Thursday, September 20, 2018

Wait! You mean a smaller plate WON'T make me eat fewer calories? Picking and choosing information (we fiction-writers get to do that).

Interesting article here about a researcher in "food psychology" who has several of his studies withdrawn. (This was the result of an injudicious blog post he made where he accidentally mentioned that he was getting his grad students to massage data or something. Blogging is DANGEROUS!)

His studies were widely popularized ("Don't shop hungry, you'll spend more!" Remember that? You know, it's common sense!).

The application to writing is different for academic non-fiction and fiction.
If you are writing up a research report, do not pick and choose data!

But if you are writing fiction, figure out what among an array of details and options will most impress your reader. Be selective. Pick and choose!

With fiction, it's usually good for the creator to have some vision of the end effect-- you know, "I want the readers to be mystified and annoyed when they finish the book." (Have you ever read one of those books where you can't figure out what happens in the end? Or which ends abruptly without resolving the conflicts? I suspect those authors wanted to annoy us. :)
or "My ending is going to show the precariousness of life when you depend too much on other people."

So as story-writers draft or revise their scenes, it can be effective to select details and events and options that will guide the readers towards that end effect. If "precariousness" is important, I might emphasize unpredicted dangers, like broken glass on the floor, or a co-worker going home with a headache and then getting taken to the hospital with meningitis.  None of these details might be all that important to the plot, but they would work subliminally on the readers to create a tone of menace and risk.

Fiction-writers get to make things up, and they also get to pick and choose.
This is probably the only profession that encourages such sins!



Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Subliminal menace is exactly what I'm missing in my current WIP. Thanks for the reminder!

Edittorrent said...

Yes, I think the "subliminal" comes in when the menace is hinted at in details, especially setting-- the drapes are drawn, but there's a bit of weak sunlight coming through the slit that cast weird shadows on the wall....