Experiments in Perspective - The Font

Since I’ve been working through a new short story, I thought I’d take the draft 1-2 transition through another perspective technique recommended by Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit, number 6, The Font. I have a few misgivings about this, particularly because I spend so much of my time writing things both for work and as an aside to work that I generally see things that need a high level of polish in all the obvious fonts (not to mention a vast majority of ‘proper’ fonts look identical, and no, I’m not editing in comic sans or bauhaus, that’s just silly).

Given that I had so many uncertainties around simply changing the font I didn’t print the story again, instead I continued using the editor I’ve been using, Typora (I’ve been using Typora because for posting my short stories I need to have the written in markdown to display on the website correctly). The benefit of using this editor for this perspective method is that I can change the view which adjusts the font but also the background and text colour, I thought this might help aid the font change, the subtle change in white background was actually striking enough to make me feel like I was reading something new and given this was the last read-through before I handed it off to some beta readers I thought it might help solidify the story for me.

Unfortunately the long and the short of it is that the font, like the printout before it is largely (at least for me) not particularly useful. Again there are only so many fonts that are acceptable to do editing with in my opinion and the vast majority of them (or fonts with minor differences to them) are used in various editors that I’ve already use or use on a daily basis (either for doing technical documentation or general writing) so simply changing font didn’t break me out of the mentality of it being just something I wrote. I think Font and Printout might have more of an impact if they are used simultaneously but in my brief attempts I didn’t find them that big of a change, and certainly not enough of a change to give me any real perspective over the writing I had done.

Sorry for another woefully short report on these Experiment in Perspective, but I feel I don’t have much to report on all things considered. This might not be the case for everyone else, I’m sure plenty of people find a font change or a printout a big enough change to create some disconnection from their work, but alas, not myself.


Experiments in Perspective - The Printout

Again we’re continuing my little experiment on ways to gain perspective when editing, specifically by working through the series of methods proposed by Susan Bell in The Artful Edit, today is number 1 in the list, The Printout. This one came up because I recently finished a short story in entirety and felt like it was a nice constrained piece to test this method out on, it has had about a month to sit before returning to it (that will probably become a normal for this series because I really hate immediately re-reading, I think The Big Break has ruined that for me).

The biggest benefit I’ve found of the Printout method is simplicity, there’s no special programs you need (or optionally decide to use), just a good pen and some tea, and a printer too I guess strictly speaking, and a computer, and all of the software needed to actually get to the point where the story is printed onto pages to edit. So maybe not so simple but once you have the pages you’re good to go. Unfortunately because of the simplicity I have a feeling there’s isn’t going to be a great deal to talk about.

I’m not sure the printout gave me as much of a step back as time or reading the story aloud did, realistically it was good to go back through it all but really primarily what it made me do was finer editing, grammar, spelling and the like. Stepping away from the computer to do it was probably the most helpful as it allowed me to shift around when it go uncomfortable in one position meaning I could get through the entire editing session in one afternoon instead of breaking it up and invariably getting distracted by a video game, conversation with my housemate or otherwise wasting my time and not getting back to it. I think what I’m going to find is that a lot of these perspective gaining methods work better as a collective than as singulars, perhaps the combination of break, printout and reading aloud will prove most beneficial, the ability to scrawl in margins and hastily add grammatical marks when reading might make them a highly functional combo. But for me, at least, the Printout brought no great perspective revelations.

The printout as an editing tool has, however, made me want to learn copyeditor’s marks (there’s a post on NY Book Editors about copyediting marks here) as I’ve quickly discovered circles, boxes and lines through words lose their meaning when you start attributing different edits to different box and circle shapes, and my rectangles start looking like ovals when I go too quickly but that’s a whole different problem.


