t obvious to most people.


Here is the point:

Every organization has three main tiers: crew, crew chiefs, and leadership.

man holding clipboard inside room
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Crew could also be called labor, or workforce.  These are the people doing the work.  There often isn’t much thought involved in this.  The work doesn’t require much ability.  It is a skill that can be taught to sufficient competence to just about anybody.  This is where the value of what they are selling or providing is actually created.

two man standing near golf clubs
Photo by Jopwell x PGA on Pexels.com

Crew chiefs could also be called middle management, and I’m sure there are other terms, as well.  Crew Chiefs are leadership, but still distinct from leadership.  This tier is often made up of senior crew/labor individuals who have been promoted, but not always.  They are in charge of the labor.  They resolve disputes, enforce rules, ensure quotas are being met, oversee quality, train the new employees, and handle welfare of the labor force.

group of people in a meeting
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

The leadership tier comprises those who make decisions.  When an organization grows to any size at all and obtains a geographic spread of any kind, there are also usually three tiers of leadership: Local/unit leaders, regional/group leaders, and executive leaders.  The executive leaders set the direction for the organization.

Digression: I figured this out when I became an officer in the US military.  There is a great deal of resentment among the enlisted in the US military against officers, for multiple reasons.  The enlisted see that their lives are more at risk, that they do all the hard work, but officers get paid so much more.  They see that junior officers often seem incompetent and depend on senior enlisted to avoid basic blunders, yet still get paid as much or more than senior enlisted.  They also get the impression that officers get away with things that enlisted get punished for.

Some of these things are true.  Being me, I had to analyze why.

The answer isn’t simple, though. To some extent, the resentment that officers get away with things enlisted get punished for can be correct.  But it is also true that if the offense is serious, the same act that will ruin an enlisted individual’s career will put the officer in jail. And that the same offense that will delay a promotion for an enlisted member will get an officer thrown out of the military.  The level of responsibility between the tiers is different.

The thing is, as I pointed out, the labor tier is easily replaceable.  Training isn’t that difficult, the tasks aren’t that difficult.  95% of the world, or more, can do it.  The separation of tiers into labor, middle management, and leadership isn’t intelligence, it isn’t ability, and it isn’t even education.  It’s about effort, risk, and preparation.

Anyone can enter the labor force.  Just show up and ask.  They always need labor.

To get to middle management, though, you have to work for a number of years and be the best of the labor.  You are chosen by the leaders to be a crew chief based on standing out.  That means you need to put in some extra effort, and you risk having that extra effort wasted if you aren’t chosen, but that’s about it.

Labor gets paid for what they do. They do the work, they make the goods, but how well they do really doesn’t have a huge impact on the future of the organization. If someone does their job badly, they will be replaced.  But they’ll be given a bunch of chances to fix their issues first.

And the laborer can screw around for years before deciding to try for middle management, and then they are judged based on what they do at that point.  Admittedly, for the most part…there are times where egregious past behavior will carry over, but most of the time, if you make a change, you are judged based on having made the change.

The leadership tier, however, is different.

First, you must apply to join the leadership tier, and they don’t accept everyone.  That means you have to first figure out they are looking for, and then acquire those attributes early, while the labor tier is taking it easy and enjoying their paycheck on the weekend.  Then, if accepted, you are being watched from the beginning. As more people have recognized leadership tier is the way to a good life (and as the quality of life at the labor level has, if not actually declined, then at least fallen behind the leadership tier), competition has increased and the Zero Tolerance for Screw-ups factor has increased.  In leadership, you are held responsible for everything those under you do, good and bad.  You are expected to lead, and fix problems before anyone above you in the leadership tier hears about it.

As you rise, you are able to take credit for your increasing middle management and labor force output, but you are also held responsible for any of their problems.  And you are sometimes scape-goated for even normal or unavoidable failures.

If you do everything correct, avoid any blunders at all, work extra hours beyond the 40 hours/week (minus break time) that is all that is demanded of labor, you might get promoted to the middle tier of leadership, and even the executive tier.

