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?
77 thoughts on “Three Black Swans”
I like it.
I’ve never heard the term black swan being used to describe this phenomena but I know exactly what you mean.
You cannot close your eyes once they’ve been opened to new possibilities…
I like the black swan concept; it strikes me as you’re describing the question that the real turning point in the moment is not the actual black swan (the re-defining of the world as Mab knows it), but the re-defining of Mab as she knows herself: suddenly intensely more vulnerable than she could have realized before. The next two turning points are the attempts to succeed against it and fail (midpoint) or think she’s succeeded (false victory), only to realize, nope, completely wrong, and then the third turning point is to learn that what she thought was her greatest strength is probably her greatest weakness and then have to dig down and really, finally, define for herself who she is amidst these new rules.
In other words, (and I am putting this badly, probably), you can’t out-Italy Italy. Plunking someone down in a new world has its rules and revelations, but the more time spent in that country, the more familiar it is… and everything “more” is a shimmer of comparison to the original impression–and it’s hard to keep making that impact “more.” If I’m visiting another country, say, Italy, and then I find some quaint little village that flat out-does my initial impression, I might be able to say that the second place is “more” Italy than the original spot I set down, but it’s still going to lack impact by virtue of being the second impression. So, too, I think with any supernatural world–more rules or twists on rules aren’t as big of a turning point as the ramifications to the character and her having to re-define who she is at that moment and what she thinks she’s capable of doing.
Of course, it’s 2:26 a.m. as I post this, so it probably makes no sense. Not to mention, I could be wrong.
I think–could be wrong, by all means argue–that the turning point is an event, an action, and therefore is the discovery of the black swan. The protagonist encounters the black swan, the world swings around to a new place, and the protagonist is thrust into a new situation.
I do get the point that once you’ve discovered that you’re not on earth, you’re on the moon, that it’s going to be tough to up the ante on the next two TPs, but I’m still thinking they’re black swans. In Mab’s case, the first black swan is discovered the world is not as she thinks it is, and the second is discovering that she is not what she thinks she is. I’m happy with that escalation.
It’s the third black swan that has me stumped. Temporarily.
I really don’t think all TPs are black swans. But I’m pretty sure if you start with a swan, there are two more coming up the road behind it.
Of course, it’s 3:30 AM so I could be out to lunch on this, too.
At 4:15 am I’m too asleep to note anything other than….
That’s a heck of a beautiful bird.
Maybe off the point, but there’s a pub in Stratford-upon-Avon, and you know how pubs there have the pub bit and the more upscale lounge bit? Well, one side of the sign is The Dirty Duck and the other side is The Black Swan. So maybe Mab’s previously seen the demons but not recognized them as such, if that makes any sense? Just a dorky piece of trivia, in case it sparks anything.
Three Black Swans – would this be an example?
Guy is living in peace. BSwan: He discovers that his country’s nice old King is in fact a powerful tyrant. Guy starts to fight, thinks he’s alone. BSwan: There’s a rebel movement who use powers said to be non-existent. He joins them. BSwan: the tyran’t chief henchman reveals that he’s the Guy’s father and that the Guy is predestined to join the Dark Side.
One Black Swan and two ordinary Turning points – would an example be that kind of Disney teenage movie (the first “Narnia” movie perhaps)? BSwan: “Wow, aliens/monsters/fairytale worlds really exist!”, and then two ordinary TPs that raise the stakes and whatnot, but don’t provide any more philosophic upheaval.
I hope this is on topic. Having tangible examples always helps me to understand stuff.
I’m not awake enough yet to intelligently join this discussion, but I just wanted to say that the TV show “Lost” makes more sense to me now. Okay, that’s a lie, but it is a show in which most-maybe not all, but most turning points are black swans.
For me, the third black swan moment would probably be the realization that “I” wasn’t that far off the mark to begin with. A Dorothy in OZ moment, when she fully connects with the ruby slippers and clicks her way home.
In Mab’s case, the first black swan is discovered the world is not as she thinks it is, and the second is discovering that she is not what she thinks she is. I’m happy with that escalation.It’s the third black swan that has me stumped. Temporarily.
Well, from the scifi-fantasy reader, I would think the third turning point and final black swan is that Mab learns she can have a serious impact on that new, strange world. She can be a “cause” as well as having to deal with the “effects” of fallout from other peoples actions.
In other words, Mab can punch the demon in the face and hurt him and/or fix what he messed up.
Discovery, exploration, and action covers a lot of plot ground when used as turning points. Coming of age stories. Murder mysteries. Prince/Princess in disguises. Thrillers.
As a possible 3rd black swan … if you have a force for evil as powerful as demons that has suddenly become real and immediate rather than an abstract, doesn’t it make sense that a force for good equally as powerful as demons could suddenly become real and immediate? I’m not necessarily saying that God shows up and pets Mab on the head. But … all the implications of a positive force would be the flip side of the coin for all the negatives. Getting that immediacy of Light and Good as a final climax might give you a really good symmetry. Mab’s 1st black swan is that true evil is real and immediate. Her 2nd black swan is that she is more than she thought she was and strong enough to face it. Perhaps her 3rd black swan is the realization that she previously unimaginable allies and rewards, that she’s not alone in this kind of fight.
Also, to up the stakes, she could find out quantum physics is real and the world is always “becoming.” What you believe to be true, does become. In other words, she may experience dimensions/reality that was previously thought to be another way. I’m thinking of a documentary recently done called Alice Down the Rabbit Hole (or something like that) about the perception of reality. Hope this makes some sense.
I like Flamingo Cherry’s idea of discovering allies – maybe they could even be people that she’s previously dismissed (fortune tellers, religious people, bag ladies; I’m not sure I’d go for angels, unless you are prepared to counter the fluffy, sappy conventional ones with the scary, biblical variety).
