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[process] Balloon prick ideas - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-08-02 05:43
Subject: [process] Balloon prick ideas
Security: Public
Tags:books, movies, process, television, writing
Yet another topic that came up in critique discussion this past weekend at Cascade Writers was the concept of a balloon prick idea.

This concept was first pointed out to me some years ago by the brilliant Dean Wesley Smith when he was critiquing one of my stories. Basically, it's when an author introduces a story element or plot twist which would in reality so profoundly undermine the world in which it exists that the story no longer makes sense.

Dean was critiquing a story of mine where homelessness was in effect a transmissible disease. If a homeless person touched you, you swiftly became homeless, and then socially invisible, and then literally invisible. This was going in a setting of contemporary Portland. As Dean quite rightly pointed out, if such a thing were true, nobody who could possibly afford otherwise would go out in public without body guards and a security perimeter. The separation between the wealthy and the middle class and below would become an uncrossable gulf. Life would look nothing like it does in our current society if this were true.

More prominent examples of the balloon prick idea include the Star Trek transporter. With such a device and its attendant features such as the biofilter, you have fantastic healing powers and functional immortality. Topics which are barely addressed anywhere in the multiple series, and when they are, only as plot conveniences. Likewise, since they can do point-to-point transportation when needed, why bother to ever have a transporter room? These issues are simply never explored. There's sufficient story action and plot sleight of hand that most viewers never notice.

For another example, see Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. Within the narrative, it is observed that the Romans had dragons. Presumably so did other ancient cultures of the world. That's a balloon prick idea. Aerial reconnaissance capability means that over-the-horizon deep water navigation is reasonable from the very beginning of long range seafaring, which profoundly changes the dynamic of ancient maritime cultures such as the Minoans, the Romans and the Phoenicians. The likelihood that the trade and colonization patterns of those cultures would have led to a close equivalent of Napoleonic Europe is deeply improbable. The Temeraire novels make sense only if you parse them as being about people who have acquired dragons in the very recent past, and not yet undergone the cultural changes that free flight and aerial combat impose. Which is, in effect, what's actually going on in the books of that series. The central story question is "How would dragons have affected Napoleonic Europe and rival world powers?", not "How would dragons have affected the development of human civilization?"

Mind you, I am a huge fan of both Star Trek and Temeraire. In both cases, the balloon prick idea in play doesn't interfere with the success of the narrative because of other strengths. But for this reader and viewer, in both cases, the balloon prick idea interferes with my suspension of disbelief and requires me to work harder to buy the story.

Take this concept of the balloon prick idea for what it's worth, but do take it into account when building your worlds and writing your stories.

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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-08-02 13:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
More prominent examples of the balloon prick idea include the Star Trek transporter. With such a device and its attendant features such as the biofilter, you have fantastic healing powers and functional immortality. Topics which are barely addressed anywhere in the multiple series, and when they are, only as plot conveniences. Likewise, since they can do point-to-point transportation when needed, why bother to ever have a transporter room? These issues are simply never explored. There's sufficient story action and plot sleight of hand that most viewers never notice.

It's mentioned in some source material that it's easier to transport to or from a transporter platform. The larger issues which fail to be addressed are that the transporter is a functional human-backup-and-editing device (and has been used as such in specific episodes) yet is never used as such on a routine basis; and (more obviously) that transporters logically imply that any ship that has its shields knocked down even for an instant should be doomed, since an enemy with transporters could transport antimatter explosives directly into its hull (if we assume that there are internal hull-strengthening fields, directly into its engine core. Yet we never see that tactics as standard.
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Clint Harris
User: wendigomountain
Date: 2012-08-02 14:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sorry Jay, I read the title of this post and thought, "What kind of clown is he looking to hire for JayCon anyhow?" Like a more erotic version of balloon animals.

Okay, maybe it wasn't that funny. :)
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Jay Lake: funny-do_not_hump
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-02 14:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:funny-do_not_hump
Snerk...
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2012-08-02 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Pretty much had the same reaction.

There are so many words that were harmless when I was a child that are instantly sexually evocative now: prick, wood, wet, bum, hard (well, kind of), etc. Drastically reduces the English words available for casual use without raised eyebrows.
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willyumtx
User: willyumtx
Date: 2012-08-08 07:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I think words are fascinating. I was thinking, looking at your while you were dropping the anchor, take words like 'pecker' and 'prick.' In their vulgar sense, or maybe I should say their colloquial sense."

Without batting an eye I said, "You mean 'prick' as a noun, Not as a verb."

She nodded. "Yes, a noun. It means 'a pointed instrument.' 'Pecker' means 'an instrument for pecking,' and 'peck' means 'to strike repeatedly and often with a pointed instrument.' So the definition of 'pecker' and 'prick' is identical."

"Sure, I've never looked them up, but evidently you have."

"Of course. In Webster and in the OED. There's an OED at the office. Of course the point is that -- well, well, there's a pun. 'Point." The point is that they both begin with p, and 'penis' begins with p."

--- Please Pass the Guilt, Rex Stout
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2012-08-03 13:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yep, me, too. "Balloon prick idea" is not clear on which is the noun, and my mind chose "prick" for some unfathomable reason. Perhaps I was thinking of balloon animals?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-03 13:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What, swollen and tender?
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saveswhat
User: saveswhat
Date: 2012-08-02 15:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My dad has a PhD in physics and I've learned never to view a science fiction film with him. It's like sitting next to a giant "pin". Throughout the film he'll blurt out comments like, "That's not possible. Sound doesn't travel in space!" or "Haha! I guess in this movie, sound travels at the speed of light!" or "If an asteroid passed that close to you, you'd incinerate before you knew what had happened!"
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-08-03 00:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sounds like watching Jurassic Park with a paleontologist. Highly dis-recommended (although I have to say it was pretty funny, too).
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Bob
User: yourbob
Date: 2012-08-03 02:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It was a bit hilarious sitting in the same seat with a biologist/paleontologist while watching it. I had to keep telling myself to shut up.
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Bob
User: yourbob
Date: 2012-08-03 02:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
After getting past the balloon animal issues, I like the point. I've always thought though, that the best spec fic used exactly this kinda in reverse.

Take that one small change (contagous homelessness) and figure out what the consequences would be (while having to deal with latency, remissions, whatever parameters are set up). Really work through what that one thing meant to the world that came after. </p>

Though a good storyteller can work with dragothe like Novik does in spades (I love em!), better "speculative fiction" would to go through all the implications.

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