Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

The spoiler problem

By Dave Menendez
Tuesday, October 7, 2003, at 2:58 AM

Summary: There are two reasons I haven’t put up character guides for my Sfstory work. First, I’m lazy. But second, writing a description which is helpful for current readers without spoiling newbies is hard.

I’ve been experimenting with Hog Bay Notebook for organizing my Sfstory notes. So far it’s been a good pleasant experience, but parts of it (particularly the embryonic character, group, and location notes) seem like they might as well be part of a public web site. (Which is what I had originally intended my Sfstory resources page to become.)

The difficulty is two-fold. First, most of the convenience of using Hog Bay Notebook gets lost if I start using web pages. Now, a wiki would work pretty well for this sort of thing, but at the moment my web site is limited to static pages. The second, more serious, difficulty has to do with spoilers. In any piece of fiction, particularly extended serial fiction, the description of a character may change over the course of a story. They might move or be promoted or die or turn out to be reincarnated robot princesses from the future. A lot of times, knowing about these things in advance spoils the dramatic impact.

I don’t have this problem with my personal notes, because I’m largely aware of what’s going to happen to my characters. Obviously, publicly posted notes would need to exclude references to events which haven’t “happened” yet, but if they’re kept current with what’s been written, new readers may be confused. What rank would Mselt’s bio list? What’s Governor Jjana’s status? Well, those both depend on what part of the story you’re talking about.

I’ve done experiments with dynamic pages which allow readers to indicate where they are in the story and display or hide text appropriately. Most browsers in use these days support enough Javascript and CSS to make it useable, but maintenance becomes even more of a chore. Trust me, my web momentum dissipates with frightening rapidity, so every bit of friction makes updates less likely. (I mean, it’s been four years and the Starcruiser Anonymous cast list still doesn’t go to the end of the series!)

No doubt there are solutions. And perhaps someday, I’ll start posting bios and other background information to the Sfstory site. And maybe they’ll be all fancy and dynamic. And maybe I’ll actually make some progress on Out of Space. Who knows?