Showing Up And Writing (An Additional Thought)

Writing is a difficult process at the best of times for so many people, there is a reason so many say that they can’t write or don’t have time to write or don’t feel like it. Because if you life is chaotic or work sucks or you can’t find motivation it is next to impossible. And for many the ability to write really is tied to their mood and their surroundings. I’ve spent the better part of a week away from home to see family, and writing during that time was next to impossible. I berated myself for my failure to write despite the reason I was there would stop most from writing anyway and anyone would understand this.

But instead of cutting myself slack I find myself berating myself for my failure. I went from roughly 1500-2000 words a day to zero. And between the heat and seeing family I’ve had little drive to finish NaNoWriMo, despite the fact that I hate the idea of failing yet again. Perhaps it falls at a terrible time of the year, perhaps this is just an especially bad year, but still. I feel like I have no hope of finishing, but that’s a terrible way to look at it, there should always be hope, especially when it comes to something you enjoy to do. Always a hope to finish, a hope to succeed.

But where can you draw that hope from? Especially in situations you can control, where you’re called away or distracted from your goal by something equally or more important, or just by the ebbs and flows of life? There are seldom few places you can draw it from, friends works for some, especially those of us with friends who share our passion. For others it has to come from within which is harder.

The project I’m working on sits at roughly 87000 words, which sounds like I’ve completed NaNoWriMo successfully but I took a story I had already worked on as my challenge this year, in the hope that it would force me to finish it. The downside is only 42000 of that total was written this month and, ironically, I finished the story, the plot is done and a dozen holes have been filled with character background and pre-scene and post-scene actions. So what I’m left with as an option is to rebel against NaNoWriMo, to take on a different project(s) to complete. The answer: Short stories. I’ve been working on short stories for a little while now (occasionally I post them on www.thetraverse.net) and while they are slow to be posted they are great fun to do and especially useful for tooling around with the universe, characters and situations I don’t normally find myself writing.

I’m not saying everyone should do them, but I am saying, NaNoWriMo is here to help a habit, the habit of writing everyday. So, if you have to rebel, do it, and maybe you’ll find some hope and success in that rebellion.


Showing Up And Writing

Productivity is something everyone strives for, and if you pickup any self-help or productivity focused book you’ll probably run into the advice to “not break the chain”; that is, for habits you want to do, mark them down every day that you complete them, then over time you’ll build a chain of days where you’ve completed the task and you’ll be more likely to attempt it each day to try not to break that chain. This is part of why so many habit tracking apps have ‘streaks’ built into them (think Daylio, Duolingo, Productive, Streaks, etc.). So why is this important or interesting?

Now this isn’t a new idea, I’m not claiming to suddenly have had an epiphany about how to write and if you’re already well aware of this, feel free to stop reading, but, I never used to see the value in the advice. The idea of doing writing (or anything really) everyday regardless of whether you feel inspired or motivated to do it does feel depressing. But if you only produce when you feel like it then nothing will ever get done. If as a worker at a job you only did work when you wanted to you’d very quickly find yourself in trouble and potentially fired (or if nobody notices, extremely bored). So I’ve been forcing myself to write every day and after doing it for a week this is what my progress on a 10,000 word target looks like:

Day 0 is how many words I started with, this project had begun but never gotten anywhere for a number of months before I decided to try knuckling down to finish it. Now, I know that 10,000 words isn’t a huge goal to accomplish (and I haven’t accomplished yet), but when a story has been sitting there for so long it is difficult to psyche yourself up to do it, especially when there are new fresh ideas that you would rather focus on (or other projects you can procrastinate by doing because they require less mental energy). But the progress made over a week with only ~800 words an evening after work (something between thirty minutes and an hour depending on how mentally exhausted I was) is at least worthwhile pursuing.

The thing is, as I said earlier, this isn’t new as an idea, writing every day is the rule not the exception for a lot of authors, after all, we’re all aware of the blistering pace Stephen King sets and Neil Gaiman is on record with the following snippet of advice:

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not.

