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Author Topic: Character Flaw
HenryMcF
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Near future science fiction currently about 1700 words. Thanks for taking a look. Comments are welcome.

I accessed Hal from the computer center—a short line would be more secure—and late at night, when no techs would be around. Every campaign used an AI, but not for opposition research. They didn’t need to know we did.
“Nice work on the analysis of Lawson’s policies, Hal.” It made no sense to praise an AI—something with no emotions, but talking to Hal as if he were a person felt natural, like naming him.
“You must be disappointed, Liam—there were no hidden flaws.”
“Yeah, but you can’t find what isn’t there. Anyway the biggest problem he calls a promise. We’ll call it the “Let Your Parents Die Plan.”
“Perhaps ‘Let Mom Die Plan’ would be better? Women, with their longer life expectancies, will be more affected, and they are

[ May 27, 2016, 12:46 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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walexander
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a quick note H,

There's a famous Hal AI in Clarke's 2001 S.O.

W.

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extrinsic
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An individual researches political opposition using a computer that talks. Not finding any useful dirt, the researcher and computer spin an opposition's platform promise.

Would be useful to know the original promise so that the spin could be understood and interpreted.

Odd that the researcher finds no dirt, not impossible though unlikely -- unless Lawson is clean because he's inhuman.

The fragment is mostly flat and bare dialogue, one tidbit of setting from the computer center setting late at night. The two voices are consequently mostly disembodied personas.

All campaigns use computers to do opposition research, anymore, very little else except to dig up details found by computer searches from paper and microfilm archives.

This adds very little, if anything, to the fragment's drama or otherwise: "“Nice work on the analysis of Lawson’s policies, Hal.” It made no sense to praise an AI—something with no emotions, but talking to Hal as if he were a person felt natural, like naming him."

The fragment sets out a political intrigue that is timely and relevant; however, to me, is too direct, too on the nose, and too easy.

Liam wants dirt, he doesn't find any, instead, he spins what he has out of context. Those are realistic enough political campaign practices; they don't entail therein, though, dramatic struggle, contention, or clash. They just come as easily to mind as a breath of air.

Dirt also starts with a truth. Spin embellishes, elaborates, and exaggerates the truth through several revisions; a germ of undeniable truth survives among the toxic spin. Other rhetorics also accompany spin. They are all calculated to appeal to emotion and also defy logic or at least rational thought.

Lawson's promise seems to me to be something related to healthcare. Liam's intent seems to me to be to show Lawson's promise as a negative influence for healthcare, possibly elder healthcare. Not clear though, so I project guesses.

Ergo, for this start to work for me, a clearer and stronger development of that above Lawson-Liam clash, and as an emotionally charged clash development, is indicated.

I would not at this time read on due mostly to the fragment being slow to start and flat and short of details: complication, conflict, emotional charge, event, setting, and character development details. The matter of Lawson's promise standing out most, an emotional clash nextmost, setting details thirdmost.

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HenryMcF
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walexander, Thanks. Liam has used the name Hal as a deliberate reference, which is pointed out later in the story.

Extrinsic, thanks for your comments. You've pointed out a number of things I will have to work on.

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dmsimone
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I thought the same thing as walexander as soon as I saw "Hal" and "computer" in the first few words [Smile]

"Short line" sounds very retro/1980's to me...almost like "land line", and if this is a futuristic setting then it is out of place. Same with "computer center" - "data center" might fit better into the setting, and perhaps some comment about cloud securities. I kept imagining Matthew Broderick hacking Joshua in War Games, and I'm sure that's not what you were trying to achieve.

When Hal first spoke to Liam, I was expecting some kind of description of his computer-generated voice, or at least something that differentiated him beyond Liam's ruminations about an artifical intelligence.

"Anyway the biggest problem he calls a promise," is either missing words or punctuation.

I had trouble understanding the latter dialogue between Liam and Hal. I know that Liam asked Hal to complete some analysis, but after that their interaction doesn't give me any more information. That's where I would have liked some big reveal or news.

As these lines are presented now, I am not hooked or emotionally invested.

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Stephen
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I accessed Hal from the computer center—a short line would be more secure—and late at night, when no techs would be around.
1. The computer center sounds retro as does the short line—a lot like a hard or land line.
Every campaign used an AI, but not for opposition research.
2. This asks the question why not? Aside from a personal log the computer would be the next best source.
They didn’t need to know we did.
3. Who are they? Establishing that up front might help some.

