There Are Only Six Basic Book Plots, According to Computers

26 April 2015

From Motherboard:

In fiction, as in a cemetery, there’s a limited number of plots. We just aren’t sure how many. Carlos Gozzi, a 18th-century Italian playwright, thought there were 36 dramatic situations, but ever since then, the number has been going down, cratering with Christopher Booker’s popular 2004 The Seven Basic Plot Structures.

But now, with the help of CERN-level mathematics and computers, researchers have evidence that the appropriately named Booker was off by just one, probably.

“I did some distance similarity metric calculations and machine clustering to see if I could identify archetypal plot shapes,” Matthew Jockers told me over the phone. “The short answer is, yes I did, and there’s six or sometimes seven.”

That little ambiguity, Jockers explained, is because the data collecting and sorting technique “involves picking at random from 50,000.”

“There’s six about 90 percent of the time,” Jockers said. “Ten percent of the time, the computer says there’s a seventh [plot shape].”

. . . .

With the help of friends in the physics department, Jockers figured out how to chart the emotional valence by drawing from a “controlled vocabulary of positive and negative sentiment markers collected by Bing Liu of the University of Illinois at Chicago” and a machine model that Jockers built “to identify and score passages as positive or negative,” he wrote on his blog.

. . . .


Most books that measure the number of plots seem aimed at writers and would-be writers, but Jockers’s work has implications for readers, librarians, and even literature snobs, or anyone who wants to put snobs in their places.

As he was charting plots, Jockers noticed that some genres that are derided for being “formulaic,” like romance, aren’t just relying on boy-meets-girl.

“Romance showed some proclivity for two of the six plot shapes, but it wasn’t an overwhelming case of all the plots falling into one,” Jockers said. “It was a much more evenly distributed from these six shapes.”

Link to the rest at Motherboard

Edison’s greatest achievement

26 April 2015

Edison’s greatest achievement came in 1879, when he invented the electric company. Edison’s design was a brilliant adaptation of the simple electrical circuit: the electric company sends electricity through a wire to a customer, then immediately gets the electricity back through another wire, then (this is the brilliant part) sends it right back to the customer again. This means that an electric company can sell a customer the same batch of electricity thousands of times a day and never get caught…the last year any new electricity was generated in the United States was 1937; the electric companies have been merely re-selling it ever since, which is why they have so much free time to apply for rate increases.

Dave Barry

What’s So Great About Young Writers?

26 April 2015

From The New York Times:

MY Facebook feed clogged this week with news that Meryl Streep was funding a screenwriting “lab” for women 40 and older. I am not a screenwriter, but as the author of two books of fiction, published when I was 48 and 52, I couldn’t help but cheer.

I have an interest in the nurturing of “late blooming” writers. I have long grumbled about the conflation of the words “young” and “emerging,” and particularly about the many prizes set aside for writers in their early careers below whatever cutoff has been picked, usually 35 or 40.

. . . .

I applaud the goal of supporting writers as they are starting out, but there is a problem when the awards benefit only young writers, usually on their first or second book, as opposed to writers of any age who are at that stage.

Perhaps I’ll be accused of sour grapes, but thankfully I have reached a point at which I care less about what people think. Partly, that is one of the true joys of middle age, and partly the Internet has taught us, if nothing else beyond the infinite appeal of cats, that someone will always think you’re being a jerk, so you may as well say what’s on your mind.

Here’s what’s on my mind: Age-based awards are outdated and discriminatory, even if unintentionally so. Emerging writers are emerging writers.

. . . .

 Beyond the prizes themselves — the actual money, the acclaim, the lifelong honor — age-based awards perpetuate the notion that there is a sanctioned norm for when one should get started in a career. For this reason, the remedy is not to be found in awards for 5 Over 50 or 9 Over 90, though I appreciate the intentions behind the few that exist for older emerging writers. The remedy is to take age out of the matter altogether, and focus on stage.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Diana for the tip.

I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is.

26 April 2015

From The Washington Post:

In 2014, I decided that for the entire year, I would not read books written by white authors. My goal was to address the reading practices I developed growing up in Australia, where white authors have dominated the literary world. My high school reading list was filled with the “classics” — Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontes, Euripides — and well-known modern writers such as Margaret Atwood and T.S. Eliot. After school, my pleasures came from bestseller lists, which also were filled with Anglo names: John Grisham, Peter Carey, Hilary Mantel. Then I read Questions of Travel by Sri Lanka-born Michelle de Kretser. It moved me so deeply that I decided to evaluate the literature I was reading. I quit my standard diet to expose myself to new perspectives.

