Sunday, October 19, 2014
Thanks for the cool graphic to
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, one of my favorite nonfiction authors, has previously written several books on language, notably THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, WORDS AND RULES, and THE STUFF OF THOUGHT. I particularly recommend THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, packed with fascinating information in Pinker's lucid, witty style. His newest work, THE SENSE OF STYLE, subtitled "The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century," speaks directly to writers as well as anyone interested in what makes for clear writing and distinguishes good prose from bad. Although he focuses on nonfiction (with many examples, analyzed to reveal their authors' strategies), his advice applies to fiction, too.
He discusses one problem especially relevant to nonfiction writers but a concern of anyone who wants to communicate clearly—the "curse of knowledge." In brief, we tend to assume our audience knows our subject as well, or almost as well, as we do. We may use specialized terms without defining them. We leap between connections plain to us but possibly opaque to many of our readers. "Like a drunk who is too impaired to realize that he is too impaired to drive, we do not notice the curse because the curse prevents us from noticing it." Another issue Pinker tackles at length is the lack of a gender-neutral animate pronoun in English. "It" certainly won't do as a substitute for "he or she," but (as Pinker clearly illustrates) the use of "he" to cover both genders has become obsolete and doesn't work very well anyway. He defends the much-maligned "they" for persons of unknown gender, whether singular or plural.
By analyzing our comprehension of written prose with reference to the way the human brain processes information, Pinker demonstrates exactly why a sentence or paragraph that seems incoherent has that effect on us. This neuroscience approach helps him to unfold the reasons why some of the revered "rules" of grammar and syntax make sense and others are merely fossilized superstitions. He distinguishes between the rules worth following for their own sake and those writers need to know mainly to appease picky editors. I found the final chapter, "Telling Right from Wrong," the most enjoyable and informative, where he runs down a long list of traditionally "wrong" usages and briefly notes why he considers these prohibitions obsolete. He follows up with a shorter list of distinctions in word usages that he thinks ARE worth keeping. I don't agree with all his recommendations (I'll never accept the phrase "between you and I" or the verb "lay" as synonymous with "lie," except in dialogue), but he always makes his points in persuasive and entertaining ways.
He also illustrates the text with cartoons from a variety of sources, from "Doonesbury" and "Shoe" to the WASHINGTON POST. Recommended for all writers and grammar geeks!
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Depicting Culture With Colloquialisms
Here is a list of previous posts in the Dialogue series:
That post has been updated to include the previous 8 parts of Dialogue.
And here is Part 3 of the Depicting series with links to previous parts:
You should also keep in mind the Cliche
Here we are building on points made in those prior posts.
Remember from earlier discussions of Dialogue that Dialogue is not "recorded speech."
You can't make your characters sound realistic by using real speech. Yet without studying real speech with the ear of an outsider, you can't write realistic dialogue. That makes dialogue very much an art form, ...
Here are more prior posts related to dialogue and art:
...but as in all arts, there are some easy rules to get you started.
Have you ever noticed how a politician using a teleprompter reading a speech delivers the words smoothly, without searching for expressions, or apparently self-editing as he talks? This is the season rich in examples of speeches and "hot-mike" moments. Go find some videos of speeches - doesn't matter for or against what agenda, just listen to the intonation and watch for stumbles.
Reading from a teleprompter is a sure giveaway that the speaker is not saying his/her own words (even if they write their own speeches!) and therefore raises the question of whether the speaker actually understands the meaning of the words written by an erudite speech-writer. Also there's the question of whether, if understood, the words said aloud are actually the truth.
Here is a recent non-fiction book by an eminent champion of consumer rights. This book depicts (in non-fiction) a situation that would make a wondrous "conspiracy theory" to set on an Alien world sizzling with debate on whether to make First Contact with Earth, just to tap our resources.
Note the book is about politicians saying one thing to voters, and another behind the scenes, their motives for doing that, and the counter-strike building against it.
Here is the blurb from Amazon:
Ralph Nader has fought for over fifty years on behalf of American citizens against the reckless influence of corporations and their government patrons on our society. Now he ramps up the fight and makes a persuasive case that Americans are not powerless. In Unstoppable, he explores the emerging political alignment of the Left and the Right against converging corporate-government tyranny.
Large segments from the progressive, conservative, and libertarian political camps find themselves aligned in opposition to the destruction of civil liberties, the economically draining corporate welfare state, the relentless perpetuation of America’s wars, sovereignty-shredding trade agreements, and the unpunished crimes of Wall Street against Main Street. Nader shows how Left-Right coalitions can prevail over the corporate state and crony capitalism.
Oddly, Glen Beck predicted (reading from a teleprompter) that the "Left" and the "Right" would form a coalition on common grounds. Do you think Nader would ever appear on Beck's show? Hmmmm.
Dialogue in novels, done as printed text, generally does seem smooth, rehearsed just as if we all read from a teleprompter saying things we don't exactly mean for reasons of self-interest not so different from those depicted in Nader's newest book.
One of the main dialogue tools a writer can draw on to depict dialogue that is emotionally truthful, that is up-front and completely honest, is to depict speech-stumbles, adding in the uh and ummm and self-conscious chuckles or long hesitations as a word is carefully chosen.
I used the silences while carefully choosing a word to depict the Alien From Outer Space in my Vampire Romance, Those of My Blood.
BTW "You know" is not usually added in written dialogue, even though in real speech you hear that (and the equivalent) a lot.
Too much of that choppy dialogue and the page just does not scan correctly for a reader, so it's a tool to use sparingly. I use it way too much, but my novels are emotion driven, relationship driven -- and often the characters are driven by a need to be perfectly honest and accurate. (or they are very bad liars)
Now, why is it that stumbling and searching for a word does not seem "right" to readers when there is too much of it? And how much is too much?
In real life, we really do exchange short utterances in smooth, flowing words.
How can that be?
In real life dialogue, most of our utterances are well-rehearsed!
There is such a thing as routine speech.
There are words and phrases we repeat endlessly (which makes for dull reading). We speak to each other in colloquialisms, set phrases and on-message talking points.
Consider your routine exchanges with check-out clerks, appointment secretaries, and the service people who come to your house to fix an appliance, fix the plumbing, whatever. Foreign Language Guidebooks are replete with this kind of routine-speech all indexed. There are phrases you memorize and just roll off the tip of your tongue, brain barely engaged. We are used to communicating that way.
That's why politicians who have rehearsed talking points can fool us so easily -- they sound like they are just talking the same way we talk.
So when you write dialogue, remember to use a "smooth" style (without um and ah and you-know) when the exchange is depicting routine civil discourse, polite conversation, Guidebook Conversation.
But when your character goes off-script, loses his mental teleprompter, he/she can get tongue-tied and stumble -- or try to choose words carefully. This is the typical teenager having the first adult conversation with a potential sex partner.
Our everyday routine speech is Setting Dependent and Relationship Dependent and Situation Dependent.
And so our written dialogue can be used to depict Setting, Relationship and Situation -- as well as Culture, social and business expectations.
Since we have these speech-patterns in real life that can be used only in certain Settings, Relationships, Situations, etc. when we read stories with dialogue, we automatically decode the dialogue to infer what Setting, Relationship or Situation lies behind the characters.
Thus a writer has a tool to convey loads of information about a Culture that the character who is speaking would not consciously know about himself. This tool works wonderfully well for depicting Alien Cultures.
To make a story "accessible" to a modern Earth audience, you lead the reader to decode the dialogue into data about the culture just as they would if overhearing a conversation in an elevator.
What the reader figures out for him/herself about the culture of the Aliens will make the Aliens seem real, make their characters seem like old friends. What you TELL the reader about the Aliens will go in one eye and out the other -- with a shrug and a "who cares?"
So give your reader Dialogue that DEPICTS the Alien Culture without explaining that Culture to them in so many words.
Here's the book that I keep referring you to for a lesson in where, inside your head, you keep your Culture.
Humans are largely unaware that they have a Culture (or two) driving their behavior. Most don't even know what Culture is, where it comes from, or what it can accomplish in a cohesive society. We've discussed this in previous posts. Your reader's ignorance is your tool for convincing them your Alien Romance is real. But that will only work if you can identify your own cultural drivers.
Here let's take a stripped down, bare bones example of dialogue that depicts a culture.
Called into the boss's office on Monday morning, an IT manager gently closes the door behind him.
The boss sits at his desk making notes on his Project Management calendar.
"Hi, Jim!" the Boss said.
"Good Morning. You said to be here 10:00 AM?"
"Yes, you're only a little late. Tell me, how is the Network Upgrade project going?"
"Those lost data files are still lost, but the Network is now running."
"Great! That's a good start. So when will you have the missing data recovered?"
"I've had a crew on it over the whole weekend. We've done all we can, but the data is just gone."
