Writing What You Don't Know: The Assistants

Discussion in 'Make It So' started by jacktrash, Aug 3, 2016.

  1. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    I want my character to have started an electronics business from scratch at maybe 16-19 (printing circuits with a laser printer and selling them by mail order, something like that), and then by the time he's 35 have said business be a massive entity that manufactures Internet infrastructure used across significant portions of the continental US (and also possibly does money laundering because plot).

    When you're starting a company, I know you need money at the beginning, and then you provide a saleable (good or service) for more money, and then reinvest in providing more saleables, and so forth, but I'm not sure how much money or how the scaling up actually works, or how you find clients for really big manufacturing jobs. Government contracts, maybe.

    How would the company have grown between the first stage (tinkering, early saleables) and the current state (industry leader)? How much control could the founder realistically retain over the company during all that? The timeline isn't short-short (~16 years), but it feels pretty short for such a massive transition, especially because clients would have to trust the company to provide durable products; do we need to go into, say, another company failing and leaving a blank spot in the market, is it simply impossible, or is it not weird enough to need explanation?

    This is backstory but I want it to be coherent backstory. The specific reason I'm posting this is because I want him to be bragging about how self-made he is, and I want to know like, how realistic that is. Because it's very true that he did it! (...he and his organized crime buddies, anyway.) But also he had experienced support from his parents (who run a smaller business together), didn't have to pay his own bills for a long time if ever, etc.
  2. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    if he started out laser printing on like a modified mass market printer, and got his chips into maybe a product that has a pretty small but solid market, like say headphones or cameras, he could've financed his startup on his own credit card. that kind of startup can be done for under $50,000 if you're prudent and lucky. you don't need a big warehouse or a fleet of trucks, you just need a few machines and your materials, some legal help to get all your paperwork in order, maybe a couple employees to get you past the first crunch when you start to break into the market.

    scaling up, i don't know so much; what i know about starting up is mostly from my dad's custom guitar business, which doesn't scale obviously, since he's a hand artisan, not a manufacturer.
  3. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    I’m thinking he’d already be doing it as a hobby when he monetized it, so he’d already have the capital, through his parents or his own money. He’d have a fair amount of toner and etchant, and the printer and drill and iron and everything. You don’t have to modify the printer; you just have to transfer the toner from paper to copper. So the big expense is copper, secondarily etchant and toner. And money for shipping. The starting materials cost I’d expect to be pretty small (copper and shipping) until he was getting more equipment to do larger single orders, more orders at once, or more precise orders (standard laser printer toner is probably not an ideal antietchant).

    He might want to invest in a precision metal cutter though, actually, in between hobbying and professional work. You need that to make components be a specific size. I’m pretty sure you can’t jury rig one either. So that’s an expense.

    And then there’s the general business expenses of legal assistance and filing fees for the establishment of a business entity, and, and liability insurance and stuff. The issue with that is that it’s best done before the affair brings in much money; it’s a lot easier, timeline-wise, to bring in an employee on money from sales than to start a business on money from sales. The latter would require dubiously-legal operations on some scale, I think.
  4. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    depends on where you are, it varies widely from state to state even within the us. i know my dad didn't have to jump through any weird hoops to sell his guitars. just a pretty routine courthouse filing. i think if you're not working with food or medicine it's not going to be too much of an obstacle course.

