Friday, May 20, 2011

Up, Up, and Away!

No, this isn't another entry about the Rapture. It's about endings. To books and television shows.

As a writer, the trickiest thing to pull off is the ending. Setting the stage is easy, and it's not that difficult to ratchet up the tension and build expectations for a fantastic climax and resolution. But eventually, you have to deliver, and that's when it gets tricky. You've made a deal with the audience: keep paying attention and I'll return the favor with a killer ending. It's the same kind of deal a joke-teller makes with an audience: stick with me during the joke, and I'll give you a laugh.

It's easy to stick with a joke. You've only lost a few seconds if the joke falls flat. There are cases where you have a Shaggy Dog joke, or any kind of joke in which the object is to waste the listener's time with a drawn out joke that's really a practical joke. Even then, you're not out that many moments in your life.

With books, it's different. There's more time, and often money, invested. Sometimes it's a single book, and the time investment is relatively short. Either the book pays off or it doesn't, and you can move on to the next. Then you get into the book series, and this is where a reader must invest carefully. While each book has an ending, the overall series is building somewhere and you have to choose whether to keep reading and continue to invest your time, money, and energy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

No, Virginia, there isn't a Rapture on May 21st

"It's the Rapture! Quick, get Bart out of the house before God comes." -Homer Simpson

I don't know if any of you have seen the billboards proclaiming the Rapture that's going to happen May 21st. I've seen an English and Spanish one in Houston, myself. A lot of people are wondering if The Rapture is happening on May 21st and I have an answer. No, it isn't.

But what will happen on May 22nd will be a huge case of cognitive dissonance. A lot of people are going to wake up Sunday morning and wonder why they weren't raptured the day before. Their reactions will be one or more of the following.

1 - They will assume that due to irregularities in the calender, their prediction was only off by a day or two, so perhaps it will happen within the following week. Harold Camping, the man behind these predictions, will issue a new set of calculations that reveal another date, and then another.

2 - Camping and his followers will state that Something did happen on May 21st, and it was super spiritual and the start of End Times. It's the theological equivalent of the 'girlfriend in Canada,' as only they will have seen this act of God, but trust them, it happened.

3 - They will tell us that God changed His mind, thanks to all the caravans of the faithful who spread the word over the past few months. The Rapture was totally going to happen, but because the faithful got the word out, they averted it. But it's going to happen again soon, and this time God means it. This will convince the faithful to go out and proselytize extra hard.

I am confident in predicting this because it's what always happens when an 'End of the World' date comes and goes. It's textbook cognitive dissonance, and we are very good at the mental gymnastics required to explain how reality doesn't match up to our beliefs.