"You've done all you can? You personally? And the data is gone forever?"
"Yes, I've been on it with them-"
"And you've done everything possible?"
"Definitely, everything possible."
"That's your excuse? You've done all you can and everything possible? All of you?"
"Well, yes, we'd never give you less than our best."
"I see. Then, I've done all I can and everything possible, too, and there's just no way to recover from this - so you and your whole crew are fired, effective at Noon today."
The boss hits SEND on his keyboard. "Pick up your severance pay on the way out."
------------END SAMPLE DIALOGUE----------
In our everyday reality, this IT professional and his team would NOT be fired for "doing all they can" and having the results be less than acceptable.
In our current culture, once you have maxed out your abilities (so we are taught in school these days) you are thereupon excused from all further effort.
Under no circumstances may you exceed your current limitations lest you "show up" some other student or become an Elite, or get the idea you are "superior" because you accomplished something nobody else could.
In fact, if you do dare to step over a limit, like say "Common Core" standards, and do more than is required, you get slapped down hard. You are lectured that you must not read ahead in the textbook, you must not "color outside the lines" and may not use sources you find in libraries or online to contradict what it says in the textbook.
The reason, of course, is the way Teachers now do not do their Degree work in what they teach, but in "Education" -- so in reality, the teacher doesn't know enough about the subject to write the textbook, but is considered qualified to teach that textbook's content.
So if a student brings in facts that dispute the book, the teacher will be made to look bad in front of the other students for the lack of a coherent answer. A Common Core Teacher is not allowed to teach the class that the textbook is wrong, even if it is and the Teacher knows that.
Heated argument and debate with Teachers over errors in textbooks was once encouraged in schools, but that leads to heated argument and debate with Supervisors at work (and real strife in Situations such as Nader postulates in his book). If Promotion has not been on merit alone, the Supervisor then looks bad.
A) Do a snatch of Dialogue between such an overwhelmed Teacher and a know-it-all Student on the pattern of what I showed you above. Show the cultural paradigm just by stripped bare lines of dialogue, no description, no he-said/she-said, no narrative, no business for actors to convey emotion. Just dialogue. Try it.
B) Now do a similar exchange between the Parent of a child so accused of insubordination and the overwhelmed Teacher.
C) Do an exchange between the Teacher and the Principal, like the IT Head and the Boss above.
D) Do all three snatches described in A, B, and C, but set on an Alien Planet amidst an Alien culture. (yes, you may launch a Romance between the Teacher and the Parent of the Student.) Do it all with Dialogue alone. This is a standard text-book exercise in Professional Radio Writing for Drama shows and you find it in Write For Television books, too.
Depicting such a situation, a writer can convey all manner of abstract facts about the Ancient History of the Civilization (human or non) of the story without a word of narrative or exposition.
The result of today's massive shift in school culture is adults who have become a different kind of reader.
That gives rise to a generation-gap you, the writer, must straddle. You must entertain the reader who accepts the idea that one merely has to do all one can, or everything possible, and then can give up without incurring penalty or blame. With the same words, you must entertain the reader who just assumes that any limitation the characters encounter is there to be transcended, overcome, destroyed, blasted, upset, dissolved, or something else.
Here is the latest in a long series by Simon R. Green that depicts the team of a warrior and a witch combining talents to achieve the Impossible -- several times a novel. It is about the Drood family, and is part of the Tales of The Nightside but set in our regular world where secret battles go on every day. (shades of Ralph Nader!)
Green does 5-star worthy novels, but the latest few could use a lot of blue-pencil editing to remove dialogue loops. Green's style, however, is strongly evocative of Gini Koch's ALIEN series, which also presents us with an indomitable pair who will invent, create, out-think, or out-maneuver any threat. When "all I can" isn't enough, they violate rules, break laws, smash barriers, and acquire a much larger inventory of things they can do. These characters live without limits set by others -- yet have an admirable set of limits they construct within themselves. They do not abuse power simply because they can.
Remember, in current culture, giving up quietly leads to promotion, or "failing upward" or what used to be called being "bumped upstairs."
Science Fiction was founded by people raised to be the sort who, when presented with a problem that will not yield to "all one can" simply does something one CANnot -- one exceeds one's personal, internal limitations.
Likewise, once "all possible" solutions are exhausted, one INVENTS a new solution (or three). Green and Koch give us current novels depicting that sort of character.
The lack of that unlimited attitude was a massive flaw in the TV Series Beauty And The Beast -- not the current one, but the older one about a culture in the tunnels under New York where an Alien from Outer Space was welcomed, but fell in love with a woman from Above.
The TV writers set up a situation which could have been changed by doing something that CANnot be done, and set as the premise for the show that the Situation could not be changed.
The show was about living with inevitable heartbreak - and the short-lived series spawned more fanfic than you can imagine. Fans hammered at adding things and inventing things to resolve this Situation where two lovers could not inhabit "the same world." Every permutation and combination of solutions to bring the two into the same world for an HEA (or to kill off one) was written. A lot of it is now online, but most was done only on paper.
So if the producers wanted to engage Science Fiction fans, they hit on the right combination -- just tell the fans "It is impossible" and watch the fans flood the world with solutions that are in fact possible -- or change the world to fix the Situation.
Science Fiction was founded by folks with the mindset of non-conformists, defying rules and limits, and creating inventions on the fly to solve problems as they came up. That's what fanfic is, and where it came from -- the intrinsic thrust toward breaking barriers, doing the impossible, changing the very nature of Reality so it accommodates Love better -- fans not allowing Hollywood to prevent them from having their stories. Ralph Nader would be well advised to study fandom for a model of how to fight the Big Corporations conjoined to Washington. When Star Trek was cancelled (the first and second times) fandom prevailed over big business and got the animated Series, the films, and then more TV Series, and now more films.
No Science Fiction Hero ever yielded to an opponent after doing just "all he can" or "all possible."
Literary scholars insist that audiences want to "identify with" fictional characters. To do that, the audience requires that the characters have something in common with the audience. For Science Fiction, that common-characteristic is the refusal to stop at "all I can" and to do what it takes to solve the problem or change the Situation.
In the 1970's, concurrent with Star Trek, we had the Women's Movement. Today we have female Hero characters with that indomitable attitude in both Romance and Science Fiction.
"Bosses" in science fiction stories expected and required their hirelings to do things that the hireling could not do (at the outset of the story) -- and to defy the Possible and accomplish the previously Impossible thus establishing new standards for what could be done, and re-defining the nature of Reality.
Doing the Impossible just takes a little longer, and might include cost-overruns.
Our current youngest readership does not expect such performance from the Hero of the story, and would not despise someone who failed to accomplish something beyond their ability.
How can you blame someone for not-doing what they can't do?
Robert A. Heinlein had a saying to the effect that failing is a capital offense -- you fail; you die.
Thus the snatch of dialogue above delivers a SURPRISE ENDING that depicts a culture alien to many modern readers.
Add a few sentences to that dialogue snatch to indicate how shocked the employee was to be fired (if he was) and what the Boss did next about the unsolved problem of the lost data.
Which one is the Hero (or which is more Heroic) would be depicted by what each chose to do next.
If the IT professional above were female and the boss male (or vice versa) you could end up with a really hot Romance. After all, firing a woman who can't do the impossible for failing to do the impossible is going to get the company sued, no?
Sunday, October 12, 2014
The latest (third edition) draft of the Copyright Compendium is available for public comment before the final form is released in December 2014.
Read the Copyright Compendium here: http://copyright.gov/comp3/docs/compendium-full.pdf
If so moved, having read it, leave a comment here: http://copyright.gov/comp3/comments.html
This is the section that interested me, because I worry about websites and blogs that appear to be legitimate, that post copyright notices in their footers, but that display copyrighted ebooks either for reading on the site or for download, and that claim immunity because the ebooks are "User Generated Content" or "Uploaded by Authors" or "Uploaded by Users".
Some of these sites, like certain auction site vendors, claim that collections of ebooks written by popular (and not-so popular) modern-day authors are their own, unique and copyrightable compilation, like a "playlist" because of the way the ebooks are sorted and grouped. Or, like torrents that collect together a few hundred "paranormal romances", for instance, on the assumption that no individual author of one of the hundred ebooks can claim ownership of the torrent.
Does this Compendium protect them?
Here's a small passage from a legal blog that caught my interest;
The new Compendium confirms that website users are “authors” of their original user-generated content (UGC) for copyright purposes. Therefore, to obtain ownership of the copyright in the UGC, a website needs a signed agreement that transfers the user’s rights and, therefore, should include an assignment provision in its “click through” terms of service. If the website owner desires to file an application to register that UGC, it must name the authors in the application and maintain records of the authors who transferred ownership rights
Find the article here on Lexology (a very informative site for pro-copyright activists and lawyers):
Scribd used to call its uploaders "authors", even when they were obviously copyright infringers uploading unauthorized copies of copyrighted works to the site. Last time I looked, it seemed to me that many of the allegedly illegally uploaded "documents" that are scans of e-books and of paperbacks remain available and monetized by Scribd as orphan works after the allegedly piratical original uploaders apparently have been removed as members.