On an almost (but not completely) unrelated note: Mother Jones has an interview with Joss Wheedon, about his “heroine addiction”. With links to more, I believe, but I wanted to put this here before I forgot, ’cause I know there are some fans out there.
Swan 1: the world is not what she thought it was
Swan 2: She is not who she thought she was
So, yeah, I think
Swan 3: specific people are not what she had thought they were.
And it fits with your semi-serious mood for the book because that’s a real life revelation for most of us, and the one that changes us the most if and when it clicks; i.e., the nice person you always liked is not such a good person after all, the person with all the hang ups you couldn’t tolerate before is the person who will really be there for you, and all the other variations on the theme.
It’s a personal growth thing, and it’s one of those things that usually requires getting hit over the head several times before we get it.
Warning: There are semi-spoilers for Wild Ride in this comment.
This is good stuff.
I think finding out the king is a tyrant is a turning point but not a black swan. The swan is the discovery of something that hitherto was thought impossible, not improbable, something that didn’t exist suddenly exists. So not that the king is a tyrant but that the king is a lizard.
Although I’m thinking that maybe thinking of TPs as black swans is a way to conceptualize stronger TPs. Maybe not.
I also think–keep arguing with me, I don’t want to shut this discussion down–that moving to “other people are not what she thinks” is a ratchet down in tension. The outer world is not what she thinks, the inner world is not what she thinks . . . huh.
So go back to plain old TP definitions: an event that swings the story in a new direction, moving the protagonist to change so much that she can’t return to where she was at the beginning of that act. (That’s assuming you write in acts, of course.) The Black Swan TP is the regular TP squared: it’s an event that swings reality in a new direction (that is, everybody knows black swans aren’t real until they see one; then everybody knows black swans exist).
1. Mab knows demons don’t exist; then she meets one.
2. Mab knows she’s X, then finds out she isn’t.
3. Mab knows . . . , then finds out . . .
I think I’m getting closer. It’s like turning a Rubik’s Cube. You just keep going until something clicks. The whole community thing starts in the first act, so by the third TP, she’s pretty firmly established as part of a team/family/community.
Oh, and thank you for the Whedon, Diane!
I like the Black Swan idea because it is such a nice example for our human tendency to assume limits according to our own understanding. (That’s why people refuse to believe in God, I suppose.)
What I’m having trouble with is the ‘hugeness’ of the impact. It seems to me there’s such an inflation of superlatives recently – the biggest threat ever for mankind, the greatest love story of all times, the scariest thriller, the most incredible story, you name it.
Of course now you have conceived your story as one where the heroine must learn that there are demons out there, it’s going to be part of the development. But can’t she slowly come to terms with the fact? Learn how to cope? Find her personal way to overcome her fears and to fight back? Do you need to up the ante with each turning point?
After having written several manuscripts, I find that the strictly defined structure of escalating turning points does not always solve the problem. But that is my point of view, of course.
Some books are Black Swan books, others perhaps more like White Swans with Gray Highlights. There’s a difference between *my* world isn’t what I thought it was and *the whole world* isn’t what I thought it was.
I do think if you start with a Black Swan, the rest of those swans better be pretty dark, because by that point, a few highlights aren’t going to cut it.
Yes, three black swans. (I remember the beautiful black swans in Perth, W.A. I worked there in ’72. They swam around in a lake in a huge park, I’m thinking Kings Park but can’t quite remember. Sigh.)
Anyway, without knowing your theme for Wild Ride, it’s hard to comment. But has that ever stopped me? Hah.
Depending on your theme, if it’s one of good vs. evil, that would be easy because good would win out. It’s fiction. But what if it’s tolerance, or acceptance, or heartfelt sympathy for the demons situation?
Then the swans would play out differently. But they’d still be swans, and they’d have to have a huge impact on the protagonist (and on the reader).
I mean, will the protagonist’s understanding that the demons exist cause her to kill them off? We know at first she would be disbelieving, afraid, etc. Then maybe curious, intrigued, yet still scared as hell. But she’s smart, right, she knows that they exist, there must be more in other places, so knowing others must also exist and she can’t kill them all, what will she do? Will she try to find out who they are and what they want? Are they an enemy or merely displaced? Are they as scared of her as she is of them? Is there true intent to do harm? Do they have a purpose for being on earth in perhaps righting old wrongs? Were they once human or are they demon by birth? Were they born on earth or another planet? Where did they come from originally? Or are these demons just the shadow side of the protagonist, seeming to be alive, yet not. Does she have to fight them, kill them off, so she can become a better more fully evolved person? Is violence always the answer or can she talk them to death? Hmmm?
I could argue that finding out people aren’t what you thought they were is more life altering than finding out vampires are real. Example: finding out your boyfriend is a vampire would take some adjusting. Finding out that he’s cheating on you with your bff would really pull the rug out from under you.
But your theme here seems be be true/untrue, if that helps any. Can the Black Swan become a Golden Goose?
Another vote for three black swans. Maybe the third TP is Mab knows she’s doing X, then finds out she’s doing Y. She escalates from discovering a world, to discovering who she is in this world, to discovering how she affects this world.
Also, I don’t think every book’s TPs are black swans. A turning point requires the heroine to face a completely changed situation – but not always to believe what she had considered impossible.
You say you can’t make everything okay by tossing out some snappy patter? Damn.
BS 1- Demon’s are real
BS 2- Mab is not who/what she thought she was
Could BS 3 be that demons aren’t what everyone thought they were? We don’t believe in demons, but everyone knows they are evil. (How’s that for logic?) If a great force for evil exists, then a great force for good must exist somewhere, too. Are the angels really demons and the demons really angels? In other words, could Mab discover that she was on the wrong side?
