[PILL] Liquidity Short Story: planning, outlining, iterating

Hey all,

I’m creating this thread as a place to work-in-public as I develop my PILL short story that explores a Liquid Democracy protocol (PILL Pitch).

My writing process typically starts by jotting down ideas about characters, themes, and plot points. Then I’ll create a bulleted outline of the entire story, first at a high level and then on a beat by beat basis. I only start writing prose once I’m happy with the outline.

Feel free to chime in with comments, feedback, and suggestions. Once I have a completed draft, I’ll share a Google Doc version with comments enabled.

Initial Pitch

The story focuses on an enthusiastic but naive high-schooler who, after giving a passionate speech on an upcoming ballot proposition, is delegated thousands of votes from her classmates and neighbors. Her delegated votes earn her an invite to a ritzy junket on the topic, paid for by lobbyists and attended by some of the most influential delegates. Once there, she meets subject matter experts, community leaders, and social media influencers and learns how powerful, wealthy actors attempt to subvert liquid democracy. By the end, she’ll have to decide who she trusts and what she values.

Three conflicts

I like Michael Arndt’s “three conflicts” model discussed by Venkat here. Here’s my current thoughts on the conflicts for this story:

  • Internal: the protagonist doubts if she is worthy of the responsibility her community entrusted her with when they delegated their votes to her
  • External: A lobbyist / company is trying to sway the vote by manipulating the delegates – will they succeed?
  • Philosophical: Is Liquid Democracy a valid / redeemable process for participatory democracy?

The ending of the story will have the protagonist overcoming her doubts to confidently commit her vote, ideally while helping to thwart the lobbyist and validate liquid democracy. Because this is a short story, this might be a more limited victory on the External and Philosophical level, but a step in the right direction.

Policy issue

The story will focus on a specific policy issue that Liquid Democracy is being used to vote on (sort of like a ballot measure). I haven’t picked the issue yet so it’s represented by ISSUE below. Once I lock in the issue, I’ll tailor the characters to be better integrated with it.

The policy issue needs to:

  • Be somewhat easy and quick to convey to the reader
  • Be something that affects the protagonist’s community, that she feels strongly about
  • Be relevant to the Corporation and worth lobbying about
  • Be relevant to the Scientist and Activist characters
  • Have a range of possible policies for candidates to discuss and choose among

Some initial ideas I’m considering:

  • Water rights (liquidity pun?)
  • Wildfires and urban-wildlife interface (but maybe it’s less relevant to the Corporation)
  • Managed retreat due to climate change and coastal erosion
  • Some type of geo-engineering on par with dam building that will have ecological and local impacts - maybe pumped-storage hydroelectricity?

I’m very open to other suggestions - please share your ideas!

Characters

Here’s are some quick details about the most important characters to the story, how they relate to the protagonist, and how they feel about the ISSUE and Liquid Democracy (LD). Note that I typically don’t name the characters until I’m ready to start writing prose.

Protagonist

  • Senior in high school
  • Passionate about ISSUE (TBD) due to personal history and relevance to her local community
  • Book smart but naive about politics
  • Has imposter syndrome, especially about being at the junket
  • LD perspective: idealistic, could save the world

Scientist

  • Academic, subject matter expert, highly trusted as top in field
  • Maybe: iffy people skills (accidently stokes Musetta impostor syndrome)
  • Maybe: Distracted by other work so not super engaged in junket
  • Maybe: semi-popular science communicator a la Neil Degrasse Tyson
  • LD perspective: skeptical, subject to similar corruption as other approaches
  • ISSUE: nuanced take that is somewhat at odds with both Lobbyist and Activist

Social Media Influencer

  • Professional influencer and popular streamer with huge following among protagonist’s peers
  • Young 20s
  • Charismatic and manipulative, a bit of a bro
  • Accepts gifts from lobbyist
  • LD perspective: cynical, it’s a source of free trips, and fodder for streaming, and maybe a way to gain some sponsorship
  • ISSUE: no personal stakes, okay being influenced by the lobbyist

Activist

  • ISSUE based activist, with the opposite position to Lobbyist
  • Passionate and manipulative
  • Willing to inject chaos to highlight their perceived illegitimacy of the process
  • LD perspective: rigged game, use it to get other types of value / power

Lobbyist

  • Corporate lobbyist / co-sponsor of junket
  • Smooth and calculating
  • Snubs Protagonist when it’s clear she doesn’t have many votes and won’t sway the decision
  • LD perspective: the protocol is a game to be played and won. It can be high ROI

Minor characters

  • Protagonist’s parents: supportive but don’t totally get LD, have personal connection to ISSUE
  • CEO of relevant corporation: schmoozing with politicians and other business execs
  • Popular politician: grandstanding, schmoozing, maybe patronizing toward Protagonist
  • Participatory democracy enthusiast: excited about the process, takes the details seriously, uses complimentary tech to take pulse of their followers
  • Troll who is there to mess with and disrupt things, will likely get thrown out

Not sure all of these will make it into the story. Some might be remixed into other characters.

Plot outline

Here’s my initial, very high level sketch of potential plot beats:

  1. Protagonist arrives at junket via flying car / luxury auto, sharing the ride with the Scientist who unintentionally heightens her imposter syndrome.
  2. Protag is brushed off by corp Lobbyist when they realize how few votes she has
  3. Protag talks to Influencer and is put off by their cynicism and willingness to be swayed by the Lobbyist
  4. Protag is consoled by scientist, who notes that the Influencer is much more clueless than Protag
  5. Activist pushes protagonist to make a scene and cause chaos to get more attention on the issue, perhaps something related to the Influencer
  6. Protagonist follows Activists advice and in doing so loses some of her proxied votes
  7. Moment of despair where Protag feels that she has let down her community and missed her opportunity to make an impact. She’s now below the vote threshold for the junket and thus ineligible to give a speech she was hoping to give later in the day. She worries that LD seems broken.
  8. Scientist has to leave junket early but talks to protagonist about LD being about the combination of expertise and values. Scientist decides to delegate her votes to the protagonist, putting her well above the threshold needed to give a speech.
  9. Protagonist gives speech, calls out Influencer / Lobbyist, and the voting tilts toward her position.

What do you think?

2 Likes

This is great! And I’m a big fan of the 5 → 6 tragedy component!

Wondering if 8 could be more protocol-y, maybe if the scientist has a very by-the-book, follow the rules personality?

The first (rough) draft is complete! You can check it out here. Feedback is welcome and I already have a bunch of ideas about how to improve it. Feel free to comment in the document.