Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Moira J. Moore - Guest Post on Family Love

Here below are a few words from Moira J. Moore, an author whose work I've been reviewing for a while now.  She's exploring human-human interdependence using "magic" (or apparent magic) very much as I do in the Sime~Gen Universe novels, and using a setting not unlike Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover.

I invited her to post here because I think you should listen to what she's saying.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

I would like to begin by thanking Ms. Lichtenberg for allowing me to post on her blog. I am flattered and honored to have the opportunity.

At this time of year, people’s thoughts often turn to family, and what family means is different for different people. For me, family is someone who will guard your worst secrets and most humiliating experiences. For me, family is someone you can call at three a.m. and ask to bring the bail money. And they will. And then they’ll torment you about it after, probably over a beer.

I was lucky enough to be born into a fantastic family. They know all my most embarrassing incidents from my childhood and don’t (usually) tell anyone outside the family about them. I like to hang out with my sisters, just to hang out, though we have virtually no common interests. They have all been supportive of my writing. I remember, at the age of fourteen, saying to my father that I wanted to grow up to be a writer. His reaction was to remind me that I was an Irish citizen – he was born in Ireland – and that artists didn’t pay income tax in Ireland.

I had no idea whether that was actually true, as I didn’t plan to move to Ireland, but I was well aware he was assuming that if I wanted to be a writer, then I would be. I firmly believe that if I had told him I wanted to be prime minister, his response would have been something along the lines of “Great. Which party?”

That was the family I was born into. I feel that the family created from those met over the course of one’s life can be equally important and powerful. This can include a spouse, of course, and children, but also childhood friends to whom one is still close, and people met in school, work, social circles, etc. All of these experiences provide ample opportunities to humiliate and to prove oneself.

I believe it takes time, or a hellish experience, to create a new family. I have been granted what I call “instant closeness,” situations when people I felt I barely knew were telling me their secrets and inviting me to family events. Then, situations would change, and they would slide out of my life as quickly as they had slid into it.

I’d never felt compelled to tell my secrets to them. I would have never called them for help when I was in dire straits.

Others, people I have known for years, I would drop everything and go to if they needed me, and I believe they would do the same for me. I’ve admitted to unworthy impulses, contrary opinions, and past failings, without feeling I had lost their respect. They are people who have trusted me with their secrets, secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t tell anyone else. That’s family.

I enjoy reading stories where there is an instant connection between two characters, either as lovers or as friends. The whirlwind of emotion and the explosive upheaval of preconceived notions are entrancing. But, as a reader and a writer, I most enjoy relationships where the characters begin by making each other crazy and end up trusting and loving each other. Often this results in a romantic relationship, but it doesn’t have to. I find the creation of solid friendships just as pleasant to observe. I could name a dozen books and t.v. programs in which the teamwork was, to me, the most interesting part of the story.

I adore stories in which a character, used to shouldering all responsibilities or consequences alone, is shocked to find others standing there, willing to share the burden. That, to me, is the high point of any story.

I am currently writing a series referred to as the Heroes series, the first being Resenting the Hero, the most recent being Heroes Return.

Moira J. Moore on Amazon

The two main characters, Dunleavy (Lee) Mallorough and Shintaro (Taro) Karish were designed to get each others’ nerves, but due to the nature of their work, they can’t avoid each other. They quickly learn that they are both dedicated to their jobs, talented, and disciplined, and that they can trust each other with their lives. It’s what they’re going to do with each other the rest of the time that has them stumped.

Lee and Taro come from very different backgrounds. Lee enjoyed a warm, supportive family. Taro’s family was emotionally and physically abusive, contacting him only when they needed something from him. It is when Lee witnesses Taro’s interactions with his mother that she becomes rather fiercely protective of him. Her own mother’s acceptance of Taro as part of the Mallorough family overwhelms Taro and provides him with a sense of connection to others that he has lacked for most of his life.

In later books, there will be others who join the little family Lee and Taro are creating. They’ll still go through hell, but at least they won’t be going through it alone. That is family.

Moira Moore

Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Seek Out New Life And New Civilizations...

....And new ways of doing things.

One of the greatest challenges of writing science fiction is freely giving away what could be a great invention. I'm not talking about the book, but about inventions. Imagine if Isaac Asimov had patented and trademarked robots.

It was Asimov who first used the word "robot", wasn't it?

I've invented a few things in my time. There was a tabard with multiple pockets that could be worn, but the primary purpose of it was over-the-passenger-seat storage. I offered it to the old GM in 1984, (but it was not accepted) and so I gave it away and it was shown in The Ladies Car at a British motor show.

However, inventions made of fabric were too easily pirated. Hah! Moreover, one can only trademark or patent a name if there is also a product or the imminent prospect of a product. One cannot (TM) an idea.

In my first novel, FORCED MATE, I thought that my concept of a futuristic toilet that performed urinalysis was original. It might or might not have been in 1993 when I wrote the first draft. Within a few years, the Japanese had unveiled such a toilet.

I also had jet racing in my backstory, long before the Star Wars prequels came out, but IMHO, jet racing is so obvious that I imagine dozens of sf authors had jet racing.

What have I invented lately? I'm not telling.

Under the pressure to write faster, I predict that some sf writers will become more derivative. I certainly did in KNIGHT'S FORK with the mithril-like material used to make the heroine's impregnable chastity belt.

The trouble with patenting an idea is that a lot of people might come up with the same idea independently and simultaneously. One cannot police thought. One should not. If one tried, we'd have a Big Brother world... a world like the police station in Slumdog Millionaire... where the cheapest and most convenient way to find out how someone knows something is to torture them.

What a lot of jobs there would be, if ideas could be patented! Think of all the government jobs that would be needed at copyright offices and patent offices. Think of all the litigation. Think of all the enforcement work. Horrible!

No employer could say the futuristic equivalent of "You're Fired!" without paying royalties to the futuristic equivalent of Donald Trump. Would they have to add proper attribution? Would it be all right to say "You Are Fired"? How about "Thou Art Fired"? Maybe we could say it like Yoda, "Fired, you are!"

Seriously, though, the SF writer should consider what we'd do amuse ourselves and to earn a living in an alternate or future world. In Jack Vance's "Demon Princes" worlds, one was not aware of copyright infringing pirates. Newspapers were printed on paper. Obviously that won't do. Modern pirates feel entitled to free entertainment... it is so reminiscent of ancient Rome! They challenge us to find new ways to monetize our creative works, and to go along with content being ripped off.

Maybe there's a contrarian way to grow potatoes, or to ferment the water I used a few days ago to cook rice (which has now turned into a sort of jelly) and make ricewater tofu. I could sell my "invention" to a major food company, and hold off on giving away my novel until ricewater tofu comes to a store near you. Some advertisements are already mini-stories. Some people watch the Superbowl for the adverts. Why not 100-virtual-page advertisements?

It wouldn't be science fiction, would it?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner

Here's a funny essay by a regular Baltimore SUN columnist about traditional versus trendy holiday dinners:

Susan Reimer

We stick with the "traditional" (in her definition thereof). Though my husband, who prepares all our weekend and holiday meals, is a very adventurous, multi-ethnic cook, on Thanksgiving he doesn't want anything iconoclastic. We always have simply turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, biscuits, cranberry sauce (from a can, except for the fresh batch I make mainly for myself, nobody else being much interested in it), and pumpkin pie (from the freezer aisle of Giant). Baltimore has a tradition of sauerkraut on Thanksgiving (from the German immigrant background), which sounded odd to me the first time I heard about it. Our second son, his wife, and her extended family serve a lavish dinner with many interesting side dishes. My mother used to make oyster dressing, which I liked quite a lot except for the oysters themselves.

Do you have any unusual special dishes you always serve with the turkey?

Best wishes,

Thanksgiving Weekend

Here's a full article on the potential memory-erasure technology discussed a couple of weeks ago. Some of the hypothetical ethical problems are mentioned:

Baltimore Sun

This weekend I'll be going to the Darkover Grand Council, as usual, and will be on three panels. I'll tell you about the con next week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Information Feed Tricks And Tips For Writers Part II - Definition of News

BUT FIRST (yes, this is news) -- I have to announce that the Sime~Gen Novels (by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Jean Lorrah, and various combinations of us) along with new ones, are now coming out in Kindle, Nook, Apple, and almost all other e-book formats, plus new paper availability.  HOUSE OF ZEOR is available now in paper, in December 2011 on Kindle, Nook, other formats, so you can give it as a holiday gift.

