Alien intelligence tests

I am firmly convinced that if you gave one of those high school test questions with the drawing of a shape on it, and ask which of the four answer drawings best matched the back side of the original shape, writers would fall into two categories with their answers. The writers who got it right, who could envision the back of a nonexistent object, would turn out to be those who outline their books.

Then there would be those who looked at drawings A, B, C, and D in bewilderment, and said, if you give me scissors, tape, and paper, I’ll make the shape for you and we can see what it looks like from the other side.

That would be those of us who write without outlines. Who, try as we might, cannot envision a thing that is not in our hands. and yes, I know these questions are intended to test intelligence, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

Take The Language of Bees. I made an outline for this book, really I did. A true outliner might call it a proto-outline, but the sequence of events was there, beginning to end, with most of the middle clear in my mind if not on the page.

Okay, my victim dies on a Friday night, is found Saturday, and in the newspapers Saturday afternoon. Russell and Holmes figure out who she is Sunday morning, the police have the identity Sunday night.

So far, so good.

But, when do the newspapers find out who it is? Monday provides me with a good link to a witness, who reads of the death midday on Monday so her reaction can effect Russell’s investigation. However, if everyone knows who the victim is that early, it hampers Russell (not so much Holmes) considerably over the coming days, and makes it difficult to interview other witnesses.

Well, let’s see, this is 1924 and fiction, let’s have the newspapers be slow off the mark and not happen across the information for a while. That opens things up for Russell when it comes to questioning the victim’s circle, however, it would also be useful to be able to see their reactions to the victim’s death.

And this question, when do the newspapers know, is just one minor snag along the way. I begin to feel as if I’m walking through a bramble patch in a long sweater, one step forward and then a long pause to clear the hindrance.

I wonder if there’s a class that teaches a person how to envision the back of a nonexistent shape?

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  1. Jessara on July 9, 2008 at 10:32 am

    From deep in the past, I remember newspapers came in morning and afternoon editions, and later editions of the same paper (look at the stars at the top of the page; more stars=later usually), and some were daily, and some were biweekly, and some got wet after the delivery boy clipped the rhododendrons with his toss, and some were Sacred to Papa and were not allowed to be touched until he had arrived home and read them, and some didn’t get read by the servants until next day when the master was done with them, and if he was off for the weekend somewhere, they stayed intact until he got back and read them. If a big story or a contest elsewhere disracted the reader, they didn’t finish reading until they had entered the contest or discussed the fashion or the sale or whatever with their family. I recently came across some doll patterns that my mother had cut out of newspaper & pinned together; this was in the 1920s, for info.

  2. nkk1969 on July 9, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    ***However, if everyone knows who the victim is that early, it hampers Russell (not so much Holmes) considerably over the coming days, and makes it difficult to interview other witnesses.***

    Even if the newspaper reports the death on Monday, can’t you have a witness who has not read the paper or has been distracted by something else? You obviously can’t have them _not_ reading the paper en masse. However, in the literary bramble patch, you have the singular advantage of owning the ultimate weapon–the machete of fiction. Any good hiker knows to clear the path _before_ they walk through it. If you don’t want a witness to know something, tell us why he or she does not know it and we’ll believe you. Honest. We always do.

    Now calm down, take a few deep breaths and get back to the keyboard. We’ll wait for you. We’ll love the book. We always do. 🙂

    BTW, would fresh blackberries help the process any at all? I have huge sections of blackberry bushes on the farm (the bramble comment made me think of it) and love to pick them. What to do with all of them after the fact becomes a problem. I’f you’re interested, send me a PM and I’ll mail them out to you ASAP.


  3. Strawberry Curls on July 9, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I’m reading this blog entry and shaking my head…yes. It is, somehow, so comforting to know a profession writer has the same problems some of us amateurs do by way of continuity. I’m a nitpicker, I want things to be logical and to not jerk my out of the story by ringing huge alarms that something doesn’t make sense. As a result, I’m often spending huge amount of time trying to make a story I’m writing work, time wise. I have to admit I don’t outline, I let the story tell itself to me as I’m writing, so my self-editing process is often long and laborious as I try to fix things like the time-line.

    Thanks for sharing your trials with this book, Ms. King. It is so interesting and tantalizing to know the problems and how you approach them.

    **Note to Nikki** Set up a stand and peddle your berries


  4. Strawberry Curls on July 9, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    OK, my **ducking and running away** didn’t show up, so I’ll add it here.

  5. nkk1969 on July 9, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Alice, was the d & r for me? If I thought I could make any money doing it I probably would. Alex’s hospital bills are just starting to roll in. (wry grin)

    About writing:

    You may have trouble, but you and Laurie _always_ pull it together in the end. I have no doubt about the abilities either of you have.

    Heehee. It’s so much easier to encourage someone else rather that hammering out the issues in your own WIP. That must be why my own story has been unfinished for 6 years. (snort) What I need to do is find out a way to get paid to be a cheerleader for other writers. I already do this for many of my favorite authors. If there was just a paycheck to be had somewhere, that’d be my dream job–literary pom pom girl. The benefit of that would be never having to worry about fitting into the uniform. 😉


  6. Phil the Badger on July 9, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    “Intelligence Tests” do *not” measure intelligence. At their best they measure fifferent *types* intelligence.

    Since Intelligence Tests are designed by academics (who, by definition, *must be* intelligent) they give undue wieght to that type of intelligence.

    For a readable history and critique of IQ tests, see Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”.

    This is still in print in the UK, available from at £11.30.mDoes not show up on

    Phil the Badger

  7. Carlina on July 9, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Phil that’s an excellent recommendation. I’ve had my students read it as well…especially the bits about Morton *sniffs*.