At the executive tier, you are held responsible for the performance of the organization, regardless of competition, government, the strength of the economy, the declining of the market, etc.

That’s why CEOs get paid so much: there are so few people who can qualify, because too many people have one stain or another on their record that means they are an unacceptable choice to be in the executive tier.  And so the stress and pressures make that level of pay necessary.

Sure, you’re saying right now, I’ll take that pressure for half that kind of money.

I’m sure you would.  But were you prescient enough to make the sacrifices and choices early enough in life to be on an Executive Leadership track?

And that’s where most people disqualify themselves.  To them, it was more important to have freedom, to have weekends off, to get paid for overtime and/or to not work overtime in the first place.

By “them”, of course, I include me.  As a young officer, already behind the 8-ball for executive leadership by being more than a decade older than other officers of the same rank, I was unwilling to “play the game” of getting face time with the commander, or of picking my assignments based on what would work best for my career.  No, I had to think about what jobs were interesting, or where I wanted to live.

I’d call myself stupid for that, but it isn’t, really. It was just a choice.  Because (write this down): There are always more qualified people for a job/position then there are jobs/positions available.

It is exhausting to put your career first.  You have to sacrifice so much to do it. Most people don’t even realize when they are self-eliminating for top-tier life opportunities. I think this is because I think there is little to no effort made in our “education” system to teach people how the world really works.  We tell kids “you can be anything you want to be” and then we don’t take even the first step in teaching them how to achieve those dreams.

We can tell kids they can be anything they want to be by holding up role models, and ignoring (or even concealing) the survivorship bias aspect of who gets to be an astronaut, or CEO of Citibank.

All this may seem obvious, but too few really understand this, and my evidence for that “too few” assertion is not just the resentment of enlisted for officers, but also in the continued existence of Socialism (and Democratic Socialism) as a philosophy.

Socialism recognizes that the tangible value is created in the labor tier, but then concludes that this gives the labor tier power that they are forgoing or being cheated out of.

Which is stupid.  The minute you being making decisions about labor, product, etc., you aren’t in the labor tier anymore, you’re leadership.  And you there’s a broad pyramid there: it’s easy for 3-4 people to make decisions about the number, color, and type of widget you’re making, or if the style of service provided needs to go after a different market share.  It is impossible for the 300, or 3,000, or 300,000 labor tier individuals to make a decision on that without it being a 300,001-legged sack race.

The only thing Socialism accomplishes is letting its advocates jump to leadership tier without the experience or ability to be good at it.

Anyway, if you already knew the basics of the three tiers, I hope I at least gave you some new implications to think about on this topic.


The Bully Pulpit

  • by Gitabushi

I think Trump taking his case to the people regarding The Wall and illegal immigration was a good move. When you’ve got the Bully Pulpit, use it.

By SMU Central University Libraries – https://www.flickr.com/photos/smu_cul_digitalcollections/15074715720/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53268199

I wish he’d do it more, tho. He should give a speech how the Left uses Lawfare in a despicable manner. He should call out SPLC’s disgustingly partisan exploitation of “hate group” designations, and the ACLU’s hypocrisy.  Then explain in clear terms how the Left used dishonest Lawfare to unfairly convict Ted Stevens (govt withheld and ignored evidence it had that he was innocent) and Tom DeLay (prosecuted for actions that weren’t criminal, conviction overturned), fraudulently costing them both their office. Then explain how the left used lawfare to drive Sarah Palin out of office.  As well as the corrupt lawfare against Scott Walker.

And from there, explain exactly how Mueller’s investigation is that exact same tactic. Explain how it started to investigate collusion with Russia, discovered it in Hillary’s campaign, and ignored it.  Trump can, and should, explain clearly that the Democrats are pushing a double standard, that their objections are purely to the person, not to the actions.