You'll find news, updates, on this (huge) project on http://whatsnew.simegen.com/ 

Here is the link to my Kindle page which now has MOLT BROTHER and CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS with the Dushau Trilogy and the omnibus Hero/Border Dispute in Kindle

And here's the link to Jean's page on Amazon

Now to work:

In Part I, posted Nov. 16, 2010 on
we discussed the 5 questions to answer in order to tease the tangled lump of a "story idea" out into a straight line and grind it into "bread-crumbs" that can be laid down to lead a reader into a huge universe.

We noted how the story and plot "dance" together, and how genre is a bit like different dances because of the pacing of that dance, waltz, fox trot, macarena, square dance, grand march, quadrille.

Notice how each dance name evokes era, pacing, dress, level of social intimacy, -- a whole story-universe in a word.

Your plot and your story "dance" together just like that, and readers choosing which book to buy recognize those dances and choose by their mood or taste. Your novel opening has to identify which "dance" your story and plot will be doing in order to engage the reader.

Readers will engage (or not) when they see that "first step" into the dance on the "downbeat" (on page 1) of your novel. From that first step, they know the name of the dance and the steps. They want to watch your characters do this dance because they've enjoyed watching others doing it - maybe they've done it themselves. They like this dance. The moves feel good.

The 5 questions we discussed last time lead you to name the dance (genre) for your novel, and to submerge out of sight all the pairs of characters doing a different dance, to put the spotlight on the couple (protagonist; antagonist -- or lovers-to-be) who will entertain us.

And now we'll add a 6th question, after we look more closely at the structure of a breadcrumb.

In this case, a "breadcrumb" is a tidbit of information about your universe, your characters, your story, that answers a question and contains the next question.

This is part of what we discussed in how to structure a scene, and string scenes together. As a professional reviewer, I've seen (and discarded) a number of mass market novels lately that fail at scene structure. To rise out of the pack after publication, structure your scenes thusly:


Here is the key concept you need to be able to apply this writing technique of breadcrumbs and structured scenes to the tangled story-idea seething in your head so the plot and story "dance" with each other.  


That's it. That's the whole secret to generating suspense, creating a page-turner novel, writing non-fiction about boring topics and getting people to read it and talk about it.


It's so simple a caveman can do it.

Do you have a "nose for news" as a journalist must?

Do you know the difference between news and gossip?

Why is it that seasoned journalists write novels that attract big publishers who lavish vast sums on publicity campaigns for them? (and they do marvelous scene structure, and sell film rights!)

Because working in journalism hones the "nose for news."

And "news" is what fiction-plotting is all about. No story is widely interesting unless it has a plot.

Here's where I showed you the difference between story and plot and how they're glued together into a novel.



In brief, I use the word "plot" to represent the chain of events initiated by the protagonist which culminates in the final climax, or resolution of the conflict.

I use the word "story" to represent the meaning of the events to the characters involved, and how the plot-events prompt or cause the characters to learn life-lessons, articulate theme, and change their actions. "Story" is the sequence of changes characters undergo as they "arc."

It doesn't matter what words you use to designate story-components.

Every professional writer understands fiction to be composed of components each of which does something important to communicate to the reader. It doesn't matter what you call the component, just so it does what it is there to do.

Editors, too, recognize those components (and call them by different names). And they recognize the dances between plot and story, and call them by different names. It just doesn't matter what you call it as long as you do it.

See the 7 part series on Editing starting here:

So using my definitions, (which I didn't make up, but learned from professionals) fiction-plotting is the process of taking that amorphous lump of material in your mind that you "just know" and are tangled up in because it's so interesting to you, and spreading that lump out into a straight line

You take the ball of string in your mind and unwind it, laying it down across your living room as many loops as necessary to get it all laid out.

Now you look at how long that string is. It may be several novels long. Don't try to stuff it all into one volume if it's too big.

How do you know how big it is?

A really big idea will have a lot of characters doing things that change everything, very likely dancing different dances between the character's story and the overall plot of the universe.

A really big idea will have characters who are massively changed by events.

That is there are lots of events, and characters learn huge lessons that turn their lives totally around.

The older the characters are, the more "backstory" they have accumulated through their lives, the wider the turning-radius for the ship of their life. Big characters make big changes one tiny event at a time.

Young characters can turn on a dime. One event, and BOOM, the teenager sees the light and starts behaving differently.

A fifty-year-old CEO of a corporation has a habit of life-coping-strategies ingrained into the subconscious. One event, they start fending off the temptation to wonder about their habits. Two, three, four, maybe they'll wonder. And so on -- takes a lot to change an older person, usually ending in a huge calamity and the necessity to risk all to save others.

So the age of the main characters, the number of main point of view characters, and the size of the character-arc is what determines how many novels it'll take, and how big those novels have to be.

Here's where to learn how to estimate the size of your project and how to construct theme-structures robust enough to support larger stories.

If you make your characters "see the light" after one tiny event, you end up with something called "thin plotting" -- with a kind of comic-book or juvenile feel to it. Just not plausible because the character changed too much from too little impetus.

OK, so now you know how to unravel your universe from a ball of twine, separate out the odd little threads tangled through it, and straighten it out into a linear sequence of EVENTS (i.e. plot).

You have charted how the events affect the characters, so you have a story-line, all neatly linear.

Your interesting universe has become long and tedious -- even boring.

Now what do you do?

Like I said, the key is news.

To make it interesting, you FEED the INFORMATION you have organized into a linear sequence to the reader/viewer as one event after another. Breadcrumbs. Tiny ones, so the reader is kept hungry and looking for the next crumb in the trail.

Each event will be CAUSED by the previous event, and the first event is caused by the PROTAGONIST.

In Chess the first move is made by the white player - it's a protocol.  In novels the protagonist is defined as the one who moves first. Usually, "pro" tagonist is defined as the one the reader is rooting for to win, and antagonist is the one the reader wants to lose.

A reader chooses a book off a bookstore shelf, or an editor chooses a manuscript out of a slush pile, or a reviewer (like me) chooses a book to read through with an eye to reviewing it, by reading the first paragraph.

If the "white" - protagonist - character to root for to win, isn't doing something in that first paragraph or first page to make the reader want that character to succeed in solving the problem presented in paragraph 1, the book will be tossed aside (unless of course you have a known byline, guaranteed to deliver the goods in the end).  

If the story-plot dance doesn't have an interesting rhythm, the book will be tossed aside. There are a lot of other books that have the sought-for attribute. No need to read this one.

Now, it may be that the antagonist's action is EVENT 1 of your novel.

Your protagonist is sitting in his living room with his feet by the fire enjoying a pipe, and the antagonist breaks the door down and yanks him out of his comfortable home.

You, as the writer, must know why the antagonist attacked the protagonist.

But you don't tell the reader -- that would be boring exposition. The protagonist doesn't know, so why should the reader?

Instead, you keep it secret, but let the reader know you have a secret and that you will try to keep the reader from finding out what it is. That's the game you play with the reader - a game of wits. You lay down the breadcrumb trail and lead the reader on a merry chase, with just enough challenge to be fun.

Controlling that information feed, the space between breadcrumbs and the size of the crumbs, is your job as a writer. It's the skill and artform that makes you a story-teller.

So you go back to question 1 and question 2 in Part I of this post. Find out why you want to tell this story (it'll be the reason why the reader wants to read it).

Take your semantically loaded vocabulary list, and then describe the protagonist's comfy living room, the fire, the kind of socks he's wearing, anything he's doing or thinking, SYMBOLIZE his spiritual situation and his starting point -- SHOW DON'T TELL WHY THIS PROTAGONIST DESERVES TO BE ATTACKED - maybe not by this antagonist, but inherently needs to be attacked, and is just begging for it.

The first bit of news, the first breadcrumb, the reader should see has to symbolize and contain the answer to this new question:

6) What did this protagonist do to deserve this?

That is the content, the subtext, of the calm, quiet opening scene before the antagonist does something.  It is the pose of the tango dancers on stage in Dirty Dancing, that indrawn breath before the downbeat AND!.

And this first breadcrumb then makes it clear to the reader that the protagonist has made the first move that has set this chain of EVENTS into motion. The protagonist's story is now dancing with the antagonist's plot.

It takes more skill to do that than to have both story and plot be driven by protagonist. Don't let the editors see you practicing.