But it was much harder than I expected to discover books by nonwhite authors. The resources most readers use to find good literature left me with all the usual suspects. White authors reign in book reviews, bestseller lists, literary awards and recommendations. In a survey of New York Times articles published in 2011, author and cultural commentator Roxane Gay discovered that nearly 90 percent of the reviewed books were authored by white writers. Among Amazon editors’ top 20 picks of 2014, just three authors were minorities.

. . . .

Research shows that my anecdotal difficulties result from a systemic problem in the literary and publishing world. From MFA programsto publishing houses to critics’ circles, the industry is suffering from a lack of diversity. The problem exists in children’s literature, too, where just 14 percent of books published in 2014 were by or about people of color,according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Authors of color encounter agents who dismiss or don’t understand cultural references in their books. Publishing houses whitewash book covers and blame market demands; as author Christopher Myers has pointed out, publishers insist that young white readers won’t buy books with black characters on the covers, “despite millions of music albums that are sold in just that way.” Stores segregate books with nonwhite characters into “ethnic” sections. And the consequences are clear: One review found that just three out of the 124 authors who appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list in 2012 were people of color. On Amazon last week, just two of the top 20 bestsellers were written by minorities. Among bestsellers in literature and fiction, there was just one nonwhite author.

. . . .

Technology has opened up our literary options, giving readers access to more international books and more diverse authors than could be stuffed into any local bookstore. But if online retailers and the publishing industry continue to rely on old habits — seeking out the same kinds of books and promoting the same kinds of authors — readers will be denied the richly varied experiences that literature offers. Particularly in the era of globalization, when we must increasingly interact with and understand cultures other than our own, the status quo is simply unacceptable.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

30 Funniest Opening Lines of Books

26 April 2015

From Shortlist:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. – Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith

. . . .

It wasn’t until I had become engaged to Miss Piano that I began avoiding her. – Into Your Tent I’ll Creep, Peter DeVries

. . . .

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. – I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

. . . .

When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills. – Patient Zero, Jonathan Maberry

Link to the rest at Shortlist and thanks to Robert for the tip.

How Much Time Is Enough Time For Reading?

25 April 2015

From BookRiot:

The other day I was waiting for the bus and I found myself doing what I call “booktime math”: checking the transit schedule and quickly calculating do I have enough time to start reading? Or should I just goof around on Twitter?  It got me thinking about what I consider “enough time” to read, or more specifically, enough time to crack open the book I’m currently reading.

My ideal amount of reading time, of course, would be hours. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are hunkering down with a book early on a Saturday afternoon and eventually looking up from it only to think, “Oh! Where did the sun go?” Sadly my full-time job and other adult responsibilities mean that those kinds of reading binges are now few and far between. I still prefer to read books in longer chunks, though; for me, the minimum acceptable duration of book-reading time is twenty minutes.

If I have some free time that I know will be shorter than my preferred amount of book-reading time, I’ll read read an article or blog post online. With books, and especially with fiction, I like to really immerse myself in whatever I’m reading, and five minute chunks here and there just ain’t gonna cut it.

. . . .

The results have been great and they’ve kind of turned me into a lunchtime reading evangelist –  I haven’t started going door to door with my pamphlets YET, but I might. “Excuse me, have you heard the good news about lunchtime reading? A single, totally non-scientific experiment has proven that it makes you less tired at the end of the day, more productive in the afternoon, and thanks to the change of scenery and break from computer-screen-reading, your eyes won’t feel as strained (experiment was performed using paper, but a good quality ereader should produce the same eye-relieving effects).”

Link to the rest at BookRiot

I cannot overemphasize the importance of good grammar

25 April 2015

I cannot overemphasize the importance of good grammar.

What a crock. I could easily overemphasize the importance of good grammar. For example, I could say: “Bad grammar is the leading cause of slow, painful death in North America,” or “Without good grammar, the United States would have lost World War II.”

Dave Barry

How to Spot a Rights Grab

25 April 2015

From The Book Designer:

Writers see the warnings all the time. Watch out for rights grabs, those contracts that transfer all rights to the writer’s work to some less-than-reputable publisher or self-publishing company. Without realizing it, the writer has given away the right to publish his or her book in print, ebook, audio, app, and all future formats, in all languages, worldwide, for the life of the copyright. Heartbreaking.