Moreover, he should hold another talk at some point to explain a POTUS limitations in his role in managing the economy. That no one can control economic cycles, but taxing, regulation, and debt policy are boosts or drags on the economy. He could thoroughly explain, with examples, that we should focus on policy and policy outcome rather than Cult of Personality views. And he should do it now while the economy is good and he can still take credit for creating the current excellent business environment with the tax cuts and de-regulation.

That way, when/if Democrats gain enough power to raise taxes and impose regulations, and the economy suffers, some people (only some, but that’s better than what’s going on now) will connect the dots and weaken their support for Democrat politicians.

In short, he should give more public addresses like this most recent one, and promulgate the conservative argument, daring the MSN to challenge it. They’ll stumble just like Schumer & Pelosi did.

And it would be the first time 30% of America has heard a conservative argument.

Further Thoughts on Character Development in Writing & Life

  • by Gitabushi

Recently, I wrote this piece to praise a book that I found to be extremely useful in both writing and life.

I’ve been thinking about it more, and I think the book misses on two points, when it comes to writing.

First, it insists that the misbelief your character is clinging to should be the cause of an imminent problem that the main character can no longer ignore.  Having thought about it a few more days in the context of my own planned story, I think this might not be necessary.

In my own case, the main character wants to gain some local fame for another talent, in hopes that he will then be popular, and being popular, he will get his friends back.  This is a misbelief, but I think he could actually go his whole life without this being a crippling misunderstanding.  Moreover, I want this story to start when he’s 16, for a number of reasons, and I just don’t see how this misbelief could be a crisis at that age.

Instead, the talent that he finds (magic-based martial arts) is going to cause the crisis, as he catches the attention of powers that guard the magic jealously.

Likewise, Luke’s belief that he is stuck in a backwater of the Galaxy and that an exciting adventure is what he wants is what actually kinda keeps him from dying immediately at the hands of the Empire. It is a misbelief, but it drives the story and it is actually his hubris (in combination with a friend realizing that Friendship is Magic) that saves the Rebellion from destruction.

OMG. Star Wars is a My Little Pony movie.

I’m going to forget I ever said that.

The second problem is perhaps not a real problem.

The assertion of the book is that every story should be a character story on some level. On first reading, I found that compelling, and embraced it.  But with another few days’ of thought and trying out this hypothesis on books and movies I’ve enjoyed, I think I’ve thought of at least one exception:

“13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

13 hours poster
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” Promotional Poster

This was a very compelling and moving story, and not just because it was a visual spectacle.  We *knew* the outcome, and it was still worth watching.

But there wasn’t any misbelief on display by the main character.

In fact, I could point out that the movie has some significant problems in its storytelling.  In retrospect, the main character isn’t the main character, and really isn’t much of a protagonist.  He does his job, but he never really makes any choices (the main character should be the person who has the most freedom to choose/act, and has the most impact from his choices/actions).  That story would probably have been even more compelling if told from Rone’s perspective, or even Tonto’s.  Or the CIA Mission Chief.

And maybe it is still a good story because it is a true story. Dunno. I need to think on it a little more.

Another exception is “10 Cloverfield Lane”.  I think that is a good story, but the misbelief that drives the story is not the main character’s.  But the main character *is* the one whose choices and actions drive the story.  It’s a very good story.

Interestingly, “Orcs!” (2011) *is* a story where a main character has to confront a misbelief that has been holding him back his entire life to that point.  This thought is going to inspire another post.  Just sayin’

Anyway, if the point of the writing book was not that everyone story must be a character story, but rather that it is just one excellent and time-tested way to develop a compelling and memorable story, well, I can’t argue with that.

So to the extent that I said that every story *is* a character story, I’m wrong. There are plenty of good stories that don’t focus on character development.

However, if your story idea is just “meh”, or if, like me, you find your stories bogging down and lacking in drive, you should still consider using the character development elements of “misbelief” and “resistance to change until forced by life to do it” to supercharge your writing.  Making your story a character story can’t be wrong, it just might not be 100% necessary.