    as for scaling up his business, he could gradually take on bigger and bigger clients as he was able to fill bigger orders, you've given him plenty of time for that. or he could do some big jumps by bidding for a large contract, landing it, and taking out a loan for the equipment/employees necessary to fill it. the latter's a bit more risky, but not terribly so if his production process is scalable and his client pays their bills on time. "i just landed a million-dollar order with intel and i need five more circuit printers by friday" is a pretty good thing to bring to the bank if you want a loan. :D
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
  5. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    oh, one thing he might've had some trouble with is the toxic waste products. as i understand it, some of the things you use in making circuit boards have to be disposed of in really specific ways, and scaling up your production scales up your disposal needs in ways the local processing whatsits maybe can't handle. like if you need him to have had some setbacks or made some enemies or something.
  6. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    The jump from "he and a couple of other skilled workers running laser printers by hand in his parents' garage" to "purpose-built machines, possibility of less skilled human involvement" is going to be the big one, I think.
  7. iff

    iff Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Jul 9, 2019
  8. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    OH that is glorious. I love it. They redubbed Tabitha! Google has secret rules! Banned from Googlepedia for advertising nonexistent weed! The fucking Yellow Pages, I'm howling.
  9. Lizardlicks

    Lizardlicks Friendly Neighborhood Lizard

    Description of cancer and character death under the spoiler:

    I'm trying to figure out the type of cancer a character would have. Female, young-ish- late 3os to early 40s, has one adopted kid and one biological. The plot is from the POV of kid two (11 years old). Essentially goes, mom feels like shit/has pain, goes to doctor, they do tests, imaging, etc, comes back as cancer. Words like "late stage" and "metastasized" are thrown around. Prognoses gives a window that's not super big, but plenty long enough to get affairs in order and check some things off her bucket list several months to a year territory. She's not dying right this second, but she is going to die, and even with aggressive chemo and other therapies, the best they can hope for is prolonging the inevitable. Parents make the decision that they aren't going to pursue cancer treatment; mom would rather treat the symptoms and spend the time she has left as quality time with her family. She doesn't want to be a sickly, bald skeleton, doesn't want to put her family through anymore trauma than they're already going to have. Instead they take an extended family vacation- probably something on a secluded, remote resort- and only come home in the last couple months, where after she stays at home in hospice care.

    Looking to figure out something that is difficult-to-impossible to treat if caught too late, but not so aggressive that would only leave her with weeks instead of months.
  10. TheOwlet

    TheOwlet A feathered pillow filled with salt and science

    In that age bracket you might be looking at an aggressive melanoma especially if her lifestyle predisposes it for it, since melanoma tend to hit a bit later (50s onwards) in majority. Once these fuckers get into your lymphnodes, things start looking fairly bad and the 5 year survival rate once you have metastases in far away lymph nodes or other organs is <10%. depending on where the original is, and how easy it would be a spot, it might take a while even for an aggressive one to be discovered.

    Generally speaking, pancreas carcinomas are some of the meanest out there due to often being no longer suitable for surgery when they're discovered and incredibly aggressive grwoth, so we're looking at 5 year rate of at best 30% and often significantly worse, especially since even with surgical removal, rezidives are common. Again, they commonly hit past the 40, but some people have terrible luck. Symptoms here are somewhat diffuse and can take a while until someone realizes that hey, this is an actual problem.

    Then of course there's gliablastoms (relevant due to a certain thread on this forum of ours) which IS very very rough too. majority of cases are past the 60, but again, people get unlucky. median survival time with current common treatment is 15 months and considerable less without treatment. Even when other factors (age etc) are good, the 5 year survival rate is 14% at best. Surgical removal is sometimes possible but very often leads to a rezidive because it's hard as hell to truly get all of the tumor out. Since these can grow very quickly, you can go from 'everything is fine' to everything is FUCKED' within months or even weeks. Be aware that this one is going to come with a whole slew of neurological symptoms as it progresses.
  11. Lizardlicks

    Lizardlicks Friendly Neighborhood Lizard

    Last one might actually be best for the scenario even if uncommon in her age bracket.