You’ve turned the world on it’s head twice. It would make sense to turn the new world on it’s head once again, and give Mab an opportunity to confirm the new self she’s discovered.
okay, I see where you’re going… what if the third black swan was that some demons… are good? That would totally flip that first TP and square it, and that particular demon could turn into an ally — thus forcing Mab to have to re-evaluate reality once again in a whole new framework, plus re-evaluate herself, her reactions to it, her skill set, her level of mercy or sense of responsibility.
I also think it avoids the “other people are not what she thinks” is a ratchet down in tension” because it’s having to re-conceptualize the initial thing, not additional things.
[great discussion, and of course, I could be wrong] [I am having that tattooed on my forehead, btw.]
Wow, this is really intriguing. I’ve never heard of this concept and now I want to use it everywhere. Thanks!
What an interesting discussion. Some of the suggestions (angels are really demons, or demons really aren’t what they are supposed to be) (I’ve always disliked good/evil as the only options; I like to see “demons” as the kid who says “the emperor’s naked!”) seem to take the third black swan toward the statement “Mab now knows that there are demons and she’s really not-X, but in this sense, they don’t and she still is X because of this Z thing.” Which is one way to play it.
I also personally like the idea of throwing in some cormorants–black waterfowl that she’s ignored up to this point, or black waterfowl that she has THOUGHT were cormorants but were of course the swans. (They’re also an invasive species in many areas, with their own beauty, which again foils the good/evil thing.)
Is it possible that to fulfill her role in the world as a Not-X after TP 2, MAB’s actions will change her new community and the world to the point that the world will again be different? I don’t know if that makes sense. Well, I know that doesn’t make sense. To be the Not-X, she has to be willing to sacrifice her new family/community, which (somehow) makes her win in the end? This is back to the suggestion that “nobody is who they seem to be,” which I can see might seem like more of a “huh” moment. But it does up the ante in that she gives up the mitigating factors (the positives, the benefits, the happiness) in being the not-X she has now accepted that she is.
It’s really interesting to see ideas and minds at work. Thanks for sharing, Jenny.
“what if the third black swan was that some demons… are good? That would totally flip that first TP and square it, and that particular demon could turn into an ally — thus forcing Mab to have to re-evaluate reality once again in a whole new framework, plus re-evaluate herself…”
Oh, I like that. Some humans are monstrous. Why can’t some monsters be humane? This flips the first black swan, complicates the “us vs. them” mentality, and reminds us of the white swan we all like to forget. (Humans are capable of great evil.)
Are there humans summoning/working with the demons? Could the “good” demons be just as abhorrent to demon culture as “evil” humans are to us?
This is all good stuff. And we should probably just assume that we all could be wrong and keep talking anyway. I’ve pretty much run my life that way and it’s worked out so far.
I definitely don’t believe all TPs are Black Swans. That is, I think there are Black Swan books and then regular swan books. The revelation about the demons is kind of in there already but I could work with it.
As near as I can tell, the theme is transformation. But I’m often wrong on theme before the book is done. Sometimes I’m still wrong on it after the book is published.
I like the idea wending through some of the posts possibly that what is perceived is good is really evil and what is perceived as evil is really good. But maybe that is just another way of saying people aren’t who you think they are so it would be again the de-escalation.
I agree that the third TP has to be a big Black Swan. Just to pose THE question:
What is bigger than finding out you aren’t who you think you are?
Now, my head latched onto the Narnia books somebody mentioned earlier. Because it’s a couple of similar black swan-esque themes. But I know I’m going to misanalyze the book because I’m not thinking that hard about it.
1.) I think the Pevensie’s first TP is a black swan: There is a land inside the wardrobe that really exists.
2.) Their second TP is that they are the ones who have to stop the White Witch (with the help of the Narnians). Also probably a black swan but not of the shade of black.
3.) And I’m going to call their third TP the realization of Edmund’s actions and how Aslan has to deal with it. Which I wouldn’t call a black swan at all. Unless you wan to call Aslan’s sacrifice and rebirth the black swan.
So based on my own rationalizations the three swans don’t necessarily have to swim together. But I think if we can’t escalate the surprise (finding out there is a world inside a wardrobe), we need to escalate the emotional conflict. Internalize it instead of externalize.
So maybe Mab’s third TP is not that the people she knows are not who she thought, but that her price will be greater. She will have to give more and deal with the consequences of that. Or someone close to her will have to give all. Who knows. But maybe if you just bring the third TP more emotionally connected to us (the readers) it will resonate as escalation although the stakes may not have changed.
Sorry, that was along. And it’s taught me that Narnia is more complex than I usually give it credit for. And I could be way off base with all of this.
My first thought was that the Harry Potter books might be instructional re “Black Swans”. Harry certainly has such a turning point at the beginning of the series (learning that wizards exist, and that he is one). Does Rowling follow with more “Black Swans” or just regular turning points? Is learning about what happened to his parents a “Black Swan? Should just the first book be considered, or the series as a whole?
I may be missing the point entirely, but…
Maybe the first turning point is a normal one (white swan). The fallout from that would force her to redefine who she is (gray swan). Then the third turning point makes her realize the world isn’t what she thought it was (black swan).
The climax would be where she comes to terms with her place in this new world and finds a way to deal with it.
Or would that kill the pacing?
The Matrix immediately came to mind for me in thinking about this, although I haven’t thought through that movie enough to identify the later TPs beyond the first BS (where Neo accepts the red pill and learns that the world is not what it seems). Neo goes through these phases of not knowing he is the One (Morpheus and the Oracle give him conflicting messages on this front), only to come back from the dead and discover that he is in fact the One. This sort of reminded me of the escalating TPs as you’ve set them up Jenny–(1) inversion of the understanding of the outside world; (2) realization that you aren’t who you think you are.
What’s bigger than finding out you’re aren’t who you think you are? I think you need something pretty primal, like maybe finding out that death isn’t what we think it is? Or maybe being betrayed by a relationship you believed was “true” despite the mixed up nature of the outer world and yourself–sort of inverting your emotional world view.
