🔎 Inneresting #143 - How can they know that?
We can't all be Encyclopedia Brown.
In discussing a long fact piece, Mr. Shawn would say, often enough, "How do you know?" and "How would you know?" and "How can you possibly know that?" He was saying clearly enough that any nonfiction writer ought always to hold, those questions in the forefront of the mind.
–John McPhee, Draft No. 4
Screenwriters and others working in fiction also need to consider these questions. How do your characters know what they know, and how do you get the knowledge you need to credibly write them?
Dean Burnett pokes at the misconception that all scientists are equally smart across multiple discplines. Possible sources of this confusion include media representations that lump all scientists together (like headlines saying “Today scientists discovered…”), or how fictional scientists are treated as polymaths to give the jargon and technobabble to a single character.
In the commentary track for The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola explains how Mario Puzo helped make a lesson in cooking for Michael Corleone into something that felt more authentically mafia:
I wanted to really get an entire recipe in here so people could really learn how to make tomato sauce. So in my script, the line was Clemenza says “Well first you put in the olive oil and some garlic, and then you brown some sausage. And when the script came back to me, Mario had crossed out the line brown some sausage, and said “then you fry some sausage.” Then he said, “Gangsters don’t brown. Gangsters fry.” At this point in my career I thought all my films should have a good recipe. At least if the film didn’t turn out so well, there’d always be a useful recipe in the film.
(For a breakdown on the recipe itself, you can turn to Tony Rino’s Screen Cuisine.)
But how about your own learning process? Clive Thompson encourages you to follow your curiosity down rabbit holes with a story of how a microbioligist’s interest in algae at Yellowstone in 1964 lead to the development of the PCR tests used for COVID screening.
Thinking about how to show your work and explain how to get from one idea to a solution, polylog explains a computer model for solving a Rubik’s cube that also explains methods for deciphering cryptography keys and mapping networks. And a hat tip to the Scriptnotes podcast for the geoguesser explainer from Rainbolt showing ways to use publicly available information to determine where a video posted on social media was recorded.
Along those lines, if you want the audience playing along at home with a mystery, take a look at Dana Isaacson’s suggestions for how to layer clues into your story (including an explanation of the origin of the term Red Herring). Or, if you’re going for comedy, you can always hang a lampshade on important information like this moment from Wayne’s World:
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Previously on Inneresting…
In case you missed it, in last issue’s most clicked link the Auralnauts use AI to create the early front-runner for next year’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short:
Other Inneresting Things…
Annie from Canetoad shares the story of how an empty screening of Galaxy Quest created an unforgettable memory of goofy human kindness.
Koraljka Suton on the making and legacy of Dead Poets Society:
I find it heartbreaking that we live in a world where the notion of living one’s authentic self still has to go hand in hand with bravery.
RyanFTW asks the important question, “Is Animal Crossing still worth playing in 2023?”
Reading the room
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Inneresting is edited by Chris Csont, with contributions from readers like you and the entire Quote-Unquote team.
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