Monday, November 10, 2008

This Is What I Have To Put Up With At Dinner

So dinner table conversation this evening focused on how I'd blown it with the name of yesterday's post. I was told that starting with a conclusion and writing backward is just writing backward and not reverse engineering at all.

"Reverse engineering," one dinner companion said, "would be if there had been an alien space craft in Hangar 51, and we'd taken it apart to see how it works and were then able to rebuild it using our own materials." Which seems very unlikely to me.

"Or," the other companion went on, "an example of reverse engineering occurred after World War II when the Russians were able to get hold of our Blah Blah Blah, which included technology they didn't have and took it apart so the Blahbity Blah Blah." This must be why it's so important that Alaskans keep their eyes on the Russians near them.

"There really is no analogy for books," second companion said.

"You need an entire item, not just one piece like an ending," first companion explained.

This is why I really don't mind eating by myself.


Sara said...

Hee. I wonder what they would think of writers as social engineers?*

*efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale

Tricia said...

The upside to this? At least you know your family reads your blog. Mine, not so much. I'll bet my husband doesn't even know the name.

Sam said...

Hmmm... I thought Reverse Engineering was right on the money.

Perhaps it's more like Blackbox Engineering. Which is, I think, when engineers look at the out put of a program and then figure out what the code must be like without ever looking at the code.

If the output of our story is the last chapter, then maybe that fits better.

Regarding the last chapter... no I don't always know how a story will end, but in this case there's an ending that's just so perfect, so pleasing, so sequel-enducing that it's worth aiming for.

tanita✿davis said...

Eating alone does have its benefits. So much less snark. And more food, probably.

Libby said...

Hee! So would it be reverse engineering if you took the ending to someone else's book and then wrote a book to get to that ending?

(Tricia, my family doesn't read my blog either. That is, my parents and one sibling do, but no one I live with does...)

Civilguy said...

As an engineer, I think of reverse engineering in the strict technological sense where you take apart some mechanical widget to see how it was designed. In most cases, given the same problem and conditions, two engineers will likely provide similar designs (the highway drain may be round pipe or a box culvert, but the water will get from one side of the road to the other). Give two authors the same starting point and conditions and you will more than likely get two very different books. I think that is because engineers base design on existing scientific principles and methods while writers (at least the one I know) are far more creative.

By the way, the Russian aircraft is the Tupolev Tu-4 and was reversed engineered from 3 American B-29 bombers that made emergency landings in Russia following bombing runs on Japan towards the end of WW2.

Gail Gauthier said...

Libby--The way I understand it, you would need more than the ending. You'd need the whole work. Perhaps it would be reverse engineering if you took an entire book--used its plot, characters, theme, setting, etc.--and truly rewrote it.

So, say, you took apart Twilight or The Da Vinci Code because you really want a best seller the way the Germans could be said to have really wanted whatever technology was in that airplane they reverse engineered after WWII. (My family member's example.) You'd read the book and set to work breaking down its elements trying to determine what made it a best seller. Then you'd take those elements and rewrite a vampire romance or a religious thriller trying to duplicate those other authors' "technology" so to speak.

Perhaps civilguy or Jen Robinson will read this and be able to tell us whether or not that works.

Sara--I don't know that I think of writers, in general, as social engineers. Certainly, economists, sociologists, etc. who also write would be writers who may be interested in influencing popular attitudes and social behavior. But it's not because they're writer but because they're economists, sociologists, etc.

Sam--I will bring blackbox engineering up at dinner tonight, but, you know, we're more the sewage treatment kinds of engineers at my house, not the computer kinds of engineers.

Gail Gauthier said...

Oops. It was the Russians who reverse engineered that plane, not the Germans. I so need an editor.

Anonymous said...

This conversation SO could have happened at my dinner table, too. On any given night, of course, all the examples would have been about bicycles.

These are the moments when I just smile and eat. :)