Neil Gaiman

This sort of advice is also why some find the psuedo-competition of events like NaNoWriMo so helpful as a kickstart to getting into writing habits (though making it stick can be problematic, I’ve participated several times and have never been disciplined enough to force it to stick afterwards). Anyway, it’s November 2nd, the start of NaNoWriMo time (well, 2 days in actually), so you can still participate and put the challenge of daily work to good use and get yourself into the habit. It’s only 1667 words every day it can’t be that bad (which is what I say to myself every year).


Experiments in Perspective - The Spoken Word

Today I’m continuing my little experiment on ways to gain perspective when editing, specifically by working through the series of methods proposed by Susan Bell in The Artful Edit. Today I decided to tackle number 5, The Spoken Word, as a method because I had a number of passages of dialogue that I’ve been having problems with at the end of one of my stories and I wasn’t sure if they were bad or if I just thought they were bad.

Now, for most people sitting around reading aloud to yourself is going to be disconcerting. I know it makes me feel like an idiot most of the time. There’s also the possibility of your nosy housemates or your spouse coming in and asking what you are doing. The spouse might be easier to deal with, housemates less so. Intriguingly there is a way to get around this, assuming you can put up with a computerised voice. Microsoft Edge (yes, that Edge) has a built-in pdf reading text-to-speech system which is actually, surprisingly good.

So why am I using text to speech, this is about flow isn’t it? A janky robot voice isn’t going to help with flow. Well, you would be surprised. I thought something similar but the regularity and consistency that it provides, especially around punctuation is something to consider. A space is given a set weight, a comma a different weight so you can hear the commas quite clearly when it is reading your text (if it could understand and emphasize italics that would be a whole other level of awesome, but alas, it cannot). So if you’ve written a bit of dialogue broken by an action and you forget the comma, it is noticeable.

Additionally, because the text-to-speech system uses words, typos are shockingly apparent. Now if you’ve got a made-up word for your sci-fi or fantasy setting, for example a place name, it will sound off, but I think the benefit to your editing for punctuation and incorrect words will more than make up for it.

Now obviously we’ve just spent two short paragraphs talking about what is effectively line editing and the main point of these perspective exercises is for bigger-picture, plot and character editing. And here I think there are a few issues with using the computer, and likely with reading aloud. My biggest gripe is it robs the characters of their voice (unless you’re good with accents and changing how your own voice sounds). Because the text-to-speech system is so flat (no emphasis as I mentioned earlier) it makes the dialogue from characters sound very interchangeable. I was lucky with the bit of reading that I had it do because the two characters who spoke through the majority of it had a distinct differentiation between them, but for characters more similar I could see this becoming very difficult to follow without some extreme focus.

Speaking of focus, if you’re reading it to yourself this can be very powerful for forcing you to keep focused. If, like myself, you opted for the automated system, you might run into trouble. I decided to listen to mine with headphones to drown out some background noise, the unfortunate side effect with this was that because the text-to-speech system is so consistent in its tone, I found my thoughts drifting off. This might be a red flag for the pacing and tension in the book, but I’m under the impression that it is more due to the familiarity with what I had written and my lack of sleep the prior night. So beware the possibility of zoning out while listening if you choose the text-to-speech approach.

Now, in The Artful Edit it’s suggested that this method could be done with an audience (the level of captivity required of said audience is left up to your discretion, and the laws in your state/country) and I believe that this might be incredibly helpful but I couldn’t manage to collect an audience willing to sit around and listen to me on their weekend.

To summarise: Text-to-speech is great for catching small errors and pointing out the obvious screw-ups that your brain auto-corrects when reading normally. Reading aloud is helpful assuming you aren’t interrupted every five minutes by nosy neighbours, an annoyed spouse trying to sleep or curious children. Reading to an audience would be great but finding one is the difficult part. All in all, I’m not sure how beneficial it is as a perspective gaining technique, though helpful, I will have to withhold judgement until I’ve tried the other suggested methods.