You must pose this question of what the protagonist did to deserve this to the reader in such a way that there are many answers, and a lot of them are correct. Different readers will choose different answers, different ways of understanding this protagonist. Don't limit the reader here. Eventually, you want to have the audience dancing in the aisles.

Now back to NEWS.  News is information that's added to what the hearer already knows that changes the significance of what they already know. 

This concept NEWS is so important, and so much harder than it seems.

The exact same information presented one way is boring, another way is news.  

What makes your boring universe interesting to your reader is that the reader encounters a bit of news that raises a question that changes a significance of what happened before.

The reader then strives to find the answer to that question.

In striving, the reader becomes invested in your universe, just as you are, and your universe becomes interesting to your reader, because they have a stake in "what happens next?" They've guessed what will happen, and now need to find out what will happen -- and if they find they're wrong, they have to see that what does happen is better than what they expected.

Oh, do watch Dirty Dancing again for that stage scene where they do the tango for the audience. Will she do the lift? Now compare the stage dance to the finale where she runs down the aisle at him. Study that film for the way the story and the plot "dance the tango" together. It's a very old film, and it still "works" because of how the story and the plot tango, while the surface of the thing is a girl learning to tango professionally.  


But just because you can see some Hollywood writers did it, that doesn't mean you can just do it with your own material.

How did they do it?

Let's look at how to apply the idea of breadcrumbs as news items, or beats in the dance rhythm.

When you set out to write a novel, what you are actually doing is writing a NEWS ITEM FOR A NEWSPAPER OR TV SHOW.

The mental process you use is identical to that a journalist uses.

The journalist is using that process on "reality" -- the tangled mess of say a traffic accident caused by a bank robber fleeting the scene of a messed up getaway attempt facilitated by a bank employee who let the robber in, but the robber shot the employee on the way out, but the employee survived to testify, but the robber was paid to rob the bank by someone who wanted the employee dead because the employee was helping them launder money for a charity that was accused of (but innocent of) funneling money to Al Queda.


Just as a news story unfolds from a twinkle of light ricocheting off a bit of metal hidden in deep shadow -- so too your novel must UNFOLD one tiny bit at a time in linear form.

Breadcrumb 1 is a traffic accident, Breadcrumb 2, protagonist is bank robber, and each crumb follows the last forming a trail into a huge news story (probably complete with a Trial scene - maybe jail visits, an appeal, being exonerated, getting out of jail free at last).

So just as a journalist needs a "nose for news"....

"Traffic accident? That was no ordinary traffic accident. Who was driving? Bank? What bank? ..."

-- so too does a fiction writer telling a wholly fabricated story.

Yet I've never seen anyone try to teach a beginning fiction writer how to find the news story inside the complex universe that comes with having "an idea."

Where do you get a "nose for news" -- how do you tell what's news and what isn't?

One reason so many of the new fiction writers trying for their first publications as self-published e-books are failing is that the TV news does not "model" (or demonstrate) the difference between what is news and what is not news.

The "news show" comes on, flicks through a few items that might be news worthy, then settles into long pieces on items that are absolutely not news but are labeled news. And so the definition of what is news is no longer ingrained in young minds from their earliest years. But it's still what novel readers want.


Definition of News

Information that changes your understanding of what has happened before.

Information that changes your understanding of what will happen next. 

Information that changes what the READER/VIEWER will anticipate.


The essence of "news" -- change. 

Most of what you see on "news" shows on TV these days isn't news.

Even "the top five stories" on the AP wire online are rarely all "news."

These news sources are advertising driven. Therefore they must attract not just large audiences, but audiences larger than the other news shows.

Advertisers pay per eyeball, not per news story. So instead of giving you the information you really need to know about (which would bore you away from the text), the "news" organizations are now giving you what you want to know about.

That would be fine, and really useful to fiction writers, provided we mostly wanted to know what we need to know.

If a novel gives you what you want to know, pretty soon you lose interest because "nothing's happening."  What you want hasn't CHANGED.  So you get bored.  

It's the strangest thing. Satisfying a desire causes the desire to go away. You don't want your readers to go away too. Every once in a while, something has to happen to cause a new desire to know, a new curiosity. Something that makes the plot progress, something that CHANGES understanding of what is happening, has to emerge along the breadcrumb trail.

The schools in the USA have somehow fallen off the curve in terms of educating our children. Today they "get an education" instead of "become educated."

That huge difference has gone unnoticed, and as a result we have about two generations of people who are easily bored.

You can use that to make a living if you pay close attention to it.

Reading good novels can teach how to follow a breadcrumb trail, and how much fun it can be to out-figure the writer (i.e. dance with the writer).

People who "get an education" are taught what to think. They are forbidden or discouraged from reading the entire textbook for a course before Lesson Two or Class Two. They are discouraged from reading textbooks or sources other than the one chosen for the class, and if any test questions are answered with information from other sources, the answer is marked "wrong" even if it's right and the class text was wrong.

This starts in the earliest grades. It teaches that Authority is always right.  Get to be an Authority and your opinion becomes fact for others whether they want that or not. 

The implication is by extension that once you "finish" school, you stop learning. You've learned what to think. So you've no idea what to do with information that contradicts what you were taught. You've never seen a Teacher have to yield to a fact which contradicts the textbook.  You don't know how to think. 

Also the teaching techniques make learning boring, not fun, so nobody in their right mind would ever try to do any learning on their own.

Can you see what a huge readership awaits the clever author who studies TV News?

We had an incident in our neighborhood recently where some cars were broken into. The police responded in force and with a rolling crime lab (quite a sight!) but shrugged it off. They get a rash of car-break-ins every time school lets out.

The minute there are no classes they're forced to sit in, students stop learning.

That's failure to produce educated people, not failure to educate -- which is why we can't solve the problem of what's wrong with the schools. The politicians are trying to solve the wrong problem, so they make no progress on the real problem. (oh, what an opportunity for fiction writers!)

So when confronted with an authority like a TV screen that demonstrates "this is a news show" -- today's young students take the contents as the definition of what news is.

Later, having become well educated, perhaps in college or life, trying to write a novel, such a student will not know how to reduce the "idea" to a sequence of News Events - because they don't know what News is.

If you've been caught in this trap, and you've read this far, it's no problem anymore. Here's what you do.

1) Learn the definition of news above
2) Observe the world
3) Find the News out in the world
4) Compare with what the media label as news

Now, understand that your target readership for your novel is more confused than you ever were.

But it doesn't matter. Hit them with News along your plot-line and story-line, and they'll not only recognize it, but clamp their mental jaws on it and worry it like a dog with a bone until they crack it open and understand it to the marrow. And they'll learn how to think, not what to think. 

That's what people do, whether they're smart or not, whether they're educated or not. It's a survival behavior, very cave-man, very primal.

Any information that CHANGES EVERYTHING is inherently fascinating, especially if it's a tip-of-the-iceburg, a hint of something hidden, better yet something SECRET, something the writer knows but isn't telling.

Practice identifying news in your everyday reality, and noticing how much of what is on the TV News is not news at all because knowing it changes nothing in your life.

Now, do the same thing with the characters in your novel.

Things they do and the things that happen that CHANGE NOTHING are not news, and therefore not interesting, not plot events, not story events. Skip them. They may happen, but they're not part of the scene structure. 

Frame your scenes from the consequence of previous NEWS to the arrival of NEW NEWS.
As the news arrives in your character's life, your character will change behavior, change opinions, ask new questions, seek new answers, understand how he/she was wrong to begin with and go through all the stages of adjusting to that shock. Hit the character with NEWS again before the shock wears off, and you've got a plot going that'll dance with your story.

NEWS moves the plot. NEWS moves the story.

That's the very definition of NEWS, you see. News changes things.


Most of what comes off the TV News shows today is not news, but it is gossip. Usually, it's really good gossip, too.

What's the difference between news and gossip?

News changes things. News moves the plot. News moves the story. Gossip does NOT.

Gossip is stationary. Gossip goes around and around and AROUND the same material, perhaps revealing deeper rounds of more of the same juice, but changing nothing.

For example:

NEWS: A drunk driver drove a tractor-trailer rig off an overpass, and it fell onto a school bus in a freak accident on the first day of school. VIDEO: tractor-trailer spinning through air in improbable ballet.

NEWS: Driver of a car who was drunk when he hit a tractor-trailor rig that fell on a school bus killing twelve has been convicted and given a 20 year sentence.

