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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » tech talk

   
Author Topic: tech talk
babooher
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I'm writing a scene where two agents from an ultra-secret government organization are investigating something in a modern, current setting. At one point I wrote something stupid about one agent checking a perp's bank account by sliding on a pair of glasses. I decided that not only has the computer-glasses been done to death, but I also questioned why anyone would bother with such a set up. I mean, the guy could just check his phone and be less conspicuous. And so, I made the change.

Then I figured that the guys might use tablets like an iPad or Galaxy Tab. Seems reasonable. So I wrote, "When the agent saw Toot's car, he put his tablet away," because I don't need to do any product placement. The problem that I'm probably blowing out of proportion is that I'm worried a reader might not get that I'm writing about a computer tablet. Would it be better to write "When the agent saw Toot's car, he put his stylus and tablet away," or am I just going crazy?

PS
Toot is not an actual name from the story. Feel free to steal that moniker for yourself.

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MattLeo
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Well, story logic to the rescue.

If a secret agent has some kind of device that does something whiz-bangy, and it's a device he uses in public, then it has to be a device that works reasonably well while not calling attention itself. In days of yore, a lady agent might pretend to check her make-up in her compact's mirror, which is in fact a video surveillance device.

Today the logical choice would be a smart phone. A tablet or a handheld gaming device is OK too, but if somebody were suspicious they might wonder why you hauled the tablet out, and then worse, wonder why *you put it away* when they looked at you. The advantage of a smartphone is that it's something that's naturally in and out of your pocket all the time, so taking it out doesn't draw attention when it comes out, when it goes in, or when it stays out.

A handheld game might be a good choice if you have to do something that requires your attention for an extended period, to the exclusion of outside stimuli (e.g. piloting a drone disguised as an insect).

It's got to be a device people use in public; and then it ought to be used with the appropriate tradecraft (in espionage terminology). Do not under any circumstances use tradenames. This not only dates your story (imagine if your character buys an Edsel or AMC Hornet), it risks your story becoming silly because of real-world news. Imagine a news story comes out in a year or so about a CIA operation that was compromised by a hacked iPad.

I recommend you study *actual* spy technology. The Spy Museum in Washington DC would be a good source of inspiration.

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extrinsic
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An ultra-secret government organiztion is, to me, as problematic as tech that calls undue attention to itself, credibility-wise and logic-wise. Clandestine government organizations don't stay undercover long. For that reason, black ops are as ephemeral as shell corporations. Here today; gone tomorrow, like zephyrs on a desert. And funded by discretionary spending scraped from other budgets so the ops stay as secret as humanly possible.

An artful layer of underlying meaning could build upon those phenomena. Agents switch from op to op, agency to agency, payroll to payroll. Some ops being better organized, better paid than others. There might even be such a thing as an agent employment service. Keep things hopping plot-wise.

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babooher
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Extrinsic, the agency is part of a binary system that aims to keep a certain group secret lest all of Western civilization collapse. Think of them as the anti-spin people.

But the real issue here is linguistic. If I say the agent put his tablet away, is the reader going to think paper or digital? Is there a good way to efficiently deal with this without resorting to a name brand (which I agree with Mattleo would date the piece)?

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LDWriter2
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Actually the word tablet is getting around. I have heard and read it as a generic word as in come and see us we have all the latest tablets. Or I want to buy a tablet but don't know which one. So I think just the word would be okay. But you could have him do something with it. Like press a couple of spots to get an internet connection or some such.

and if this is a super secret group you could have him have an agency tablet that can do more than the usual consumer tablets. A connection to a certain satellite maybe. Touch one icon and he is in instant communication with HQ. Or?

So if someone was to ask him which one he had he would say he picked up a cheapy from a discount store but it's actually a gov tablet, stronger-I mean physically tougher- with tons more memory and instant WIFI anywhere, it can tap into any other computer without touching it, Etc.

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LDWriter2
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Oh PS

Toot has already been used. [Smile]
He's a character in a certain series I read.