All in all, for the part I wanted to use this method for, i.e. correcting a few dialogue passages, it gave me enough distance from them (being read in someone else’s voice) to reassure me that they aren’t as horrific as I had first thought and the words used and the tempo weren’t as bad as I had expected. So, if you’re stuck in a similar place, I’d recommend trying it, but not relying on it for perspective outside of that, but that might just be how my brain works, you might find it more useful.


Decluttering Your Brain

As I sit down to write this I’m facing the end of a Sunday and the end of a very long two weeks. I’ve had a host of interviews for a new job, a metric tonne of work at my current job, a lack of sleep and a general feeling of exhaustion. And it’s days like this that when I want to do something, to sit down and get through some of my own personal stuff, that I hit the brick wall of me staring at my ceiling not knowing what to do.

There are four lights, they are not interesting to look at, despite how often I do.

If your physical life is cluttered (your bedroom or study or office) it negatively impacts you and, assuming you have the time and inclination, you will eventually rectify the situation. Whether out of an external demand (your significant other getting upset) or through an internal need, a self-regulated need to get yourself back on track. This self-induced repair of your surroundings is a way to help restore some mental hygiene. Like your physical health you mental health needs some attending to, if left unattended eventually it will get worse.
Okay, so ideas take up space in our heads, cluttering up everything and generally being a nuisance. Even if we never action them, they remain, waiting for their time in the sun. So what’s a practical way to remove these ideas and declutter your mind?

Obviously the first is to action them. I’ve recently started putting (where I can) the ideas on paper, for story ideas that don’t really have a fully fleshed-out novel or novella length premise I write a short story. But this takes time, for example, to do a first draft of one of these little asides it takes me around six hours. And that’s a writing project where the only requirement is that I sit down, think and type. Hardware projects are even longer, and novellas and novels even longer again. So, obviously you’re limited in how many you employ the use of direct action on.

The next step that has worked for many people is the task list, if you’re a fan of out-and-out lists then there’s a swarm of apps available to you, Google Keep, OmniFocus, Todoist just to name a few. But I find that my To Do lists just end up hidden away somewhere with one or two boxes ticked. I’m more project focused than individual task focused so my solution was to have a To Do list for the little things, the chaff that litters your mind but actually needs doing, they go into the task list. And then I have a project list on a Kanban board (I have a post-it version on the back of my bedroom door and a digital version in the cloud). And it’s this that helps declutter more from my head.
When I have an idea for a project and it’s remained with me for any length of time I write a note and add it to the board, there it can sit and I can be comfortable in knowing that I’ll remember what was involved when it progresses through the list far enough, there’s also the added benefit of being to add notes to it as needed so that I don’t forget the good idea that I had for it in the shower that morning. And if a project remains there for too long it gets removed.

Killing the idea always hurts, it’s the last real stage but a necessary one, not all ideas are worthy of the time and attention that they would require to get them out into the world. Many people hate the idea, they hate the prospect of killing a perfectly good idea. So when I say kill the idea, I really mean archive the idea. Because I have a digital project board I’ve been able to encourage myself to simply remove the card, I archive it, hiding it from the board entirely, and it passing doesn’t concern me because, in the event that I suddenly want it back (though I’ve never had it happen yet), I can be safe in the knowledge that it’ll be waiting there in the hidden graveyard of ideas that is my archived cards.

So, does it help? Anecdotally, yes, it does. And with the fortnight now behind me, I can say that I don’t think some of my ideas would have survived if I was just relying on them floating inside my head when faced with the onslaught of my work commitments.


Experiments in Perspective - The Big Break

Recently I’ve been reading through Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit and something that leapt out at me is the different means proposed to gain perspective of your work when editing. And I’ve noticed some of these are things I’ve done before with varying success, and given my recent foray into short stories, I thought this might be the perfect time to sit down and try to more objectively identify what works for me. And hopefully, in the process, offer some insight or alternatives to what was outlined in the book.