Just some thoughts, anyway. What a totally fascinating discussion this is.
Oh, and one more thought–I think the final TP may well need to be a surprise for the demon world, too.
I don’t know if this helps or not, but Blake Snyder (of SAVE THE CAT fame) refers to something he calls “Double Mumbo Jumbo.” He’s talking about screenwriting, but maybe it could still apply. I spent a weekend at one of his courses and have used a lot of his principles in my stories. They’ve helped a lot. I esp. like his 15-beat plot structure.
I’m recalling this from memory, but Blake says something like this: the weaker movies are those that have more than one kind of magic…he says you have to stick with one piece of magic. That’s it. Not TWO or more. For an example of double mumbo jumbo, look to Thirteen Going on Thirty, the movie. There were two kinds of magic: first, the protag became 30. And then, she also skipped forward in time. You could say, “Well, she just skipped forward in time, so of course, she became 30!” But no. If she’d merely skipped forward in time, she could still be a little kid in the future! The writers performed double mumbo jumbo, which Blake thinks weakened the script. Again, I hope I’m not misrepresenting him, but I recall his saying that that’s a big reason BIG was a more successful movie. There was only one piece of mumbo jumbo–becoming an adult overnight. No time travel on top of that.
So whatever happens at your turning points, perhaps you should consider not introducing more than one piece of magic. Make the subsequent TPs evolve from the first piece of magic at the first turning point, which is where Mab finds out that demons exist. Maybe you were going to do that anyway, and I might be totally not understanding your dilemma. But when I read your post, I couldn’t help thinking of Double Mumbo Jumbo. Hope this helps in a tiny way. :>)
“I’ve pretty much run my life that way and it’s worked out so far”
[cracking up] Yeah, that works for me as well…. and there are days when I miss those years when I was a teenager and knew absolutely everything.
I’m always stunned at the themes people pluck out of my books. I had a friend explain to me what I’d done and I sat there guppy-faced for a full minute, surprised. She was right. I wish I could say I planned it that way.
Just went for an hour-long walk and thought about it the whole way. And Shari, I started thinking along your lines: What is bigger than finding out you aren’t who you think you are?
So maybe it’s
1. Mab knows demons don’t exist, but them meets one
2. Mab knows she’s doing x, but finds out she’s doing Y
3. Mab knows she’s x, but discovers she’s Y
But I really don’t know, which is why this kept my mind churning. Is it a bigger deal to do something, and in so doing discover your new self? Or is it bigger to discover your new self, and then claim it by acting? Eh, I’ve talked myself into the latter again–encounter, discover, do.
I’ve been thinking about the idea that “so-and-so isn’t who you thought they were” is a de-escalation, and I think it would really depend on the focus of the story. If the story focuses on Saving the World, then that would be a de-escalation. But if the story is focused on Saving Mab’s World, then a betrayal by the right character would be huge.
She’s learned that demons exist. She’s found out that she’s not who she thought she was in some fundamental way. If the one person who saw her through those things betrayed her, it would be more unthinkable than the earlier discoveries. More personal than the demons and a harsher blow if this person was someone she trusted when she wasn’t sure she could trust herself.
But if the story is about saving the whole world, not just a small corner of it, then one person not being who we thought they were could be anti-climactic.
Thought I’d pop in and offer nothing cos wow! This is way beyond me.
But I didn’t know that about black swans- having grown up in the country of black swans I didn’t know they were thought to never exist. But plainly, listening to all this fascinating stuff, I dont know much….
I think DownUnderGal has hit upon something that could turn it all around: “….having grown up in the country of black swans I didn’t know they were thought to never exist.”
I’d like to have a Black Swan keel over. TP1: Demons exist, TP2: she’s sth she didn’t think existed… so then we get a classic Ghostbusters/Buffy situation? And we all know how that plays out. So after TP2 we’d just lean back, get the popcorn and wait for the usual to happen. So TP3 could subvert our expectations about that? We (and the protags) all know that demons have certain characteristics, behave in certain typical ways, have certain typical goals. BUT AS IT TURNS OUT…
Okay, this was the first I also had heard of the Black Swan, but what it reminds me of is the mythology of the Blue Rose in some ways. The Chinese interpretation of the blue rose was “hope against unattainable love” according to Wikipedia; it is refenced in a Rudyard Kipling poem as well. There are other items in the same vein, like unicorns and holy grails (as an aside, I was once titled “The Patron Saint of Hopeless but Not Stupid Causes” and my symbol was the blue rose.) Perhaps the first turning point is the black swan, the second is the blue rose, and maybe a black unicorn for the third? In “Clear Word and Third Sight” by Catherine A. John she mentions the African symbolism of the black unicorn as a complex duality, whose truth is not easily divined; all of this in addition to the mythology of the unicorn. Or maybe that would make everything entirely too complicated!
thanks for introducing me to the Double Mumbo Jumbo. Even if it doesn’t apply to our current topic (I really can’t tell if it does, but I hope Jenny can), it sure helped me understand why I didn’t like some of the books and movies that people recommended to me. They always felt kind of odd, and now I know why.
1. Demons are real.
2. Mab is not who/what she thought she was.
3. MAB IS A DEMON.
The BSs seem to be the internalized world view shift of the character, not the external world. Soooo, a TP seems to be characterized by actions; BSs instead might be characterized by thoughts (and then, maybe associated actions).
That is, the above 3 BSs are insights by Mab of her internalized world view, not actions.
I wonder if I’m making a dab of sense.
Way back up there, Jenny said:
> The whole community thing starts in the first act, so by the third TP, she’s pretty firmly established as part of a team/family/community.
Maybe the team/family/community isn’t what she thought it was – in a very nasty sense. I.e. they’re the baddies. That’d turn her fragile world view upside down again. Betrayal’s a pretty strong thing.
Someone else had something similar in suggesting that maybe the demons are the goodies, but I’m just thinking that maybe *everyone* Mab knows turns out to be evil.
