Thursday, July 2, 2020

Expanding Subjective Time

Working from home isn't new to me. I've done it fulltime since 2013 when I left Wizards and joined MCG. But with the additional social restrictions of the pandemic, things have been different. One day just seems to blur into the next, and recalling what I did two days ago let alone two weeks ago is difficult. I'm sure that's true for a lot of us late.


When you’re a kid, three months seems like an eternity, because it’s all new. Almost every experience is novel. But as you get older, time seems to go faster and faster. We wonder where a month has gone, or even a year. You may have even speculated that's because it only seems that way because so many things that happen to us as adults are things that have already happened to us, perhaps many times if we have a regular job and live in the same place.


Recently, I've been on a kick to read outside my regular sci-fi/urban fantasy wheelhouse; I recently read Madelaine Albright’s latest memoir, for instance. After that, I selected Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. I figured maybe I would learn a few methods to improve my memory. 


As it turns out, the Moonwalking with Einstein is actually more that, diving into a high-level overview of how memory works. An objective measure of how much I'm enjoying it is how many times I'll randomly quote a section to Batgirl. (Her enjoyment may differ.)


The book describes author Josh Foer's own journey into learning about memory. During this "odyssey of the mind," he meets and befriends all sorts of super-interesting people. In fact, I'd say the author displays a Hunter S. Thompson-esque talent for making these characters larger than life, which is enjoyable in its own right.


The text describes two types of memory explicit and implicit. Explicit memory is a specific memory of something that happened, like how you might remember that one time you had that bad interaction with your boss. Implicit memory is knowledge, like your knowledge of language, how to divide numbers, or that you like (or dislike) icecream.


Explicit memory is constantly shrinking, thanks to implicit memory. The way implicit memory works is that the more we do a certain activity over and over, the more likely that additional but similar memory gets classified as “more of the same" by your brain. When a new memory gets that tag, the memory is far more likely to be tossed out. It doesn't need to be stored, according to your brain. It's not new; you've already go it covered under implicit memory.


Anyway, in the process of learning how a memory palace actually works, (as opposed to how I incorrectly thought it worked), one of the interviewees (a British memory champion named Ed Cooke) talks about how he hoped to expand subjective time so that it feels like he lives longer. The idea is to avoid that feeling at the end of the year ‘where did all that time go?’


And I'm like 'YES!' This is what I want, too! Lockdown or not, I'm tired of wondering how the previous year could have possibly passed so fast. Even though I'm still not quite finished with the book, I've taken at least one inspiration from it. I'm going to expand my subjective time by seeking chronological landmarks. 


All of which is to say, I'm going to try a little harder to do more new things more often, really. Starting with reading outside my regular wheelhouse... oh. I guess I've already begun.


[This article was cross-posted from my Patreon. If you'd like to support my fiction-writing, please check it out!]

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Foreshadowing Vs. Telegraphing

In this modern age of peak tv, plentiful podcasts, fantastic co-op options for computer RPGs, and of course good ol' tabletop RPGs, I don't read novels and short stories at the pace I once did. When I was younger, I read pretty much during every spare moment.

But, I still read. At my slower pace, I have the luxury of picking and choosing novels that others have already read and recommended. Often, those novels are fantastic. Apart from pure enjoyment, these novels usually have something to teach me, too. Like for instance how The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers let me know that a sci-fi novel could take its time to focus on character interactions and still be quite enjoyable. Or how All Systems Red by Martha Wells showed me that a very short novel (technically a novella) can be both enjoyable and successful.

A book I finished not too long ago taught me the difference between foreshadowing and telegraphing.

I've been an avid user of foreshadowing for a long time. Usually, my foreshadowing gets added into my manuscript later, after I've introduced some twist or unexpected path forward for the POV character to take. Then I go back and add a bit a foreshadowing to avoid a sense of deus ex machina later. Generally speaking, foreshadowing should be used lightly, not to bash the reader's face in with a warning of imminent danger.

Unfortunately, that's what telegraphing does. 

Telegraphing is using foreshadowing so much that the reader can't help but notice. For example, the prose "If only I knew then what was in store for me when I walked out the door," is probably just fine if used only once. But if some variation on that is used prior to each and every new scene, it becomes comic. It becomes telegraphing.

Enough other gold lay in the aforementioned book that taught me this lesson that I finished. But the only way I was able to get through the novel was to turn it into a drinking game (as I noted on Twitter). Each "I did not know then that one day," or some variation, DRINK!

Books in my queue I look forward to reading (and maybe learning something from, too): Agency (sequel to William Gibson's Peripheral), Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and False Value by Ben Aaronovitch.

[This article is cross-posted from my Patreon. Please take a look?]