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extrinsic
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Myself, gadgets used for artfully setting scene actions deserve their own mythologies. The Bond movies preposition gadgets' mythologies through interviews with Q, for example. Then, with a device firmly fixed in readers' minds. a gadget can be called whatever suits its mythology and readers will have no doubts when an object comes into play. Across fiction novels, short stories, films, and plays, object mythologies subtle and blunt, fantastical and mundane are more about their backstories than their names.
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MartinV
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James Bond: "Q, I have a load of gadgets I didn't use!" Never saw that happening, did we? Bond always gets the right gadgets, like Q was a psychic or something. [Wink]
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TaleSpinner
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How about esstablishing it earlier in the scene, so that when he puts it away we know what it is. Maybe something like:

As the secret agent walked along Main Street he stopped periodically, as though an innocent tourist, to consult the map on his tablet. The flashing icon representing Toot's last known location was now only a block away, and when he saw Toot's car, he put the tablet away.

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extrinsic
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Chekhov's Gun is a writing principle that says if a gun is in a first act, it better be fired by a final act. The corollary is if a gun is fired in a final act, it better be shown in an earlier act. Chekhov's Gun is a principle related to avoiding coincidences.

If the calvary shows up to save the day in an ending, they better have rode out of the fort when the hero struck out on his own or ride by when the wagon train is in safe territory.

Another related principle says avoid introducing anything new after a first half. Thus avoiding coincidences of the dread deus ex machina kind.

Bond, for example, the obligatory Q scene is a Chekhov's Gun arming scene, where the good guy gets his game on. Bond's inventory is standardized: something clever with which to shoot bad guys, something clever with which to cut his way out of a trap, something clever with which to blow stuff up, and something clever with which to move rapidly.

Chekhov's Gun is similar to foreshadowing but not quite as strong a forewarning, presentiment, or premonition. Chekhov's Gun is especially artful when it sets up an ominous context that will become significant later. And like with the aforementioned cavalry coming to save the day, Chekhov's Gun can be characters as well as objects, settings even, even events.

[ March 11, 2012, 01:19 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by MartinV:
James Bond: "Q, I have a load of gadgets I didn't use!" Never saw that happening, did we? Bond always gets the right gadgets, like Q was a psychic or something. [Wink]

Well, you could always consider it a matter of the author only showing Q demonstrating the gadgets that were later used in the story. As extrinsic points out, having Q show Bond gadgets he didn't use creates unfulfilled expectations that can frustrate the reader, and there's really no point in doing that--if you want the reader to trust you as author and keep reading what you write.

Isn't part of the wit of the Bond stories (and any such "here are the gadgets you might need" scenes) that Bond finds uses for the gadgets that aren't exactly what Q had in mind? It seems to me that Bond's creativity in using them makes him seem more clever and the plot more fun.

By the way, I say this not as a Bond reader (haven't read even one, and have only seen a few of the movies), but as a Modesty Blaise fan, where gadgets are also introduced early and used creatively later on.

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LDWriter2
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Well, I read one series with a Bond and Q type of characters. In one book, the Q character showed the Bond character some neat weapons and devices but Bond never used them. Q was angry because he wanted them field tested but he used them next time.
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TaleSpinner
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I've read the Bond books and as usual, there is more to them than makes it to the screen. I think Fleming is a master of making sure we understand what's what and where it is so that when the action hits, we aren't bemused. It's not just Q and the gadgets. For example, in Goldfinger there's a masterful exposition of all the things we (and Bond) need to understand about the Gold trade. Also, the value of Odd Job's hat as a weapon, and the fact that it's metal (which we need to know for his death scene), is established early when he tosses it at a statue aat the golf course.
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TempestDash
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James Bond parallels aside, I think the setup-payoff (aka Chekhov's Gun) is a model that should be used prolifically throughout a novel. It doesn't just apply to big dramatic moments, but, as alluded to above, also to various minutia.

Referencing an agent putting down a tablet is no different than having him flick the ashes off his cigarette. It'll be perceived as coming out of nowhere unless it's established in the setting of the scene or the character.

Put it in the description first, and then it doesn't matter if it's tablet, clipboard, moleskein, or robot cat.

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