Monday, November 18, 2013

Technology Changes Stories

I recently reread Ant Farm, what would now be a prequel to Bad Policy, the current start of the Seamus McCree series. Several readers were interested in the origins of various characters and this early work provides the answers. So, I read it through to determine how much work it would take to fix the problems that made Ant Farm unpublishable.

What I learned about story and writing style problems may be material for another blog, but one of the things I discovered in this reread is how quickly technology can force story changes if they are set in “recent” times. I last worked on this story in early 2006. If I do the rewrite, I’ll need to update it to around 2010-11 to fit in with the rest of the series. In those short five years:

Fax machines for personal use did not become extinct, but they might as well be. I’ll need to change fax usage to sending pdf files that can be digitally signed. I’ll miss the mating call of two fax machines linking.

Using phone booths. They still exist, but they are rarer than hens’ teeth—well, I’m not sure that’s accurate because I’m not sure how rare hens’ teeth are, but nowadays I only see phone booths in rural areas where cell coverage is still spotty.

Speaking of cell coverage, have you seen the commercials for Verizon’s coverage map? Fewer and fewer places are without cell coverage. Fortunately for me, some of the rural areas my stories deal with are still white (empty) on the map—for now.

And how about those phone calling cards we used to use. Anyone, other than characters in the current version of my story, still using one? Didn’t think so.
I used driving a hybrid Prius as an indicator of an environmentally conscious early adopter. I need to find another indicator now.

In 2006, few people used their cell phones for detailed internet searches on the road. Now, it’s second nature.

In 2006, none of my characters texted each other. I need to think through how communication might change.

In 2006 “everyone” had home phones. Now, many people only have cell phones.
Wow! That’s a lot of changes for only five years. Mostly they relate to the way we communicate, and I haven’t even covered social networking, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., etc., etc.

Writers, have you ever picked up one of your old stories and discovered it was dated? If so, what did you do? Readers, how much slack do you cut writers if their story seems dated?

~ Jim

Monday, November 4, 2013

Seven Characteristics of a Great Panel Moderator

Last weekend Jan and I attended Magna cum Murder in Indianapolis. I found most of the panels well run and the panelists thoughtful and interesting. Two panels stuck out from the rest. One was extremely well moderated; the other, not so much.

Here are six things the exemplary moderator did well:

   1 .       Before the panel started, the moderator had clearly done his homework. He was familiar with each of the panelist’s writing. Before the conference he provided the panelists a list of areas he planned for them to discuss.
   2.       He began the discussion with a description of the panel and a very brief introduction of himself.
   3.       He provided a short introduction to each of the four panelists (the conference provided longer bios in the conference book).
   4.       He varied which panelist discussed each question first. His introduction of the topic often included specific reference to the panelist’s work (the advantage of homework).
   5.       He asked other panelists to comment on interesting observations one of them had made, often choosing a panelist with a different perspective (another advantage of doing his homework).
   6.       He never interjected himself into the conversations, except to provide transitions between panelists or to introduce a new topic for discussion.
   7.       He never provided his opinions, disagreed with the panelists, or offered elaboration on their answers.

The exemplary moderator acted as a lubricant for the discussion. He did his job so well, one of the panelists commented on it and audience gave the moderator an ovation. In contrast, the less-than-satisfactory moderator failed on a number of accounts.

   1.       The moderator surprised the panelists by asking them to introduce themselves, when the previously announced game plan had been for the moderator to make all the introductions.
   2.       The moderator’s introduction of himself lasted longer than the introduction of the panelists.
   3.       For each topic discussed, the moderator provided his own answer after the four panelists had talked, and used each answer to self-promote.
   4.       The moderator read each of ten items on a handout he had already provided the audience.
   5.       When it came time for questions from the floor, the moderator answered questions directly.

A moderator’s objective should be to make the panel run smoothly and help make the panelists look good. Solely based on their performance as moderators, I’ll be buying the first person’s newest mystery, and never buy the other moderator’s books, no matter how good they might be, based on their hijack of the panel. I suspect most of the audience feels the same way.

~ Jim