Thursday, February 24, 2005

All out of order [comments]

I submitted my story from the previous post to the Kuro5hin edit queue. Although it didn't survive the voting process, I did receive some quality feedback. What follows is some of the constructive criticism I received.

Good start, but goes off-course:

It's a good start with rich descriptions and good imagery. The content itself, however, needs a good deal more work. Climatological models are routinely tested against historical data. No meteorologist would need to "discover" an archive of historical weather data since they would be aware of it long before they completed college. You introduce an interesting character: someone with a superhuman talent for seeing patterns where others don't. Unfortunately, this doesn't really go anywhere in the story. He is unable to apply his pattern-recognition in his models even though he is supposedly a fantastically talented meteorologist. In the end, this is a vignette of a man's descent into delusion and paranoia. The technical side of the story goes no where, but since it is built around a technical concept rather than around the protagonist himself, the reader has no emotional investment in the character and therefore is neither horrified or saddened at his downfall. I would suggest a rewrite in which you decide what you really want to write. Is this a story about hidden patterns? Is it a story about obsession undermining an intelligent mind? If it is the first, then what patterns emerge, what significance is revealed, and what action or conflict occurs due to the revelation? If the latter, you need to make the reader care about your character. Focusing on the nature of your story will let you pare it down. A short story is a literary form with no room for extras. The best stories are tightly focused on a single idea they wish to convey. Find that single idea and all else will follow.


This starts out good and interesting, then loses focus. The writer assumes that the reader has built up an identity with the subject, which they haven't. The result is that the article loses focus instead of shifting it. Try again.

There's something here:

I got really bored reading the intro, then I read the comments and went back and read Part II, which is good maybe great. Somehow Part I just needs to grab my attention more.

God and Dice:

"God," he would quote to them, "does not play dice." So said Albert Einstein. At the scale of the very small, modern physics concludes that God plays dice constantly, everywhere. Einstein was forced to recognize this toward the end of his life, when quantum theory was beginning to provide solutions to certain problems that were predicted by general elativity. I wrote about some of the details in my diary here.


First, this spotting patterns thing is a little bit of a cliche. I've seen it a dozen times, and yes, somewhere on my harddrive is my own contribution to the genre. This isn't to damn you, just to point it out.

Second, but more damning, both you and the me who wrote the story and those other guys have this back to front. Seeing patterns in noise is what we do nearly every second of our lives. Its not a talent, the Gestalt is the building block of perceptual and possibly phenomenal experience. Ever stared at a cloud and seen a face? Orion in the night sky? Those kooks who degrade tape noise until they hear a voice? You'd actually be more or less functionally deaf if this wasn't case (how would join up the pitches and the timbres otherwise?) Perhaps if you only saw one pattern... but then your protagonist has seen many, just like anyone else would. Gestalt is so powerful that if there is noise in the system (e.g., a pattern is hard to determine) it will eventually force a best guess. As the noise sloshes round the system this guess may be revised (Necker Cube? theres also a good paper called Percepts As Hypotheses by Richard Gregory which discusses this at some length). So you see there are some special problems with the perception of randomness and structure that you need to think more about. Its for this reason that people like Aronofsky (sp?) abstracted things into Mathematics for their "pattern" stories.

I very much doubt a climatologist would have such an "epiphany" in terms of how to make a model, nor any other type of scientist, IT IS how one builds empirical models. He'd have to be a climatologist without any qualifications for this to be news to him. You are stating the blindingly obvious I'm afraid to say.

Finally, why is he feeding thousands of models into the simulation? Why doesn't he write a Monte Carlo simulation and take the month off instead?

To make this story work you'd either need to make things a lot vaguer or knuckle down and tackle some difficult issues. As it stands its just too naive and implausible to be honest. I just couldn't suspend my disbelief.


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7:57 AM  

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