    As for newspapers…it depends on a number of things. You may want to do a spot check of the history of the particular newspaper (or newspapers in the region your characters are) you have in mind to see if it had a daily or weekly edition. If it had a daily edition, check to see how many times a day it came out. The newspapers of some cities and villages here in the US had morning and evening editions. Others were only weekly newspapers.

    You may be able to check for this information in the Library of Congress…MAYBE… Or simply google “Sussex 1920s newspapers” or the title if you know it.

    Random links that may or may not help:

    What’s in those old newspapers?:

    British History Research Guide, Yale University

  8. Sara on July 9, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    What sort of people in the circle are they? The sort that would obsessively read the paper every morning with coffee/tea/breakfast? Or the sort who leisurely get to it, if they want to. You know, whenever.

    And I learned that I am a visual/tactile learner. I can figure out those shapes forwards and backwards, but ask me to make an outline for a paper? Hah. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and all that. Actually, insights from that helps me teach my students in the best way for them.

  9. Carlina on July 9, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Mmm…my post hasn’t appeared so I’ve left it with Vicki. Seems whenever I put links in a post…it won’t post. *looks to vicki to relay post*

  10. admin on July 9, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Sorry, Carlina, you got caught in my spam net. I have reassured the machines that you are a friend, so it should be okay now.


  11. corgimom on July 10, 2008 at 8:07 am

    If member’s of your victim’s circle haven’t read the news then they certainly find out about the death during questioning?
    I like the suggestions so far of daily/weekly and morning/evening editions. Perhaps a hidden illiterate in the group would be of use, or someone too vain to admit a need for eyeglasses and pretends to read the paper.

    HEY NIKKI! We love blackberries over here in Albuquerque!

  12. nkk1969 on July 10, 2008 at 8:34 am

    PM me the address, corgimom. I’m already sending berries to ABQ anyway. My sister requests them every year.

  13. Carlina on July 10, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Thanks so much Laurie! Please give the machines my thanks too 😉 .

    I hope you and your family are doing well and things are ok in CA.

  14. Kerry on July 10, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I *never* could figure out those shape things. And I’m a compulsive outliner 🙂 For what it’s worth, I personally wouldn’t have any problem with a character not reading a newspaper the morning (or even the day) it came out, and wouldn’t need much of an explanation (if any). I can think of lots of reasons, ranging from simple lack of interest to the aforementioned altercation with the rhododendrons. Or perhaps the butler’s iron was too hot and scorched the relevant article . . . anyway, if I found out that someone hadn’t read the paper, it simply wouldn’t occur to me to ask “why not” unless the character had already been presented as a compulsive reader-of-same.

    What I’m trying to do here is echo the previous sentiment of “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.

    And nikki? We love blackberries in Virginia, too 🙂

  15. peranderson on July 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Sorry for being the bringer of bad news, but my virus protection program is screaming at me when I open any page of the blog. Someone has appearantly managed to sneak in a dowloader-type virus in the system. I’ve no idea how bad this is, but my virus protection program defines it as a “high” risk, and it seems to be connected to the statistics part of WordPress.

  16. admin on July 11, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for the info, my web ladies are seeing what they can do about it. And apologies to anyone infected by this latest manifestation of the sad sacks of the Internet world, who have nothing better to do than invent problems for others.

  17. Annika on July 11, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    I can’t write an outline to save my meagre life. I’ll start one then get side tracked and start doodling.
    As for newspapers, one time I found out the mother of a friend of mine had been murdered only because another friend had used a current newspaper to wrap up a few pieces of Nippon china she was giving me and I chanced to look at the front page as I unwrapped them…

  18. Bob R on December 12, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Phil the Badger, I doubt this will convince you, but, sadly, The Mismeasure of Man is one of Gould’s worst books. It’s filled with straw-man arguments, ignores the existing evidence, and picks & chooses who he will argue against. For example, Gould omits any mention of the eugenicists of the left, such as Margaret Sanger.

    I would recommend Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate instead.

    While the nonscientific reviews of The Mismeasure of Man were almost uniformly laudatory, the reviews in the scientific journals were almost all highly critical (Davis, Bernard D. (1983). Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the press. The Public Interest, 74, 41-59).

    – Gould also makes some misleading comments about the early performance of Jewish migrants on psychometric tests. Goddard never found that Jews as a group did poorly, and there is no evidence the tests were used in passing the 1924 Immigration Act (see, Franz Samelson (1975, 1982), Snyderman & Herrnstein 1983).

    – Gould overlooks identical twin studies.

    – Gould’s factor analysis is incorrect (also see John Carroll’s review Intelligence 21, 121-134 (1995), (also, Jensen Contemporary Education Review Summer 1982, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 121- 135.) David J. Bartholomew, from London School of Economics, who has writtena textbook on factor analysis, also explains in “Measuring Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies” where Gould goes wrong in this area.

    -Gould states that Morton “doctored” his collection of results on cranial size, but J. S. Michael (1988) remeasured a random sample of the Morton collection he found that very few errors had been made, and that these were not in the direction that Gould had asserted.

    – The Army actually still uses IQ tests, and more generally, the tests have been shown to strongly predict academic performance.

    – Gould largely attacks old tests. Jensen responded to a large amount of Gould’s criticism in Contemporary Education Review
    Summer 1982, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 121- 135.) I don’t think Gould ever replied.

    -He attacks Cyril Burt for fabricating his twin studies, but books since Gould’s first edition came out have vindicated Burt (Joynson (1988) and the other by Ronald Fletcher (1991). Further, twin studies since show average heritability from these studies of 75%, almost the same as Burts supposedly ‘faked’ heritability of 77%.

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