There is No Such Thing as Random

The Illusion of Spontaneity

In nature, everything on a macro scale that seems random is an illusion. Stones roll down hills in predictable ways. Rivers meander through valleys in a way that is well understood, and can be predicted by their age.

People can seem random and unpredictable as well, but when they do, it is because you have incomplete information about what is driving them.

In fiction, nothing can be random. You must have a reason for everything that happens, every action every character takes, even the most minor. You cannot afford to pretend that things are random.

 

Cause and Effect

When we are very young, we learn that things happen for a reason. And I don’t mean that in the “God has a plan” way, but rather in the “Physics has a plan” way. If you drop a rock, it falls, because gravity. If you aren’t watching where you’re going when you’re driving, there’s a good chance you’ll hit someone, and if you hit someone, things will be damaged, because kinematics.

It works for psychology as well. If someone screws you over at work, he doesn’t do it because he wants to screw you over, and he doesn’t do it randomly. He does it because he gets something out of it. If your partner cheats on you, it isn’t because they wanted to hurt you, but rather because in that moment they liked the other person more.

 

The Role of Complexity

Things, especially in psychology, but also other things, look random because of incomplete information. They look random because they are complicated.

Why did you get into that car crash? Because you and the other car were in the same location at the same time. Because you chose to look down at your radio at the exact moment you entered the intersection. Maybe you and the other person are only entering the intersection at the exact same time because one of you forgot a paper on your desk and had to go back for it. Maybe if you had played a song that was 10 seconds longer than the one that was playing, you wouldn’t have had to check your radio for another 10 seconds and would have avoided the accident. If you had gotten further without your paper, it would have taken you longer to go back for it, and you would have avoided the accident.

Why did Martin throw you under the bus at the staff meeting? Because you had a shared responsibility, and both of you blew it, and he needs to get promoted because he’s got more mouths to feed and anyway, he’s really a good person and this experience will make you stronger, so it’s actually like he’s doing you a favor. People actually think like this. But you can go back further. Why didn’t the pair of you meet your obligations? Maybe you didn’t feel like working late. Maybe a critical piece of information was misfiled and you couldn’t find it in time. Maybe your customers were uncooperative.

 

What This Means For You

As a fiction writer, you cannot afford to ignore the reasons why things happen. While we feel sympathy for a character to whom bad things seem to happen constantly for no reason, we feel more and better sympathy if there is a reason why the bad things are happening.

We feel better when there is someone to blame. We feel better when seemingly meaningless choices are actually causing the bad things. We, as a species, deeply want to believe that the world is fair. And while, the real world is many things, not including fair… a fictional world can at least be predictable. And that is what your readers want.

Read More

How to Use Pinterest to Supercharge Your Descriptions

Using Pinterest To Supercharge Your Writing

 

The Author’s Secret Weapon…

For a long time, authors have used photographs to improve their writing. It’s much easier to imagine the mannerisms and expressions of people in pictures than it is to invent a dozen people entirely from scratch without overlap. Places come alive from photographs in the same way, although they tend to be even better when based on a real place the author has been.

 

…Modernized

In the dark ages, writers used to cut pictures out of magazines and keep them in a binder, referring to them often enough that they could remember each picture. But since the internet, there are many, many easier ways to maintain a library of inspirational photographs. Of course, since the internet, there are many different options, but today, I’m going to tell you about Pinterest.

 

What Pinterest Is

Pinterest is a semi-social networking platform where people collect and trade pictures. They are often difficult to trace to their sources, and their legality is… questionable, but the system is undeniably useful. You can follow other users, or just their boards, and you will tend to find a group of people with similar tastes and interests to yours.

You can keep up to 500 characters worth of notes on each picture, but I typically don’t bother.┬áBe aware that there are no privacy settings, so if you want to keep your inspirations private, you’re better off with another service, like Springpad or Evernote.

Also, if you have or are recovering from an eating disorder, you should be aware that Pinterest is full of sketchy thinspiration, and that people you followed for their cool nature pictures will periodically cover your internet with quotes like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and pictures of people who might be mistaken for tree branches. If you don’t want to see that stuff randomly, don’t follow people, only follow the boards you find interesting.

 

My Boards And How I Use Them

Scenery

My Scenery board is my favorite. I collect pictures of beautiful and strange landscapes, rooms, and houses. Most people keep inside and outside pictures separate, but I don’t feel any need to do that. I like to find them all in the same place.

 

People

I also collect pictures of people. It can be tough to find interesting people on Pinterest, because the “People” category tends to be swamped with the same celebrities. If you’re persistent, though, you can find people who are pinning people who look like they have interesting stories.

I also have a board of fantasy artwork that I typically use only for people.

 

Nature

When I write a fantasy novel, I like to describe the flora and fauna in great detail, and I like to make them seem bizarre and otherworldly. Turns out that you can actually do that from photographs, because plants and animals on earth are pretty weird already. Also, there are plenty of people out there making digitally altered photographs out of animals, and those are pretty cool as well.

 

Clothing

My fashion board tends to flip back and forth between being the fashions of the world I’m making, things I actually want to wear, things I want to make, and things I would wear to LARP. That said, I love to read books where people’s clothing is described in exquisite detail, so I keep this board around in case I ever feel like doing that.

 

Pictures that Make Me Curious

I have two boards dedicated to pictures that make me wonder. One for real life pictures, usually but not always black and white, and one for art and illustration. I also have a board I call “Inspiration,” which is where I put things I don’t know what to do with. It tends to have a combination of weird things and cool color combinations.

 

Boards For Specific Projects

I feel that Pinterest is at its most powerful when I make specific boards for specific projects. I don’t use this exclusively for writing.

Beautiful Dreamer is the working title of the fantasy novel I’m working on (I promise to think of a better one someday). On this board, I have pictures for all of the main characters, at least three main locations and some of the spaces between them, what magic springs look like, and a couple of pictures of the predominant fashions of the time.

The Palettes, We Watched the Rain, The Menagerie, Specimen Boxes, and Yggdrasil, are for mixed media art projects, not writing. The only exception is the Menagerie, which I use for both. It also serves as inspiration for my demonology novellas.

 

Other Boards

For some reason, I feel the need to be complete, so let me say that I have a bunch of other boards that really have nothing to do with my writing.

 

What are you waiting for?

Yes, Pinterest can be a terrible timesink. But once the initial obsession died down, I have found it to be an excellent way to use (timed) five minute breaks, and I have certainly found it to improve my writing intensely.

If you need an invite, leave a comment, and I’ll happily send one your way.

Read More