Tuesday, August 09, 2005

PAC: Compound Interest

You'll have to pardon me - I'm marshalling my thoughts. It turns out that decaf coffee is not, in fact, caffeine-free. I'm struggling through a bit of a withdrawal haze.

Yesterday's post about the glories of using sensawonda is actually a kind of union of two theories - one about Pattern Depth and Association, one about Conserving Interest. This essay is on the second subject, although the first is very interesting as well.

One of the things beginner writers like to do is to take a whole bunch of awesomeness and duct tape it together. For example: the later Matrix movies. Take some cool stuff, bind it together, put it on the screen. But they didn't do very well. And the reason those movies are not so good is simple: no conservation of interest.

When you see something interesting, you are interested. By definition. The job of a writer is not just to get you to see something interesting, but to use your interest to power the rest of the story.

It's like this: if you have ten interesting things taped in place, the audience will hit each one seperately. On the other hand, if each one is integrally linked to the pattern of one of the previous ones, interest bleeds over into the new pattern. You don't have to start from scratch. You carry over the old interest.

For example, in the first Matrix movie, they hit you with a lot of sensawonda - the way things work are a bit off. They don't just pop right along showing you more cool things - they carefully make the next cool thing integral to the earlier cool thing. Why is reality hoopy weird? Because of this cool machine. Why is the cool machine? Because of these cool machines. Why are these cool machines? Because of the war and the black sky. Why those? Because of AI breakthroughs. So on and so forth, each cool thing being based on or integrally linked with another cool thing. That makes the story more than the sum of its parts.

Think about your favorite stories. What are they? Maybe you, like me, like the two Terminator movies, or the Star Wars trilogy. Inspecting them, all the stuff you think is cool is not just a cool moment - it's a cool THING, supported and supporting an interwoven web of cool things.

Post-apocalyptic humanity is cool. Robots from that region are cool. Robots time travelling to win over post-apocalyptic humanity are cool. Trying to kill the person who will someday threaten them - cool. Causing the rise of the robots in the first place? Very cool. The way the robot interacts with the pattern of regular 80s life? Very cool. All these things feature patterns which interact with and are part of other patterns.

The "relentless robot" theme is neat on its own, sure - but it's the fact that the robot has so much audience investment that means the Terminator rises above a zillion other robots who had much the same relentless nature. He's not just "a robot". He's the terminator!

The second movie, drawing upon the patterns of the first, is even cooler. Reversing the pattern and pointing all that investment in favor of a team the audience can root for - pure genius! Please note: the same basic idea of "that cool stuff we showed you before, to the Nth!" was also used in Aliens.

The same woven pattern system is true of much of the genius of the early Star Wars movies. Things steadily get more and more interesting - space battles, some kind of psychic force, armed soldiers, spies, aliens, robots... ALL TIED TOGETHER.

Keep the patterns flowing. Not from one pattern to the next, but from one pattern THROUGH the next. Each pattern is part of the other patterns. Woven fabric is better than ten times that much raw thread.

I hope I'm being clear. It's hard to tell when I'm this off.

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