Or if your focus is on saving the world, maybe to do that she has to make someone else into a demon. That’s about betrayal too, but with her the betrayer. That’d be a powerful thing to find out about yourself.
Feeling a little Mabbish here. I didn’t know black swans didn’t exist. I thought they were, well, like albinos in reverse. But, now all those references to the term ‘black swan’ make a lot more sense. As turning points, though, they seem like a cascade effect. One revelation triggers another and another.
Wasn’t there a movie about a trailer park kid who played a Starfighter video game until he had the phenom high score. He finds out there really are aliens when some show up to kill him. Then a ‘good guy’ alien shows up, and that’s when the kid finds out he’s the last Starfighter (or something like). Turns out the video game is a test to discover any Starfighters left on earth, because there’s a huge galactic war, and the good guys are losing. They need the kid to save the galaxy. Lots of emotional stuff along the way.
The first two TPs are similar to Mab’s. In the movie, I think the final TP was the kid accepting his destiny (and getting the girlfriend to go along with him). It definitely was not a ‘black swan’ TP in the sense of a major revelation that changed everything he believed. But, it could have been. The acceptance of rightful place, of destiny, can alter everything.
TP 1: Demons exist! I’m still going to be a librarian, but demons exist!
TP 2: I’m superhuman! I’m still going to be a librarian, but I’m superhuman!
TP 3: OMG! I’m not going to be a librarian! I was born to be Galactic Diva!
I think those black swans are a gorgeous complement to the colours of your blog. What? Not the kind of feedback you were looking for? Huh.
Three increasingly momentous black swan TPs in one book? I’m honestly not sure about either the possibility or advisability of that. If anyone can do it, though . . .
It has been a very long time since I studied any of this and I may not be remembering it correctly. And I’m not sure how far you want to delve into psychology and philosophy and theology, or even whether your demons are a metaphor for evil or for something else entirely.
I’m intrigued not just by the shift in definition/perception (evil is good, good is evil), but by the interdependence. One common belief is that evil is necessary and that good can not exist without it — that without it mankind would not have the free will to choose good over evil. Similarly, some believe that without the comparison to evil, good is meaningless. There can be no light without dark. Some believe evil is simply the absence of good. Others believe things/people are neither good nor evil, they just are. Yes, oversimplification of a complex subject.
But most religions believe that good will triumph over evil and that the ultimate triumph will happen at the end of time. Other (mostly eastern) religions see time as cyclical rather than linear and I can’t remember whether evil is defeated at the end of a cycle or good is just renewed at the beginning of the next one. [I’m NOT a student of theology and might have gotten this part completely wrong. Pretty sure I’m at least leaving out something important here. No idea what.]
Anyway, IF your demons represent evil (in a supernatural and ultimate kind of way) and IF Mab’s goal is to defeat them, it might rock her world to realize that by destroying evil she would also destroy good (which can not exist without evil) and also possibly trigger an end to the world. At least, the world as our philosophers and theologians claim to understand it. Decisions, decisions.
Just a thought.
Is there a pond/lake at Wild Ride ? Are there black swans on it ? Because if that guy came at me it would sure be a turning around point in my life.
This whole discussion is reminding me of Bob’s vampire-lesbian-nun-slasher-paranormal-redemption-monk book.
I’ve been toying with this a lot in my head today and am seriously running the risk of writing my own ending. But what about the idea that the demons are not what she thinks they are? Bad guys according to the-world-as-she-knows-it; but if her world is not what she thought, and she’s not what she thought, then maybe the demons aren’t what she thinks they are either. Which would be a twist on both BS #1 and #2, and I rather like that idea. I can’t quite get into the idea of a demon being an actual good guy, but I suppose in the demon world humans aren’t the good guys, and logically there are probably degrees of badness among demons.
If there are good guys and bad guys in the human world, are there similar mirror images in the world of demons? Or shades of bad? You know, a demon who might kill you honestly but considers cheating on taxes to be in bad taste? Even demons would have to have rules if they co-exist.
Is that a TP? Am I getting to far out there? You know, Jenny, it’s hard to come up with a Black Swan when we haven’t read the book yet.
Thanks for the intro to the Black Swan. I think it may be the same and very different from the turning point. Used as a turning point when it is but other major points are not Black Swans they are just turning points. Hmm… this is a lot to think about. You can still have very important and big turning points after major Black Swans.
1. Mab knows demons don’t exist; then she meets one.
2. Mab knows she’s X, then finds out she isn’t.
3. Mab knows . . . , then finds out . . .
If Mab finds out she isn’t what she thought, then doesn’t it follow that what she thought she needed to accomplish (Her goal) might radically change, too? Or that what she needed to do to accomplish the goal was completely different than what she expected — and
totally at odds with her original principles, values, etc.?
Now I keep thinking of Black Swans in the Buffy series.
OK. Here is my two cents:
I first thought of “Afer Hours” with Griffin Dunne, but I can’t remember it well enought to make any analogy work with that. But the “Surrender Dorothy” part reminded me of the Wizard of Oz. This isn’t really following the turning points of the story, but my thought about the swans would be; The World is Different than you thought (not Kansas), You’re different than you though (I’m having a problem with this analogy for WoO) and then, Something that you though might not be true, really is true.
OK, The Wizard of Oz really doesn’t match up here either, but if the world is not what you think, and you’re not what you think, then you don’t know if anything is true, so the One Truth can be a Black Swan. Enter the Pope.
OR (And this fits a bit better)
The world isn’t what you think it is (Two androids start acting abnormally, lie to you and run away); You’re not who you think you are (hey check out the cool light saber) and then; Someone you love/hate is not who you think they are (Luke, I’m your father).
I was just reading an article on why people like to read/write vampire stories that break the myths and it was noted that that’s what keeps the story the story. The reader will see choices, but won’t know what ones the author will take. I also like Mary Stella’s point about having to question her principles.
