Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Failure of Imagination Part II: Society

I didn't label Part I as Part I because I didn't know I'd have more to say about failure of imagination. So here's Part I where I illustrated the failure of Imagination in the general populace regarding the HEA (which is identical to the Upbeat Ending), and a failure of expert writers to imagine the HEA.


We looked at how the most imaginative people around can't imagine a real-life HEA - Happily Ever After ending to a Neptune transit (Romance is signified astrologically by Neptune). The context was Utopia vs Dystopia. Read the comments too.

For more on Astrology see:

In the eye doctor's waiting room the other day, I accidentally read a very old Time Magazine article about how the under 30 age group sees marriage as superfluous.


Then I saw an interview on the Fox channel of Raqel Welch touring to tout her biography, (Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage) - she's almost 70 and done up to look maybe 35 except when she smiles. A pin-up icon, some might consider her the very image of Romance.

Her main point was that there's a serious social payoff to postponing sexual activity until after the teen years, and even more especially to reserve sexual activity for marriage only. You might want to look at some of the comments on her book on Amazon as part of surveying our current society.

Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage

So the next day I'm doing my early morning (I live in Phoenix, it's summer; VERY early morning) walk around the park for exercise, and I'm thinking about the HEA.

Why does Romance genre absolutely require it? And SF also has an ending-point formula -- called "upbeat."

These are actually identical requirements. It's all about where you start telling the story, and where (in time) you end it. Life is a sine-wave. It has high points and low points and neutral points but never stops waving. Storytellers just CUT a section out of that sine-wave to structure a plot.

The publisher's end-point requirement determines the starting point.

The general formula for finding The Beginning - the opening image and opening scene of a screenplay or novel - is to identify the conflict, identify the conflicting elements, glue them together with THEME as you define them, showing two sides of the thematic coin, then crash them into each other.

In a Romance, it's the two individuals who will fall in love caught at their first meeting. Sometimes you start with one, then the other, and show-don't-tell their initial states due to their backstory morass, all the complications explaining why now is the worst moment in life for a Romance to begin. The Romance is doomed by these details.

Then you smash them together and whirl them into an emotional tizzy that just totally destroys both lives (prelude to healing the whole mess because love conquers all).

In an adventure (which publishers still insist most SF must be) you define protagonist, antagonist, conflict, theme, and find the point where protagonist meets antagonist.

In both cases the meeting point is defined by the publisher's required ending.

The Romance must gel, the subconscious emotional cross-currents must surface and be dealt with consciously (I Love You is the usual confession point that resolves the conflict's tension - the rest is denoument).

The adventure must conclude with a return to homebase, to a non-peril situation in which something the protagonist sought has been gained -- and that too implies without stating "happily ever after." (though there can be a pricetag - a lost limb, a near-death experience threatening to reveal that God is real, the loss of a family heirloom - tragedy can be there, but triumph must be wrapped around it.

Think about it and you can see that these are BOTH identical endings - the emotional tension is released, the conflict is resolved, the best possible situation has been attained.

But SF exclusivists reject the emotional bonding HEA, and Romance purists won't tolerate tragedy, angst, perpetual darkness wrapped around the tunnel of light.

Each type of "fan" is looking for a validation of their worldview.

Each type of "fan" is rejecting any challenge to that worldview.

We tend to label this reader/viewer objective as "escapism" with a slight undercurrent of a suppressed snear.

I don't see either field as escapist literature. I don't believe that escapism per se is enjoyable, entertaining, or in any way uplifting.

If all you get out of a story is a confirmation of your current mood or worldview, you will very likely abandon that genre soon.

If you're depressed and you read depressing stories, you don't get a charge out of it.

If you're "high" and read a really rollicking upbeat story, you don't get "higher" or stay high. (Sometimes other's joys are depressing in and of themselves).

So in a few months or years you "grow out of" a genre and leave it behind, having achieved a more mature worldview.

Stories that both confirm and challenge your current (always transient) worldview will be stories you reread, and genres you stick with for a lifetime.

Stories that only challenge your worldview are serious turnoffs because nobody really enjoys being hammered with all the points where they are wrong about everything.

Not only that, but stories that only challenge your worldview are stories you can't get "into," peopled with characters who are "cardboard" or "unrealized" or "contrived" or "inconsistent" or "unbelievable."

Yes! Scathing criticism of your ability as a writer to characterize may actually originate in your handling of your own worldview - i.e. of the THEME of the story you are telling.

There may be nothing wrong with your writing, but your reader/viewer will assess the work as lacking because it violates their worldview!

So one of the skills of a professional writer is to acquire the ability to argue all sides of a question, to adopt all kinds of different worldviews, to imbue characters with distinctive worldviews and argue both for and against the reader's worldview.

