Never trust a truss… ‘I’ve busted me truss and me hernia is givin’ me royal gyp…’
Or am I thinking of turkeys? It’s been a good year for them, and I gather you can now get the self-plucking, self-drawing, self-stuffing and definitely self-trussing model. They probably roast themselves too. In case you were behind the news I believe you can get them from SFWA. They thought World Con San Jose use of pre-crime so good they also had to refuse Jon Del Arroz the membership he qualifies for. Hmm. Advice for turkeys: Bake. That. Cake.
‘We’re not refusing Joe Soap entry to our public organization because he’s gay/black/trans… Based on the behavior of and online statements by this individual over the preceding year or so, which the credentials committee believes is inconsistent with the obligations that our members have to one another, the committee has determined that it has good and sufficient cause to deny this membership.’
Yeah. I can see that one working. “Can you in fact prove that you do not discriminate on the basis of XYZ? That your membership reflects the demographic proportions of XYZ?” Which is tricky when it comes to measurable things. Politics, for instance.
SFWA turkey sticks finger in a collar suddenly trussing it. “Well, uh… we don’t ask.”
“But records are available (about politics) about party and campaign donations. It would be easy to prove, one way or the other. As it happens we’ve taken your membership list and cross referenced it…”
If the turkey wins – then the door is open for any public organization to do likewise, so the turkey loses. The turkey has to lose to maintain a precedent. Which is rough on the turkey. Maybe ‘smart’ would have been to avoided the fight in the first place.
What a truss of rotten tomatoes.
But actually I was thinking of the kind of truss, the engineering sort, the kind to which mathematics and physics apply. And hernias. Trust me on this, I’ve been moving some heavy trusses. They’re, besides heavy (in this case, anyway – 16 foot long, steel pipe) fascinating things, and one of the un-noticed ways the Romans really changed our world.
You see a truss takes a relatively weak material – on its own – like a 16 foot two inch diameter pipe – which can’t hold itself rigid, and brace it onto another relatively weak material, like another 16 foot two inch pipe. Now the two pipes alone are not very strong, and if you bridged 16 feet over a stream with them… would bend under their own weight. If you tried to walk over them they’d drop you into the drink with a splash – and probably bend the pipes. There’s a bunch of even skinnier bits that on their own would bend before you got over the stream.
Yet… put together right, they become one strong structure – capable of keeping a lot more than your weight out of the stream. The strength of the sum of its parts put together right is far, far greater than the components are on their own.
The corollary of this is that if you damage one component of the entire structure enough, well, it very rapidly returns to being the same strength as each component on its own. A fire-fighter’s nightmare – And more than that it extends into politics, publishing, going to sea, life. You name it. I expect the current mess in US politics to fall in an ugly heap once one of the elements fails. Whether it’s a politicized FBI agent or a compliant media, as soon as one of what was vastly strong together breaks… Publishing, the same, but further advanced. Either one of the big five will fail, or their lock on distribution will fly apart, retail crack further, their lock on gatekeeping (via agents and editors) finally fail. The little interior beams – called webs — of patronage running reviews and fixing awards become worthless. Already it’s nothing like it was 10 years back, when that was an almost rock-solid truss. The opposite is true with Amazon, increasingly building its truss, stronger.
Of course the other fact is that you have to know which direction the stress is going to come from if you’re going to make an effective truss. A planar truss, where all the components are in two dimensions, if you apply force in another dimension – the truss is as strong as the individual components – which is to say, compared to its strength in the two dimensions it was built for, puny. Amazon’s truss could buckle in the face of a different technological challenge from a direction in which they’re not strong (peer-to-peer trading, for example).
So why am I boring you about trusses? I mean, they are fascinating to me right now, because I’m building, but this is about writing, right?
Indeed. And it’s about something that so seldom gets talked about in writing posts. We talk about how to deal with the different components, how to make a plot work, how to write the setting, how to build interesting characters and how to do dialogue. But we really haven’t brought up synthesis. How to use one to support the other/s.
So often the strength of a book is sum of its parts, correctly put together. You can still achieve a strong book if the only ‘strong’ component is for example, the characters. Or the dialogue. Or the plot. It’s less and less likely with things I consider ‘webs’ in building my books – the setting, elements like romantic attachment, or devices/gadgetry (the one ring for example). These are strong in themselves, but not a story. But seriously, it is possible to achieve so much more, if these all interlock and form one structure. For a simple example: if your plot depends on the characters’ traits, bound by dialogue, romance and the setting. These apply to both the plot and the character, and bind them into a single story.
So the challenge is not just to think ‘how does what I’m doing to character affect the character – but how does it affect the plot. And how can I make it depend on the plot and plot on it. And how do I tie these together?
Look – good story tellers do all of this instinctively. You may be that person. But honestly I’ve yet to meet a good story-teller who balances and leans them into each other perfectly without effort. Rotten story tellers – like me – can learn to structure their stories so the major elements actually carry each other.
And no doubt some editor will come and damage one component (because good structural editors are rarer than good steak).
Oh well. That’s the breaks. But a good truss, used right, is harder to break.