Between those two news stories, our TV delivers gossip.

What the drunk driver's mother had for breakfast (beer?). Who sold the drunk driver other drugs. Funerals for the 12 kids killed. Interviews with doctors who prescribed impairing drugs for the drunk driver. Psychiatrist interviews. Drunk driver's brother's testimonials. A 1 hour feature on rehabilitation for the quadrapelegic tractor-trailer driver. Interviews with 3 people running for office who pledge to get the railing fixed on that overpass so nothing else falls off. Marches of anti-drunk-driver organizations.

All of that is gossip, not news. It's all interesting if you have a focus on drunk-driving, but it doesn't change anything for you (unless you drive drunk, that is).

That gossip would be news if that was the only freak traffic accident caused by drunk driving this year, or in 10 years, or ever.

In fact, what makes the steady stream of accident reports, fires in apartment buildings, bank or 7-11 robberies, kidnappings, missing children, gossip rather than news is that the events focused on are not unique.

NEWS: Traffic fatalities are down 20% year over year as a result of enforcement of the new cell phone laws. (uh-oh I better get a hands-free cell rig for my car)

GOSSIP: a tractor-trailer fell on a schoolbus killing 12. It was awful for everyone involved.  It was really awful.  It was even more awful than that.  (oh, that's terrible; maybe I'll donate some money)

If a story on the tractor-trailer accident were about the first and only time any such event had been handled by "the system" then how it was handled would be news you could use in voting on how the system should be changed to avoid this in the future.

Another example: the coverage of the BP Gulf Oil disaster.

A good 10% of that coverage was actually NEWS. We needed to know what had happened, how it happened, why it happened, what was being done to fix it, and the results of the efforts, and eventually (not during) who was responsible and what penalty was leveled at them (so we can vote for Congressmen who advocate new laws).

But go over the coverage and you'll see that information is buried amidst huge heaps of gossip.

Note the questions: WHO, WHEN, WHAT, HOW, WHY. News answers those questions, and that's it. The rest is "color" and "filler" -- details that you don't really need to read or remember.

Detail can, however, be important.  It speaks volumes beyond the hidden opinion that twists the essential facts. From the details in a news story you can reverse engineer the news into what really did happen, the actual facts, if you understand the difference between news and gossip. 

But, as with fiction, too much detail obscures the useful information feed, and ultimately bores.

So TV News laden with gossip function to direct attention away from the actual facts, to dwell on the unimportant, the data that isn't information until viewers get bored and go away. (that systematic process is now called a news-cycle and lasts about a day for most events).  When Neilsen's ratings drop, they move on to another story. 

Given that this kind of gossip-laden TV News is how audiences have been trained to view news, the clever fiction writer can imitate the rhythm that glues that huge audience to their screens, and sell a lot of books.

Finding that balance between News and Gossip, the rhythm, the spacing between bread-crumbs, the style of the dance between story and plot, the fiction writer can plant breadcrumbs of news for the characters to discover along the way and keep readers glued to the page.

We may be back to this subject to study the composition of crumbs, so in the meantime, study the structure of your favorite TV News, and then study the News shows you really hate (those are the most revealing).

Channel surf from one news show to another, watch the placement and duration of commercials, chart that throughout the day (prime time news has more commercials and shorter intervals).  Think about "who" those commercials are aimed at - that gives you the demographics of the audience, and you can therefore see how the content of the show is crafted to grab that specific audience.

Selling fiction to an Agent who sells to an Editor who has to enthuse to the Marketing Department, etc. is the same process in reverse.  Reversing your mind is hard, but it's the difference between a reader and a writer, a viewer and a TV News Editor. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nonhuman Characters

At Darkover this Thanksgiving weekend, I'll be on a panel trying to answer the question, "How do you make something(-one) that is not human seem human?" Examples in the panel title include not only vampires and cats but disembodied brains. Should be quite a provocative discussion!

I've just finished writing a paranormal romance novella starring a grimly focused vampire hunter and a female vampire for whom he develops an inconvenient attraction. One critter who read part of the story said he found the characters not very likable. Another, more encouragingly, said that even if they weren't exactly likable, they were understandable, a trait that allowed him to sympathize with them.

So how DOES a writer make nonhuman characters understandable and appealing while maintaining the alien qualities that make them fascinating in the first place? My vampires, being another species, have never been human, so their view of the world SHOULD seem a bit skewed to us. A nonhuman character (and vampires, of course, are far from the least human characters we can encounter in fiction; I recently read a story about a wizard who has a sentient chair tagging along with him) has to feel enough like a "person" that we can sympathize with him, her, or it, yet the entity shouldn't come across as just a human being in a funny costume.

How do you all handle this dilemma? Do you have any specific techniques to suggest?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Information Feed Tricks And Tips For Writers Part I - Definition of News

In college, there are majors for Creative Writing, for Journalism, and for various skill sets that fiction writers need -- such as English, Linguistics, Anthropology, Psychology.

But there are no actual majors in COMMERCIAL FICTION WRITING that I know of. If you find one that covers the material I've been including in these blog posts, please drop a comment here.

There's a major for Music Arts. But not a corresponding one for Fiction Arts to prepare you for a career in fiction writing, editing, publishing, or fictioneering in various other media such as comics, animation, dramatic writing, etc. The stage arts have a major, and so do the screen arts. But where is the major in writing novels for the commercial market?

Isn't that curious? If you want to become a professional novelist or editor you are on your own after college, and woe betide you if you didn't take the courses you need. But of course, nobody will tell you what those course are before you start college.

Now, the brutal truth is that there is a living to be made in Journalism, but very rarely in commercial fiction writing. Perhaps that's why there's no major?

Oddly, most of the best selling novels I've encountered lately were written by Journalists with long track records in magazines and newspapers.

News "papers" are dying, but "news" and news gathering and news writing are still here.

A lot of journalists are going indie after being laid off from newspapers.

And they are doing very well with blogging and building audiences that click on advertising links for which they get paid. Huffington Post, Politico and similar blog-sites have real, well trained journalists both announcing and commenting on the day's events.

Fiction writers are going indie with either publishing their own e-books or finding new e-book publishers that do packaging and presentation, but usually the writer then has to do promotion, publicity and advertising.

However, non-fiction is doing much better than fiction in paper editions, so it's worth studying non-fiction closely for clues, tips and tricks.

The competition for the attention of readers and viewers is more fierce than ever. There is a growing population, and more people online willing to read (more enchanted by images on YouTube, true, but still reading a lot), but there are more people writing and creating videos, more different media that are accessible to the indie creator, so that the result is more stuff for each reader to choose from.

There's the information glut come to full fruition just as predicted in the 1970's.

How do you, as a fiction writer, attract and hold attention?

Writing teachers will tell you that the core of that trick is "suspense." And you can see that trick being used on TV news programs as "the teaser."

Just before a commercial, they will announce what they're going to cover "next" and tell you something about it that makes you want to hear that item. When they get back from the break, they go on about some other item, with yet another "teaser" about the item that you wanted to hear about, repeatedly putting it off until the end of the show.

They string you along like that with artificially generated suspense.

If you're smart, you give up, channel surf, get bored, and go google the item up. It'll take you five minutes to find out what you wanted to know instead of sitting around for an hour watching commercials.

But solid research shows people do sit there in suspense, waiting, and letting the commercials wash over them. Research shows exposure to those commercials does change behavior later in the stores. (Sad, horrifying, but true, which is why they do it.)

Series TV fiction does the same kind of artificial suspense, cutting to commercial just where you want to see what's coming next. Good fiction writers do that at chapter ends and scene ends.

The tricks and tips for how to structure a scene so suspense is built "naturally" rather than "artificially" by tricking the reader into waiting are in these posts:



Suspense works every time to create a "page turner" when it's not done as a "delay" or a "digression." Why is that and how do you learn to do it with your own material? And how do you tell a "delay" or "digression" from real suspense technique when you're the one who's written it? How do you test your own material to see if you've achieved "suspense?" (after all, you know what comes next, so you can't feel the suspense you are generating!)

How do you take a story you have had erupt into your mind whole cloth, a universe, a character, a whole complex situation that is too fascinating for words, that spreads over galaxies and is built on centuries of political history, that has the characters entangled in a huge web of bizarre science unthinkable by your reader, and criss-crossing love affairs finally erupting into True Love, and make that reader see what is fascinating about it?

Suspense is not fascinating. It makes you impatient. "Get on with it already!"

