Three Black Swans

So I had a thought while trying to figure out Mab’s arc in Wild Ride: Since we’re dealing with such epic discoveries in that story, supernatural discoveries, maybe her turning points are black swans.

For those of you who are Numbers fans, the whole black swan thing was covered in an episode a year or two ago. For those who aren’t, I give you Wikipedia:

The term black swan comes from the commonplace Western cultural assumption that ‘All swans are white’. In that context, a black swan was a metaphor for something that could not exist. The 17th Century discovery of black swans in Australia metamorphosed the term to connote that the perceived impossibility actually came to pass. The [Black Swan] theory was described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book The Black Swan . . . . Taleb’s Black Swan has a central and unique attribute: the high impact. His claim is that almost all consequential events in history come from the unexpected—while humans convince themselves that these events are explainable in hindsight (bias).

So Mab believes in a non-supernatural world; that is, she believes all swans are white because she’s never seen a black one, or more specifically, she believes demons don’t exist because she’s never seen evidence of one. And since this is a shift in her world-view that has to happen pretty fast–she can’t spend three hundred pages saying “I don’t believe in demons” since demons are her antagonists–she has to be confronted with irrefutable proof at the first turning point and then not only accept it, but adapt it into her world view in hindsight. As in, “I didn’t believe in demons, but now I am convinced they exist, so here’s where I made my mistake before in not believing in them, here’s the part of my world view I have to correct.” And she makes that shift and changes and then at the next turning point I think there has to be another black swan so she has to revise again. . .

The thing is, as Taleb pointed out, black swans cause huge shifts. All turning points are big shifts in the protagonist’s circumstances, they’re always “I didn’t know that, that changes everything,” but they generally don’t change the world the heroine lives in. That is, up is still up, not down; gravity still works; vampires and demons are legends, and there is no magic. But with a black swan TP, up suddenly does become down, the insane are suddenly the sane, and everything the protagonist has based her very identity on turns out to be a lie. Which means that not only is the protagonist trying to resolve her conflict, she’s doing it in a brand new world, a world she doesn’t know the rules for, a world that she is struggling to reconcile with the one she was living in a minute ago, before the bomb hit. Protagonists are always working on two levels, external physical conflict and internal emotional conflict, but the black swam seems to add a third, a psychological environmental/worldview shift.

As a writer, I like this. I’m just not exactly sure how to pull it off. We hit the same thing in Dogs and Goddesses, but that’s a farce, so we could play a little more fast and loose with the consequences. At the first turning point, the three protags find out they’re descended from ancient Mesopotamian demi-goddesses and have to deal with the fall-out from that, including latent powers. In reality, that would be a lifetime of therapy. In a romantic romp, it’s just some sisterhood and supernatural screw-ups.

But Wild Ride is semi-serious. Its protagonists have serious real-world problems set against a super-natural backdrop. I can’t just throw out some snappy patter and have everything be okay. Mab is going to have to deal with her black swan head on. But that’s not the least of the problem because I don’t think–although I’m open to discussing it–that you can do a single black swan TP. I think if you start with a black swan, you better have two more lined up to go at the other two turning points or you’ll have massive anti-climaxes. That is, if the big hit is that demons exist, the next two hits can’t be that it’s really tough to defeat them. The other TPs have to be equally startling revelations, probably greater in intensity.

So what I want to talk about is the whole black swan concept as applied to turning points. Does thinking of TPs as black swans help conceptualize them, or does the fact that black swans are by definition always discoveries of the unknown limit what they can be? Are all turning points black swans, or are they only for the-entire-world-is-at-stake books since they attack worldview? If you start with a black swan TP, do the others have to be black swans, too?

I really don’t have this nailed down yet, so I’m throwing it out there for you all to pick apart.

Black swans. What do you think?