I’m going to comment before I read the others, just so my thinking stays original (such as it is), but I think a Black Swan is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, and not a turning point, but a starting point for a whole new direction. After that you can have “normal” turning points that don’t upset the whole world, but they deal with re-orienting in the world.
After all, there was only one set of Black Swans. If they found more black swans, it wasn’t a big deal, because it had been done before. And even if they found a Blue Swan, that wouldn’t be quite as shocking as the original Black Swan.
Think about the kind of things that can be Black Swans in real life. A beloved husband turns out to be a cheater. A first world nation with a stable economy turns out to be living in a fantasy world of debt and pretend money. Parents who are supposed to live forever die.
If you stacked these things one upon the other, you’d have a really, really heavy book. It’d almost be ridiculous and melodramatic, like a Sidney Sheldon novel.
But dealing with the aftermath of just one of these things gives you plenty of literary fodder. I really don’t think Black Swans can be classified in the same category as turning points; they may co-incide, but they are different things.
(BTW, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Wide Green World series has a Black Swans. The Warrior-Magician Lakewalkers will save us from the malices is the assumption. Suddenly, we find out that the Lakewalkers’ methods of doing things may not be the best way of dealing with malices, and everything in the books is colored by adjusting to the changed perception of the world. The world has not changed — just our attitude to it has changed.)
i’m quite fond of the “expecting to see horses and finding zebras” metaphor, but i like this one too.
one of the things i ponder on a pretty regular basis is how “civilized” people can be so adamant that something doesn’t exist or can’t be that way – world being round, earth orbiting sun, demons exist, black swans, etc – and even after they are whacked in the face with the reality of one black swan, they are still completely gobsmacked to find others. it’s like, “shouldn’t you have at least considered the possiblity that there are others out there??” and yet, they often don’t.
also, i remember reading something years ago in national geographic about how there was this mythic lake somewhere in africa or some such place and this great explorer goes to find this legendary place and looks and looks and spends months slogging around and finds nothing. no lake. so he heads into the local bar and is telling the bartender that he’s this great explorer and he’s hunting this mythic lake and the bartender calls this kid over and tells the kid to show this guy the lake. the kid and the explorer walk for an hour or something and *bingo* huge mythic lake, which is now named for the explorer. the lake was there the whole time, and a large segment of people knew exactly where it was – there was no mystery to them, but to the world at large, it didn’t exist until one of the locals clued someone in on it, and even then the people who knew about it all along didn’t get credit for that – the story was about how the explorer finally returned home triumphant ’cause he found the mythic lake.
to your thoughts on 3 black swans, 1) world is different, 2) mab is different, 3) maybe the third swan is something along the lines of mab’s not as different as she thinks. if she’s cast adrift with the first swan, the second swan is her flailing around trying to figure out who/where/what just happened. (and that swan may end up being more grey than black.) then, finally, the third swan may be something that makes her realize that she’s still fundamentally the same and that allows her to find her footing again – depending on the event that brings about this realization, this swan should/would/could be REALLY dark.
wow. could i mix more things together?? i’m fairly sure i knew where i was going with this… anyway, very interesting discussion.
Maybe after having shoveled snow for 45 minutes, this is not the best time to come back into the discussion, but I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while now and I wonder whether this is still the kind of book I would want to read (so consider this comment – which I decided should be my last one for this topic – as being strictly personal).
You said it’s going to be semi-serious which is fine with me. I define semi-serious as something which contains funny elements such as easy banter and surprising plot twists, but also true feelings of people which help me to get into the story and sort of accompany hero and heroine mentally while they are struggling to solve their problems. (I thought this was done superbly e.g. in “Tell Me Lies” because there was such a glorious mix of humor and true emotions).
Now I’m not a fan of supernatural elements anyway – I think life offers enough difficulties as it is without the need of demons or wizards or vampires to create a great plot. But now that these Black Swan Turning Points come into it, it might get carried off too far into the superlative sphere I mentioned earlier. Will there be anything left which we mere mortals can relate to?
What does Bob think about all that?
After rereading Taleb, I think a black swan is singular, and what you have is a turning point, and you need two more. A Black Swan is Ghandi, or Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs – someone or something that was not anticipated in the data, but happened and completely changed Everything. Thomas Edison was a Black Swan because he existed, but once he existed, he started churning out inventions and he was an unstoppable force. Having him in the world fundamentally changed it. In opposition to that might be the Wright Brothers. They were engineering heavier than air human flight, but so were a handful of British and French engineers using similar data and techniques. The idea of flight was endemic to the time, and if it wasn’t the Wrights it would have been one of the others working on the same problem.
You might show fallout from a single black swan, over the course of the book, with turning points at critical junctures. To me black swan seems to be a more public change.
I like what Ericka said. I think Mab’s got to realize in the end that even if she’s not what she thought she was, she’s still human. She’s still linked.
1st swan: The world isn’t what she thinks it is
2nd swan: she isn’t what she’s always thought she was
3rd swan 3)she finds the chain anchoring her crazy self and this crazy world to something that makes sense out of the craziness
Which sounds like Love to me. Maybe her third black swan has to do with love. She never knew it could happen. She never knew it truly existed. She really, really never knew.
But not knowing any love at all in her life until the third turning point would make her totally unhealthy.
So I’m thinking maybe she didn’t know another aspect of love–and that is forgiveness!–could exist. It’s so freakin’ powerful, it would make an excellent third swan, IMO.
Colognegirl, thanks for the comment on double mumbo jumbo. I found that concept intriguing, too. And it seems from some comments here that maybe people can’t “take” too much revelation. One big revelation, or black swan, might be enough? I don’t know.
I still like the idea of the third black swan being a powerful force for good which was on Mab’s side. Maybe she knew it was there all along but didn’t think it was there for her?
