More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

How to tell a story where everyone knows the ending

Actors Leonardo DiCaprio (L) and Kate Winslet (R) in a scene from the movie "Titanic" which was nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards 10 February.  Among the nominations "Titanic" received are for Best Picture, Best Actress for Kate Winslet and Best Director.     AFP PHOTO      Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox/mn

Spoiler alert: The boat sinks. (AFP PHOTO Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox/mn)

While I wait to hear how The Ghosts of Reseda High does in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, I’m starting work on my next novel, Amiga. This book describes the early days of the personal computer industry.

But it is a story where we already know the ending. Commodore went out of business in 1994. Attempts to revive the brand and its products have mostly failed (although there is still an Amiga, Inc.) How do you get readers to care about characters when they know they’re doomed? How do you build dramatic tension when readers know their fate? How do you tell a story where everyone knows the ending?

We can start by looking at the perfect example of a story where everyone knows the ending, the 1997 movie Titanic. (I must give the obligatory spoiler alert warning, but you probably already know the story.)

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What do you contribute to society?

Tom Perkins

Tom Perkins from CBS 60 Minutes

It would be easy to write off Tom Perkins and his $1 in taxes paid = 1 vote idea. It would be easy to dismiss him as an entitled elitist who would be among the first to get his head chopped off in the next peasant revolt. However, he raises an interesting question: How do you judge a person’s contribution to society?

If you judge a person only by how much he or she pays in taxes, his point would be valid. And if companies and individuals get more votes by paying more taxes, it might encourage them to participate more in government (as if lobbying wasn’t enough). However, money isn’t the only way people contribute to society.

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How to find true love

Some find it at the corner of Sherman Way and ResedaThis year, my wife and I are celebrating our 25th Valentine’s Day. That’s an accomplishment, considering that many relationships don’t make it to their first Valentine’s Day.

How do you find true love? And how do you make it last? I don’t claim to be a relationship expert, and I made my share of mistakes. I have found a few things that work.

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When your younger brother turns 50…

My brother Randy as a baby, 1964My younger brother Randy is turning 50. Out of all the things that can make a person feel old, this is up there with your child graduating high school or your doctor telling you that your persistent pain “is typical for someone of your age.”

But there are a lot of good things about having a younger brother turn 50.

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An iPad…in 1991?

AST Tablet in 1991?Ever had an idea that was ahead of its time? Or if you went ahead with it, it might have been revolutionary? This is the case of a memo I wrote in 1991.

At the time, I worked in the Technical Publications department at AST in Irvine, California. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, AST was one of the leaders in the PC marketplace along with IBM and Compaq.

I recently found a draft of a memo I was writing to my manager. The date was December 26, 1991. Keep in mind that clamshell laptops were just starting to come out. Windows 3.1 was mostly a shell of MS-DOS and popular business applications were just starting to migrate to it. Low-end PC-compatible computers cost over $1,200 (nearly $2,000 in today’s money). The World Wide Web was just coming out of the development phase. The only way to get online (usually on a text-based service like CompuServe) was by modem.

I wrote the following proposal to my manager for a product I thought AST should build.

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