If a click-through contract might confer copyright to the website, I think that copyright owners should be particularly wary of clicking "I Agree" when visiting any website.
From what I've seen, many pirate sites will not permit copyright owners to see the site or use the Search feature of a site unless they register and agree to the terms and conditions. Often, by agreeing to those terms, the new registrant agrees not to use anything they find on the site to sue the site (that is a simplification, but what a potential Catch-22).
What if a copyright owner clicks-through in order to discover whether some other user has uploaded that copyright owner's works to the site? What if the act of clicking "I Agree" then grants permission for the site to continue in what was previously piracy?
According to this Compendium, a website cannot copyright User Generated Content without naming the author, so uploader "aliendjinnromancefangirl123" cannot be listed on a copyright application.
Will sites keep a record of what "aliendjinnromancefangirl123" uploaded and gave them implicit permission to share? What happens if Rowena Beaumont Cherry foolishly "Agrees" to their contract, uploads nothing, but under the wording of the contract, trasnsferred ownership rights to Rowena Cherry content that had been uploaded by someone else?
Color me paranoid, I guess. What do you think?
Thursday, October 09, 2014
I just wanted to note this while it's fresh. A lawyer for the Nonhuman Rights Project is suing on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy, claiming Tommy is "unlawfully imprisoned" and deserves "legal personhood." A decision in favor would have profound implications for the legal status of other higher nonhuman animals:Chimpanzee Rights
Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Even more, this case brings to mind Heinlein's classic story "Jerry Was a Man," which centers on a lawsuit to grant an enhanced chimp legal personhood.
Margaret L. Carter
"The Hole in Reality" is the title of the science column by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty in the current issue of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION (September-October 2014). It's about some of the myriad ways "your brain makes up the world." As many philosophers have taught and neuroscience now confirms, we don't perceive the outside world "as it is." Information gathered by our senses gets filtered by the brain in often surprising ways. To make sense of our environment, our minds rely on "short cuts" and "predetermined expectations" without which the volume of sensory input would overwhelm us. In short, "You don't see the world at all. You see a picture of the world that your brain constructs." As a result, we usually see what we expect to see.
Murphy and Doherty begin by illustrating this principle with examples of optical illusions. You can check out one of them here:Dragon Illusion
The paper dragon appears solid and seems to turn its head to follow the viewer, even though in fact it's not moving (the observer is). The illusion of solidity gives the false impression of motion. The F&SF article also gives examples of how the mind plays tricks with distance and size, as in distorted rooms where people walking around appear to enlarge and shrink as they change position relative to the observer.
The article then goes on to discuss how the brain's ingrained expectations form our attitudes and reactions below the conscious level. Here's a page with some tests you can take to evaluate your own unconscious biases. They cover numerous different areas, such as race, gender, religion, etc.:Implicit Associations
I took the "religion" test, just to find out how the page functions. Since it asks the subject to work as fast as possible, I'm not convinced it measures much more than one's hand-eye-keyboard coordination, but it's an interesting experience anyway.
The F&SF article talks briefly about confirmation bias—our tendency to seek information that supports our existing beliefs and neglect or filter out disproving data—and the "relevance paradox"—overlooking information we consider "distracting or unnecessary" because it doesn't fit into our preconceived pattern. Murphy and Doherty discuss how science fiction can, little by little, change what we perceive through that "hole in reality."
Historical fiction can sometimes have a similar effect, as occurred to me this week while rereading (yet again, but for the first time in a while) Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER. The heroine, Claire, a World War II nurse, has accidentally traveled through time from 1945 to 1743, where circumstances force her to marry Scottish Highland clansman Jamie Fraser. I can hardly wait until April to find out how the STARZ network series will handle the scene where Jamie punishes Claire with a beating for disobeying his order to stay where he left her. Because of her disobedience, she gets captured by the villain, British officer Black Jack Randall, thus putting not only Claire and Jamie but their entire group in danger. This section of the novel illustrates with stunning force that "the past is a different country" (to repeat one of my favorite quotations). Twentieth-century career woman Claire finds the custom of a man's administering corporal punishment to his wife appalling, and she doesn't think much more highly of the practice of thrashing children for misbehavior. Jamie—whom we know by this point to be a kind, honorable man who passionately cares for her—finds her attitude baffling. He recalls many instances of beatings from his own father, whom he respected and loved. Later in the book, we see a graphic illustration of the difference between that kind of parental discipline and brutal child abuse, which Jamie abhors. But will the TV series have the time and space to show all this context in a way that will prevent losing the audience's sympathy? After the beating, Claire reflects that up to then her eighteenth-century surroundings haven't seemed quite real to her. Compared to the horrors of World War II, skirmishes between small bands of musket- and claymore-wielding fighters feel almost quaint. King George and Bonnie Prince Charlie are names from classroom history lessons to her. Yet a sword can kill a man just as dead as a bomb.
C. S. Lewis remarks somewhere that the books of the past—and the books of the future, if we had access to them—by highlighting the unquestioned beliefs of other times and places, illuminate our own implicit beliefs. From the perspective of a time traveler from the past or future, or an alien visitor, doubtless people in our era hold world-view assumptions, shared by all political, ethnic, and religious sectors, that remain invisible to us because we see them as simply "the way things are." They represent the our brains' construction of reality. As Murphy and Doherty point out, science fiction can break open those world-views and create "holes" through which to view reality in fresh ways.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Ruling a Community
Parts 1-13 of this series are linked in the following Index Post:
The Supreme Court of the USA, back in June 2014, ruled that you can't patent an idea or an abstract. That's not a new concept since PATENTS are for things.
Likewise you can't copyright a STORY IDEA which is why writers all steal from each other.
You can't copyright a theme or a plot -- you can copyright the exact sequence of WORDS used to express that theme or plot.
Laws like these, "Intellectual Property Law" -- that say if you make something, you have the right to profit from it -- are the very foundation of modern civilization.
Ownership is an abstract idea which, when made real and concrete in our everyday lives, produces abundance.
So we have the 10 Commandments that say not to steal, and even not to ENVY -- not to "covet" your neighbor's anything.
Today's underlying theme behind all the political fracas is simply about ownership, profit and envy.
Many have noted that as this conversation about say, "children are the responsibility of the community" and "parents shouldn't have a say in the local school curriculum content" -- and sex education in schools, and everything that goes with that -- has become louder, envy and covetousness has become louder.
Your idea of the cause of that coincidence, and about how important that connection is (if it exists at all) is a THEME that you can plot into a novel.
Remember, the core theme of all Romance Novels is "Love Conquers All" and the most powerful such novels challenge that statement, making the author prove it's truth is a plausible truth.
The most potent fiction-themes reside between the cracks in our culture.
The cracks are the connection points -- and like cracks in a sidewalk mark two "slabs" being joined to make a smooth surface.
That is why one can look at the world and say THIS is not connected to THAT -- and be correct.
And that is why one can look at the world and say THIS is directly connected to THAT -- and be correct.
These are two "correct" thematic statement forms that come into conflict and Conflict Is The Essence Of Story.
Finding a clean, clear, short, way to state the nature of a connection between two observed processes or states of being is the Art of Theme.
If you look at Astrology -- my posts on Astrology Just For Writers are indexed here:
In astrology, you have the "Natal Chart" which is a pie-chart representation of the Zodiac at birth.
That is 12 sections (Houses), just like cutting a pie, so the very structure of HUMAN PERSONALITY is graphically represented by opposites.
The interpretation for the first 3 Houses is all about the SELF. Opposite those are 3 Houses that are all about OTHER.
The trick to RULING A COMMUNITY is to understand the relationship between 1st House and 7th House.
Ordinarily (if you know some Astrology) you'd think "Ruling" is all about 10th House or maybe Leo (the Natural 5th House).
But if you look deeper into human personality, and thus into what kind of governing Groups of Humans can endure, you see that the sticking point that all nations and governments come apart on is INDIVIDUAL vs GROUP.
Group can be Man & Wife, or Spouses, and it can be Parents+Children, or tribe or country, or just a Country Club.
1st House defines the Self. 7th House defines the one-to-one Relationships, but in some forms of Astrology 7th House represents also The Public.
What does it take to be a RULER of a Community?
Well, first, the only times Ruling ever works historically, you see that the Ruler was a member of the Community (not an outsider -- that always fails dramatically which makes good story fodder).
