# Tag Archives: Mystery

## Show Your Work

I’ve been reading a lot of math papers lately.

I’m a computer scientist by trade, and theoretically should be able to speak this language. In fact, we take so much math as computer science engineers that we can’t double major in applied math since that’s already built into our coursework (something that would have shaved at least half a year off my college life if I’d known it sooner).

Some of those later courses were tough, but even math students at the most basic level have encountered knowing the answer, but not knowing how to get to the answer. On a particular test problem where I ran into this situation, I wrote “Poof! And the magic occurs!” between the problem and my answer. Suffice it to say, that was insufficient explanation.

Math writing is inherently logical. You define your terms, make your propositions, prove your theorems, then move on to the next property of whatever you’re studying. The problem occurs when you forget to define your terms, or leave out a step, or assume everyone in the universe has the same base knowledge as you.

I spent at least an hour last night trying to figure out how to change Fibonacci words into generalized Fibonacci snowflakes. I was missing one crucial piece of information that I finally had to track down in one of the cited papers, that all the addition in these equations was mod 4. The moment of finally watching something work the way you expect it to can feel a lot like magic, but a lot of trouble might have been saved on my part if the author had bothered to work out the interim steps in the paper. There were many other places where they had done this, but this one lacking piece of information was right in the middle from one really cool graphic to another.

So how do we apply this more generally?

Constructing a story, particularly a mystery, is a lot like proving a math theory. You discover evidence, make some conclusions, and prove your theory. Sure, a good mystery has some misdirection. You don’t want the reader to arrive at your conclusion too quickly. But you want your solution, your ending, to be the satisfying and logical progression of what has come before. Put another way, you want your ending scene to be “earned” by what you’ve written before it.

The problem as writers is that we always know this universe of our story better than our readers, to the point that sometimes we don’t know if we’ve said all we need to make it clear to others. You may know a character’s motivation, but if you leave no sign of it in the book, then the reader doesn’t know why they should care. Bad mysteries often introduce a surprise villain at the end of the book, rather than in the first 20%, cheating the reader of the opportunity to engage with finding the solution.

I don’t think this means you need to beat your readers over the head with facts already in evidence. But if something is important to things you’re going to write later, be sure you’ve actually said it the once. Beta readers and editors are especially helpful in finding these sorts of flaws, as is having an outline where you work out all of these connections ahead of time.

And incidentally, and separately from the main point of all this, writing in a technical language is not always better than the vernacular. I understand that academic papers serve different functions and are targeted at different audiences than more general work. But math doesn’t have to be obscure. Part of the reason I’m slogging through all this work is to write something I can share with everyone. This is something to keep in mind when you’re tempted to insert a lot of techno-babble or overly sophisticated words into your stories. Sometimes telling a story clearly, plainly and succinctly is the best way to go.

Just make sure to show your work.

Filed under Writing

## Surreality Available Now for Pre-Order, Releases 12/8

Surreality is coming out in five days!

Just in time for a little cozy winter reading (if Columbus finally decides to pick a temperature and stick with it).

After a whirlwind couple of weeks of formatting, proofing and making various grumbling noises at my computer, I am pleased to announce Surreality will be released 12/8. The eBook version is available from just about every online retailer imaginable, including many I hadn’t heard of. (Might want to do a post on Blio at some point, since a certain Mr. Ray Kurzweil apparently has a connection to it).

You can find links to many of the online book stores to your right or you can click here for:

If you buy from Smashwords, you get the book in mobi (Kindle), ePub (Almost everything else) and PDF (Literally almost everything) DRM free. If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you know I’m a fan of actually owning my eBooks, and Smashwords is one of the best ways to do it.

The print edition is being published on CreateSpace and is actually available now if you buy direct, and in a few more days on Amazon. I just got the proof a few days ago, and opening that box was pretty exciting. Thankfully, producing a print edition of a fiction book is actually pretty easy and affordable. I remember calculating for the fractal book that I would have to cut 100 pages and sell the book for \$60 to break even (unless I went for black and white I guess).