The first I’m going to start with is number 4 in the list; The Big Break. The choice for this one comes more from convenience of timing than any cunning plan I had concocted, there is a story that has been sitting in its drafted state waiting for a proofread (outside of the initial re-read I always do to make sure my characters have not spontaneously changed names - or possibly sex if my ‘s’ key was being stubborn). So come with me reader as I explore gaining perspective on written works.

The first thing I did when returning to this story was open up this very post in split screen with the story as a note taking space - primarily because I’m editing in markdown at the moment, it’s a long story (the reason for using markdown, not the actual story itself), and I can’t mark up or track changes in this editor - though it has come to mind that this may be more distracting than anything so I can’t recommend it.
The good news is I remember nothing about the story whilst reading, which makes it fresh and relatively easy to go through, in the past reviewing things I’ve written can become a slog especially after the second readthrough, so that’s definitely a plus. I’ve also found it much easier to pickup on errant contractions, I’ve tried my best to avoid using contractions in narration and make sure they only turn up in dialogue, it’s something someone said to me once that has stuck with me ever since.

While I do remember some of what I wrote, the problem with this particular story and the distance/time I’ve given it is that it (the story) jumps to characters who are never named and are there to show how long story is told over (along with giving allusion to some of the things that are happening outside of the other character’s viewpoints). While it made me reread entire chapters to determine who the scene is about it has helped me identify that it needs clarity, something that my initial re-reads didn’t because it was so fresh and the progression of the story was still present in my mind. Obviously, once the reader finishes the story it would have made sense but the fact that they may get confused is problematic so I’ve spent more time, not identifying these bit-part characters, but instead identifying the named characters more clearly at the start or during their scenes to help keep the reader on track.

All in all this feels very much like a normal edit, the few months I’ve gone without looking at it hasn’t done a great deal really, potentially this is because I did an edit previously that clarified a lot, or potentially the perspective a big break gives is more suited to longer form stories, I know it has helped with my longer form writing in the past (though the size of the break wasn’t really intentional in some of those situations).

I would definitely recommend this approach as one of the tools to use assuming you have the flexibility in deadlines. It gives you enough time to get over the ‘wow this is such a cool idea’ scenes and work out whether your character really needs to go skydiving off the Eiffel tower whilst playing a flame-throwing guitar to progress the story (they probably don’t, but who am I to tell you that?).


Motivation vs Job

Motivation. Everyone ends up writing about it at some point, (I guess it’s my turn). Especially writers and creatives, between motivation and inspiration I think a good portion of blog posts could be packaged under one of those two headers. They’re both elusive and when you don’t have them you feel worthless. Maybe you turn to self help books, those written by people who seem to have their life in order, confident enough in their ‘methods’ to push them on everyone desperate enough to read the book. And every self-help book I’ve read lately is straddling the line of helping with a personal level of motivational problems (with suggestions coming from someone who is clearly self-employed and can spend infinite time working on their journals and task lists and etc) while trying simultaneously to appeal to the managers of the world so that the ideas can be pushed by said managers (and hopefully that in turn drives book sales, because if nothing else, managers do love talking to other managers about their favourite manager books). So you end up reading books telling you to sacrifice yourself for you day job, give your all even if you’ll never get recognition or credit because you’ll regret it later otherwise.

But what if work is where the problem started?

I believe this image’s subject is frustrated because their phone only ever shows a blank white screen.

The idea of separation between work life and home life sounds pretty straight forward, you work at work, you do your own thing at home. But the human brain is not that good at compartmentalizing. There’s a reason there are a million articles about overwork, the fact that vacation less than eight days aren’t particularly relaxing and that ‘work-life balance’ is one of the new ‘come work for us’ pitches in job ads.
Maybe you’re unmotivated at work too, no recognition or credit (but you’ve been diligently giving your all like that self-help book said) and this lack of motivation leads to falling behind. And then work follows us home, lying in wait at the back of our mind while we’re watching Netflix or making dinner, waiting until about midnight to pounce and keep us up at night. Which leads to getting in late, or maybe less time to get things done. Or more pressure from your manager. You stay late (even alter than necessary because you feel guilty and need to make up for your tardiness) and the time you would have spent on your personal life and projects seeps away into more sleepless nights until your body starts rebelling.