    Additional demographic details that I don't know if relevant: her parents are Bengali emigrants, she's U.S. born. I don't think occupational exposure is a factor, she's a music teacher.
    • Like x 1
  12. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    What tricks does anyone here have for making character voices distinctive? I worry that mine all kind of sound like me.
  13. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    Watch TV with characters who speak a different dialect from you. Ideally made by speakers of that dialect (so e.g. British shows not US shows with a British character). Or any other kind of video, or maybe even text. When you know more about how dialectical features are distributed in the real world, you can assign a diverse range of them to your casts much more easily.
  14. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    However all your characters sounding like you to an extent is okay? Like, dialectical range is a writerly skill that I personally appreciate a lot, but you don’t have to hit that specific note to tell a story people will care about.
  15. TheSeer

    TheSeer 37 Bright Visionary Crushes The Doubtful

    Voice isn't the same as dialect, though.

    The easiest tricks for distinguishing voice involve deciding on particular speech patterns and turns of phrase in advance. What swears does each character use, and how often? Does this person tend to use math metaphors in their idioms? (Or horse metaphors, or whatever.) How formally do they speak? What jokes do they tell? (That's the one that really gets me - and there's some rather famous and prolific novelists that do this - when all the characters tell the same kind of jokes.) You can go a long way with simple tricks, especially for minor characters.

    For hard mode, you need to think about broad patterns in what characters care about and tend to talk about. How do their experiences, traumas, brainweirds, education, motivations, etc. determine their entire worldview? Major characters and especially narrators benefit the most from that sort of deep analysis.

    It's hard to give advice in the abstract, though, since by nature this is about characters being different from each other. It might be more a question for a beta reader than for this thread.
    • Agree x 5
  16. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    @TheSeer Thanks, that's more what I was thinking of than dialects. (Dialects help, but the same sentence in different dialects wouldn't really be the same as distinct character voices. Possibly my fault for not really being clearer there.)

    I have a tendency to ask really vague questions in advance of actually writing. Probably a habit I should break.
  17. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    I don't disagree that voice and dialect is different, but I still think learning about dialects will help with the OP's issue. Giving different characters different dialects is definitely a "trick" to help readers tell them apart, even if it doesn't totally substitute for depth of voice. And knowing a thing or two about a couple of dialects lets you avoid the thing where all the characters use a dialect that you register as neutral/universal but most of the audience thinks is unique and specific; being aware of some of the breadth of the language one might not have encountered before helps a lot in selecting central turns of phrase as well as coordinating niche ones.

    For advice about voice that doesn't focus on dialect, I'd consider the social structures and roles determining appropriate behavior, and to what extent your characters are trying to obey vs subvert appropriate behavior in context. Where characters would have encountered a concept influencing how they express it. What their brain-to-mouth filter does and doesn't catch, and when.

    Who raised them: how much they imitate intentionally, how much they depart intentionally, how much goes on beneath the surface. What contact they have with the youth and marginal slang of their culture, from whom, from how long ago.

    And most importantly, how they're using their words to try to catch against the gears of their goals, how they succeed, and how they fail.
    • Agree x 1
  18. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    what helps me is having a person in mind who inspires you. sometimes that’s yourself! kastor talks like me when i’m borderline nonverbal and trying to make myself as clear as possible. casimir talks like me when i’m a little drunk and 100% done with bullshit. but then i’ve got kieran, who talks like this pissed off cherokee foster kid i used to raise hell with as a teenager, and star, who sounds like this indestructible mofo from rapid city i played vampire with at my friend’s game store. i know so many interesting people, and i love to listen to how they talk. the cadence of it, the way it flows or halts, their go-to phrases and favorite swears and so on.
  19. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    @bushwah i just had a thought about your chip guy: if he focused on chip design and outsourced his manufacturing, he’d have a lot more control over growing his business. he wouldn’t be buying machinery on spec or hiring workers he might not need next month.
    • Like x 1
  20. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    @bushwah I do agree dialect helps a lot! It isn't the entirety of the issue, I have a pretty good eye for dialects (lots of Brian Jacques as a kid) but word patterns are trickier for me to pick up on, but it at least is a starting point. Maybe I should make notes on other people's dialogue styles, that would help.
    • Like x 1
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