I have a few questions floating around my head.  Before they decide to start a family inside my head, I’d like to let them out.  Answer as many as you can– most will be opinions.

Firstly, a question about a technique in starting stories: “Bullets flew past my head… but how did I get here?”  Personally, I don’t like this technique because it provides an all-too-convenient bed for an infodump.  Who in their right mind soliloquizes about the events of the past week when they’re running from the villain’s Legions of Terror?  However, when the true beginning to your story is too large for a prologue, can’t become a first chapter, and won’t be left out, you need to stick it in somewhere.  If the next chapter is the ideal size for a snappy beginning, it seems perfect to switch the two, presenting the first part in a series of flashbacks and remembrances.  It must be carefully done, however, to keep from infodumping.  So, my first question: what are your thoughts on this technique?

Secondly, a slightly moral question: is it considered cannibalistic to eat a creature with the same cognitive development as yourself?  Those who eat their own kind are cannibals, but what about other creatures with the same brain power?  Let’s say cows suddenly gain human-style brains.  Cows begin building their own civilization and consorting with humans.  Would it be considered morally wrong to eat hamburgers, then?  Similarly, if aliens landed and said, hi, our planet blew up, can we move in with you?  What if someone realized that these aliens taste really good?  Would it be wrong to eat alien a la king?

And lastly, what have I got in my pocket?


115 thoughts on “Questions

  1. That technique drives me insane, you can’t eat things with the same cognitive development as you unless they try to eat you first, and an elephant. You have an elephant in your pocket, but it won’t be there for long because it’s scared of the mouse that you’re keeping in your other pocket. 🙂

      1. You never find out about the part you actually want to find out about — the character will be racing along, dodging all the bullets, while you shout ‘I don’t care they’re dodging bullets, they’re impervious to them, what I want to know is how they ended up dodging bullets in the first place!’, or you’ll be finding out every single minute detail about their mother while you shout ‘But they’re dodging bullets! I don’t care about their mother!’

        I would look for that elephant if I were you. You never know when they’re going to start building their own civilisation and start with all the hate crime for those ‘ivory tower’ jokes you made. –shudders–

      2. I should be safe from most of that. I actually give the reason he’s being chased before he starts being chased, and this guy has no mommy. So that should work… sort of.

        Speak for yourself. I never made any jokes like that. I used him as a hose once or twice, though… Oops.

  2. What the Gollum are you writing, Liam? (If these questions are for a story, that is.)

    I think the action-scene-then-“How did I get here?” can work fine at the very beginning, but you shouldn’t dump too much information. So you may as well put it later on.

    Animals probably eat other animals smarter than or equal to them in intelligence all the time, so I don’t see how this would matter.

    I think you have the Resurrection Stone in your pocket. 😀

    1. Only the first was for a story. But the second might be an interesting concept for a later one.

      Do you know of any good examples about that technique well-used?

      So since animals can do it, we can too? That’s a very weak argument. Animals don’t have morals or intelligence, so we can’t compare ourselves to them.

      The Phil’s stone? Nah.

  3. You could start with those bullets and fleeing and just have the guy running for a page, then after he has lost the Legions and passes out from sheer exhaustion, then explain everything while he’s out or through dialogue once he’s awake. Just a thought.

    I was going to tell you that it was okay to eat the cows and not the aliens… why do you want to know?

    String or nothing!

    1. That’s the technique I’m talking about, and it’s often very badly done. I’m wondering if you’ve ever seen it done well.

      It was a question I thought up yesterday. It’s random.

      Two guesses, both wrong!

      1. Okay, here’s how you do it well. Give the information in little bits over time. One charrie says “How did you get that cut on your hand?” MC shudders, remembers a bit of it in his head, then either explains the cut or lies about it or says “It’s nothing”. The charrie fingers the necklace around his neck, it has his mom’s engagement ring on it. And show, don’t tell. Don’t say he was angry, have him slam a door and yell. And decide what information is essential for the readers to know in the beginning. We are fine with being told that MC loves pickles in chapter 5 unless that’s part of chapter 1.

        What about The Son of Neptune for a good example? It’s been a while since I read it, though. I’ll keep thinnking.

      2. Okay, more information is necessary. At the end of scene one, the main character has been killed and doesn’t die permanently. Thus, I must explain that in a timely manner to keep from losing readers. And since this is a secret and there were no witnesses to his death, no one will ask, “So why don’t you die?”

      3. One sentence or paragraph. How about (as an example) “Bob sat up. His head pounded, but he was alive. The elf’s magic had worked.” Then you have a brief flashback of how he got the elf’s magic or you give up and have a small info dump. You may not be able to get around it.

      4. Info-dumps aren’t bad if they’re small. Don’t go Victor Hugo on me, though.

      5. So, what I’m saying is, give me a paragraph or even a whole page, but not six chapters of everything the guy ever thought with the stuff other people thought, too.Give me the nescessary info.
        And do not say “In conclusion, to sum it up…”, please, ever.

      6. Indeed. I wouldn’t be able to do your in-depth suggestion because the character has no idea how this happened, but I’ve made it work out… I think. I’ve already written it, and it isn’t too bad.

