This blog is actually about writing - but I'm going to talk about con first.
Suddenly I'm seeing ads and articles and hearing about Penny auctions. Whenever I start hearing about deals that are too good to be true, I smell a con and am curious how it works.
Keep in mind the one of the key components of a con (if successful) is that it's not illegal to conduct. Normally if there is any illegal action to be done, it's has to be performed by the target (usually called "the mark" but for obvious reasons I object to that title. :) )the internet has spawned loads of new cons. Ever see those "Free macmini!" adds (and hundreds like it)? All you have to do is sign up 10 friends to the some offer, usually about 10 to 20 dollars each and then you get a 400 dollar computer for free? Well, what happens is each offer people fill out, newer ones show up which are more and more expensive until you've finally spent like 300 dollars instead of the intended 100 to 200 dollars that made it seem like a steal. then in the end they usually figure out some technicality that you broke or they claim you broke and because in the fine print it says that they get to determine if you followed the rules - you're basically screwed. The company makes the profit off your offers and it's done. (By the way - the main way that this particular deal "gets" people is that people get so desperate they eventually use the same computer or make up new email addresses and pay for more than one offer themselves which is against the rules and then it's all over... but even if you don't do this, you're not getting anything, it's a con and the fine print basically says so, but no one takes that seriously.)But the only way they got you to begin was that there was a conflict. They set up a challenge. They know you'll do the math and figure out that it's a good deal for you.... but it's actually very hard to convince 10 people to sign up for even 10 dollar offers much less 30 dollar offers. So it's a challenge. It's not easy - this is a conflict. But, we often think conflicts will drive people away. Quite the opposite. Conflict draws people in. It gets people's mind's working. If you're not confined ask yourself why people play bejeweled or solitaire for hours on end. What function does this have? None. It simply presents a continual conflict and keeps the mind solving problems. We love that.So these internet cons use that against us.The new penny auction fad is similar. How can you get an 800 dollar ipad for 4 dollars? Well that's ridiculous.... um... or maybe not. If it costs sixty cents to bid and the majority of the bids start at like, say.... a penny..... each time that price is getting knocked up, the company is making money. The real key here is that, once, again, they're putting you in conflict. They're putting you at odds with other "players" who are bidding and this keeps you locked in. So you are focused on this challenge - can you outbid your opponent. What you're being distracted from is that you keep spending sixty cents to get your bid in. Well, if you have 100 people bidding against you, it's not going to go well. At some point you're pretty invested in this item and that price is going to go up. (btw note that just to start bidding on these sites often you'd have had to purchase $160 of bid tokens.... so if you never win anything, you spent 160 to play the game.)Now, I'm sure every rare now and then an item does go through at a low price. And those are the ones they will put on their front page advertising "just sold for four dollars!!!!" So, while the caution of all things on the internet is implied, the real point here is this: All things are served well by conflict. Anything you're doing that you want to capture the audience's imagination, try to pull them in as participants. Try to trigger that puzzle solving part of their brain and you'll get them locked in.Conflict is not always "the bad guy wants to take over the universe." Conflict can be a simple puzzle with a desirable result. It's just a challenge to overcome which engages the audience's imagination."All writing is mystery writing" was the first statement my detective fiction writing teacher in college said and it's the one I most remember.
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