A homeless person walks up to you, holding a coin mounted in a nice paper wrapper with a receipt. They mumble something about finding the two on the street. You are skeptical, but you glance at the receipt against your internal safety shield, and it looks legitimate. The homeless person does not want to call the owner listed on the receipt to return the coin and suggests the owner might offer a reward.
You call the buyer (their number is conveniently on the receipt), and they offer you $1,000 to return the coin. The receipt has a $15,000 purchase price, which makes the reward seem reasonable. However, you are not convinced and call the coin dealer (their number is also conveniently on the receipt.) They say the sale is legitimate, and the buyer is a regular customer. This "evidence" convinces you to "do the right thing" and return the coin to the buyer. The homeless person then asks for part of the reward, and you hand them $200. It seems fair because you have to drive across town.
When you get to the address, the people do not know what you are talking about. You also learn the coin dealer is nonexistent and the "valuable coin" is worthless. They conned you.
Why do we fall for scams like this? My four blog readers are honest people, which is our blind spot. We expect everybody else to be honest. However, we sometimes let greed take the driver's seat.
Fiction writers are skilled con artists. Their goal is to convince viewers and readers that the fantasy they invented is real. Instead of depending on our greed, they exploit our desire to be entertained. Yet, the same underhanded tricks apply.
The first step in a con is to overcome the natural desire to be skeptical. Writers take a less drastic approach. Movies, for example, start with music, credits, the title, and then introduce the characters. Later, the plot develops, and the drama plays out. Move makers lure viewers into the story and accept fiction.
Books follow the same pattern. They start with a light introduction, gradually introduce characters and then get into the plot. Just like a con artist, authors take great care to entice the reader.
Like a bad con, writers can make mistakes. Like introducing a character too soon or confusing the reader. For example, the first sentence in a book: "Bobby arrived on Athos." What the heck is Athos? Did the author misspell something? Is this book set in another world, or does it have a town that no longer exists? How about a more basic question? Is the character male or female? Bobby is a unisex name.
Where is the underhanded aspect? We see an obvious example in the movie Shrek. Everybody knows donkeys cannot talk, yet a talking donkey is a principal character. They conned us into ignoring our common sense. Is this ethical? No, it is not because they led us to believe a falsehood. We were intentionally decieved.
My four blog readers might ask, "But there is a difference. The con artist knows they are doing something wrong. The author is only trying to entertain." I would argue that authors are "conning for good reasons." The beneficial aspect is to entertain successfully. They also made money. I would call that a pleasant side effect. Now all I have to do is con some people into buying my books…
You’re the best -Bill
April 21, 2021
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