But in life, I think the point is character development: yours. The point of the writing book is that people usually don’t change until circumstances in life force them into a costly re-evaluation of their paradigms, and that we tell stories to give people a chance to make changes in their lives *before* their misbeliefs force a crisis.  So as you read the book to help your writing, consider your own beliefs, and your own troubles in life, and try to identify which are the misbeliefs causing your troubles.  You might be able to make a change and have a better life before the troubles become disasters.

Letters to the Editor: An Apology

  • posted by Gitabushi

I received an email yesterday, requesting I post this letter. So here you are:

This year, at a client’s Christmas party, we were challenged to “Pay It Forward” – we were all given a $50 bill, and told to change someone’s life. It’s an incredibly hard task. It seems easy enough, just give it to charity. Can you change someone’s life that way? Collectively, sure. I tried a lot of different things. I was shocked at how HARD it is to find someone to take your money. I found wishlists. I tried to fulfill them. But then couldn’t get callbacks to go and drop off what they wanted. I already do Angel Tree. I already buy toys for kids who need them.

But life changing? That’s a big job.

I finally donated the money we were given, along with some extra, to buy 750 meals for those in need in my area. We had a deadline on the Pay It Forward, and I had to do something.

Life changing? No. Day changing.

But there has something that has haunted me for over 30 years. A person I have wronged. I think about her quite often, to be honest, and wonder how she is doing. No way of making it right. Probably not a chance in Hades that she would ever answer the phone, if I even had her number.

I bullied her.

As a kid, I pretended to be her friend, and then spilled and laughed about her secrets. I made horrendous remarks on her appearance for laughs. For 13 years. She found out in 8th grade. I remember the day.

I know what you’re probably thinking. Believe me, I’ve thought worse about myself. But I have to forgive myself now, and not hold onto it. I chose her as my victim because she had a great father. Mine was into abusing me – sexually, verbally, and physically. HER father went to her events, was fun at sleepovers, loved his kids. So I chose her.

When I was thinking about changing lives, I thought – that’s the one thing I’d like to fix. In my life, and in hers. And maybe if I share this story, I can change yours, too.

If you have ever been bullied, take this note, and let me apologize for them too. There are sometimes stories behind a bully. Nothing makes what I did right. Nothing. But find forgiveness – for yourself. That’s life changing.

Saturday, she will receive a box from me – with goodies and this note. And I hope she forgives me. And I hope I forgive myself for Christmas.


“There will never be a good excuse for what I did to you when we were kids. There’s no way around it. I bullied you.

You were a wonderful, kind person to me. You didn’t deserve what I gave you. I’ll always regret that. I could go into the “whys”, but that’s not what is important. What is important to me, is that you know this – I am terribly sorry, I always have been, and you’ve been in my prayers for decades.

I hope you have the happy life you so richly deserve.”

That’s pretty heavy. And pretty brave.  Admirable, as well.

We all do stupid things. We all hurt people. Most of us have a cruel streak; some of us even try to eliminate it, or at least suppress it.

The person who wrote this was a child when bullying. I agree: that doesn’t excuse it. the actions described in this missive were clearly wrong.  But we have to forgive ourselves as we forgive others.  It is very nearly as wrong to live with the guilt of this for so long, as it was to cause the harm in the first place.

I’m not a Christian. I lost my faith. Interestingly, I lost my faith due to my musings on sin.  Too long and complicated to explain here. The salient point is I still spend time musing on the nature of sin.

Sin can be defined as any time we treat others (or ourselves) as objects. Sin can also be defined as the damage we do to others.

Sin begets sin. The father of the writer sinned, and cause damage that led to additional cruelty, i.e., more sin.  And I’m sure that the recipient of the bullying acted out her pain and sinned against others.

We all sin.  There is not one single person on this planet that has not sinned, and does not continually sin.  The burden of our sins would be crushing, if we don’t learn grace and forgiveness.

Healing cannot begin until after forgiveness has had its impact. It shouldn’t be cheap, or easy. But I think the obvious anguish displayed in this letter makes it clear forgiveness in this case could be neither.