Et tu, Body?

The body is actually pretty good at dealing with short burst of almost anything (admittedly very short bursts for some things). It’s also pretty bad at dealing with things being consistently terrible. An article published in the European Heart Journal titled Overtime work and incident coronary heart disease: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study found that there was a significant increase in the risk of heart-disease in workers who consistently worked overtime.

So you’ve ended up in a bad place, with no sleep, spending more time at the office (for those of us shackled to a job) and you’re exhausted when you do get home. And now instead of just your work worries seeping into your personal life, your lack of motivation from work flows into your personal projects too. It’s hard to stay motivated when you feel like you’re simply burning 8 hours a day on pointless work (and possibly for a pittance too if your boss is cheap). So how does one motivate themselves at home again? If you listen to the self-help books, you have to write tasks lists and pull yourself up by your own boot straps.
But task lists will only get you so far. Especially if they feel strangely familiar to the task lists you have at work. The ones handed to you by your manager, the ones with deadlines and demands.

The ones that are no fun.

Now you’re at the bottom of the hole, welcome to the abyss of failing motivation, insufficient time and a terrible work life.

So what now? There’s a few workable options, but take them all with a grain of salt.

1: Mediocrity & betrayal.
You can slow down at work. If your work is fairly stable and you’re confident in your job security you could redirect some of your energy, take it slower at work, save your enthusiasm for your personal life. Maybe get up earlier (as counterintuitive as it sounds) and work on your projects first (and avoid the internet, Srinivas Rao has a good article on why starting the day on the net is bad here), that way your “best” hours, where you have all of your focus, can be spent on your own projects, not your workplace’s (and not the workplace politics that infect everything in your work). Though if you’re more a night owl than an early bird that might be a very painful way to go about it.

2: Discussion & compromise.
Speak to whoever is in charge of your work life, a manager or HR or whoever it is and see if you can get some time off in the short term, perhaps a few extra hours of a morning before coming in or a few Fridays off. For smaller companies this conversation might be a bit easier, but in my experience larger companies are more open to actually engaging in discussions and providing help and solutions, small companies by their nature tend to only have one person per position so it gets harder for them to work without personnel. Which might be a contributing factor to overwork if you’re a small business employee. Because spending time on our own hobbies is extremely beneficial for our self-actualization (Gaetano DiNardi wrote a great article about why spending time on your hobbies is helpful here), if you can get this one balanced right it’s the best solution, but that’s a big if.

3: A holiday, but a long one.
An alternative to being mediocre at your job for a while is to take time off, again, you’ll need at least two weeks for it to be useful and you’ll need to bootstrap yourself a bit to get into the swing of things (if you let yourself lounge around for the first three days it’ll be hard to force yourself into work later). And then, you just have to hope you can make progress on your projects before your time is up. The best part of this is you have days of free time to sink into your project and an deadline for yourself that might jumpstart you. The downside? Well apart from possibly having to take unpaid leave to achieve the necessary length, you still have a deadline and limited time.

4: The thermonuclear option (I really don’t recommend this but it is fun to dream about).
If work is a mess and there’s nothing you can do to save yourself (and you have the financial means to support this option), you can always burn it all to the ground (metaphorically) by leaving your job. This is a no turning back situation (unless you’ve got a really understanding boss) and is going to be a do-or-die situation (well, a do-or-get-a-new-job situation at least). The biggest benefit of this is complete freedom to get everything in order, finally you can spend a day organising your task lists and journals just like the self-help books tell you to.

In all seriousness, a lack of motivation is difficult to overcome, often because there is nothing “stopping” your from doing the work but yourself, and by that I mean the mental roadblocks in your mind which do exist and do need to be overcome, but often, only you can do that. And if it is personal projects that you’re lacking the motivation for perhaps you need to re-evaluate the projects, because unlike work demands, these projects mean something to you and are actually good for you, especially if they’re creative in some way.