Because if there are demons, they have to have a counter balance.
Maybe the 3rd TP is: Mab knows why she’s fighting demons (they are inherently evil) / Mab then finds out that there is more at stake than just triumphing over evil for the principle of it.
I guess I am on the fence, because I keep agreeing with everyone. 🙂 But I think Micki has a really valid point too. Mybe there really is only one Black Swan. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do or enough to learn.
I’ve been chewing on this, and I think I’ve talked myself out of the three black swans if I’m understanding the term correctly.
Mab’s first two TPs are definite paradigm shifts, and so is the third TP by the sound of it.
The first TP is also a black swan, as the difference between a black swan TP and a paradigm shift TP is that the first requires a reality based on the non-existence of something, in this case demons.
The second TP, however, is only a paradigm shift because Mab has already left the reality in which demons don’t exist. Without knowing precisely what Jenny has Mab realize about herself, I don’t think it changes a reality based on non-existence. Is any of this making sense?
For instance, if Mab discovered a pink demon, she would realize demons exist. She wouldn’t realize pink demons exist, but remain steadfast in her belief that blue demons and purple demons don’t exist. And, I don’t know about y’all, but if I find out demons exist, any solid doubts I have about ghosts, witches, and leprechauns are history.
So, while there’s definitely a paradigm shift on the second TP, I don’t see a black swan. Does that mean the third TP can’t be a black swan? No. But, it has to start at a reality based on the non-existence of something.
On the flip side, if Jenny’s turning points are black swans, I’m all for them appearing in the story. Maybe there’s a pond at the amusement park, and after each revelation, a new black swan flies in. Or maybe the carousel has swan boats, and they turn black one by one. But those damn swans have messed with my head all day, so they should be acknowledged.
Fascinating comments and concepts.
What about finding out that
1) hey black swans exist, who knew?
2) the discoverer (protagonist) isn’t what she always thought she was
3) wow look at that, the black bit of the black swans is just summer plumage when they migrate south. There really isn’t such a thing as a black swan, anymore than there is a white swan. There are only swans, white in the winter and black in the summer.
(yes I know that’s not the case, it’s just an example)
Which boils down to,
A) the world is different
B) *YOU* are different
C) the ‘different’ world and the ‘old’ world are really one and the same, and reconciled.
Like when they discovered that ‘new’ species of fish, and turns out, hey, actually? That’s just an early form of the common eel. Wow, solves the mystery of how come you never saw a baby eel. You saw them all the time, just didn’t call them by the right name.
Meh. Not being a writer, someone out there has no doubt said it better. I’ll go look for them now. 🙂
My suggestions for 3. BS TP would be either:
3. She thought she knew what she wanted (that could be regarding relationships and building on her previous life)
3. She thought what she did would have limited impact (that could be regarding her two first BS TP)
This is excellent stuff.
I’m reading all of it and cogitating while I keep writing the book which is taking shape in a different way now. That is, Mab’s first TP isn’t that demon’s exist (although that’s Ethan’s TP which happens at the same time. It’s a lot fuzzier but its a transformation which I think may be what the book is about for Mab.
I know, that’s NO help. But the theories you’re all offering are terrific, so I’m following along and trying to synthesize. Thank you so much and keep up the good work, please.
I keep thinking about Men In Black, how important it was for the general populace to be kept ignorant of their relatively small footprint in the larger universe in order to prevent a global war-of-the-worlds hysteria.
Everyone has a comfort zone, and the majority of us (IMHO) feel some panic when asked or forced out of it. But some people, no matter how great their initial degree of panic over leaving the ‘zone’, they thrive. They come into their own. But, how do you find those people?
For Will Smith in MIB, there was the entertaining scene with the egg-shaped chairs and the other applicants. He was identified as one who would thrive because he sized up the situation, and dragged his chair over to a table (or vice-versa?).
Could it be that Mab’s transformation is along those lines? Finding that ability to thrive far outside her comfort zone? Not just being able to overcome whatever’s thrown at her, but finding her ability to thrive on it.
Ooooh. Oooooh. You just gave me an idea, Marta.
And those suckers are getting fewer and farther between these days, so thank you!
You’re welcome, Jenny. Anything to expedite Mab. 🙂
I’m still hanging on to the idea of a big good to balance the big bad. Could the black swans be:
1. Mab realises demons are real and the world is bigger and badder than she could possibly have imagined.
2. Mab finds out she is something other than she believed.
3. Mab discovers angels (or whatever you like to call them) are real and the world is bigger and gooder than she could possibly have imagined.
I suspect 2 and 3 could change places.
Could humans, as screwed up as we sometimes are, be the great good in the universe? Maybe it’s all the YA I’ve been reading lately, but I’m more excited about stories where the main characters are able to defeat the enemy instead of being saved by a greater force.
Or, continuing that thought, the angels are focused on the demons and willing to sacrifice human casualties. That could put Mab & Co. in conflict with both sides when they fight to save their loved ones?
So I guess the turning point would be: Mab discovers the angels aren’t as good as she thought they were, and they have to save themselves.
I’m with Becky. Protagonists have to save themselves, not rely on outsiders swooping in.
Good example of that is Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett. Angels and demons all over the place, but the kid makes the call. As I remember.
I’m with Becky, too. One of the definitions of protagonist is champion. They absolutely need to save themselves. That’s why I maintain there are no protagonists in Wuthering Heights. Those characters just whine, and whine, and whine.
The second Catherine kicks some butt.
I always saw that as a parallel book structure. The first Cathy has everything and screws it all up. The second Cathy has nothing and fights until she has everything. She revises her mother’s life.
I love that book.
It’s possible my negative viewpoint of Wuthering Heights was influenced by having to spend about HALF A SEMESTER on reading and dissecting it back in tenth grade. Or not.