“Nice work on the analysis of Lawson’s policies, Hal.” It made no sense to praise an AI—something with no emotions, but talking to Hal as if he were a person felt natural, like naming him.
4. For me, the definition of AI would be something that is almost human or as human as its programing allowed, so for me any way, it would be natural for a person to treat it as a person.
“You must be disappointed, Liam—there were no hidden flaws.”
5. As a counterpoint to any policy, you can always find a flaw.
“Yeah, but you can’t find what isn’t there.
6. Again from the oppositions POV—a flaw can be always found, so it does not make sense to me.
Anyway the biggest problem he calls a promise. We’ll call it the “Let Your Parents Die Plan.”
7. I know it only the beginning, but is the policy the “promise”, or is there a policy “Let Your Parents Die Plan.”?
“Perhaps ‘Let Mom Die Plan’ would be better? Women, with their longer life expectancies, will be more affected, and they are
8. I am a wee bit confused. Parents die and women do live longer. For me, anyway clarifying the policy would greatly help. The opening seems disconnected somehow and does not draw me in.
Good luck.

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Disgruntled Peony
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The second sentence in the second paragraph reads awkwardly. It's a run-on. There are at least two different directions the sentence goes in. Also, you hint at Hal's name having been specifically chosen in this sentence but don't elaborate (apparently until later in the story). This is actually a prime spot to do it, if it's important to the story.

Overall, I don't have enough information as a reader to emotionally invest myself in the fragment. There are already two important questions that get brought up and left unanswered in the opening lines:

What kind of campaign are we talking about, here? My best guess is political, but it's not clear in the opening fragment, and that's something I as a reader would love to know.

Why choose the name Hal when such negative connotations are associated with the name in conjunction with AIs? (I know you've discussed this with other people in the thread, but even a hint of the reasoning right away in the story would be good. When I first glanced at this, I was concerned that it might just be fanfiction.)

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HenryMcF
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I finally got around to reworking this story. I revised the beginning, taking account of the comments so far. Further comments are welcome.

The only sound in the data center was the white noise of fans keeping circuits cool. Lights were low, and only a dull sheen reflected from the stainless steel case held our AI. It had analyzed the campaigns and predicted each individual voter’s response. Great work, except it showed my candidate losing. Time for a new strategy.
I switched on the voice link. “Nice work on the election analysis, Hal.” The name was my private joke.
“You must have found the results disappointing, Liam.” They’d done a great job on the interface. Hal spoke with an authoritative baritone that sounded cultured, cautious, and thoughtful. There was even a note of regret—not that an AI could feel regret.
“Not your fault—though Lawson’s plan shouldn’t be so popular. We

[ February 26, 2018, 02:36 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Jay Greenstein
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quote:
The only sound in the data center was the white noise of fans keeping circuits cool.
Why does the reader care what the fans do? You've placed the reader, explanations like this only slow the narrative.
quote:
Lights were low, and only a dull sheen reflected from the stainless steel case held our AI.
You're thinking cinematically. But knowing that the lights are low is not the same as seeing it. Unless our protagonist is reacting to the level of light, who cares if they're bright or dim?

And "our" AI? Given we know nothing about the situation, may not know what AI stands for, and that AI is the program not the hardware, this doesn't work.
quote:
It had analyzed the campaigns and predicted each individual voter’s response.
Instead of beginning the story the reader comes for, you're opening with an info-dump of backstory and scene setting—a report. But the reader comes for story, which happens as we watch, it's not talked about in synopsis. So toss a body or a Molotov Cocktail through the door. Have an earthquake or a plane crash. Make something happen.

I also have a problem with the machine predicting every voter's response with any reliability. An election based on demographics, and available personal data, yes, but this is pushing it. That the computer predicted a loss, based on available data, is what matters.

But of most importance is that there's a talking head opening the story, and talking heads are the kiss of death.
quote:
The name was my private joke.
Assume the reader is young and had never seen, or heard about that film. In effect, you just told them nothing useful. Assume that they have seen the film. Why would they care? It's irrelevant to what's happening, and so has no place in the scene. My point is that throughout you are not placing the reader into the persona of the protagonist because in reality, we're not with the protagonist, we're with the narrator as s/he tells us about the story in the voice of a dispassionate outside observer. Why dispassionate? Because only you can hear emotion in the narrator's voice. You know the emotion to place into the voice because you know what the line will say before you read it. The reader doesn't. You know the speaker's emotional state. You know how/when to change intensity, cadence, and all the tricks of verbal storytelling. You're guided by your intent. Your reader has only what the words suggest to them, based on their background, because your intent never makes it past the keyboard.

In other words, you're using the techniques of verbal storytelling in a medium that does not support sound or vision. So the words make it to the reader, yes. But not the storyteller's performance. So the important part of the story—the emotional part—doesn't make to the reader, which is why we cannot "tell" a story on the page.

Think of ten people who visit a house. They can go where they care to, investigate what catches their attention, and stay as long as they feel necessary. Afterward, they will write a report on what caught their attention, and what it says about the people who live there. Got that? So, given that the people are chosen at random, do you think the reports will be at all alike? Will a fire marshal, for example, be attracted to the same things as those an interior designer or a visitor from a third world country?