Acquiring such a skill takes a lot of noggin' knocking!

One of the disciplines that helps in learning to bespeak varying worldviews is philosophy, and another is just plain IMAGINATION.

In order to imagine what the world looks like from the worldview opposite or athwart your own, you must know your own worldview.

Your worldview resides deep down inside your subconscious mind. (really deep where you really REALLY don't want to look).

Some writers should look consciously into their subconscious -- others go into writer's block when they do, and so shouldn't.

And no rule about writing applies to any given person at all points in life, or all times of the day -- or for every project.

Many beginning writers spend years trying to find "the" way to write stories by asking working writers how they do it.

Many genre writers write the same way all the time because they are actually writing the same book over and over, producing a totally uniform product (Romance, Mystery, and Juveniles require this).

But genres go in and out of fashion, and a fully functional professional writer must be able to switch genres -- which might mean being able to change "the way" you write.

Imagination resides mostly in the subconscious mind, deep down where the "you" that walks around the "real" world connects with the ineffable, the Soul, or the Divine - however you conceptualize it.

Imagination transcends what we call Reality.

Imagination is the stock in trade of the storyteller.

It's actually what we are selling - that's right, we sell IMAGINATION.

How in the world can that happen? Anyone can imagine that we sell the product of our imagination - but how is it that we could "sell" (get paid for) transferring the capacity to imagine to others?

But that is in fact what a "good" book does. That is what happens when the beginning and ending of a story match, and the tone, or note, or color, of beginning and end harmonize, strike a chord deep in the reader/viewer's subconscious.

When you have imbibed a really "good" story - you come out of the experience energized, refreshed, renewed in a way normally attributed to a perfect night's sleep after really great sex.

There's an energy that awakens, or sparks, or kindles inside us when we connect with that deepest level of imagination.

We do it in REM sleep - processing and digesting experiences of the day. Theory has it that in sleep the soul leaves the body and visits with the Divine, getting a whole new perspective on Life, returning to the confined level of vision with new confidence.

Note that often the prescription to break into the utter hysteria that follows a tremendous bereavement is a sedative and a deep, long sleep.

Very often the person awakens to work through the grieving process back to sanity -- but often as a different person.

The experience of imbibing a good story resembles that treatment or prescription of SLEEP. Reading can be very like REM sleep. Refreshing.

In that altered state of consciousness, we touch Imagination.

The fiction writer might then be described as a physician to the Imagination, a specialist.

But what happens if the writer's imagination fails?

There's a big market (bigger than any) for fiction that's just the same-old-same-old devoid of Imagination.

Contact with Imagination is dangerous and disturbing, even painful. After a long period without it, we flinch from exposure -- just as a long period of inactivity makes physical movement painful. (think physical therapy after having a cast on for months)

That's the condition the general public is in right now, atrophied Imagination. At some point, soon I think, it will be time to awaken Imagination again, but we're not there yet.

You might discover when that point approaches by watching TV news with a writer's eye, not seeing what they want you to see, and not believing what they want you to believe, but understanding the interaction between the sellers of "news" and the buyers of "news."

Here is an observation and discussion of the US government at work on the Healthcare Reform legislation that indicates where the Imagination failures are occurring at the highest levels of government.


Read all the way down to the visual description of the conference room, the imagery.

What I saw was government still being run on paper. Executives who can't keyboard.

My Imagination then led to speculation about what's wrong with our government -- and a story premise emerged. "What if we've out-grown the form of government we're using?"

What if the "incompetence" we see in our Lawmakers, Executive and even now sometimes in the Judicial branch is not incompetence at all? What if these very intelligent people have been handed a job to do which is totally impossible to accomplish with the tools they have mastered?

What if computer illiteracy is destroying the effectiveness of our government?

That's a leap of imagination beyond the headlines.

That was in March of 2010, and here it is barely July and another image emerges onto the TV screen in the midst of flailing incompetence by our hired managers (Executive branch).

We have the Gulf Oil spill - a disaster beyond imagination! But it's made worse by "incompetence."

So Government steps in (to protect the people and the people's property - the coast). And they grab some money out of BP's pocket and take over responsibility for distributing that money to those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by BP's incompetence.

And what pops up on the TV news screen but a picture of people applying for reparations from BP.

What do we see? A folding table strewn with PAPER, and a lone person sitting there with a pen to write with. Not a computer screen, notebook, netbook, or database in sight.

Small wonder the cash isn't flowing to those who've been robbed of their livelihoods.

What SHOULD we see instead?