To get suspense to work for you as a writer to attract and hold a reader, you need to achieve a pace that the reader is comfortable with.

In previous blog entries here I've defined how I use the word "pace" to mean "rate of change of Situation" rather than "fast action" or "how many fight scenes how close together."

One error many beginning writers (even selling professionals!) make is to blow the suspense right at the beginning of the novel by TELLING the background.

That creates an expository lump
right at the opening.

Expository lumps are long sections (3 paragraphs or more; half a page even can be a lump) during which the Situation does not change, but the writer stops the forward momentum of the story to "fill the reader in" by telling about the background, or what has happened before, or what is happening off stage, all very interesting to the writer and crazy-boring to the reader because it does not go where the reader wants to go. Ahead.

Here's an example of how to show not tell the material in an opening paragraph of exposition so that it becomes dramatized narrative:


But that was just one paragraph of information. How do you dissect out the pieces of "an idea" that arrives with a whole Universe attached and lay it out in linear form so that someone who does not know everything about it can see just how fascinating it is?

How do you grind your idea up into bread crumbs and lay them out in a linear trail for the curious reader to follow to your HEA ending?

Well, there is a technique for that which I call INFORMATION FEED.

Every bit of "information" becomes a crumb to be laid down in a trail for the reader to follow. Pacing is all about how far apart you put the crumbs.

Here's how you take a lump of a universe and create a linear "feed" of information.

1) Ask yourself, "Why do I want to write this story?" What is the payload you want to deliver?

2) Find the vocabulary that scintillates with hints of that payload. It's all about semantics. Find the semantically loaded vocabulary you need.

3) Ask yourself, "Why would anyone NOT be interested in this?" What's boring about your universe?

4) Ask yourself, "What does my typical reader want to read about?" Tease that subject out of the morass of the "idea" you have. It's in there somewhere, but you have to bring it to the surface by submerging the rest. "Submerged" material is what gives fiction "depth." The more you submerge, the more "classic" your work will be. But submerge it under something clean, clear, simple, something you can express in one sentence.

5) Ask yourself, "What does my typical reader want to know first?" What will show the reader that this breadcrumb trail will lead to the payload that reader enjoys most at the end of the story. (i.e. the "HEA" ending, the "enemies vaquished" ending, the "hero triumphant" ending, or the "poignant loss of everything" or the "villain gets his comeuppance" ending, or the "villain becomes hero" ending).

With those 5 Answers, you now have some facts about this story that you can arrange into a series, a trail of breadcrumbs. You might have to switch it around several ways before you find the right path into the story, but you no longer have an amorphous lump.

The trick is to sort the lump so that the reader doesn't have to know all about the universe, the politics, the historic wars among kingdoms or galaxies, the succession to the throne, or anything else before the story starts. See? To have "pacing" the story and the plot must start to dance with each other, not just stand there and wait while you explain the history of the dance steps.

From those 5 answers on, your job becomes very much like plotting a mystery.

You stretch the information into a line of clues, and the protagonist follows his/her nose through to the end.

Suspense is created by what the reader does not know that the writer does know.

But the reader must never sense that the writer is "withholding" information. Suspense and surprise endings are not created by keeping the reader ignorant, but by keeping the reader engaged, moving (pacing) from one bit of information to the next at a rate that satisfies the reader.

To formulate that all important "beginning," the "downbeat" of the dance music between plot and story, choose semantically loaded words, words fraught with subtext, and weave them into a seductive, rhythmic sentence which carries the promise that you will answer the questions it raises as the story unfolds.

In the first sentence, reveal the first breadcrumb.

That will tell the reader if it's rye, whole wheat, or barley bread -- maybe raisin?

Simple choice of vocabulary can establish genre and invite the book-browser to work to figure out whether they want to buy this book by searching for the next breadcrumb.

Within a few paragraphs, reveal the next breadcrumb.

The space between breadcrumbs then defines the rhythm of the piece, the type of dance between story and plot: waltz, cha-cha, boogie, adagio, tap, break, macarena, tango!

The rest of the information on defining the conflict, the characters, and the setting is transmitted by implication, hint, symbolism, imagery, by careful selection of DETAIL.

Every detail you mention overtly when describing a scene (the color of the carpeting, the provenance of the vase on the mantel) carries information by inference. That you selected this detail to emphasize, rather than leaving it to the reader's imagination, indicates that it's important and must be remembered.

Too much detail, and the reader feels they're working too hard for too little reward. Lard in extra detail between breadcrumbs, and the effort-to-reward ratio becomes way too large. The book is not worth reading.

Too little detail between breadcrumbs, and the book is too "thin," too transparent, boring and not worth reading.

Get the proportion of detail to breadcrumbs, the distance between those crumbs of information wrong, and for the book-browser, it's like sticking their head into a room where someone is practicing playing the violin, one scratchy note at a time with repeated tries at hitting the note. The plot and story aren't dancing. There's no performance to watch.

Get the proportion of detail to breadcrumbs, and the distance between those crumbs of information just right, and the suspense becomes as engaging as watching the stage in the film Dirty Dancing when the lights come up revealing a couple posed just so, dressed just so, -- no other details on that stage but the spotlight, and you can tell they are about to tango and it'll be hellishly sexy. The downbeat, AND!, movement, suggestive, fascinating -- will she make the lift or not?

You don't have to have watched the movie up to that point to stare at the screen, holding your breath as they tango. The suspense is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

But it's natural suspense, inherent in the Situation, not artificial. The prior information about how he taught her this one dance in order to fill in as his partner, enhances the suspense, but doesn't create it.

Watch that scene in Dirty Dancing out of context. Watch how the camera "reveals" the old couple in the audience.

You don't have to know what's going on back at the resort to know that the presence of that old couple implies something is going to happen next.

That is natural suspense. Inherent in the Situation. And it works every time. That is how you want to lay down your breadcrumb trail.

And that's what News Shows don't do.

Their "coming up next" or "after the break" teasers are overt, hits over the head, carrying the information in text not sub-text.

Study news shows. Study "hard news" and "opinion" shows, study how they handle the huge and distracting commercial breaks, how they open a segment after a break and how they end off on a cliffhanger just before the break.

These are writing techniques illustrated in blatant, easy to learn caricatures. It's a clear illustration of how to grab an audience and how to hold it by arranging information in linear sequence.

In fiction, you have to do the same thing with the information you are transmitting to your readers/viewers, but you must do it by subtext, by inference, innuendo, and even mis-direction.

But it is the same technique. The same goal, too. You need to keep the reader/viewer interested in something that's interesting to you and inherently boring to them.

You have to take that lump of a universe that is so fascinating to you, and dissect it just the way TV news dissects our real world into an over simplified straight line presented by sound-bytes that don't bore the viewer (too much).

When is information boring?

When it does not answer the question you have in your mind.

When is it fun to acquire information?

When you have been harboring a burning question you need the answer to, AND when you have found that answer for yourself, by your own efforts, without anyone TELLING YOU.

Information someone tells you is boring.

Secrets you unravel for yourself are interesting.

That's what editors mean when they say they want to read a well written manuscript that "holds my interest."  That's code for "make me figure it out."  

Information that is kept from you is irresistibly interesting.

So how do you make your reader interested in your universe?

You lead him on a treasure hunt to the answer to a question he wants answered.

Your reader won't get interested enough to follow you if you don't let him know you are keeping a secret. But if you tell him/her the answer, he/she won't care anymore because now he/she knows.

That sounds so obvious and simple, but it is incredibly difficult to do.

In Part II, we'll look at just how to select your breadcrumbs and arrange them in a trail that is paced just right.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com - current availability
http://www.simegen.com/jl/ - full bio/biblio

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Of Bed Bugs, Wrinkles, And Men.

Do I offer my deepest apologies to John Steinbeck?
Apologies proffered.

One of the most effective English teachers I know used to stand by the blackboard at the front of the class and take a random list of ingredients for a story, which we would then, orally, make up. It was great fun. To this day, I remember the pig and the dustbin, but not the third element.

If you think that I mean to go somewhere romantic with bedbugs, wrinkles, and men.... you'd be sadly mistaken. Speculative, yes. Romantic, no.

But, I'll bet I could, if I wanted to do so.

Setting aside the wrinkly parts... my inspiration comes from Linda Marsh's article about "climate change" and diseases of the past and future (The Hot Zone) in DISCOVER Magazine, an AOL News piece on bed bugs, my own musings about whether or not to set out on road trips armed with very large plastic bags, and Avatar which I saw on cable tv this week.

