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Author Topic: Risk - is it as important as I think it is?  (Read 966 times)

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Risk - is it as important as I think it is?
« on: November 04, 2016, 09:44:14 PM »
Before I begin, I want to define the terms "risk" and "important."

In this discussion, Risk has two important elements. The first is the sensation (in the mind of the Reader) that something could go wrong - the hero might not make that leap, orc arrows really can and do hit people, and they might be poisoned. The second is that the consequences could be significant: there might not be an antidote for that poison, injuries may take more than an herb stew to recover from, and that recovery might not be total. Oh, and death and failure.

As for Important, I mean are important to the Reader, not the character(s) necessarily. In the GoT, the Reader learns that risks are real and that their consequences can include the demise of even primary characters and other permanent effects. The impacts of Risk are palpable throughout the story - if a character goes out onto a slippery ledge over a terrible fall, we hold our breath.

By contrast, the movie The Hobbit robbed any sense of risk with (IMHO) ridiculous, acrobatic sequences that clearly tried to one-up themselves as if competing for trickiest bow shot/melee sequence in film history.

I think to deliver satisfaction to a modern audience you have a couple primary ways to do it:
A. by dialing up "success" - the Reader's desire for the protag to win and antagonists to suffer
B. by dialing up the Reader's fear that that success will not be achieved
C. by dialing up the payoff - not just a ton of gold, but 1.21 jigawatts of gold - enough to surf on! Enough to make a 100-foot tall statue of solid gold! So much gold that the planet's orbit shifts if you move it. Sigh.

I think we see an over-reliance on A and C, and not enough of B.

Am I alone in this?
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Risk - is it as important as I think it is?
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2016, 10:12:57 PM »
I'm completely of 2 minds about this :-\

On the one hand, I agree with you that there should be more sense of 'danger' in books... but then, I want to have *happy endings* ::) or at least, 'reasonable endings' (which for example I didn't get in the First Law trilogy)
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Risk - is it as important as I think it is?
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2016, 11:05:01 PM »
Amusingly, in both of my former lives - freelance editor and government communications/facilitator - I worked with people who had a lot to do with risk analysis. The way risks are generally rated for need-for-mitigation is by plotting them on a graph where one axis is "likelihood to happen" and the other is "consequences if it happens" - so basically what GemC has outlined.

Interestingly, thinking about this for writing, the more likely something is to happen, the more you probably want to avoid it as a writer - it's the obvious choice, the reader is expecting it, and if your characters haven't also thought of it and put plans in place to avoid it they look sort of stupid. But conversely, the worse something is for your characters, the more you as the author should probably make it happen. The worse things are for your characters, the more gripping the story... because you have, as GemC notes in his list, dialled up the "B": the fear that success will not be achieved.

I'm basically thinking out loud here, and the conclusion of my thoughts is that I think Gem Cutter is totally right. :D I'm not sure about overreliance - certainly in not-so-great writing there's too much A and C at the expense of B. B is, I think, part of what defines good writing.

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Risk - is it as important as I think it is?
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2016, 11:17:49 PM »
B. Definitely B. We need more of B.

This is why I love Light Bringer. You seriously never know how exactly a situation is going to end. There's lovely darkness, but there's also moments where the light shines through, and it's equally gorgeous. Finding that balance is important.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Risk - is it as important as I think it is?
« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2016, 12:01:34 AM »
Interestingly, thinking about this for writing, the more likely something is to happen, the more you probably want to avoid it as a writer - it's the obvious choice, the reader is expecting it, and if your characters haven't also thought of it and put plans in place to avoid it they look sort of stupid. But conversely, the worse something is for your characters, the more you as the author should probably make it happen. The worse things are for your characters, the more gripping the story... because you have, as GemC notes in his list, dialled up the "B": the fear that success will not be achieved.
That is probably the most innovative and interesting idea I've seen in a long time - well done.

As has been often pointed out by more educated and intelligent people, innovators are often really combiners - people who import ideas and concept from often wildly divergent fields.  I, too, am knowledgeable (in a small way) of Government Risk Management processes in a variety of contexts: critical infrastructure, a variety of security-related missions, etc., and that is an amazing amalgam of concepts @cupiscent

Ha! And there I was thinking this might not be a productive discussion.
*scribbles out a ginormous novel risk matrix*
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Rostum

Re: Risk - is it as important as I think it is?
« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2016, 05:50:53 PM »
In the real world Medicine makes a lot of stuff fixable that wasn't even a generation ago and re-balances how and what we view the risks are.
knowledge of germ theory, safe and water food preparation and the advantages of safe water. A relaxed and tolerant view of religion and neo-liberal politics. There are loads more but I probably ought to get to the point.

An author has to forget these advantages of 21st century living or reshape them to the world they are creating.

 If they are involved in a risky business and there is magic medicine to fix them good as new or a deity who pops down and brings them back from the dead you are writing 40 years too late. It's dull and convenient and lazy.

To invest in a character the reader needs to identify with them and importantly other characters must be invested in them and feel their loss should they die or be hurt no one lives in vacuum somebody needs to care that  your protag is stabbed and at deaths door for the reader to do so. If they feel the danger or loss through
other characters their own reaction is likely magnified.

So if you can get your reader to care about what happens well done. It's easy to spoil. My favourite is introduction of a pointless character 3 pages before they die in the company of out heroes so it appears death is near but the important people remain aloof from it.

There is a load of A&C out there, well done it can be great reading.
Making success elusive and failure not total works as well especially if there is another book in the series. I would humbly submit this as D. The treasure isn't there, was too good to be true and the protags got played or it was greatly exaggerated.

I recently read a self pub that while OK in itself really impressed me because the sword play was a last resort and was quickly over and had a real sense of risk and fear was developed. The MC's main fear wasn't hurt so much but failing in the task he was set upon due to an inconsequential skirmish.


« Last Edit: November 05, 2016, 06:29:58 PM by Rostum »