. . . .

The answer, of course, is read the contract before your hit Submit.

Daunting? Not if you know where to look. Instead of starting at the beginning of the contract, go straight to any paragraph called Grant of Rights, License, Permission, or Permitted Uses, and look for these Danger Words: Assignment and Exclusive.

If you see these Danger Words, you may not need to read any further.


Legally speaking, a publishing contract is a license, meaning permission to use. The writer continues to own the copyright. In contrast, an assignment transfers complete ownership. It is rarely appropriate in publishing or self-publishing, except for a freelance or ghostwriting project if you understand upfront you are transferring all your rights and ownership in the work.

. . . .

Section 3. Assignment. Author does hereby irrevocably assign to Company and its successors all right, title, and interest throughout the world, in and to the Approved Entries, including without limitation, any copyrights and other proprietary rights in and to the Approved Entries in any media now known or hereinafter developed, and in and to all income, royalties,damages, claims and payments now or hereafter due or payable with respect thereto, and in and to all causes of action, either in law or in equity for past, present, or future infringement of such rights.

. . . .

An exclusive license can be as bad as an assignment.

As I said, a license is permission to use only; you, the creator, retain ownership of the copyrighted work.

Licenses may be worldwide or geographically restricted, short-term or perpetual, royalty-free or royalty-paying, limited to particular media such as audio books, print, e-books, or to a particular language, and most importantly, exclusive or nonexclusive.

If you grant a non-exclusive license, then you may grant the same rights to others at the same time. If you grant an exclusive license, you are agreeing not to transfer similar rights to anyone else.

A license is similar to a lease. Imagine you are a landlord of a shopping center, and you lease shops to various tenants. Their rent is based on how much they sell. Each shop lease is like an exclusive license granted to only one user. Other licenses, such as the right to use the parking lot, are non-exclusive.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to James for the tip.

The OP does a good job of describing typical pitfalls.

PG will reiterate Joel’s advice to read the entire contract before accepting it. Yes, it’s no fun and will take some time, but, if it’s a contract for the life of the copyright and you agree to it, you’ll be living with that contract for the rest of your life.

You don’t need to read the entire contract in order to reject it, however. You should read it before you agree to it because the whole contract needs to be right or you should reject it. In an online situation where there is no negotiation of the contract terms, you’re looking for reasons to reject the contract, not accept it. If you find a reason to reject the contract, you’re done with your reading.

Online contracts are usually easy to search if you’re reading them in a browser. You might want to search for words like exclusive, copyright, irrevocable, grant, assign, royalty-free and license. You’ll need to read what you discover to see the context of those words. If you find something you don’t like, post an online warning to your fellow writers and go back to working on your book. You don’t need to read the rest of the contract.

If this technique doesn’t raise any red flags (it’s definitely not a fool-proof solution), you’re stuck reading everything.


Facebook Tweaks News Feed Algorithm

25 April 2015

From Tech Times:

With news like mobilegeddon, Facebook has been able to fly relatively under the radar with some changes that it recently made to its News Feed algorithm.

Despite this, some are now labeling Facebook’s new changes “Contentgeddon.” These changes essentially target the relevance of certain posts by publishers and content providers, basically meaning that posts from these companies likely won’t be seen by as many people.

“The goal of News Feed is to show you the content that matters to you. This means we need to give you the right mix of updates from friends and public figures, publishers, businesses and community organizations you are connected to,” said Facebook in a blog post.

. . . .

Spam on Facebook is an issue, and users spend far too much time scrolling through content in order to get to something that interests them.

For this reason, users will likely see far more posts that interest them on their news feeds and far fewer posts that are not of any interest to them. This is certainly a good thing for users.

There are three main changes that will take place on the News Feed. The first is that users might now see a post more than once, but only if they don’t have much content to see on the News Feed. The second change aims to avoid users not seeing important updates from their friends and family. Last but not least, users will see fewer posts about their friends liking or commenting on particular content.

Link to the rest at Tech Times

In Which I Review My Own Book for Potential Legal Issues

25 April 2015

From intellectual property attorney Marc Whipple:

So, first, to get it over with: I wrote a book. It’s called My Mother Had Me Tested! and it’s a collection of funny mad science/geek-related short stories.

. . . .


