Tuesday, September 14, 2010


So, I was talking to a dear friend of mine about... well, you know, random friend stuff, when this exchange came up:

I guess you can't really put a price on the love of a child (though I'm sure Futurama made a reference to it.)

... Actually, you totally could.

The way you do it experimentally?

You would have to determine what people are willing to give up for the love of a child. For instance: a promotion? A car? Etc.

That puts a dollar value on a child's love the same way it does on a Big Mac - you can completely quantify it. Of course, each child's love is a highly differentiated product due to physical, locative and branding concerns along with the unique preference sets of each adult, so it would be hard to make, like, predictive models. But on a small scale, it totally holds up.

Probably all four people reading this blog already know that I'm very close to a Bachelor's of Science in Economics, having jumped ship from Accounting.

Here's the funny thing about it, though:

Nobody seems to really understand what economists actually do. We get lumped in with business guys, because, hey, we all wear suits and talk about money a lot.

It's a whole different thing, though.

Economics is the formal study of choice: that is, how people should allocate resources when they want more than they have. Money's a useful way of comparing two unrelated things, (in fact, this is one of the required properties of anything to be money), but it's really not the point.

Anyway, one of the most fundamental concepts in the whole field is that of opportunity cost.

You can always tell what something is worth to a person by what they're willing to sacrifice in order to have it.

Anyway, I'd better get back to the grind, but I wanted to share that thought while it was fresh in my head. I'll try to share more detailed thoughts about economics later. Oh, and do the other blog entries I promised about narrative. :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Boards & Pieces

This'll be a short one. I'm heading off to Dragon Con in a couple of days, and I have a million things to do. Just wanted to sneak this in before I left town, because it's been bothering me.

Last time, I wrote about how to combat writer's block if you're already underway. I stand by that advice: it's precisely the method I used to get over my problem that day. However, I may have been getting a little ahead of myself. The first hurdle anyone faces when they're writing or telling a story is the first line, not somewhere in the middle. I'm sure you've all been there: just you and a blank page, either on paper or a computer screen, and... it's very intimidating. You're probably armed with a dim idea of what you'd like the finished product to look like, but you don't have any idea of how to get from here to there.

Getting over that is, well, the difference between telling your story and not, so I'm going to devote a series of posts to the whole thing, hopefully offer some things to think about.

Now, the classic method is to have a pretty good idea of what you're after before you ever start writing: get yourself an outline, profile your characters... get a skeletal version done and fill in the details. As with my last advice about writing, I'm going to go ahead and advise you to Google if you're interested in hearing more about doing things that way. Lots of people have already covered that ground better than I could ever hope to.

Instead, I'm going to focus on my method of improvisation, informed by experience with collaborative storytelling in games. Just to get the whole thing going, that's exactly what I'm doing when I write: I imagine that I'm playing a game, like in the Solitaire example, and I narrate the various twists and turns. Except it's more like solo chess than cards. You need everything a board game would:

Some Pieces:

That is, characters and other large plot elements (MacGuffins, etc.) that are 'movable.' They can make or affect decisions, and their capabilities and ranges of motion will differ from piece to piece.

The Board:

That is, the space that the characters and other important plot elements occupy. This can range from the simplicity of a single room to elaborate stellar empires.

The Rules:

Basically, how these elements interact with each other. How can the pieces move around the board? Are there shortcuts, like transporters on Star Trek? How can the characters influence each other? By what reasoning will you solve the problem of two characters who come into verbal or physical conflict?

Of course, I don't write all this stuff down. That'd be... well, horribly silly. But this is my personal metaphor for what I'm doing: I really think about storytelling in terms of a series of discrete plot elements and how they interact with each other in a particular space, then try to reason out what happens next given that information. This is why the whole exercise is fun for me: I can't know how it'll turn out until I've done it, except in the broadest terms.

I'll get into how to construct each of these tools later. After the con, catching up on school from the con, and getting in a little of the latest book, anyway. :)