----IMAGINARY SCENE-----------

A table with maybe 10 computer workstations, some turned out for people to walk up to and fill in forms, some turned in with workers before them to verify claims data, a huge display screen behind the workers showing the "take a number - number this to station that," and an ATM machine where you can check your bank balance to see the BP deposit was made.

You walk in with your various proofs of loss (as posted on the BP website so everyone knows what to bring), you fill out a computer form on a workstation, wait for your number to be called, present your physical proofs to the clerk.

The clerk checks all the databases to verify you own this boat, the mortgage is that much with this bank, your IRS return last year showed what you made (and the year before the recession), your own database of client cancellations, your house mortgage data, and whatever else is relevant to what the oil spill has cost you.

Most of this is paperless. Whatever paper you had to bring, they scan it into the computer in a twinkling. The machine calculates the payment you should get today, and deposits it to your bank account.

You go to the ATM and check your balance, then walk out.

It took you maybe an hour or two to gather your proof of loss, maybe twenty minutes to present it, five minutes max for the deposit to show up on your bank account.


THAT is the service we deserve for our taxes.

Why don't we have it? Why isn't BP running the reparations like that?

In my opinion, none of that should be run by either BP or Government. There should be a private company whose main business is paying insurance claims that has all this set up for hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, acts of terrorism (yes, insurance should cover all that which it currently does not).

Actually, there are some private companies that pretty much have this kind of infrastructure set up - lacking of course the ability to verify your financial business - and that's companies like Paychex which outsource payroll payments.

Geico (my car insurance company) has a service that works pretty much like the one I described. I got a crunch in my car body. The fellow came by, looked it over, put the data into a portable (wireless) computer, and his portable printer cut the check while I was standing there, for very few minutes actually. It was the right amount to cover the repair, too.

So there really isn't a huge leap of imagination involved in the scene I constructed. It's an extrapolation - easily within an SF framework.

Why does it look so insanely ridiculous to us?

Because of a FAILURE OF IMAGINATION in both the general public and the government.

Every problem between our current state of affairs and the scene I constructed could easily be solved with "off the shelf" technology, provided the solution could be imagined.

It can't be, because the cognitive faculty called imagination has failed in the general populace.

We can't imagine an HEA and we can't imagine a law being crafted properly and we can't imagine a liability claim being paid properly.

Gene Roddenberry once developed a TV series pilot where "Inconvenient" became the equivalent of "Illogical." The series never caught on.

In the 1960's, society was being run by emotion (Free Love) - so "Logic" worked as an SF premise for aliens.

In the 1990's society was not being run "conveniently" so "Inconvenient" didn't work as an SF premise.

In 2010 society is becoming run by government, so a Corporation that government outsources financial matters to would work as an SF premise. It would solve the "scalability" problem highlighted in


And while solving the scalability problem, you might find some imagination stretchers about worldbuilding for a galactic government Romance here:


In the current state of affairs, hiring the government to pay out reparations funds seems to me somewhat like hiring a janitorial service to secure your computer network.

Now isn't that a premise for a galactic love affair? Just imagine a galactic government hiring an Earth janitorial service to pay reparations for a galactic industrial disaster - like maybe accidentally exploding a sun?

What if someone came here to mine our Sun and accidentally destablized it? Who better to move us all to another planet than a janitorial service.

Or what about Jupiter? It's almost a Sun already? Suppose some mining operation from out there somewhere was mining Jupiter and accidentally set it alight?

Or maybe not so accidentally, but just carelessly not investing the necessary resources to prevent Jupiter igniting? Then they just set up a pay-station to pay us money for the loss of our planet? Now we have to go buy galactic technology to move ourselves? Talk about a witness protection program!

The lack of scalability in our current governmental setup would turn that scenario into a nightmare -- but remember, love conquers all. It's a principle built into the very fabric of the universe and works whether you believe in it or not.

Such a story premise would easily lend itself to discussing all sides of any question. You could craft a single novel (or series) so that you get the HEA ending of a Romance and at the same time, in the same events, you have the ineffable tragic loss that wrings the heart out, and the glimpse of a bright future where the HEA could actually be more real than it is in our current world.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. What baffles me is when authors and film makers continue to berate the HEA even after the proof of it working in Real Life, in Books, and on Screen hits them right in the face.


    Hey, did anyone hear about Linnea selling film rights to DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES? Why aren't we babbling and gushing about that?

  2. I'm closing in on an explanation of WHY the HEA can't be accepted (yet) and what we can (and actually are already) do about that. Really exciting stuff, but it'll take a book not a blog!

    Meanwhile, yes I know about BLUES, but it's way too soon to get excited. Been in this business long enough to know the routine. We're a long way from cheering time.


  3. Maybe so, but gushing and babbling might drive up sales of the book.