The truth is, my ability to endure endless gloom and doom and angst is very limited. It’s depressing. I remember wishing young Cathy would start dressing up as the ghost, maybe encourage Heathcliff to walk off the roof or something.
In that case, if the protags have to save themselves I would like it to be made plainer that they are in fact the force for good. I feel there is a preponderance of sexy demons and undead types in lots of fiction, and they can almost become seductive, in a sort of ‘making people forget they do bad because they are so glamorous’ kind of way. What’s the reward for being the good one? Is it all endless slog keeping on being good?
The demons aren’t the protagonists. They’re the antagonists, which as we all know doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just means they’re thwarting the protagonists.
The protagonists are my poor bedeviled Mab and–wait for it–a former Green Beret who has come home to the park to work security there. They are not going to find love with each other. And if you think that hasn’t been a bitch, making sure there are no cues to the reader so she’ll jump to that obvious confusion, then you’ve never done a romance novel with a male and female protagonist who don’t have a love story. I’ve resorted to having the fortunetelling machine spit out a card for Mab that says, “Not him.”
The demons definitely have issues, some more than most. None of them turn out to be good guys. The best of them is more along the lines of Spike with a much lower body count.
I like the black swan idea. No, all turning points are not worldview changes. But in romances, there’s often a point where someone accepts that love and relationship are good whereas before they were bad. It can be a major or minor worldview shift depending on the characters’ backgrounds.
I don’t think you need escalating worldview shifts though. Think of this “demons exist” black swan as the kick off to the story. If this worldview shift didn’t happen, the story couldn’t happen. The whole “demons don’t exist despite all evidence” mindset hanging on until page 333 would not be fun to read, so better to have it early and done with. I think the point of having it early is to establish with the READER the worldview. It might be monumental for the heroine, but it’s background for the reader so we can set up what we will and won’t accept from the story based on these new rules. I don’t think subsequent conflicts that don’t muck up the heroines worldview will be anti-climactic because of it, they just get placed in context because of it. Like when Harry Potter learns he’s a wizard, suddenly things make sense. Once he’s accepted the wizard thing, the story can take place.
If you do have subsequent black swans, perhaps they should also shift the reader’s world view as well.
Now to go read the other 75 comments. Yikes! I check every day for weeks and almost no new updates. I miss a week and you’ve blogged continuously. It figures.
I have no idea if you’re coming back to read this or not. But I printed out the comments and read them over lunch. More and more I’m convinced that the Black Swan is the world building event to _set_the_stage_, not something that escalates in and of itself. Yes, the demons can get bigger and badder and pinker or bluer, but they’re still demons. More than one Black Swan is Double Mumbo Jumbo. I strenuously agree that Double Mumbo Jumbo is bad news. Stick with one giant revelation. Three are not necessary.
Readers go into a paranormal/fantasy book expecting the worldview to be slightly off from the norm. That’s why we bought the book. Finding out Demons exist in chapter 1 might rock the Heroine’s world, but it’s ho-hum for us. The esclation is with normal turning points. Ok, worldview shifted, now what? Which old rules still apply, which don’t? How do I fit?
Speaking of which, suddenly finding out you’re X or not X is just a regular, plain ‘ol turning point. Happens in just about every book. Unless you find out you’re a lizard – BEFORE you find out lizard people exist – it’s not a Black Swan. But the “Black Swan” is that the lizard people exist, not whether or not you are one. Or vice versa. In this case, it’s only an academic exercise as to which of the two is the Black Swan since they both result in a worldview shift accepting Lizard People as real combined with your being one of them. Substitute Wizard and you have the Harry Potter kickoff. Everything he did subsequently was just turning points. Black Swan was foundation on which turning points rested.
For rambling kicks: One of my worldview shifts was shopping for housewares abroad. Turns out they don’t sell illows in American sizes in Italy. It’s made me look at everything and wonder why it’s the size it is – and it’s usually because it’s so common changing it would be harder than putting up with the less good thing. Like Qwerty keyboards – designed to make typing slow, yet millions of people use them inefficiently every day, wasting millions of hours because learning to type Dvorak would temporarily inconvenience us for 5-10 years while everything shifted and people had to know both instead of just one system.
As to double mumbo jumbo being bad:
And I gave up on Sherrilyn Kenyon many books ago for three primary reasons – violating worldbuilding rules she set herself, Double Mumbo Jumbo, and the concept that something is inherently evil.
(Sorry, this turned into a rant. But I can’t help myself.)
SK does world building then constantly makes exceptions after carefully saying that exception isn’t possible. Not a black swan, just careless worldbuilding or imprecise language. “His cougar nature had absolute control that his human half couldn’t overcome” followed 1 page later by “his human half was fighting his cougar nature and winning”. Don’t give me a rule if it’s worthless. Say it’s hard then show that it’s hard, but don’t announce its impossibility then go do it. That’s just dumb.
Another is that she has the magic AND the time travel = DMJ. The books I read never needed the time travel aspect and she uses it poorly and it mucks with the magic worldbuilding and makes a mockery of what we know. I don’t care how outlandish your world is, but as a READER, I need to understand what the rules are insofar as they are known. Don’t toss in, “oh, by the way there’s time travel too” and then proceed to use it badly. It just makes me think she’s careless.
Lastly, the “good guys” fight the “Daemons” who are “all evil” because they eat humans. They aren’t evil, they’re just higher on the food chain. I’ve gotten to the point where I have no patience for the idea that one type of being should not be allowed to exist so other beings should kill them off. It makes sense to have guardians against your predators. It does not make your predators evil that must be exterminated.
So, sorry for the SK rant. I was hoping there would be something there that would be useful with regard to rules for paranormal things from a reader POV. But Black Swan – only one needed for a whole series. Consider it worldbuilding.
oh, and “illows” are “pillows”. They are strangely sized in Italy. My friend had really old hand-me-down pillows when I visited. I went all Davy and bought new ones for her guest room.
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