Whether or not the victim is comforted, whether or not the victim forgives, good was done here.

Would that we all had the courage to face up to our own sins.


The Narcissism of Taking Offense

  • by Gitabushi

Every successful system attracts parasites.

There have been plenty of parasites attracted to the trust that results from the rules of manners and decorum that provide the structure for society.


One of the more recent, relatively speaking, is the Offense Industry.

In order to remake society according to their Progressive wishes, they exploit human nature’s natural tendency to want to get along by taking offense at minor “mistakes”. There are multiple, dovetailing purposes behind this, I think.  One of the main ones, of course, is to make you accept the Progressive worldview: someone’s identity as a man or woman is subject to a personal feeling, racism is endemic and prevalent in society, etc.  But in some (most? all?) cases, it is also an exercise of power: if they can make you apologize or change your word choice when speaking, they have power over you, and the feeling of power of others is a pleasure, for some.

But it’s wrong.  It’s just plain wrong.

Taking offense puts the offended at the center of the universe. They expect everyone to know their preferences and sensitivities, and to act according to those arbitrary and unknowable rules. If you “misgender” someone (i.e., call them by a pronoun they don’t want to apply to them), it is *your* fault, and you are wrong.  They’ve made a push to make it actually criminally wrong in California, and possibly other places.

One person, and their preferences for speech, is thus elevated to rules of politeness for everyone else. For anyone else they might happen to meet. They might walk through a city of millions, but each of those millions must immediately recognize and employ only the terms the Perpetually Offended wishes them to use.

This is ridiculous. Society develops organically.  Norms and manners and customs are developed over centuries as the framework by which we are able to interact with some level of trust, without having to have every interaction be governed by an explicit contract, or without killing each other.

The Offense Industry destroys this. One person can demand that everyone else follow their own personal, arbitrary rules, and if others don’t play along, they will be punished. And then this is multiplied by the millions who take up the mantle of Taking Offense.

This is truly a situation where the only way to win is to not play.

Don’t just refuse to be sorry for not coddling their delusions, call them out on it.  Shame them. Take offense at their taking offense.

This, like most Progressivism, is a cancer that destroys social trust, and makes every man an enemy of every other man.

Why do they do this?

Because they can’t take power in society any other way.  If people’s lives are happy, prosperous, and stable, they won’t turn to government for help.

The problem is they destroy all social cohesion to do it. They literally make humans ungovernable in order to get their shot at governance.  They don’t care, because they have no problem using force to obtain compliance. And if they fail, they still exult in exercising their power to smash what they consider stultifying traditionalism.

They will happily destroy the village to “save” it.

Okay, sure, most of these Offense Puppets aren’t thinking that far.  But make no mistake, that is the strategic consensus.  They aim to destroy to rule, or to make sure no one else can.

This is why we can’t have nice things.  Don’t let them win. Stand up for traditional mores, standards, norms, manners, and politeness forms of traditional society.


Big Post of Magic Rules, SF vs F Categorizations, and Anything Else I Can Cram in Here

  • by Gitabushi

This morning (establishing a temporal anchor that will be overtaken by events soon), my good friend and compatriot Emily30Red (soon to be known as Kikanshabushi) posted these categorizations on twitter:


Those a pretty good definitions/categorizations as far as they go.  She developed them herself from her own readings and analysis, so they are organic and original.

I have a slightly different take, because my set of readings are different, and my analysis comes from a different brain (naturally).  For instance, I think Fantasy is also about what makes us human, but from the opposite direction than Science Fiction.  To me, they are both speculative fiction because speculative fiction is grouped by the question “What does it mean to be human?”, as explored through “What if humans were in this sort of society, or encountered that scenario of events?”