Labelling Reality Fiction

Have you ever been struck by the feeling that some piece of fiction you’re reading or watching is more real than many of the stories you see on the news daily?
Maybe you’ve watched something portraying real events that you knew about previously but having it presented to you in a new way makes it feel all the more real.

That was my experience watching the new HBO miniseries Chernobyl, I’d read about the Chernobyl disaster previously but the show haunted me more than it should have, and that got me wondering, why?

The Chernobyl miniseries was the catalyst for me coming into this thought process but it isn’t what I want to talk about, ‘Docudramas’ and ‘Based on True Stories’ exist all around us, but so does the news, news which is more real (though, granted, less glamorous) and should be more thought-provocative and more emotionally compelling, so why aren’t they?

Defined realness has an effect on how we as humans process information, Andrew L. Mendelson and Zizi Papacharissi explored this concept using images in their 2007 paper Reality vs. Fiction: How defined realness affects cognitive and emotional responses to photographs. According to their research in which they presented individuals with both fictional movie stills and news images labelled either are ‘Real’ or ‘Fictional’ (the labels switched for part of the sample group), they found that when presented with images labelled ‘fiction’ (regardless of which image was actually shown) that participants listed more ‘thoughts’ about the image when compared to the image labelled ‘real’. However it also showed that the emotional response to ‘real’ images was higher and that the ‘real’ images were considered more novel (new/interesting).
The proposal (from Mendelson & Papacharissi and also from Worth & Gross’s 1974 Article Symbolic Strategies) for why these two responses are the case (and I am paraphrasing a lot here) is that things labelled fictional convince us that there is some deeper meaning behind the content we are being given, that is, that the author of the content (whether they’re photographer, director or writer) has crafted the content in such a way as to hint at a meaning (which would make sense if the Law of Conservation of Detail is anything to go by). By contrast, we take the news we’re presented at face value and respond accordingly (whether emotionally, or not as may sometimes be the case).

Also, for those of you (like myself) with the obvious question of “How can we be sure the participants didn’t know which images were real and fake?”, prior to the study they tested whether the manipulation of labels worked, in this test people would rate the image based on how ‘real’ it felt. The participants rated the images labelled ‘real’ as more realistic.

The image on the left is real, the image on the right is computer generated, could you tell?

You’ll remember at the start of this I asked why isn’t the news more compelling emotionally, and you’ll also probably now be pointing to the paragraphs above with questions for me. My comparison was the cold hard facts of the Chernobyl disaster compared to the HBO miniseries and my theory is that when a docudrama, that is a relatively historically correct dramatic representation is compared to the real thing, the labels that are applied to them are blurred so viewers end up with a combination of both, an emotional response and to some degree a search for deeper meaning. The ‘real’ label makes the drama and lies all that more nauseating and rage-inducing, the emotional response is stronger, even when some of that drama was likely manufactured. Our minds are grasping the labels and reacting to the perceived realness of what is presented under that label.

This extra analysis in some cases can be good, and in others it can be bad. Being aware of what lens something is being observed through, especially in a world where deepfake now exists, is an extremely useful skill for both journalists, authors and the general public alike. And if deepfake doesn’t unnerve you, I don’t know what will, especially when experiments, such as the one explored in the article Can people identify original and manipulated photos of real-world scenes? by Sophie J. Nightingale, Kimberley A. Wade and Derrick G. Watson (and yes, given the subject matter the names Nightingale and Watson had me feeling very skeptical) indicate that we are not particularly good at spotting manipulated let alone computer generated photos.


Also, I lied about the images, they’re both real, but did their percieved ‘reality’ make you look at them differently?