So in effect, a Ruler from a Community is subconsciously imposing his own personal values on the community, but he got those values by growing up inside the community, so though "ruling" implies "imposition" what he's imposing was there already.
Think of it as singing on key in a choir and the Ruler just steps out and does a Solo. Has to be a solo from the same song everyone is singing behind him. The Ruler's values have to harmonize with those of the Ruled -- or the Community fragments.
So Humanity has been on a millennia long search for the operational relationship between Self and Other.
Just look at the divorce rate -- that's trying to get two people who don't "harmonize" into the same house. We can't even do that reliably on purpose!
Communities are built from the building-block of families.
A community can stand to have a few raucous families included, but the strength of the community is inside the harmony of the Family components.
If the Family is regarded as Self - then the community is Other.
If the Community is Self (say members of a particular Church or Rotary Club), then Other is the State or the whole Nation.
Like those Russian dolls, one inside the other -- we build from components. Legos.
So the biggest, most story-fraught, issue or problem of today is simply, "What is the most workable Relationship between Self and Other?"
How do we form communities? What should a well-formed Community look like?
Should we make up an Ideal form of community and hammer and smash all these individual Lego blocks into a shape that fits?
Or should we choose individual Lego blocks that already go together easily, and separate off the others?
No matter how big the Community (all Earth; 400 planet Union of the Galaxy), it is formed on a theory about the most workable relationship between Self and Other -- between 1st House and 7th House.
If the theory is wrong, the Community will disintegrate -- and it will disintegrate because of the error.
Disintegrating communities (the headlines abound in examples) make wondrous story-locales, especially for Romance because the disintegrating infrastructure of the couple's life gives them something to overcome that every reader can easily grasp.
So how do you construct a satisfying ENDING to a story about Ruling a disintegrating community?
The HEA ending requires you, the writer, to solve the problem all humanity hasn't made a dent in for thousands of years. But as a science fiction Romance writer, you can extrapolate, suggest or fantasize a workable community shape to place before your couple. The ending doesn't have to depict that end-result existing -- just show the road to it and the hope of getting there.
So where do you find clues about what your readers might accept as a workable community?
You look into the cracks. You look between elements.
Here is a place to start.
The Torah portion of Korach recounts how G-d told Moshe and Aharon: “Separate yourselves from the midst of this community and I will destroy them in an instant.” Moshe and Aharon responded: “G-d, L-rd of all spirits, if one man [Korach] sins, shall you direct Your wrath at the entire community?”1
Rashi explains that the phrase “L-rd of all spirits” refers to G-d’s omniscience. Moshe and Aharon therefore added these words to their rejoinder for, as Rashi says, they were in effect saying: “Unto You is revealed all thoughts; You know who is the sinner. If one man alone has sinned, shall You direct Your wrath at the entire community?”
G-d responded: “You have spoken well. I know, and shall make known, who has sinned and who has not.”
The story of Korach who gathered a group from among the nascent community and presented grievances to the leadership, and because of the content of what was bugging them, G-d responded with a judgement upon the entire community.
Moshe and Aharon argued (you can argue with Authority), and they won (you can win arguments with Authority).
From that story, one might conclude that the way teachers discipline classes of students by punishing the whole class for one who talks or texts or sounds off at the teacher, is WRONG.
The individual children in a class must be treated as individuals.
Or From that story one might conclude that all members of a group have to be treated the same because any variation at all is unfair and unequal. Individuality is a major sin. One must conform to the Group rules that are made up by the Ruler.
Create a character who believes one of those conclusions and another character who believes the other conclusion -- but the two are in perfect Harmony on everything else (sex included). The attraction is intense, but so is the disagreement.
Now set out to convince one or the other that he or she concluded incorrectly.
Just write the OUTLINE of a novel like that. Then write another outline using different parameters -- all focused on the different conclusions possible from that little commentary of Rashi on "if one man sins, shall You direct Your wrath at the entire community?"
How (science fiction, Paranormal fantasy) can you Rule or govern a gaggle of individualists none of whom will deign to conform to preferences of another?
Invent an Alien Species that can indeed function that way, and face them off against humans.
I dealt with parts of that problem in
There is ever so much more to say, and Alien Species out there in the galaxy are a tool writers can leverage to great advantage -- they give you both theme and plot in one neat bundle. For an example, think about Spock and Logic.
Sunday, October 05, 2014
Registration is open at http://2015.confusionsf.org/about-confusion/ and those in the know should be booking their rooms at the Dearborn Doubletree Hilton (code BTC).
Highlights for me will be the panels on Science, on Literature (of course), and on Comics.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
This article by Susan Reimer of the BALTIMORE SUN is headlined "The End of Marriage" on the website and the editorial page of the print issue for that day:The End of Marriage
Headlines, of course, aren't written by the author of the article. I trust Reimer herself didn't intend to make such a sweeping pronouncement of doom on the grounds that, as she puts it, "The American household is nearly unrecognizable from our sitcom past." The nuclear family "made up of a breadwinning father, a homemaking mother, and a couple of kids" can hardly be considered synonymous with the whole institution of marriage, considering the concept was invented in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution met middle-class Victorian values, and reached a brief peak in the 1950s. This model was, of course, far from universal even among the American middle class at the time (I myself grew up in a "blended" family; my father and stepmother were both previously married and divorced, with children, and Mamma worked full-time until the birth of our half-sister), and unattainable in any era for most working-class families. Moreover, Reimer notes that this period sometimes idealized as "the golden age of family life" was "also a repressive time for women."
Regardless of the headline, the bulk of her essay, in fact, isn't about the shift from the "Ozzie and Harriet" ideal to more varied types of marriage such as male-breadwinner and two-career households, not to mention same-sex unions. It's mainly about recent research on the links between out-of-wedlock childbirth and poverty. Few people would deny the importance of family stability and "a sense of certainty about the core issues of job security, wages, health care, child care and retirement" to lifting parents and children out of poverty. These issues, however, are separate from the observed trend that, as remarked by sociologist Philip Cohen of the University of Maryland, "there is no single family arrangement that encompasses a majority of children."
For a more nuanced analysis of American marriage trends as contrasted with what the popular imagination views as "traditional," I recommend sociologist Stephanie Coontz's THE WAY WE NEVER WERE. Interestingly, when Coontz asked her college students in the early 1990s to define the traditional marriage, they described a cross between OZZIE AND HARRIET and THE WALTONS, often citing those TV series by name. In fact, those programs portrayed two distinctly different models of marriage and the family, and the 1950s ideal was a conscious reaction against the Depression-era extended-family household.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Shadow Banking in Fantasy And Reality
The old saying "If you want to understand what's really going on: Follow The Money." holds especially true in Fantasy novels or where Magic is involved.
Gordon R. Dickson tacked the financial economics of Magic in The Dragon And The George.
And now Simon R. Green (one of the best writers of campy Fantasy working today) has added a novel to his ongoing series called SECRET HISTORIES about the Drood family policing the unseen world around us, buried under our feet, and in the Nightside.
This one is titled CASINO INFERNALE -- and it's a breezy fast read, told entirely from one point of view, Eddie Drood aka Shaman Bond. It's very James Bond like, except with fantasy creatures.
It's not a Romance, but it has a whopping good LOVE STORY, and a definite "relationship" axis to the plot. This is a man and a woman who team up, using different skills, to confront enemies much larger than both of them, and win.
The plot of Casino Infernale is pretty simple: Shaman Bond's mission is to break the bank at an annual gambling casino financed, run by, and profited from The Shadow Bank. If he can pull that off, he'll stop a magic-fueled war.
The Shadow Bank's actual operators, owners, and policy makers are revealed at the end, so I won't tell you about them.
The term Shadow Bank is sprinkled liberally through the book. It's attributes shadow our real-world Shadow Bank. The whole novel is political satire wrapped in James Bond camp and a pure send-up of the serious view of the world.
I do highly recommend all Simon R. Green titles, but particularly the Secret Histories and the tales of the Nightside.
Green has accomplished just what I described in the series of posts on Depiction.
Part 1: Power in Relationships
Part 2: Conflict and Resolution
Part 3: Internal Conflict
And he has done all that while "ripping from the headlines" -- as I've described that process in many prior posts here. If you aren't a technician of writing craft, a wordsmith, very likely you will never see him doing any of this. All you see is a rip-roaring good read.
Here are some of the places to learn about the real-world Shadow Banking system and how that interweaves with Politics.
Remember, when writing a Romance Novel, Romance by itself will produce a very bland and placid product. Add religion or politics, and you add a spark to your tinder. Splash on the accelerant of sex, and stand back!) But the most potent ingredient in Romance is Money, a real-world proxy for Power.
"Love" is 7th House, Libra, Venus, and all things peaceful and beautiful.