Thanks again to everyone who supported the Kindle Scout campaign and this book throughout its production. Your support helped with motivation to get this done in the final crunch weeks.

Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing, Writing Goals

## Surreality – Latest News

As many of you know, last week Surreality was not selected for publication on Kindle Scout.

First off, I want to thank everyone who nominated the book, shared the campaign on social media, and just expressed your overall support. I got some very nice notes on Twitter and e-mail commiserating with me after the campaign ended. Overall I feel good for having run the campaign, and am excited to continue down the publication path for Surreality as originally planned. I’ll write a more detailed retrospective on Kindle Scout in the coming months.

So, the big question: When will Surreality be released and where?

Short answer: 1-2 weeks and just about everywhere. Pre-orders may become available sooner than that, so stay tuned.

I’m working on putting together eBook versions for Amazon, BN, and other channels through Smashwords. (Yes, John, that means you’ll be able to buy a copy through the iBookstore). Smashwords in particular is very exciting as buying from there gives you the book in all of the myriad formats, meaning you really own it.

For those of you looking to do your Christmas shopping, I’m also releasing a print edition through CreateSpace. I intend to enroll the book in MatchBook as well (meaning you can get a cheap eBook version if you buy the physical book).

Anyone who voted for Surreality on Kindle Scout will get a notification that the Amazon version has been released. All of the other editions should launch at the same time, so if you prefer to buy for the Nook, the iPad, the Kobo or the hootinannie, you’ll find the links on the blog (and probably all over Twitter and Facebook as well).

I’m really excited to finally be getting this book out to you (just in time for cozy winter nights, and actually a little faster than if it had been selected).

Filed under Books + Publishing, Writing

## Everyone in the room is a human being

Except for Gleebmork. But even s/he has feelings.

I wrote about 5000 words of the sequel to Surreality a couple of months ago, then put it down to focus on getting the first book out. Coming back to it, I’ve been kicking myself because of where I left the story. Specifically, I’m in the middle of a tough conversation between two characters that’s the setup for many conversations throughout the book. I have a pretty good idea of what the conversation is supposed to accomplish structurally, but have been having a tough time translating that into believable dialogue and body language.

I’m an only child, and we tend to think of the world in relation to ourselves. In the most extreme form, we believe that every conversation has something to do with us, and that everything that is happening is happening to us most of all. Most only children have this notion shaken up by something, be it a good friend, or getting married.

But the attitude can seep into a book without you even realizing it. Surreality and its sequel have a central character, and while it’s a third person narrative, we’re mostly sitting behind one head and one perspective.

It was kind of a simple thing, but part of what got the dialogue flowing better was to think about what the other character was thinking and feeling at the same time. What motivated them to initiate the talk with my character, and what do they hope to get out of it?

Detective novel dialogue can be very objective based, “I am grilling this character for information”, or “I am sorting through my thoughts out loud before having a brilliant insight.” Even in these situations motivations of the other characters are important, particularly if they intend to lie or hold something back.

Some characters will still be flat. We don’t need Willy the drug-dealer’s life story (especially since he isn’t a character in either book). Willy’s just there to tell us what he saw in exchange for us looking the other way on some weed that’ll be legal in the state in a year or two.

But for non-flat characters (i.e. characters not derived from Edwin Abbot’s Flatland), we need to be able to see the scene from their perspective as well as the main character’s. Maybe an exercise in getting that perspective is to write both versions of the scene, one sitting behind your main character’s head, and the other sitting behind the other person in the room. Then blend these two together into a single working scene.

I’ve never tried it, but it sounds like it would work, right?

What I do know that works is to just keep at it. Even if you only add a net 100 words to the scene on evening, you’ve made progress. Because this is a formative scene, I’m probably going to write and revise it several times before moving on, because it will be the basis for a lot of what is to come. I just have to take my own advice and not put it down for another couple of months.

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Filed under Writing