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Improbability is in the Details
Abra Staffin-Wiebe's Journal
CONvergence 2013: Keeping Promises 
4th-Sep-2013 05:09 pm
Lots of works start off promising something, but never deliver. Why is it important that books/movies/whatever keep the promises that they make? Panelists: Melinda Snodgrass, Sean M. Murphy, Caroline Stevermer, Abra Staffin-Wiebe

These are my brief outline notes for the keeping promises panel that I was on. The actual panel may or may not have discussed things quite different from this.

Negative promises: "I promise I won't..." Caveat: unless I do it really, really well. Much easier to get away with in a short story.

Be aware of genre promises. No deus ex machina, magic is real, crime will be solved, main male and main female character in love at the end.

Tour guide: promise sunny Caribbean and take them to Antarctica - some will like, but most don't have proper clothes or had really pinned their hopes on those sandy beaches.

Relationship promises may result in more reader emotional engagement--and greater anger if broken.

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Fiction can be a collaboration between the author and the reader - one writes down words, the other imagines a world out of them. Reader believes that they're building one thing, author is really building another--the whole thing can fall apart.

Breaking previously established world rules--works best if can establish as "characters were mistaken."

Think of books that failed the "Wall Test" - often it's because of broken promise
resolution not worth reading to
resolution betrays reader's understanding of main character, or how fantasy/sci-fi world works
failure or deliberate breakage of emotional tone and resonance
ignore the limits the story sets, and not in a good way
ending not really an ending!

It's all about proper cuing for the reader--for the casual browser in the bookstore!--down to little things like "there will be erotica in this book" or "bad things will happen." First couple of pages. Consider setting, hints of themes, warnings of hot button stuff, etc. But don't stress--should all be a natural and organic part of the opening! Some people use prologs to do this kind of thing. Be vewy, vewy careful.

Beyond the story itself, author promises can include things like
I won't be a dick
I will write more of this series
I will finish this book and have it out by such-and-such a time
This is the kind of experience you get from my books

Good to be aware of that kind of promise, but as always, "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."

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All CONvergence 2013 posts: http://cloudscudding.livejournal.com/tag/convergence%202013

...aaaand, that's all folks! The end of my panel notes for this year! I also sat on the "Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Writing" panel, but I'm not posting my panel prep notes for that since 9/10ths of the subject matter didn't come up--so I can save it for some other day.
Comments 
4th-Sep-2013 10:35 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you covered this, but:

For me, when a character promises something, that's very different than when an author does. If a character comes out and says, "Look, this is not a love story," I'm putting it at about a 75% chance that on some level it is a love story.

On the other hand, if the author makes that promise by spending the first 75% of the book telling a military SF tale with no romantic sparks to be found, having the ending be "well, none of this shooty-shoot stuff is resolved, but Our Protagonist has found the Love of a Good Humanoid" is exactly the kind of promise-breaking it looks like you were talking about, and I say fie upon it.
5th-Sep-2013 02:40 am (UTC)
An excellent distinction.
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