Suppose aliens want to kill us. Suppose Gaia wants to kill us.

Pandora (the living moon in Avatar) was sentient but historically impartial. She promoted balance, but did not interfere in the affairs of the life forms on her surface, until the human alien invaders went too far in their quest for unobtainium.

In the interests of balance, Gaia ought to have eliminated more of us than she has. Are we as bad as cockroaches? Worse? How do we compare to dinosaurs... in terms of balance, and carbon footprints?

When we are sick, the purpose of a high fever is to make the body too hot for the germs to survive. From Linda Marsh's heat map, it looks like maybe Gaia might want to shake off some Texans. If one is inclined to think of our world as sentient, like Pandora's.

Deer ticks give us Lyme Disease. Mosquitoes give us West Nile Virus, Bird flu, malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis and more. Are mosquitoes better "agents" and "vectors" than bedbugs? One might think that a winged arthropod "vector" would be better, but one might be wrong.

The trouble with mosquitoes is twofold for a balance-loving planet. Humans fight back, usually with chemical sprays, and there is collateral damage. Mosquitoes expend too much life and energy per bite. They only live a couple of weeks, if that. Also, they're conspicuous in that they make noise, they're large enough to be seen while going about their business, and sooner or later, their bite draws attention to itself.

Quick tip. I find that when I am "bitten" by a mosquito, it's quite effective to slap on a Bioré strip. It draws the mosquito saliva out with the same action that gently eases blackheads and their "tails" out of clogged pores.

Actually, there's a lot more that is wrong with mosquitoes as agents of "change". Only the females bite, and only when they are about to lay eggs, and they don't bite everyone... just those who look dark (dark clothing), smell good, eat their leafy greens, and emit a lot of carbon dioxide. Fair, quiet, perfumed types get a free pass.

I wonder if anyone has ever studied how often politicians get bitten by mosquitoes.

Suppose the goal were simple behavior modification, instead of behavior modification through extermination. There are parasites that modify fish behavior, making the host fish act in such a way that it is far more likely to be caught and eaten by the higher host animal in the food chain into whose gut the parasite needs to travel for the next stage in its life cycle.

What kind of risky behavior might a bed bug bite stimulate in the traveling man? What gene, mania, bug-spit-borne hallucinogen, retrovirus or parasite could be passed?

By the way, this is purely speculative. I have not heard that bed bugs do anything other than suck blood, breed, and hitch rides on anything that moves.

Of course, if the plot were Us vs Our Planet, which side would we be on?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brain Rewards

Recently someone gave me an article by Richard Beck called "Certainty and Dogmatism: The Feeling of Knowing." Beck's comments, in turn, are based on the book ON BEING CERTAIN: BELIEVING YOU ARE RIGHT EVEN WHEN YOU'RE NOT, by Robert Burton. Burton and Beck propose that "knowing is a feeling." The "tip of the tongue" experience ("I know that, I just can't remember it") illustrates that the feeling of knowledge can be separated from the content of knowledge. We experience this "feeling of knowing" or "feeling of conviction" as rewarding in itself, an obvious evolutionary advantage for large-brained mammals. Knowing in itself feels good, produces pleasure. The down side of this reward system is that once we think we've found the right answer, the pleasurable emotion discourages us from seeking alternatives. We've already reached our goal, so why bother looking further? Open-minded people, Beck suggests, are those who can resist the temptation to bask in the pleasure of the first satisfying answer they arrive at. In effect, the feeling of knowledge works on our neurological circuits like alcohol or ice cream. As Beck puts it, "People might need a diet from certainty." This brain phenomenon helps to explain the prevalence of confirmation bias. Once we've settled on a side in a controversy, we tend to notice evidence that supports our belief and ignore or automatically reject evidence to the contrary.

Here's an article from NEWSWEEK on reasoning and confirmation bias:

Limits of Reason

Evolution may actually favor irrationality. The marshaling of arguments, says this article, serves the purpose of persuading other people to support our position. For that purpose, emotional appeals work better than rational and logical arguments. Therefore, evolution supports such phenomena as confirmation bias and what the article calls "motivated reasoning." Spock would be appalled.

Not that Vulcans necessarily evolved differently. The STAR TREK universe tells us that in their early history Vulcans were a passionate, violent species. They achieved their reliance on rationality and logic by hard-won self-discipline.

Also on the subject of neurological reward processes, the human brain may be hard-wired to love curves. Not just in appreciation of natural images—people's response to abstract paintings and sculptures depends heavily on the presence and shape of curves:

Baltimore Sun

All intelligent species probably experience "knowing" as pleasurable and positively reinforcing, but what about the preference for curves? A species evolved in a different physical environment or having a nonhuman body structure might be left unmoved by what we see as the beauty of curves. Many extraterrestrials would probably have esthetic standards as alien to us as their biology. They might like angles better. They might even see additional dimensions besides the three visible to us, not to mention the likelihood that they'd see colors differently. (Lots of Earth creatures see other parts of the spectrum from what human vision perceives.) When we try to communicate with aliens, we will have to take into account esthetic and emotional gaps as well as differences based on purely intellectual brain wiring.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Worldbuilding With Fire And Ice Part III

Whew! Now the election's over we can drop politics because it's not important anymore, right? Ooooo. Ummmm. Oy, I don't think so.

CAUTION: don't for a moment think that I'm a "Conservative" -- or for that matter "Progressive" or "Liberal" -- the "politics" that describes my personal philosophy does not exist on this Earth and as far as I know never has yet. I'm not arguing either side of this issue.  I'm examining why the HEA is so universally scoffed at. 

We began in Part I of Worldbuilding With Fire And Ice on October 26, 2010, discussing Glenn Beck and noted:

Maybe he's right - maybe not. Our question is, "Does it matter?"

And to whom does it matter? And what can we do with that information?

In my blog post "Glenn Beck Did Not Invent The Overton Window" (October 19, 2010, aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com ) I mentioned that I disagree (personally) with some of what Beck is "selling" (and he uses a "hard sell" technique right out of his enemy's playbook). But I don't disagree with all of it.

So what do I disagree with and why should you care?

As I pointed out in the October 19th 2010 post on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com Glenn Beck is moving the Overton Window, or trying to, or maybe just doing it inadvertently in response to commercial demands and pressures.

He got the concept of the Overton Window from a Think Tank which got it from some mathematicians researching how to describe the behavior of large numbers of people making decisions.
That mathematics is employed by advertisers to make people buy products. It's proven stuff and it works.

The Mackinac Center http://www.mackinac.org/7504 -- uses this math to describe the political behavior of people by the millions while advertising uses it to shape preferences for brands of toothpaste or perfume. There isn't enough profit in novels to afford to hire those folks to sell a novel -- but film producers definitely use their services.

This math is not just statistics, it's a method of changing what the majority hold to be true and unquestioned. It can change what is deemed "politically correct."

And it has.

The entire technique is rooted in a view of the universe based on the "zero-sum-game" -- which is why this branch of mathematics came from and informs game-theory. (which is why video games have become so popular; they depict and infuse the player with the zero-sum-game philosophy).

That the physical universe is a zero-sum-game becomes an unconscious assumption.

That the social universe is a zero-sum-game becomes an unconscious assumption.

That the economic universe is a zero-sum-game becomes an unconscious assumption.

Nowhere in our mainstream, Hollywood films, Manhattan publishing, nowhere in the big money, high capital cost/high profit margin business models do we see evidence of anything but a zero-sum-game model of the universe.

The biggest TV audiences are drawn by sports - and every professional sport is based on the zero-sum-game model of reality. I win means you lose.

I win causes you to lose.

"There Can Be Only One"

In Part II we noted that it seems (to me, and others) that the Socialist and Communist views of the world are based on this zero-sum-game model.

The reason that some people are poor is that other people are rich.

That's connected as cause-effect. The only way that rich people get rich is by taking away from (oppressing) "workers" who work themselves to death for bare subsistence wages and there is no way for these hard working, upstanding, deserving workers to get rich other than to demand justice from the rich who have stolen the product of the worker's sweat and tears.  (That's not all pure fantasy either.  There is proof it has happened, but not that it must be the only way it can ever happen.) 

The theory is that there is a limited amount of "rich" -- You win means I lose.

Well, I won't stand for that. I'm taking your win away from you right now! And that's only justice. I demand justice.

