Home Forums Circularity MIKE STRAUSS: Mike’s Comments for Session 6

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      Questions about Television Series that don’t seem to have a clear narrative.
      As Randy said, the individual shows are very well constructed with clear narrative WITHIN the show. Each episode has an “ordinary world” beginning, a ‘crisis’, and then a journey to a conclusion. More difficult sometimes is the narrative arc over the whole show. That can be simple (A planeload of people is heading to ???, but the plane crash lands on a deserted island, therefore they must learn to live together in order to escape.). But as a series drags on the progress of that narrative can get bogged down in the need to come up with 2 or 3 more seasons that were not anticipated. What made the short series Firefly so good was that they spent a season with interesting individual stories while also slowly developing an overarching story that was completed in a movie after the series was cancelled. Worse yet are series like Dark Matter where the major story arc builds to the reveal of a big conflict but because the series was cancelled, it was never resolved. For another good series that builds both individual and a larger story arc see the Canadian series Flashpoint.

      Eric: Should we be linear in the structure of our ABTs? For example, instead of “Because of our mission, we do xyz and…”, should we make it linear by saying “We do xyz because of our mission…”
      Like in much of this the short answer is “it depends.” The point is to not make your reader work to catch your narrative. In general being linear means you are not making your reader “resort” things in their minds while they are reading (which is why reading something that is chronological is easier to follow). So for me the principle is not to force my reader to do the sorting out.

      James: I think part of the value of ABT is that it promotes good flow of information. Too many nominalizations and passive constructions screw that up – so I would quibble with Randy on that – there’s not a neat content/form distinction on this – but I think it’s probably easier to talk about ABT as Randy does, but look at passives etc. when you go back to writing on your own – it’s a form of sentence issue and ABT is kind of a form of idea / form of thought template, it seems to me.
      I don’t think you are wrong in the importance of active over passive voice, but that is one of those issues that are for AFTER you have a clear narrative. First get the narrative and then issues like this fall into the area of refining it to be concise and compelling.

      Robert: With big environmental issues like burning fossil fuels leading to sea level rise, there is some value in simply repeating these over and over in different context (eg south florida) because so far people aren’t getting it.
      Yes people need to hear the message repeated but simply repeating it the same way each time can lead to a kind of deafness because “nothing’s new.” A weak analogy. Many years I spent a month working for a U.N. agency in Rome and was frequently asked to go to talk with people at another NGO across the city whose offices were in what had once been a cheese factory. My first time there the stench was almost unbearable. By several visits later nothing had changed but I never noticed it.

      Dean: Albertha — an example in my mind of what I think may be “incomplete causality” is a science fiction novel I remember reading and being disappointed with. After hundreds of pages setting up a complex and dire situation with a number of interesting characters, the problems were all resolved when they stumbled across a storehouse of alien technology with near-magical powers. Hmph. There was no reason for that thing to be there, and it magicked away all the knotty problems we’d come to appreciate. Just effect, no cause.
      Sort of like the disappointment I felt in the 1980s when a several yearlong and critically-acclaimed medical drama revealed in the final episode that the whole thing had been in the mind of a special needs little boy.

      Evelyn: Since Randy didn’t get to talk about that ocean comment Liz brought up above from Euan, can he or one of the other experts say something about it (about getting people to care about thigs they can’t see, like the ocean)?
      Not always a solution, but often I find it useful to find a simple little story from which I can use as an analogy. Get someone to understand the relationship between tadpoles and the contamination of a small pool before jumping into the impact of polluting the oceans on whales. And in a talk, if you start that with the magic words “Let me tell you a simple story…” the audience is primed to listen. But if you start with listing facts about the ocean they’ll be wondering where you are going and “when are we going to get there?”

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