Today for discussion, let’s talk about an important aspect of any story—that of reinforcement. What is it? Fred of slacktivist described it in the negative as the “unreliable narrator.” When you’re building the verisimilitude of your story, reinforcement is the cornerstone.

Every fictional story – even those set in modern day – do a bit of world-building: from the modern-day tales which are building the world of complete strangers (their lifestyles, family, etc) to high fantasy which build whole universes from scratch. Reinforcement is what brings your worlds to life from simple words. It is any part of the story that strengthens a premise.

So how does it work? Let’s use an example. The premise is: a mob (the Godfather kind) that controls a town. Sure, as a writer you say this is the situation, but why should the reader believe you? Because you reinforce the premise by having small reminders about it: a person pauses in conversation for a quick glance, a small time crook turns up dead for no real reason. Throughout the story, incidents and plot points should occur in a slightly different way than they would without the premise you’re enforcing. Of course, there is proper and poor enforcing as well. Rule one is subtlety. You should avoid explicitly stating the premise beyond its introduction or in exceptional cases. Failure at subtlety can also backfire. Keep telling the reader the Mob’s in control (rather than showing) and the reader will start rebelling, and focusing more on your failures to demonstrate the Mob’s power instead of accepting it. However, if you’re not sure about how well you are reinforcing, then go ahead and overdo it because it’s always easier to trim than to add.

Finally, never forget how your premise affects your characters. In our Mob example, the protagonist(s) should get attacked, threatened, harassed and so forth if they are doing anything which is not approved. Any plans they make will have to take the Mob (and its reaction) into account and so forth.

Until next time, may write well…

Tagged as:


  1. OverlordDan on 20 January 2009, 07:57 said:

    So true. I hate it when an author tries to make me take their word for it that “these people are good” and “these people ain’t”.

    Thats somethng I want to decide for myself.

    First example off the top of my head is (and sorry if this kicks a nest of hornets) The Galactic Empire from Star Wars (Only the movies, mind you.). We are told in the opening crawl that the empire is evil. The only evil things I saw in the movies are;
    1) They wear black (Scary!)
    2) They blowed ups Alderan! (which was supporting the Rebels)
    3) They were mean to Leia! (a traitor)
    4) Darth Vader kills a couple guys (He… yeah, ok, I would not want to work for that guy.)

    Feel free to tell me how wrong I am. I welcome it! HA HA AHA <cough> ach! (no laughing during breakfast ): )

  2. Juniper on 20 January 2009, 11:04 said:

    Is this why I rebelled against Twilight and was uanble to come up with any vision of what Edward might look like? Seriously, I got whammed over the head so many times with “Edward is a god” and “Edward is dazzling” that I actually pictured a blank space for his face.

  3. Krista on 20 January 2009, 13:27 said:

    Blowing up Alderan is the epitome of evil. We don’t know if they were supporting rebels. Alderan was targeted because it was Leia’s home planet to coerce her into giving up the rebel base. Leia says that her planet is very peaceful.

    Even if they were supporting the rebels, it is still evil to kill them. If the US was to nuclear bomb the middle east killing everyone just because some of them support terrorist, I would consider that extremely evil. And so would the rest of the world.

  4. Nate Winchester on 20 January 2009, 14:12 said:

    Overlord Dan is making a reference to this rather infamous article.

    Alderaan’s destruction is hard to justify. Even if it was 100% full of rebels and WMDs banned by the tatoonie convention, there’s no telling how many innocents were affected within that solar system (debris hits an inhabited planet, gravity wells are all screwed up, etc) or in the galaxy as a whole.

  5. Rand on 20 January 2009, 21:02 said:

    Why is the Empire evil? Their name is the Empire.

  6. Addie on 20 January 2009, 22:14 said:

    Also because they’re undemocratic. ;)

    As portrayed, I mean, of course.

  7. SlyShy on 20 January 2009, 22:37 said:

    It’s not clear to me that the Galactic Republic was ever democratic either. After all, Jar Jar Binks sure wasn’t elected by a majority vote on some planet.

  8. Virgil on 20 January 2009, 23:22 said:

    Yeah, I think on paper it was. Senators weren’t always elected by majority vote, not until Amendment 17. See what happens if you pay attention in government?

  9. Nate Winchester on 20 January 2009, 23:43 said:

    Well republics are technically not a pure democracy.

    Then there’s the debate about whether a democracy is truly always “good” or not. (after all, Mussolini, Hitler, and Hamas were all elected)

    Stuff to think about.

  10. Artimaeus on 21 January 2009, 01:03 said:

    Yea, the empire destroyed an inhabited planet just to demonstrate the full destructive power of their Death Star (I mean couldn’t you have just taken out an uninhabitable moon, or something?) You gotta wonder what MORE could have been done to show that the empire deserved to be taken down.

    I think a good example of reinforcement, at least if I’m understanding the concept correctly, would be the third Harry Potter movie. The moment I remember was at the beginning of the scene in the Leaky Cauldron, there’s a random wizard siting in the foreground, reading a newspaper, casually stirring coffee with magic. Is this the kind of thing you’re talking about, Nate? Subtle details which remind the audience of the setting and premise.

    P.S. Democracy is only as good as the people who vote. The Greeks voted to poison Socrates. In the early days of the United States, the word “democracy” had a negative connotation, with a meaning roughly equivalent to “mob rule”.

  11. OverlordDan on 21 January 2009, 08:16 said:

    Heh heh, I LOVE these kinds of conversations.

    Alright, to continue advocating the devil, let’s see how far I can keep this up :)

    So, we have Leia’s word that Alderan is a peaceful planet. She’s one of the good guys, so she can’t be lying. Except that she does. In the next sentence, to Vader and Tarkin(about the location of the rebel base). It makes sense that she would lie if Alderan was funding the rebels;

    Tarkin: Is Alderan rebelling?
    Leia: Of course! I mean… No?
    Tarkin: Fire.
    Ben: :(

    At the end of Episode 3 Bail(?) Organa says that he will help fight the Empire (if you watch the deleted scenes, you can see Padme creating the Rebel Alliance in the first place.). He is the big poomba of Alderan (maybe? There is a huge chance that I am wrong on this, since I’m only basing this on the fact that Leia is a princess and he is her father), so I’m pretty sure he was diverting funds from Alderan (unless he was remarkably wealthy. It could happen.)

    Tarkin also explains why he fires on Alderan:
    1) They are already there (gas is expensive :D)
    2) Dantoine(?) is too small. It’s the same idea with a nuke; the power is in the fact that you can use it, but you never really need to. “Fear will keep them in line” and all that jazz.
    3) If you are going to make a nuclear strike, why not against one of your enemies?

    Whoa. That got away from me.
    Sorry for the ramblin’, I’s not writ so gud.

  12. Nate Winchester on 21 January 2009, 08:16 said:

    Artimaeus wins…
    High Praise!
    It is funny when authors forget even overt reinforcement though. (like… Galbatorix)

  13. Nate Winchester on 21 January 2009, 13:24 said:

    A laugh for everyone.
    Was reading:
    And found a mention of reinforcement failure:
    “I’m sorry, I haven’t seen ANY evidence to back up that statement in THREE books. THREE!! In fact this latest book puts that sentence to utter lie.”

  14. Rand on 5 February 2009, 19:57 said:

    If you watch closely, Padme discusses with Ani how the people wanted her to serve more terms.