See my point? Everyone looks at things differently. So simply reporting what there is to see, or events, can't help but be dispassionate. But it's the differences in outlook that make a character unique. Your protagonist, in the moment he calls now, makes his moment-to-moment decisions based on how he, uniquely, perceives the situation. And that's based on personality, education and experiences, biases, and so much more. Moreover, he's making his own analysis of that process in the people he interacts with. And that, especially if he's wrong, matters to our understanding of the situation. So if the reader isn't aware of that, they have not a clue of why things are done, and the piece reads like a chronicle of events—a history, not a story.

In short, you're explaining the story to a reader, and giving an informational experience to people who came to you to be entertained.

Our medium is very different from film, stage, and storytelling. It's serial, so it takes several pages of fact following fact to give the reader what they get in an eyeblink in film. It doesn't reproduce the flickers of emotion with which a skilled actor brings the story to life.

On the surface, it would appear that the advent of films and TV, which place the audience into the action on a visceral level, would have destroyed stories on the page. But they didn't, because our medium can do something the others can't. It can take the reader into the head of the protagonist so deeply that it seems we're living the story. But if we don't take advantage of that strength because no one ever showed us how, or even mentioned that it was possible, or necessary...

Obviously,the book-report and essay writing skills we all learn in school are not up to that task, because we learned our writing skills so as to make us useful to our employers. In fact, no one even told us that another approach to writing—emotion rather then fact-based, and character, not author-centric—exists.

It's not all that hard to learn, though perfecting it does take time and practice, like anything else. But as with every other field, the tricks of the trade do need to be mastered. And since not many of us have four years to devote to acquiring a degree in commercial fiction, the library, the Internet, workshops and conferences, etc., will have to do.

My personal suggestion is that if you do visit the library's fiction writing section (or an online bookseller), look for the names, Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon, first, because they deal with the basic nuts and bolts issues.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

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extrinsic
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An individual and a machine converse.

Eighteen lines for the latest version, by the way. Thirteen lines ends at "could feel regret."

Event: sterile conversation
Setting: sterile computer center
Characters: sterile computer tech and computer
Complication (motivation): pendent lost election problem, win want
Conflict (stakes risked): election won or lost
Crisis: some future time election
Tone: stoic
Narrative point of view: first person, past tense, indicative mood
Genre: ?? political-technological thriller?
Target audience: ?? young to early to middle to late adult? Politicians? Electorate? Other?

Not much with which to engage. The election outcome is impersonal to Liam. The election is of some indeterminate future time and at present not urgent, not immediate, and not a great matter to Liam: no great personal investment.

Artificial intelligence and election predictions are a consideration of candidates, though none understand how those might work. In fact, the current state of the art realizes that voters are more or less predictable, four-fifths of voters vote party lines regardless. The one-fifth that remains, their votes are determinable by issue stances illustrated by their lifeways, which is personal data collected, managed, and refined for predictive outcomes. No AI needed. Computer election prediction technology is already far beyond what the fragment relates.

An AI used for election prediction prose, to me, needs a higher magnitude function and high magnitude personal stakes that portray technology gone awry or revelations of election corruption or similar. A political thriller, a psychological horror story about election politics and technology combined for wicked intents.

Election hijacks have transpired ever since the earliest election. A general principle is any genuinely and fully honest election is impossible yet several social principles assert that, in the end, results reflect the true will of the majority electorate.

One theme of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is how a true one-citizen, one-vote democracy, as opposed to a representative constitutional republican democracy, is the majority rules absolutely, and minorities are at the capricious whims of the majority's abuses of power. More than numerical majority, too, includes other identity facets, for example, birth station, ethnicity, sex, lifestyle, financial and educational statuses, ad infinitum.

What is personally at risk for Liam? What's at stake? What does he personally want that problems oppose as well as further compel his motivation? What's the true pendent crisis? What are the designs of the true villain of the piece? Or is Liam an antihero who realizes his wickedness and changes his ways or suffers the consequences of his wickedness or delights in an eventual great gain at the cost of others' great losses? A candidate who actually wants a widespread die-back of who? What social group or groups does the villain candidate want to abuse? Is Liam part of such a group or other?

See "Eliminationsim," (Wikipedia), for a broad explication of a possible political thriller core dramatic feature, timely and relevant, a notable event criteria, too. If Liam and all who he represents are at risk of elimination or want opposition elimination, social, political elimination, if not life, that's apropos of psychological horror for a political thriller. If a political thriller is the intent and design, which is about the only genre category the fragment(s) suggests.

I would not read on as an engaged reader, due to no clue or cue in the fragment given what the narrative and its dramatic crisis contest are truly about that entices me to turn the page.

[ February 26, 2018, 04:24 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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