"Sex" is 8th House, Scorpio, Pluto, and all things secret, dark, underground, interior, and, ancient tombs with cursed buried treasure, disruptive when revealed. 8th House is other-people's-money, other people's values, thus Inheritance and taxes.
8th House is opposite 2nd House - and both are about the tensions and Powers of Money.
2nd House is Banking. 8th House is Shadow Banking. They are inextricably intertwined in very mystical ways -- Simon R. Green has revealed mysteries for you.
Here are some websites where you can find information on Shadow Banking in our real world. If you dig, you might come across some funding trails that lead to politics.
Here is a google search -- look at the images, not just the websites.
And in particular this diagram from
Where it says:
This week, a senior banker friend gave me a poster entitled The Shadow Banking System. It was shocking stuff.
The graphic depicts how money goes round the modern world. Most of the poster is dominated by shadow banking systems. These flows are so extraordinarily complex that hundreds of boxes create a diagram comparable to the circuit board.
It should be mandatory reading for bankers, regulators, politicians and investors today, a reminder of clueless investors, regulators and rating agencies.
“After all, during the credit boom, there was plenty of research being conducted into the financial world; but I never saw anything remotely comparable to this road map.”
And the larger image is from
Seeking Alpha is a legitimate and very insightful, informative and very often correct source for information on how our Stock Market moves and why. They "follow the money." And they try to get ahead of vast movements to show you where you can find profit investing in companies that have volatile stocks.
Here's my favorite chart. You can stare at this for hours and still find new connections.
There are many graphs posted on the web. Dig through Google and Bing to find more.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
"Most copyright holders are individuals; most infringers are businesses." Alex Wild.
This is not the picture that copyright infringers would like the world to see. Most big Tech for instance is young, anarchic, inclined to worship "distruptiveness" and to value the means of distributing "content" rather than the "content" itself, which is why they call movies, music, photography, literature, games etc "content" rather than art.
If they called art "art", they'd have to call an individual photographer an artist, instead of "The Man".
Anyway, be careful when you "share" glorious pictures on Facebook and its like. You might be infringing someone's copyright.
"....many times infringing content gets taken down, only to reappear on the same site, sometimes only a matter of hours after it is removed..." and "... in one case, the same textbook was uploaded to the same website 571 times..."
Quoting from the above linked article:
"Representative Judy Chu whipped out her iPad and did a Goole search. She pointed out that all she did was search "watch 12." which Google auto-completed to "watch 12 Years a Slave free..."
Gotta love Judy Chu!
So, Google was asked why Google auto-completes to pirate sites. Google would not answer that, but the probability is that Google auto-completes to pirate sites, because pirate sites make money for Google.
This is a highly entertaining article and well worth reading.
The cut and thrust here http://22.214.171.124/1A2AEDF5-B510-DBC0-45A4-A082EB0493A3.pdf is also excellent.
"... the Turtles struck a major blow in the struggle against the new boss (Big Tech and Big Radio) in their case against Sirius to protect the rights of artists who recorded prior to 1972..."
Well worth reading, IMHO. For those who don't know, many radio stations and internet stations have decided not to pay performers anything at all for all those Classic Rock and Golden Oldies channels that play music recorded before 1972. That is just exploitation, IMHO.
The [Copyright] Office thinks it is unreasonable for the age of a sound recording to dictate whether royalties are paid on public performances by means of digital audio transmissions, so long as copyright subsists in that sound recording.
When I wrote FORCED MATE in 1993, I tried not to copy STAR TREK or STAR WARS, but I probably did so. According to FanFICtion (an excellent read), almost every work is inspired by previous works, and could be classed as someone's fan fiction. Be that as it may, anyone reading FM for the first time nowadays would not be at all impressed with my futuristic elements.
Alas. What do more experienced SFR or alien romance writers do about their backlist being overtaken?
Thursday, September 25, 2014
I have a new erotic paranormal romance published by Ellora's Cave in their "VaVa Boomers" theme month, featuring heroines over fifty. In my novelette "Romantic Retreat," a woman whose husband has just retired from the Navy disagrees with him about how to spend their "bonus years." But he brushes off her misgivings about his plan to uproot them from their current home and take a high-stress civilian job. Then a friend gives her an enchanted miniature model of a fairy-tale cottage. Its magic transports her and her husband into the cottage in a pocket dimension, where they have twenty-four uninterrupted hours to reconnect romantically and settle their differences:Romantic Retreat
Of all the fiction I've written, this story draws most extensively on my own background as a career Navy wife (with numerous changes in details, of course). We've all heard the precept "write what you know," as well as the reservations and counter-arguments. For example, it's obvious that if "what you know" means what you've personally lived through, nobody could create fantasy or science fiction. Henry James once said that an author doesn't necessarily need a broad variety of real-life experiences but, rather, should be a person "upon whom nothing is lost." In so far as "write what you know" is taken to mean using events from one's own life, however, I don't think it's the best advice for a beginning writer. The typical young aspiring author doesn't have a lot of life experience yet. More importantly, in my opinion writing about one's own experiences is the hardest thing to do well, not the easiest. It takes a long time to integrate memories through reflection before one can translate them into effective art.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
That saying is a nutshell statement of what we're discussing in this DEPICTION Series. Listen to the arguments in the world around you, especially politics, to see if you can determine whether they are arguing about WHO is right, or about WHAT is right. Which argument makes a better Romance Novel?
Part 1 of this series:
Part 2: Conflict and Resolution
Many romance writers resort to "internal dialogue" (usually done in italics, first person instead of quotes, but it's still dialogue) to try to depict what is going on inside of a character.
This is not an incorrect approach and it is very popular with Romance Readers.
However, the repeated use of a single tool to illustrate a single point soon begins to impart a monotonous undertone to the Author's Voice.
By varying the tools used, the writer can create the illusion of a real character.
The 4 main tools a writer has were mentioned in Part 2 of this series, Dialogue, Description, Narrative, and Exposition, are the tools that can be varied to depict internal conflict, and thus give your character depth and his/her point of view a sense of reality.
Prior posts linked in Part 2 lead into the detailed discussion of these 4 basic tools, which most new writers have a fair grasp on. The one most often abused is Exposition, leading to the dreaded Expository Lump.
An "expository lump" is a long passage, a whole paragraph or sometimes several pages in a row, of the author telling about the environment of the story, the character's situation, ancestry, attitudes and preferences.
A good writer will grab the other 3 tools in quick succession, most often within a single sentence, to convey this information to the reader.
Beta Readers will complain the story is "slow" or "boring" or "incomprehensible" -- Amazon comments will bitterly point out that it wasn't worth what they paid, even if it was free. And all of them are actually reacting not to the information being conveyed in the expository lump, not to the exposition itself, but to the LUMP.
The issue that readers who aren't writers react to without knowing its source is the LUMP not the exposition.
One way to break up a LUMP is to use the other three tools - Dialogue, Description, and Narrative.
The best way to approach a long, intricate and abstract "lump" of information to be dumped on a reader is with Narrative. TELL THE STORY. That's what narrative is -- the narrative are the words that convey the story.
Narrative says, he went here, met her, they went there, found a dead body, called the police, -- narrative fleshes out the Plot Events into scenes.
Here is a post about scene structure with link to previous part:
And here is part 8 on Dialogue with links to previous posts:
So one way to break up that deadly-dull introductory expository lump which we discussed in Depiction Part 2 is to vary the tool you are using.
Take all that information that the reader must know before the actual story starts and cast it as scenes.
But the rule still applies that page 1 must depict the conflict, so you can't just make up more scenes to go before the story starts. You have to find a way to integrate that opening scene stuck on page 25 into your newly made up scene with all the expository information in it.
This process reformulates your outline, changes the plot, may change the antagonist's identity, and well, change everything. But while you do this process, you will suddenly find yourself feeling like a working professional writer -- you will know this will sell because it fits the paradigm of well known books that have been published.
So you take your laboriously created expository lump, and cast that information in scenes.
In that new scene, there have to be characters, and the characters have to be in conflict -- not necessarily with each other.
Everything might seem calm on the surface, while the conflict the reader sees brewing seethes beneath the apparently offhand dialogue.
Ah, yes, you have written pages of block paragraphs of exposition, and now you must cut that information, cast it into scenes, and now you pick up the dialogue tool you worked so hard to master.
You can start your scene with a line of dialogue, without even the tag of "he said" -- just a statement or question can do it.
"Where did you get that old spaceship!"
Wouldn't that line open a grand romantic battle-of-the-sexes novel complete with aliens aforethought?
With a line of dialogue like that, you are depicting the internal conflict of the person being addressed -- not the person speaking!
You have used SHOW DON'T TELL to convey information about a character who hasn't even appeared yet.
Now pick up another of the 4 tools, Narrative.