In one scene, there is a reference to “The Clapper,” which is a gizmo that allows you to switch electrical devices on and off by clapping your hands. “Clapper” is a registered trademark (USPTO Reg. No 1428261) used to identify acoustically operated switches. Just to make things fun, it’s not a particularly flattering reference (a character refers to it in his head as “infomercial junk.”)

The first point of analysis here is that the book is not an acoustically operated switch, nor is it an advertisement for acoustically operated switches. There is zero likelihood of confusion here. The reference is properly structured (it’s capitalized, and does not genericize the mark. I didn’t include the ® symbol, but in my opinion, it was not necessary, because I am not trying to put people on notice that the mark is registered and protectable since my use of it is not related to the actual goods nor a commercial usage.) So far as straight trademark infringement, I’m good.

Similarly, there is no question of association or endorsement – in other words, I’m not saying or implying that this is an approved usage, or that the people who make the Clapper endorse my book. There’s just nothing there that would make a reasonable person think either of those things were true. This will usually be true of such usages, but when in doubt, talk to an intellectual property attorney.

There is, however, the issue of “tarnishing.” Tarnishing is a legal concept where the holder of a mark claims that a usage, even if not directly infringing, diminishes the value of the mark or otherwise unfairly benefits the unauthorized user to the detriment of the holder of the mark. To be entitled to “tarnishing” protection, a mark must usually be a “famous” mark – I’m assuming arguendo that “Clapper” is a famous mark. If you want to use a trademark because of its cultural associations, that’s actually a resonable indication that the mark may be famous, because otherwise the reference wouldn’t work. So beware!

In any event, in this case, the Clapper is already the subject of innumerable cultural references very similar to the one I made. Calling it “infomercial junk” might be pushing it a little, but not only is it in my opinion in line with the general cultural perception of the device, it’s protected opinion. And since there is no likelihood of confusion, nor is it unclear to a reasonable person that this is an opinion, the First Amendment would be, in my opinion, a complete defense to any accusation that the usage was tarnishing.

. . . .


Without getting into the actual circumstances (Buy the book and fi… no, I promised I wouldn’t do that again.) one of the characters in one of the stories appears to be Mr. (Fred) Rogers, the beloved children’s television personality. Uh-oh. Now I’ve done it. Or have I?

Not so much, it turns out. The very first thing that the character does is say that he’s not Mr. Rogers (and then explain why he looks like Mr. Rogers.) Which is good, because he’s going to do something very un-Mr.-Rogers-like. But still. What are the potential issues here? (Note: It is entirely possible for a person to trademark their name and/or likeness. I’m not going to do another review of potential trademark issues but it is a factor which must also be considered when doing this kind of analysis.)

First, there’s the basic issue of using Mr. Rogers’ name, which is part of his “likeness.” Using someone else’s likeness may be a violation of their Right of Publicity, which in the US is a state-level right. My own state, Illinois, has one of the strictest ROP statutes in the country (765 ILCS 1075, and yes I do have that memorized.) However, courts have ruled that state ROP statutes are subordinate to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, subject to the usual limitations on defamation and commercial speech. Since this is clearly an artistic usage, it’s very unlikely a court would find it subject to the Right of Publicity.

But wait. This Mr. Rogers is going to do something bad. Is this defamatory? Have I libelslandered Mr. Rogers? No, because the character clearly identifies himself as not Mr. Rogers. No reasonable person would believe that the work is stating or implying that the actual Mr. Rogers would do this and/or agree with its being done. And, reading the work as a whole, contextually, it’s clear that this isn’t merely “plausibly deniable,” it’s abundantly clear to any reasonable person that the character has nothing to do with Mr. Rogers other than his outward appearance. Basically, he’s wearing a really, really good Mr. Rogers mask. Arguing that this is somehow defamatory to or associated with the real Mr. Rogers is like saying somebody wearing a Bill Clinton mask while he robs a bank is defaming or attempting to frame Bill Clinton for the robbery.

Behind all of this, of course, is the fact that the actual Mr. Rogers passed away in 2003. In general, it’s not possible to defame a dead person. So even if the use were defamatory (which it isn’t) I’d have that defense as well. However, in many states, the Right of Publicity does survive and is an asset of the person’s estate for quite some time after their deaths. So just because a person is dead, don’t think for a minute that you can automatically use their likeness in whatever way you wish.

Link to the rest at Legal Inspiration

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