So with that common starting point for speculative fiction, I divide SF from F thusly:

Science Fiction is about normal people doing great things, and Fantasy is about extraordinary people chasing mundane goals.  There are probably lots of holes you can drive through with that formulation (for example, Frodo is nothing special, but achieves a great success through sheer, dogged determination, which fits more under Science Fiction), but I think it works fairly well for a rough starting point to divide the two.

But another difference is the way the fantastical elements are handled.

This is something I’m a stickler about.

Arthur C. Clarke famously ruined everything by saying, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I say “ruined everything” because he’s not technically wrong: if you can find a previously-unencountered tribe deep in the amazon, and show them some technology, they’ll freak out as if it is magic, because it is beyond their ken.  In contrast, a 2-year-old exposed to amazing tech will take it for granted, like the baby that thinks a magazine is a broken iPad:

So his formulation is already of limited utility, unless you happen to have some primitive tribes hanging around.  And it ruins everything for writers, because no, significantly-advanced technology is not indistinguishable from magic. To the reader, maybe. But to the writer, they must be handled differently.

Go read this.  Then come back.

And then, I guess you should read the post he was responding to, here. And at this point, maybe the lesson is I repeat myself, because I had forgotten that I had already slagged Clarke for his 3rd Law.

And while you’re at it, might as well read this, too, because I think it captures what my thoughts were on genre early on, before refining the views with challenges.

In fact, you could probably stop there and not miss anything.  However, the value in this continuing post (if there is one), is to sum up some of these views, and go deeper into the difference between magic and technology (in my arrogant opinion).

At one point in my running battle with PCBushi, I referred to magic & tech as furniture, as in, the term gun people use to refer to the things that change the appearance of a firearm without changing its function.  PCBushi correctly countered that another way to put it is like a skin on an app or character.

At one level, technology and magic are like that. This is particularly true in video games or roleplaying games or superheros.  If you blast the bad guy, does it matter whether it is a laser blast or a mana blast? Not really.

Maybe it doesn’t matter much to the reader/audience, either.  No one cares what the tech is behind lightsabers in Star Wars, and you can go round and round arguing whether the Force is magic wielded by Space Wizards or psionics, and it doesn’t matter. It’s just a skin for power.

Except as a writer, it does matter. And to the audience, perhaps it should matter, too, because Lucas doesn’t seem to really be clear what they war, and he made a bunch of missteps as a result.  From my formulation above, Star Wars got worse when it changed from an ordinary farm boy using the exercise of a talent to defeat an Empire to Space Wizards trying to reunite an estranged family.  I.e, a normal person doing great things through effort => special people dealing with normal life problems.

So what makes the difference? How the power is handled.

Orson Scott Card teaches in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy that magic must have a cost to make it be interesting in your story.  I think that’s correct, but I don’t think Card really goes far enough, or explains it well enough.  I have the hubris to think I can.

My notion is that fantasy is about great people (special people, uniquely-powered people) doing mundane things.  To the extent this is correct, it is an exploration of what it means to be human, because it shows that even great people deal with normal life problems.  Magic is part of that, because it is magic that sets them apart, and magic must have limitations and a cost to make the story make sense.

This is because if there are no limitations or costs, everyone will have it, and then what’s the story exploring?  A story where everyone had the ability to make wishes come true would probably be a boring story.  But a story where only the protagonist (or perhaps, only the antagonist) had this power…now that creates some interesting opportunities for drama.

The counter to this argument is possibly: well, technology has a cost, too. It’s just the cost was paid in development, or in the expense (not everyone can afford body modifications that include hardwired reflexes?).  But that counter doesn’t work for me.  Televisions provide a communication ability that would be magic to a primitive culture, but what cost is there to the average person in the US?  It’s factored into life.  US cultural statistics went from Zero Anywhere to how many families have one to how many per family.

So while the difference between fantasy and science fiction settings may just be a skin, technology should be something everyone in your science fiction world should have, pretty much without any significant cost or sacrifice.  What makes the story in science fiction, then, is how the main character uses that technology differently to resolve the central problem of the story.