He kicked at the metal side of the cylinder sitting in his garage, but his eyes were on his erstwhile wife of three days. Before his boot made contact with the metal, she grinned in anticipation. Then his foot went right through the corroded metal plate and sparks flew.
That's NARRATIVE. It's what happened. But it contains single words of description (metal, cyclinder, garage, corroded, sparks) -- "erstwhile" is depiction which indicates there's some irregularity involved here so the reader is invited to "fill in the blanks."
She laughed at him. "I found it when we moved in. It was under that heap of bags of Stardust."
"She laughed at him" is narrative, but since it's a slightly inappropriate response to his "accusation" implied by using an ! instead of a ? in his question -- it shows rather than tells there's buried conflict. I might have written, "She recoiled from his accusation" but that would have weakened her character -- so instead she uses inappropriate aggression. But the DIALOGUE she chooses is DEFENSIVE, so we know she feels attacked by his !-style question.
Now pick up another tool, Description.
The detached garage sat on the surface of the asteroid they had won in a card game, right over the pressurized apartment. The garage could be evacuated, but if they did that to bring their ship in, they'd lose all the drug money that Stardust represented.
EXPOSITION: It had been her idea to avoid evacuating the garage to bring their ship inside. (SEE? ONE LINE, NO LUMP.)
Wrenching his foot free of the hole, he turned hands on hips. "Maybe I will actually marry you after all."
"Over my dead body!"
NOTE: that is a line of narrative followed in the same paragraph by a line of dialogue.
Look that over again. Start with a line of Dialogue, then Narrative, Dialogue, Description, Exposition, Narrative, Dialogue, Dialogue.
EXERCISE: Go find a copy of your favorite novel and go through it with highlighters coloring each word to tag it as dialogue, description, narrative or exposition -- note the rhythmic alternation and then write a piece of your own with that SAME RHYTHM of tools.
Now go back over what I just wrote here and look at the characterization.
Find the external conflict -- there they are on an asteroid they won (note the ABSENCE of an explanation of what card game, how they partnered, why they ended up co-owning the asteroid, whether they own equal shares, or why they were both playing that game), and they HAVE FOUND a pile of drugs of some colossal value if sold to a trafficker (note the absence of narrative of poking around their new place and her discovering but not mentioning the space ship, of any reason why she didn't mention it -- NOTE WHAT IS LEFT OUT).
Find the internal conflict -- they are partnered but not exactly married. Neither really knows if this is Love or what. They've got worries (lots of money involved; someone probably wants that Stardust; can they trust each other?) They are hip-deep in a Situation and they disagree what the Situation actually is, except that it's changing by the moment.
He accuses, she counter-attacks -- that's the surface or external conflict. It shows without telling what the shadowy-lurking-shape of the internal conflicts must be like.
Now, the actual story starts when SOMETHING comes after that drug-dump of Stardust, and all this about the garage might have been cast as an expository lump.
Three days after Marla and Tip got to the asteroid, Tip discovered that Marla had been hiding a space ship in the garage. He was mad at her for that but she just mocked him and flounced off. So he chased her down and proposed marriage again, as a solution to the legal problem of joint-ownership of all that wealth. Two days later, while they were eating dinner (separately), something hit the asteroid.
Where's the story? Where are the characters? Where's the action?
Or you could make it worse with a long technical description of the size of the asteroid, the make and model of the artificial gravity machinery, the orbit, and speculation about all the things that could happen but didn't.
You, as writer, know all that -- all of it, every single bit. But the reader, as a reader, doesn't need to know, and more than that doesn't want to know.
Your job as writer is to get the reader wanting to know long, long before you "reveal" without TELLING.
Let the reader figure it out, then confirm their suspicions.
That's a major key to how a reader "gets into" a book and "identifies" with a character.
In Part 2 of this series on Depicting, we used a political example, so let's use another one from politics.
You see on the TV News how commentators on one network point the finger at commentators on rival networks, trying to make a story out of one calling the other names. Yes, it's pathetic, and one big reason nobody watches TV news anymore.
But there's a lot to be learned from watching stuff like that.
Every once in a while, when they know the listening audience is very small (like Friday night for example), they will reveal by offhand reference just how these pieces are generated and why some Events get covered and others don't.
1) The Narrative
"The Narrative" -- the news is not what's new, but the next development in a story-line that doesn't exist in reality. This is a story that is being invented much like a Parable or a story-with-a-moral -- a story that is designed to get viewers to draw certain specific conclusions and thus act on those conclusions as if they were fact based.
"The Optics" -- referring to an entire PR discipline dedicated to figuring out what conclusions the majority of a certain demographic will draw from certain images.
"Resonance" -- referring to retweeting. Will this story go viral. Will you hear this installment of the story and hasten to tell your friends on Facebook or Pinterest? Will they in turn tell all their friends? Does anybody care? Do they "relate to" this story?
How do people come to "relate to" a story?
The same way they come to "relate to" the characters in a novel.
Yes, fiction and news are on convergent paths.
In fiction, Literature Professors study how readers "identify with" an "objective correlative" -- and in film, Blake Snyder formulated a category of deeds that CAUSES viewers to "identify with" a protagonist.
Drawing a reader/viewer into a story is a science these days.
You get drawn into a story when you see something in a character in the story that you either see in yourself or want to see in yourself -- something you aspire to be (Superhero) or actually are (angst-ridden).
You get drawn into a story when you identify with the protagonist (or antagonist).
That's why there is so much tear-jerker coverage of news stories about tragedies -- repeated interviews with the survivors or victims.
It's the people that make it REAL.
In fiction, it's the characters that make it realistic.
The same principle is used in politics to collect loyal followings of Democrats and Republicans (in the USA; elsewhere different parties, same principle).
You hear stories on the news about this politician and that, about Congress and the TITLE of a bill, and the Senate and which senators are for or against the Congress Bill with that TITLE.
Now we all know the title of a bill rarely has anything at all to do with the content, and amendments can reverse the entire thing, distort it, or maybe add a new topic entirely. To be AGAINST a Bill is not necessarily to be against achieving what the Title says. It may be merely to be against some other topic that got tacked on by amendment. It's horse-trading.
However, the way we barely scan the surface of the news these days, all we know is the TITLE and whether it's supported by Republicans or Democrats.
Those OPTICS are managed by PR experts to lead people to "identify" with Republicans or Democrats, and it's a war-for-eyeballs. They want you to SEE (show don't tell) how all Republicans are against Women's Rights, or all Democrats don't value Life.
PR experts create these "narratives" with words, optics, and topics personified in characters. They draw people into identifying with one or the other label.
This is exactly what a writer does to draw a reader into the story.
Once a viewer has Identified with a Republican, that short-cut thinking described in Part 2 cuts in, and in that viewer's mind "All Republicans Think Like Me" becomes an unassailable axiom of existence. Any attack on any Republican is taken personally -- which is why Politics is an explosive subject.
Prejudice, you recall from Part 2, is all about that short-cut thinking that lets us fill in the blanks of a depiction -- so we see a few sparse lines, and our minds insist the whole, full-color image is in 3-D right there. We see a person with dark skin and insist we're looking at a "bad person." That irrational conviction is absolute because it is based on what we know about ourselves, not on what we know about the person before us.
It works the same way for Democrats -- just find one Democrat who seems like "my kind of people" and suddenly all Democrats firmly believe what you, yourself, believe.
The truth is, some do, some don't, and no two are alike.
But our brains can't handle that much data, so we use our short-cut thinking and just know that all those nasty accusations against the Party we identify with are untrue because those accusations are untrue of us.
You know who you are; you know what you believe; you know what you are for or against, and you Identify with this or that person or sub-group of a Party, and impute the certainties you cherish to all members of the larger Party.
Knowing that mechanism is operating in most voters, the political PR machine uses it to get you to "Identify" with a Candidate. They believe that if they can hook you, they have you.
You know if you can hook a reader on Page 1, you have them at least until the Middle, and if the Middle doesn't sag, you have them to the End. And you'll likely be able to sell them another book with your byline.
You can learn to induce Identification in readers by studying the Political PR Machine creating a fictional character out of each and every politician running for office.
Students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt taking courses to become experts in PR (Public Relations - Google it, see how many schools there are and what it costs). You can learn all you have to know about how it's done by watching political commercials and scanning the News.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
We all know many plants grow toward light or, in the case of those such as sunflowers, literally turn toward the sun. But researchers are discovering that plants have the ability to react to their environments in other ways:Plant Intelligence
Some can "hear," sort of—they respond to threatening noises by secreting defensive chemicals. Roots have been found to sense the presence of obstacles and change their direction of growth in advance. Some anesthetics that work on human beings also affect plants. One experiment described in the article suggests that plants can "remember" and in a sense "learn." While they don't have brains, "They don't have nerve cells like humans, but they do have a system for sending electrical signals and even produce neurotransmitters, like dopamine, serotonin and other chemicals the human brain uses to send signals."