      7. Well, I’m glad it hopefully worked. Progress is coming along.

        Speaking of writing progress… I finished a first draft today.

      8. Blade.
        I have to tell you though, that it is not about a sword, but about a 14 year old whose nickname is Blade.

      9. Oh, boy. Pitch on the spot.

        A mysterious teenager called Blade shows up one night and despite the fact Rosie doesn’t trust him, he may pivotal to Drake’s next quest to break his curse.

        I just came up with that. It’s book 2 of my series.

      10. I suggest you begin the pitch with Rosie, since she is obviously the main character, such as…
        “Though Rosie doesn’t trust him, the mysterious teenager Blade may be pivotal to Drake’s next quest to break his curse.” That way it doesn’t seem like Blade is the main character. But thank you for obliging me– excellent work.

      11. How about this?

        Drake and Rosie have a new quest and they need help from a secretive teenager called Blade, but they wonder if he is truly on their side.

        What do you think?

      12. The first one was snappier, but this one actually gives the main character.

        To break his curse, Drake may need the help of Blade, a secretive teenager who Rosie doesn’t seem to trust.

        That way it’s about Drake, and you don’t presume to know Rosie’s mind about it.

      13. Pitches for these two books have been a problem for me. I feel like I am taking a pefectly good pot of chili and just noticing the beans in it. I am making dinner dull.

      14. Thank you. I came up with that. Now, if only I could write a pitch half as well…

      15. I would like to give you a symapthetic pat on the shoulder, but I’m scared I’ll get incinerated.

      16. In a sympathetic manner. And with a typo threw in for added mispelling And I’d like to give you a quote Andrew Jackson said about spelling…

      17. Ah! You know the quote, then?
        And it’s not that I’m not ignoring mispelled ones. I just think it’s right. I try.

      18. I would hate to blemish my reputation for swear-less comments… and blemish the blog.

      19. It’s a wonderful blog. To use “uncouth vocabulary” as you put it… well… would take away from its excellence. I prefer not to read things with such language.

      20. It occurred to me that mentioning the quote in the way that I did could imply that I was saying you were the person Andrew Jackson said. That was not my intention at all and I am sorry if I gave that impression and offended you.

  4. I don’t like long flashbacks when something exciting is–or is about–to happen. Instead, I like to give little hints along the way so when the heart-thumping scene is over, the reader can pretty much piece together what happened.

    Personally, I’m very conflicted on the whole eating meat thing. I am a HUGE animal lover, yet somehow I can’t bring myself to stop eating things like chicken or cheeseburgers. Does that make me selfish? Obviously we wouldn’t want some other species eating us, but then why do we eat animals? Sorry for answering your question with more questions (but did I really answer your question in the first place)?

    Handses! Knife! String–or nothing! 😉

    1. Oh, no infodumps will occur during the action, I assure you. But something strange will happen to round off that scene, which will have to be explained. As you said, such an explanation couldn’t go within the action, so I’d have to put it later. My question is this: is it smart to give the reason that weird thing happened later, or should I give the reason first, in its own prologue, and have the weird thing happen later?

      You didn’t answer your question, you just said you were confused.

      Wrong! I win!

      1. Hmmm . . . I guess each story is different. Whatever you do, it has to have a nice flow about it.

        Yup. I guess I’ll figure out what’s best for me when I’m older.

        Dang it!

  5. I think that instead of the infodump after the bullets, it’s better to just drop bits in throughout the action, like, “Why did I accept that barkeeper’s offer in the first place?” (or however they came to be in said situation).
    And I don’t think it would count as cannibalism, per se, since cannibalism is by definition your own species, but it would be more morally dubious than eating something that’s seen as a “lower life form.” In The Last Dragon, the elf says that elves never eat things that have feared death – I think the more the creature can consider what death is, and fear it and its consequences, and can think of the others it’s leaving behind, the more murder-like its death (and consumption) is considered.

    1. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t know there is a “situation” until the end of that scene, so I can’t drop hints because they aren’t curious yet.

      That’s interesting. I think this question is most consciously avoided in the animal fiction genre. The main characters are animals, so they eat other animals, but that prey is seldom cognitively developed. Instead, a few species have brains and all the food doesn’t. It’s an interesting sidestep.

  6. What’s in your pocket? Mm. My guess the ONE RING OF MORDOR! (I AM assuming you have connections with Sauron, based on previous posts.)

    You should let your questions have a family. I think it’d be interesting.

    1. Cait… don’t give him any ideas. If you do, 10 years from now, we’ll be reading a book about a cow having a flashback of eating an alien that had something in its pocket. And we’ll have paid $11.99 or more for it.

    2. I loaned the Ring to Frodo for the week, but I don’t think he’s planning to give it back.

      If they were all story ideas, I’d definitely do that. Unfortunately… no.

  7. To answer the second question: Eating cows with brains as efficient as ours would not be cannibalistic since they are not of our species (Well, human species. I’m a time-lord), but it would be a huge moral issue, and there’d probably be a rise in vegetarians.