Example, Larry Niven wrote Neutron Star, a story that included an alien-made indestructible spaceship. Magic! Except that anyone with enough money can have one, and so the main character is given one to explore a scientific phenomenon and discover the answer to a mystery.  The answer to that mystery is actually an application of a scientific principle regarding gravity and orbital mechanics. Thus, it is a Hard SF story, despite the potentially magic elements.

Magic, in contrast, should have a cost, or a sacrifice, or a limit of some kind.  Not just everyone should walk around your story with magic.

So you have to consider the nature of your magic.  Is it something anyone can have with enough effort, but to perhaps varying levels of skill?  Compare to playing guitar or basketball.  Literally anyone of sound/whole body can play guitar or basketball.  What makes a basketball or guitar wizard is the years of study put into it…although someone with greater talent may achieve that mastery with less relative effort than someone else with less talent but more drive.  And voila! you might have a story right there.

But mostly not.  In most fantasy stories, the magic character is just special, and it often isn’t explained.  Harry Potter was just a wizard. He had to work to get better at it, but either you had magic or you were a muggle.

The Force started as a talent.  Before the family bloodline storyline entered in later, Obi-Wan Kenobi had no reason to think Luke might not be able to do the Force.  It was something to be taught, and you could take it as far as the combination of your own talent, teaching, and effort took you.  Everyone had some measure of it, but most just didn’t even try to develop it, possibly because most didn’t have the talent or interest to gain any real facility with it.  Like guitar.

But then it changed to a power that ran in the family.  Because Luke had it, and Leia was his twin sister, she has it, too. As did their dad.  As will their kids, if they have it.  I haven’t paid much attention to the reboot sequels, but apparently Rey blows up the blood theory…except that she thinks she’s Luke’s kid because of her power with the force, which just tends to reinforce the “ability by blood only” theory, just her parents were a previously-unknown Force-enabled bloodline.

One theory about magic (to the extent there can be something theoretical about something completely unreal and made up) is that magic should be calibrated so the cost/sacrifice is just slightly greater than the the amount of effort it would take to achieve that goal through mundane means.  So if you want a million dollars, the magic it takes to get it with a snap of fingers should have a cost/sacrifice just slightly greater than it would take to compete for a good college and complete a difficult major and work the drudgery job for enough years to get that million dollars.  The interest would then be why this person wants the money now, instead of putting in the normal effort. What does that say about his character, good or bad? It should always be a slightly higher cost then the mundane path, to balance out the immediacy of the magic.  But this is just a theory of a way to balance magic. I don’t know if I read it somewhere (was it Card?  I haven’t read that how-to book in over a decade) or if it is my own sense of proportion.  But let me know if you try it.

However, that theory aside, this goes back to Emily’s view of Fantasy: what does it do to the Self if you have power beyond that of the people around you?  What if you can snap your fingers and have a benefit or a good that would take others years of hard work to achieve, if ever?  Character questions are absolutely about self, the corruption of unique power is absolutely a common theme in Fantasy, in contrast to the SF common theme of overcoming due to unique force of will (which is how Beowulf survives in Neutron Star, btw).

So to sum up: magic should provide benefits that allow the avoidance of effort. As such, magic ability should be unique and have a cost, or it will be imbalanced in your story, and probably damage the enjoyment of the reader.  The exact same power can appear in science fiction, but the focus is different: the focus is on the unique application of an ability that anyone else could do, but doesn’t; or the focus is on the unique determination of the individual to overcome, in a high-tech world where everyone has pretty much the same physical ability and powers.

The lesson to you is (should be?) that if you are considering including a power or ability in your story, consider whether you want it to be unique or common.  If unique, you might want to write it as a fantasy.  If common, you might want to write it as a science fiction story.  And then further subdivide from there.

You don’t have to do this, of course.  But I’d be interested to hear from those who did, and had it work; those who did, and had it not work (and why); those who didn’t start with this decision and eventually realized they were writing the wrong sort of story; and those who didn’t start with this decision and made it work (not just a random/happy accident).