The clear, clean, beyond question obviousness of this point of view is simply irrefutable.

If you are inherently incapable of questioning the unconscious assumption about the nature of reality rooted in the zero-sum-game model, you can not rationally come to any other conclusion than that the rich are rich because they suck the life-juices out of the poor.

The rich are "winners" and the poor are "losers."

Put another way, the poor are "losers" BECAUSE the rich are "winners." AND THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!

It's simply too obvious to be denied by any rational person.

The HEA, the HAPPILY EVER AFTER ending, can not be had by all!

It's pie in the sky. Only certain "chosen" golden children ever dare aspire to happiness, and YOU ARE NOT CHOSEN. Therefore you must fight yourself, using all your energy to subdue your inner self. See the example I found involving oral sex in Part II (posted November 2, 2010 on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com).

But why is it obvious?

Well, look at marriage, especially through the prism of that item on oral sex in marriage. Look at our most intimate relationships. Look at how parents raise children. Look back on how your parents raised you.

From the child's point of view, "because I said so" is how parents rule -- and parents get their way because they're big.

If parents "negotiate" with a child before the child is really old enough to process all the variables at once, the parent is seen as weak, incompetent, manipulatable, and the child gets an inflated view of Self.

There is a corporate executive training program that companies pay thousands and thousands of dollars to put their trainees and new hires through. The program teaches "YOU DON'T GET WHAT YOU DESERVE; YOU GET WHAT YOU NEGOTIATE."

And it teaches the art of negotiation as a form of warfare.

Warfare has always been practiced as a zero-sum-game. Our professional sports are modeled after warfare. Corporate culture is modeled on football.

Our culture has forced us to adopt the zero-sum-game model of the universe by excluding any other style activities from your notice (yes, such activities exist but you are flimflammed into not-noticing or not-recognizing them).

Now look at the dust-up recently on bullying in the school yards and how much damage that does to children that then subsequently shapes their potential as adults.

Parents have come out passionately against bullying in school yards. Teachers and school administrators must stop the bullying - it's the school's responsibility to protect my child against bullies.

But where do bullies come from?

How many really creative people have admitted in biographies that they were bullied, and thus forced to learn a response?

How many chimp studies have examined chimp tribes and bullying, or jockeying for pecking order among say, ducks.

Should we intervene in the society of children to stop bullying?

It's an unexamined assumption among parents that their child must not be bullied.  (which doesn't mean it's wrong; just not thought out carefully)

It's an unexamined assumption among the parents of children that do the bullying that their child is showing leadership potential, a winner's profile, not a loser's profile, and their pride (however secret even from themselves) knows no bounds. WINNER means NOT LOSER.

Why must our children not "be bullied?"

Recent research on mice has shown us a possible chemical mechanism for the end result of having been bullied.

See my post on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com on October 12, 2010 titled GENETIC MECHANISM BY WHICH LOVE CONQUERS ALL

Yeah, we're still on the HEA subject.

The mice that had repeated lost fights with other mice in that experiment showed a later life tendency to be timid, not to fight for their place, and not to explore.

Dissection of their brains revealed a chemical in the submissive mice's brains, wrapped around their genes, that wasn't present in the mice that had not lost the fights. These chemicals wrap around the genes and allow or suppress expression of the genes.

So we have a purely chemical (not spiritual or soul-based) explanation of how it is that kids who are bullied in school yards grow up to become submissive - and don't explore.

"Explore" for a mouse is a kind of boldness.

We're talking about the kind of boldness that makes human beings explore questions, that makes human beings question unconscious assumptions being "sold" to them by clever mathematicians manipulating the Overton Window. To question authority, such as teachers.

Because of human creativity, artistic talent, a lot of bullied kids turn out to be the boldest questioners. Maybe they get bullied because they are artistic?

But most don't turn out to be artists.

Allowing school-yard bullying while assuring the parents "we're doing all we can" (God Forbid anyone in this world should heroically exceed their abilities and actually grow as a person and a hero by doing something they can't do - something outside their job description!) is one of many ways to create a pliable and obedient population.

Allowing schools to teach "the truth" (carefully editing textbooks) keeps children from being confused, feeling threatened, and needing to think before deciding or expressing an opinion.

They grow up to be adults who want "the government" (or someone) to keep them safe.

Since they never learned in school that one of the basic principles that made the USA successful as a country is that the police do not prevent crime, they expect to live in a crime free world where police prevent crime.

However, in principle, the police (and all criminal statutes) are aimed only at people who have actually done criminal deeds -- and thus the police (an arm of government) can act only after the fact, lest government gain power over individuals. That is, the majority must never inhibit the exploration activities of any individual. Freedom of thought, religion, speech - all rests on the concept that the Police must not prevent any activity.

Under no circumstances can any arm of government ever be allowed to prevent anyone from doing anything. Government must not be allowed control.

Yeah, they don't teach that in school any more, but it was a core principle in the civics classes in my grammar school, and today it is a fully examined and questioned assumption of mine -- though it started out as unquestioned.

Today, however, "Crime Prevention" (another sobriquet promulgated by those with a very specific political agenda) is lauded, and when it fails people are so offended they throw out their elected officials who failed to prevent crime.  Remember we're talking about the plausibility of the HEA here.  You can't have happiness if your expectations regarding safety and predictability are not met. 

We're missing a social mechanism that damps down if not prevents aberrant behavior, keeps it at a tolerable level where expectations are mostly met.

Today huge, massively funded federal agencies are devoted to public safety - and to protecting consumers.

The government's role is primarily to protect us (seal the borders, for example). Very often we are being protected from ourselves -- pharmaceuticals legal in Europe can't be sold here because they would undercut the market of some big pharma company here, but we're told we are being protected from potential harm caused by our own bad decisions.

But big corporations are seen as bullies because they're big.

Glenn Beck showed (I caught a quick clip of this channel surfing) a cartoon line-drawing animation that is being shown in schools to instruct kids on the relationship between corporations and government.

The government was shown as a small image, a neat, clean straight line drawing, of I think, a building. The corporation was shown as a huge, round, blown-up quasi-human image -- something like humpty-dumpty is often drawn. Bloated and distorted.

The corporations were noted to be bigger than government, and positioned by artistic composition to be menacing the little government.

Any reasonable person, especially someone bullied as a child, would conclude that government must be grown bigger to face down the ugly big bully corporations. That's how we conquer schoolyard bullies - we grow larger, hit harder or get friends to gang up on them with us. 

This is a truth that becomes internalized as an unquestioned assumption.  Government must grow or the world won't be safe.  (maybe so, but who knows?) 

Worse, the assumption becomes unconsciously processed because of the graphics - and I could see the art of this Overton Window mathematics behind that composition in the cartoon. As I said previously I don't see what most viewers see when I watch TV. This image of the relationship between government and corporations becomes UNQUESTIONABLE TRUTH, not merely an assumption, a hypothesis or a theory subject to revision according to new facts unearthed. 

An assumption can never be called into question because you don't know it's there.

It has been presented to the very young in their own language, the language of the bully in the play yard, and presented to be true by authority in the form of the teacher.

Every time a parent says, "listen to the teacher" "sit still in class" "don't act out" "don't pester the teacher with questions, you'll get bad grades" -- every time a parent reinforces a teacher's authority, the result is more assumptions driven into the child's mind that will become unquestionable assumptions later in life (which might be good if the assumptions stay reliable throughout the child's lifetime). 

Was this done to you?

Are you doing it to your children?

Have you ever had to change any "fact" you learned in school?

Look at this:  http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/08/11/discovery-pushes-human-tool-use-years/
Every so often, we have to revise what we know to be true.  Are you preparing your children to do that?

What has all that to do with the HEA?

If you live in the world I've described above, you have been taught by these zero-sum-game based philosophical methods that you are not qualified to live the HEA - that it's not realistic to expect your life to reach HEA.  It's not even "right" to try because if you get an HEA life, that means you took it away from someone else! (zero-sum-game - there isn't enough happiness in the world to go around - you win, someone else loses.) 

It's not realistic because not everyone can be a winner.

How do you know that?

Because in that same grammar school class that taught you about big bad corporations, you learned that only some kids in class can get an A, and a few more a B, most will get C's, and a few D's and F's -- or whatever numerical or euphemistic substitute for those grades is used.