    And the inside of your pocket is made up of 78.084% Nitrogen, 20.947% Oxygen, 0.934% Argon and 0.033% Carbon Dioxide and .002% of other elements. There is nothing else.

      1. I don’t, either.

        Good thing this isn’t my discussion. Oddly enough, I usually end up having conversations on other people’s comments…wonder why?

      2. Well, of COURSE! You wouldn’t post a comment for yourself on your own post. That would be…weird. Very weird.

      3. Well, true. But I said something else. I said “Well, of COURSE! You wouldn’t post a comment for yourself on your own post. That would be…weird. Very weird.”

        I said you would post a comment for yourself on your own post.

  8. I’m not quite sure how I feel about flashbacks. I didn’t like the way the last two books I read with them handled them.

    As to the second question, I think yes, it would be wrong. I think my mom said it very well: “I think it’s a bad idea to eat anything that can do algebra.” And I agree.

    And I’ll not hazard a guess as to the contents of your pockets. I do, however, have a quick question about pantsing: When you pants, do you do any character development before you get started?

    1. Have you read any good examples?

      Very true.

      Hmmm. No, not really. I try to paint my main characters flawed from the beginning, though. That way, I can change them over time. Second drafts are the place to do that, though. I never make a perfect character and I try to do as much development as the story will allow, but sometimes you need to rework things. However, sometimes things work out in the first drafts when I only know the character I want to change. For instance, the Phil Phorce 4: Quirk had to change, and he was already flawed, so I just put him in positions where he had to change or die.

      1. Not that I can think of off the top of my head. I have read some books with dreams in them though, and I didn’t mind the dreams. I think that was because the dreams were integrated into the scene, whereas the flashbacks I’ve read recently didn’t connect the flashback to the scene at all. BOOM, they were just there, with a little marker (A date in one book and a change to bold type in the other) to inform you it was a flashback. Though I will admit the book with the dates had two story lines going on, one in 19something and one in 18something, that were supposedly connected, though I never got far enough in the story to find out how.

        Thanks. I was curious since I’m trying pantsing out for the first time in years, and it’s so different from what I’m used to. My problem is my characters walk into my head either perfect, or how I want them to turn out at the end of the story. Usually I spend time to really get to know the character in a separate doc, and not doing that is weird.

      2. Gosh, I hope you like Phil Phorce episode 5, then.

        I never make anything truly concrete until I’m ready to write it that way. Thus, I never think of my characters as developed until they are.

      3. So there is going to be a fifth episode. Yay! I’m sure I’ll like it. Now that you’ve said that, I assume you asked about flashbacks because you intend to use some in said PP episode. Another thing about the last true flashbacks I read was that they didn’t really add to the story. They provided backstory for the MC’s relationship with her grandfather, who was dead by the time the story began.

  9. With your whole action-than-explanation thing, I suppose you could pull it off by making the entire book the explanation, with the action at the end. Alternately, you could open with action, with no explanation whatsoever and have your readers figure out the backstory themselves, over time. I’m writing a short story slightly like the first scenario I put up there, where I compare the character at the end of the story to what she was like at the beginning. I’m planning on filling in the blanks with the middle of the story.

    As for the cows, I should think that actually getting a steak or hamburger would be the challenge, as the cows would have developed a self-defense reflex as well. Also, might I remind you of the animal at the restaurant at the end of the universe, who invites you to eat him? I don’t know about the morality, but I don’t think I’d want to eat a cow with the brain of a human.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you have no pockets and it was a trick question all along…
    …or spare change. It could be change.

    1. That’s an interesting idea, but I hate it already. Sorry. I seldom remember to equate the introduction with the rest of the story if the introduction happened after the rest of the story.

      I don’t remember that. It’s interesting, though.

      Aha! Someone guessed rightly! It was spare change, though I couldn’t have possibly used it where I am– it was a fifty-pence piece from the UK, and I’m American.

      1. Hey, whatever works for you. Live your own life. (Just trying to sound like a cliche, here.)

        And another thing no one mentioned was that in some cultures cannibalism is acceptable, so people who have grown up eating other people would have no problem eating a cow with the brain of a human. Except for maybe health reasons.

        I doubt it. You are probably wearing a wet suit with no pockets to speak of.

      2. Yes. One last thought on the cow question. Imagine: a cow writes a phenomenal, groundbreaking epic on the state of humanity, and cattlity (a general term I made up for the race of cattle). Would you want to eat her (all cows are female)?

  10. You have one scrap of paper with a story idea on it, one Chinese Yen, some lint, a tiny alien, and a key chain with a cow holding a hamburger on it in your pocket, right? Oh, and some air. And maybe your hand.


    (I think everyone else answered your actual questions…)

      1. Well, forget that, too.

        The rest of it? 🙂 Might as well just tell me “no” all at once if none of it’s right.

      2. I’m protesting. I don’t want to be a fifty-pence. You should turn me into a tuppence, instead. I would like that.

      3. So, (yes, I dare risk being turned into UK currency), what did he do that was so valueable?

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