Do adaptations such as these qualify plants to be labeled "intelligent," even without brains and neurons? Depends on your definition of intelligence, of course. If intelligence simply means problem-solving or the ability to "process information" and act on it, maybe they meet the criteria.
So maybe people who talk to their plants have a point, even if the plants don't talk back. And this research may hint that we could eventually meet the sentient or even sapient vegetable aliens of science fiction. (Not like Triffids, I hope!) Their view of reality would doubtless be very different from ours, however. For one thing, they would probably live—and think—at a much slower pace.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Conflict And Resolution
In Depiction Part 1,
we defined depiction at some length. Here's a short excerpt to remember this working definition.
It's the brain trick that lets us look at a scrambled page full of LINES and "see" a map, and understand it as a depiction of a territory (real or imagined).
Writers depict both concrete and abstract elements in mere words. Readers agree to accept the emphasis the writer's selection of certain attributes and omission of other attributes to "depict" a character, situation, philosophy, threat, conflict, or the stakes in a transaction.
If the writer writes, "It was a dark and stormy night ..." the reader may KNOW there were some street lamps or car headlights (or carriage lanterns) but at the same time understand that the main character's emotional "place" is inside the primal threat-zone that dark and stormy nights were for cavemen.
The character is aware of the light, but seeing only the dark.
So a depiction is NOT a photograph. It is not a complete analysis. A depiction deliberately leaves elements out in order to exaggerate the role of other elements in determining the materialization of results.
A depiction is a work of Art. We've discussed fiction as Art and the methods the writer uses to create that Art -- the how, and the why of the writer's job has been covered in many long posts here, especially in the various series on Worldbuilding
...and how to blend the Worldbuilding skills into various individual craft skills (such as theme, characterization, etc).
Once you've built your multidimensional alter-reality, you must then depict it for your reader.
To depict the World you have built, you must select certain attributes to mention outright and others to leave as implied. That process produces a depiction of an alter-reality that depicts our own -- a First Derivative, mathematicians would call it.
So in Part 1 of this series we looked at how to depict Relationships.
Romance is a process, Love is a Relationship. There are all kinds of Relationship, "Buddy," "Adversary" "Mortal Enemy" "Brother-Rival" etc etc.
And in every relationship we work with in fiction you will find the seeds of Conflict.
Conflict is the Essence of Story, but it generates Plot (where Story is the character's change due to impact of Events, and Plot is the sequence of Events caused by a character's actions or inactions).
Books on story craft or writing will all use different words to refer to a moving-part of a story-construct, but all the vastly commercial kinds of fiction have the same moving-parts -- Setting, Character, Conflict, Theme -- and all the English language ones have 4 types of word-usages: Exposition, Narrative, Dialogue, Description.
A writer's "Voice" is established by the proportions of those word-usages employed to convey the structural components. That proportion establishes pacing, which is a part of the genre signature.
We've delved deeply into the details of how to do each of these individual things, and how to pair them, blending two into one seamless whole.
Many beginning writers launch their first story attempts already able to synthesize these skills into a sellable page and chapter.
But very few of those confident in their story-telling skills have thought through or mastered the Art of Depiction.
Teaching writing workshops, I get manuscript after manuscript of very interesting, intriguing, wildly commercial stories with great premises, delightful imagination, and strong romantic intrigue -- but they are unsellable because they start with a massive Expository Lump, a huge pre-history of the entire world the writer has meticulously built or a long personal history of the characters and their ancestry.
It is easy to point to page 25 or 55 and say, "This scene is page 1 of this work."
But the author will not know how we (the professional writers at the table) all arrived at that same conclusion. And it is spooky how much unanimity a group of professionals have when analyzing the same manuscript for a beginner. The beginner often thinks it's a conspiracy -- even when the professionals haven't spoken to each other about this manuscript.
Most professional writers don't know how they learned to do that analysis, and just shrug it off as "experience."
I remember learning this technique, and hope I can explain it.
It isn't enough to point to an interior page and say, "This is page 1."
The author of the piece will fight that, tooth and nail, because you see the reader MUST KNOW all this other stuff before that point or the reader just won't understand.
And that's true, absolutely true.
The professionals at the table will all suggest different solutions to the problem. They all agree on the problem -- but never, ever, on how to solve it.
How you solve that problem changes the nature of the story, the plot, the target audience, and most of all the characters themselves, very often it changes the theme, and requires the Worldbuilding to undergo major revision.
The beginning writer must learn what to do with that initial expository lump before that lump is formed into words, before those words at set down -- in fact, before the World for this story is Built.
I am using the term DEPICTION to represent that arcane process of solving that problem of the Expository Lump that has to be conveyed before the story starts. I've never seen this process described exactly this way in books on writing craft.
I wasn't taught it as such. All my teachers (professional writers and editors) could do was point at where the story really starts and say, "cut all this other stuff, start here."
And my response was always a (very silent) "NO NO NO!!!"
So I invented this method of "Depiction" -- and many years later, I see what appears to me to be many other writers using this method. The end result, regardless of the process of arriving at it, has to be that uniform STARTING PLACE that all pros agree is where the story starts.
Expository Lumps are often strewn throughout a novel. This method of Depiction will solve those problems, too.
Here are some previous post on Expository Lumps
Assuming you've been reading this Tuesday blog series since 2008, and have thought about those posts, here is the advanced lesson in depicting Conflict and depicting Resolution that will solve the problem of the 25 pages of throat clearing before page 1 of the story.
This method often does away with those "Introduction" or "Prelude" additions that editors resort to when they can't get the author to depict. Understanding depiction and how to do it is not in the job-description of editors. Those who can teach this come to editing via another path.
Like everything else in Art and Story-craft, it's a learn-by-doing kind of thing, so we'll work with the "Real World" around us to extract elements that could be used in depicting a conflict and a resolution.
PAGE 1 of any piece of fiction starts with defining the Conflict.
That's actually what pros teaching writing workshops look for to spot that page 26 opening scene error.
The story starts where the Conflict kicks off the plot.
Depicting Conflict is the missing skill for such writing students.
The opening of any novel is where the This vs. That or Her vs. Him is first depicted.
Now remember -- a Depiction is not the whole, entire, complete, multiplex Situation.
Depiction is done by leaving important, vital, crucial elements out of the picture, then presenting elements of that picture that merely hint or suggest the presence of those crucial elements.
This artistic skill leverages the reader's simple, human tendency to make assumptions.
You give them this; they assume that.
It is the human brain's short-cut mechanism at work there. It is the mechanism that causes us to be prejudiced and intolerant, and it is responsible for our ability to appreciate Art in all its forms and media.
So after you've defined the Conflict, you depict that conflict on Page 1.
Remember, an "outline" contains only the moving parts of the plot, Beginning, Middle, End Events.
Depiction as I'm using it here is the Art of creating Verisimilitude -- the illusion of reality.
It works the same way that caricature works -- the eye sees a few sparse lines and fills in the rest. A caricature is not a photograph but a representation of certain, carefully selected features of the subject.
So when Depicting a Conflict for your opening, you carefully select Features of that Conflict to incorporate into your opening Dialogue, Description, Exposition (yes you are allowed to use some exposition, just not in lumps) and Narrative.
Your Conflict, on Page 1, is distributed among those 4 language elements, and that single conflict must be present in all instances of those 4 language elements -- usually throughout the entire novel, no matter the point of view. Conflict pervades the work -- that's what makes it a story.
How do you select what Features of your Conflict to include on Page 1 and which other features to explore in depth later?
To select the elements of Conflict on Page 1, you look at the last page (that you haven't written yet.)
That's where the outline comes in.
The outline you scribbled down when you had this Idea flood into your conscious mind should have little except the 3 major points, Beginning, Middle, End. The rest is commentary.
1. Pandora sees a Box
2. Pandora Opens the Box
3. Pandora gets shut up inside that Box.
The Conflict is Pandora Vs. The Box. The Middle (the worst thing that could happen) is Pandora Opens The Box. That doesn't resolve the conflict, it escalates it as a good Middle must. The End resolves the conflict by blending Pandora and the Box into one, removing her "issues" from the world.
Of course the Situation just sits there begging for a sequel. That's good plotting.
At this stage of Depicting a Conflict and its Resolution, the beginning writer will likely discover that the Last Page doesn't match the First Page she has in mind.
That is the conflict that is Resolved at the ending as envisioned is not the same conflict that begins on Page 1.
Many writers will handle this problem by ignoring it -- or pointing to Masterwork novels where many conflicts are braided into a complex mulch-layered plot to justify their choices. Most beginning writers want to be that sort of Masterwork writer. Depiction is the art form that must be mastered to create such a Masterwork.