People & Power: The Lion King's Lesson

Depose the ruler, put someone in power. It sounds like a relatively straightforward task, gather up a bundle of people, march on whatever capital you have (castle, seat of parliament, tribal leader’s hut, etc.) kill the king (metaphorically or physically, depending on the circumstance), sit them on the throne. Job done.

But why would all those people help you, would be dictator?
There’s a simple explanation, money. The people helping put you into power are doing it because they think you are going to reward them, why else would they put their lives and the lives of their families in jeopardy? If you can secure backing, you can secure the throne, but in securing backing you have to reward the people backing you. If you don’t, your rule will be very short indeed.

I want to take a quick look at The Lion King as an example to this (and yes I’m aware of what it’s based off but it is more contemporary and probably a little easier to remember the details of). Also, when I’m talking about this being a good example, it is a good example of coming to power not necessarily keeping it. Scar is the usurper in this scenario, throughout the movie he runs the gamut from schemer to usurper to king to ousted. Let’s take a quick look at the steps he goes through:

  1. Find supporters (and in this case an army), at the start of the movie he has been doing this for some time (feeding the hyenas to get them to follow him and support him).
  2. Remove the current ruler (he does this by killing Mufasa, the current king; this could be a problem but luckily they are the same bloodline so his claim to the throne is much easier to convince people of than if he was truly an outsider, this is probably why the support of the lionesses isn’t immediately withdrawn - that is, not until it is too late).
  3. Remove as much opposition as possible (Simba was meant to be killed, but this is a children’s movie and also, if he was, the story the movie presents ends pretty quickly. Instead he is banished with the threat of “If you ever come back, we’ll kill ya!”, which works for a time).
  4. Introduce more people that can be ‘swapped’ into influential positions (partially as a reward) to help maintain his hold (he does this by bringing the Hyenas, his most loyal supporters into the system, that’s the: “…where lions and hyenas come together…” speech).
    At that point he is effectively in power and doesn’t have any real opposition, the next in line is gone, the lionesses are outnumbered by Scar’s army (the Hyenas) who are now getting paid well (now have food where before they were banished to the elephant graveyard). The populace (lionesses) are unhappy but there isn’t a great deal they can do without fear of reprisal from Scar’s now loyal army.

At this point you might be forgiven for thinking he is in power and will stay in power. In the minds of many people a dictator’s rule is absolute, complete and unwavering, a dictator, unlike a democratically elected representative, isn’t afraid of the populace kicking him out. And this is true, the populace can do little to a dictator in power. But that is the wrong side of the deposing-a-dictator coin. The real threat to the dictator is the ones who helped him to power and help him stay in power. Now let’s turn our attention to his fall from power.

Scar’s fall starts well before Simba ever returns to the scene, Simba is what finally topples Scar’s house of cards, but from a political decision standpoint Scar has been failing for a time. The gold is largely gone (there is no food, the herds are gone, the lionesses are hungry as are the hyenas) and he is ruling on force of will and fear alone. When Simba returns (an eventuality he is not prepared for) suddenly a viable alternative has presented itself. In an extremely short time the people (lionesses) effectively storm the palace (obviously there are no palaces but this is functionally where the now unrewarded army steps back and lets the people riot and depose their leader). The army (the Hyenas) having lost their reward for keeping Scar in power (the hyena army is a key supporter of Scar’s rule) turn on him, they let the people riot instead of keeping the peace, and in fact, they attack their king themselves (there’s a whole scene dedicated to this which is a bit twisted in a children’s movie if you consider what they probably end up doing, it is not quite cannibalism since hyenas and lions are a different species but it might as well be).

The reasons I wanted to write this little look into Scar’s politics is because I’ve been writing a more politically involved book (not real world politics obviously, that’s just nightmare fuel regardless of which side or branch of politics you analyse) and that’s led me to start thinking about the big powerful characters that appear in it. And, by extension, what those characters need to do to remain powerful.

If this topic is of interest I suggest having a read of The Dictator’s Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, they give a much more in depth look into the behaviour of people in power and a whole host of real-world examples.