It isn't that you must already be a Big Name writer to get away with bait-and-switch plotting. It's that you must have the skills that make Names Big. Some of those skills are writing skills. Some aren't. Writing skills can be learned.
So, take this rich, multidimensional, braided plot and multiple viewpoint story you have in mind, and choose a few, sparse elements of The Conflict to depict on Page 1.
Then craft the last page out of a specific Resolution to that Conflict. Yes, you may have to revised that ending a few times as you write, but having a target depicted lets you revise that depiction as you go. This is the skill that lets professionals hit deadlines, to predict when signing a contract how long it will take to write that novel.
It's not that you always stick to an outline -- it is that you have an outline to revise as required.
Given the immense World you have Built in your mind, how do you sort out which of the conflicts that seethe within that world to depict on Page 1.
You look to your THEME. The Theme is the philosophical statement about life, the universe, and everything that this work of fiction makes. It is the moral of the story, or the proposition to be debated.
That statement about The Universe and its underlying Reality dictates how your Conflict will be resolved. That statement defines the ENDING EVENT of the story.
For example, if you are writing a Romance, your philosophical statement, your Major Theme, is "Happily Ever After Is Attainable In Reality" -- or maybe "Only Happily For Now can be Attained, and that's enough." or maybe "HFN is not enough."
If your theme is HEA is Real, then your Page 1 must depict the ABSENCE OF HEA -- people wanting something, misery for lack of whatever, a big problem that is major because of the absence of a partner (example: unwed pregnancy).
The Ending is then HEA Realized (wedding in the offing, commitment, birth, whatever solves the problem).
The Middle would then be the point in the focus couple's life where the partnership is just not working out - that internal and/or external forces drive them apart (deployed to Iraq, denied Military permission to marry). Or maybe what drives them apart for the Middle Event is some kind of Political Campaign or issue.
Love And Politics always equals EXPLOSIVE ACTION. In fact, Love and Politics is sometimes more explosive than Religion and Politics.
Perhaps your Couple is divided by their stances on hot-button-political issues of today, even though they live in a Galaxy Far Far Away.
By using today's Headlines, but depicting those headlines rather than just copying them into your story, you can lift today's social conflicts out into the galaxy, place them between human and non-human, and have a whopping series of novels that sells big.
How do you do that? How do you "depict" a political conflict torn from today's headlines?
Remember, depiction is the art of lifting up certain elements and suppressing others. It's not distortion, but point of view.
Each person sees the world around them from a unique point of view - their own.
Humans tend to regard what they see as the whole reality that is there -- but what they see is a selected depiction.
We have a brain mechanism that selects reality for us, so we can free up brain space for handling more critical life-or-death decisions. And that brain mechanism is the source of both our Art Appreciation and our deadly-to-each-other prejudices.
So you, the author, must replicate the effect that point-of-view has on the Character's convictions.
Take, for example, our real-world political situation. In order to avoid having to fill up our brains with thousands of data points, in the USA we "reduce" our reality to two political positions. In other countries, there are many political parties with similarities to each other and some differences their constituents consider critical. Voters there have to think about many more abstract concerns than those in the USA.
In Europe, for example, "Far Right" means Nazi. In the USA, the "Far Right" means anti-Nazi. But because of the Internet, many voters in the USA have adopted the European definition of "Far Right" and now point the finger at the Right in the USA as being Nazi oriented. Those targeted by that finger object. Conflict reigns.
Consider the Conflict breaking apart your Soul Mate Couple that has its origin in that kind of linguistic mislabeling. They fall in love.
The Conflict becomes clear. Opening Scene: they are walking to an ice cream shop after seeing a wonderful movie they both enjoyed, but it had a woman in it who went for an abortion for well-depicted reasons.
The guy admits he always votes Republican, and that movie explains exactly why the Republicans have the correct approach -- because abortion shouldn't be legal.
She, however, always votes Democrat because, after all, she's a woman, and "how dare you" is her bristling response -- nobody is going to tell her how to manage her own biology.
Why do I mention this? Because International Sales and Translations are where the professional writer actually, finally, turns a profit. It's vital to keep the world market in mind when crafting a depiction. Abortion is a good example because the yes/no argument is very different in the rest of the world. This intimate argument by a couple where marriage is a looming issue uncovers a Foreign Policy Issue between them which could break that couple up.
Should a man be allowed to force a woman to have his baby?
If he's to be disallowed, who does the disallowing? Government? Religion? Neighborhood busy-bodies? Doctors?
THEME: how do I get you to do what I want even if you don't want to?
MASTER THEME: There Are No Objective Criteria Of Right And Wrong Use Of Force (if I can get away with it, then I can do it). Or put another way Pride vs. Humility makes a great Conflict:
Today, in the USA, it's merely a case of seeing "people" (on TV mostly) doing things you don't want to let them do, and getting "The Government" to force them to behave the way you want.
Government is The Power that the people use to force other people to behave properly.
A long-long time ago, there was a comic strip everyone read because it was syndicated in all the newspapers, There Ought To Be A Law.
It DEPICTED (and from it you can learn the Art of Depicting) activities that nobody had the power to stop, so they'd throw up their hands and declaim, "There Ought To Be A Law" against that activity.
There Ought To Be A Law and They'll Do It Every Time (two syndicated comics) depicts a world where people can't use government to control other people's behavior, but they want to because something has to be done.
The urge to control other, misbehaving, people is universal among humans and a source of Conflict you can tap repeatedly. Life and morality can be "depicted" as either a fight for control of others or the results of people being "out of control."
How many times do news stories about an urgent emergency requiring an Act of Congress contain the phrase "the situation is out of control." And not one reporter challenges that by asking, "when was the situation in control?" or "who controlled the situation before this" or "was the old controller of the situation doing a good enough job?"
Why does this situation need "controlling" from outside the situation?
Watch The News -- watch it carefully and keep asking questions like that to find ways to depict your story's conflict and a satisfying resolution.
So here's half the conflict between the serious couple coming out of the movie Theater:
He says, "You can't be serious! You vote Democrat? YOU??? I don't believe it."
She says, "Republicans are superstitious idiots."
He says, "I am not!"
She says, "Then how could you possibly believe all those lies?"
He says, "What lies? It's the Democrats who lie rather than take responsibility. It's the Democrats who think government has to solve every problem with more and more money!"
She says, "I do not think that!!! How can you say that?"
Note that each of them is accepting the depiction of their own party as the truth about the other's party.
That is, the Democrats (whom she trusts as a primary source) depict the Republicans as superstitious idiots, so she repeats that depiction without treating it as a "depiction" (i.e. as a statement that leaves something out in order to emphasize something else.)
Anyone who identifies as Republican must be a superstitious idiot. Anyone who identifies as Democrat must be a person who won't own up to responsibility for the results of their own actions -- "unintended consequences" means "I'm not guilty."
Neither one is penetrating that depiction of the opposite party.
Go watch some TV news and analyze for that tendency -- especially political ads.
So let's list some points He could point to as Democratic dogma.
a) Government Is The Solution
b) It's an Emergency therefore the usual rules are set aside and we can do "whatever it takes" (therefore to get rid of onerous rules, one has to create an emergency.)
c) Got a Problem? Give us a lot more money and we will fix it for you
d) It's just one rotten apple who broke the law. The system is sound.
e) It's proven science so the government must impose it on everyone
f) Only government can protect you from actions of your neighbor
g) If it should be done; then therefore government must do it because nothing else is powerful enough to accomplish it.
h) The Experts know, so we have to believe them and act as if they are correct
i) Income Inequality is a travesty that government must prevent
j) We must educate all children in identical values because otherwise we won't be able to control the resulting adults and then we'd have anarchy.
Now think about those (each could be the thematic foundation of a long series of long novels).
Would any Democrat accept that phrasing as a statement of their own beliefs?
Would any Republican accept the opposite statements as their own beliefs?
We routinely use the brain short-cut mentioned above to avoid having to learn a lot of facts and then think with them -- and instead, we extract a couple visible facts and imagine what fills in the blanks.
That "fill in the blanks" process is "prejudice" -- it's the basis of "racism" (all Blacks are lazy bastards), "ageism" (all people over 60 are technical illiterates), and of War (all Germans are Krauts; all Japanese are Japs, all Muslims are Islamists).
Study the political fracas in TV Ad Blitzes to look for the "depiction" of your reality then compare that depiction with the underlying reality as you see it.
When you can see the pattern of how the Advertising "lifts" elements from the pea-soupy reality of the opposition (CONFLICT) party and presents to you a mere depiction OF THE CONFLICTING ELEMENTS, then turn to the huge World you have Built in your mind, and do that exact same thing to present your fictional world to your very real readers.
That will generate your Page 1, your middle, and your Last Page conflict resolution.