The use of euphemisms like "needs improvement" "excels" etc does not mask the fact that it's a zero-sum-game. School is graded on a curve, and eventually we learn what that means. A few are chosen to be winners, and all the rest of us lose because those winners took away our right to win.

There can be only 10% or fewer A's, or "Excels" in a class. Not everybody can "excel" or "excel" means nothing.

Whether they know it or not, all teachers are taught that statistically humans fall on a bell curve and it's their job to sort out the top 10% for college bound.

The rest are "workers." Oppressed, you will see, if you read the first part of this series WORLDBUILDING WITH FIRE AND ICE on October 26, 2010.

The only way you can ever begin to even wonder if any of that is true is to question the assumption that reality is a zero-sum-game, inherently, intrinsically and realistically, there really is only so much good crop land, only so much drinkable water, only so much gold mine country, only so much uranium, only so much zinc, copper, oil, and only so many can be happy.  The only way to be happy is to "win" -- so that means half lose. 

But if you win, you did it by being a bully, so you have to be miserable with what you've won.  Which half of humanity then can have an HEA? 

We have to organize into countries big enough and mean enough to fight and win those critical resources or we will die.

Our big, muscular HE-MAN MEN must "fight for us" and win, so we can be protected to raise our children to fight and win.

It's all about competing and winning. Competition is the only correct way to organize human beings. It brings out the best in us.

We MUST compete with each other, and we must be the winner.  And only winners then get to have children. 

Therefore, if you hold the unconscious assumption (possibly implanted, possibly actually true) that you are not a winner, you have only one logical recourse - rise up and smite the winners and take what they have (i.e. raise taxes on the rich).

In that universe, there can be no HEA for anyone.

If you win Happily Ever After, it won't bring you happiness because you got it by taking it away from someone else. And you know in your heart that the someone you deprived will rise up and take what you took from them.

Why would it bother you that you caused someone pain so you could win? If you didn't snatch what happiness you can, someone else would take it - probably waste it, too. After all, you can do better with resources than others.

If you live in a universe where the only way to satisfy your heart's desire is by preventing someone else from satisfying their heart's desire -- i.e. you have to GET A MAN by "winning" him away from some other woman in a contest of beauty or fellatio, and the only way to hold a man (whether he prefers to be held or not) is by doing something you'd really rather not do because "men can't help it" -- then your happiness is achieved at the expense of someone else's misery.

Now we elevate this discussion to a dimension few are willing to access.

As far as I know, the only universe of discourse where the zero-sum-game assumption about reality can be questioned (not dispensed with, just questioned) is the universe where the Soul is real.

The part of you that prevents you from exulting totally in causing others misery is what we call the Soul.

OK, maybe SPIRIT. Conscience?

Maybe some other term applies. But it's a non-tangible, immortal part of Self that matters more than "here and now" because its joy and its pain is eternal. It's the part of you that's miserable when you lose, and can't be happy when you win because that means someone else lost.  It's the non-sportsman in you.  It's where your Charity comes from, where your Hope and Joy reside. 

And there is some part of every human's awareness that connects to that dimension.

But that connection is like a switch. It's not always open. Sometimes it rusts shut.

In my personal philosophy, judging whether that rusted-shut switch's condition is good or bad for you is above my pay grade.  I just use it in characterization.

I think there are people who need to be cut off from their awareness of the existence of their Soul, Spirit or whatever you want to call it, at least for part of their life.

There are people who need to be fully in touch. Sometimes switch's rust can be dissolved by Love.

Most people are sporadically and partially aware, or just aspire to repeat moments of contact through an open connection.

Whoever you are and however you are, you're just fine. You'll change when you're ready - opening or closing that contact as you need to in order to accomplish your purposes in life and beyond.

My attitude is, it's none of my business. I have enough on my own plate.

But given the notion that there exists such a thing as a non-material part of a human being, the whole "model of the universe" thing changes.

The worlds you can, as a writer, build to tell stories in become richer, deeper, more complex, harder to handle, but ever so much more realistic (to me anyway).

If the Soul is real, there may in fact be SOUL MATES -- in which case, the HEA becomes an inevitable end-point for each of us, not a ridiculous fantasy that's not "realistic."

If you live your life wearing blinders, refusing to question the zero-sum-game model of the universe because answers would be dangerous, confusing, or doom you to being a loser, then you don't dare accept the HEA except as a pie-in-the-sky fantasy achievable in real life only by the chosen few, and then only temporarily.

If you live your life totally aware of your own Soul, and can see the Soul behind the eyes of others, and know there is a Divine Spirit somehow intimately interacting with this world and your personal life, then when you get to the HEA in a novel that reflects the particular Soul hypothesis you are using, you are emotionally satisfied.

If you live your life putting your blinders on to function in a corporate environment, in the world of science, and peeking around them during your family time, then quickly taking them off for an hour once a week to worship, then the HEA will attract you, reassure you, seem somehow RIGHT, but it's just a novel. Real life is not so simple. But you'll never stop striving for your own happiness without taking it away from others.

Awareness of Soul makes people unable to tolerate being the agent of deprivation and pain to others.

Now, it's true, many people who scoff at the notion of Soul and are committed to explaining all human behavior with brain chemistry and science, people who have been successful commanding the Overton Window to move to where they want it, are equally unable to tolerate being the agent of pain to others.

In fact, MOST of the people involved in "Progressive" or "Liberal" causes, helping the poor, running free clinics, fighting AIDs in Africa, bravely standing up to corporate bullies with Green Peace ships are purely motivated to alleviate human suffering everywhere once and for all and forever.

And frankly, I'd stand with them, put my life on the line with them. I hold nothing back from these causes. They are my causes and always have been. Green energy, anti-global warming measures, reducing our collateral ecological damage -- walking softly in the world, caring for our environment, all of that is core principle with me.

But how many of them are fighting with all their might because they see the world as a zero-sum-game while at the same time feeling their Souls aching for the unfortunate, the poor, and the victims of corporate greed (which is also very real).

How many of them have a good solid plan for what they'll do when they've WON and thus caused someone else to lose? 

On the one hand, you feel your Soul, you know it's real.

On the other hand, you feel your Body, and you know you must fight for the resources to stay alive.

Something is telling you it isn't right, it isn't just, that some people don't have and it's up to everyone to keep all humans safe.

You demand your HEA and won't give up your zero-sum-game fight-and-win scenario.

There's a High Concept film in that conundrum. Think about it.

Turn around now and take another look at politics.

My stand on politics is that no politician should ever be allowed to hold public office.

The steering decisions for a whole country, state, even county, should not be made by compromise. You can't find the right answer to a problem by partially giving up a principle.

I don't want anyone fighting for me, or fighting for my rights, or my anything.

You can't get anything worth having by winning.

So what do you do instead?

Become more interested in what is right rather than who is right.

Argue until you, cooperatively as a group, figure out a right answer. (not THE right answer - there are lots of right answers, usually only a very few really wrong ones)

Govern by consensus not compromise?  That's never yet worked, though compromise has sputtered along for the 200 years or so the USA has used it.  We need to think some more.  

The problem is this Overton Window thing that allows a few people to manipulate consensus to be what they want it to be. So everyone has to be armored against unconscious assumptions in grammar school, trained to be very aware of their personal philosophy but knowing theirs isn't any better or worse than anyone else's.

We'd have to immunize our children to the Overton Window.  It would take a new philosophy.  (Isn't that what SF/F writers are supposed to be doing?) 

Some philosophies though, are more effective and efficient at producing an HEA style life.  Fiction exploring the possibilities could be a "pen mightier than the sword" moment for humanity. 

Think of the Blind Men And The Elephant. The men are all correct, all have an opinion that isn't the truth, but they won't know it until they stop fighting and start cooperating to create the total holographic, 3-dimensional image from all the fragmented points of view.

Right now, we don't combine our philosophies, we fight to win by cramming our philosophy down someone else's throat.

The zero-sum-game assumptions require that we must fight.

Look again at this entire election process and the results, scrutinize everything that's being said, everything "they" are making you feel, and try to see how to question the underlying zero-sum-game philosophical assumption they are cramming down your throat.

Ask yourself who benefits if you swallow their assumption that all life is fighting and not everyone can win.

Now think about all the discussions we've had about Love, and how Love Conquers All isn't just a novel theme, it's actually true about real reality.

Love is the most powerful binding force in the universe.

If the universe is constructed in such a way that Love Conquers All, how can it possibly be a zero-sum-game?

If "All" is conquered, there is only one winner -- ALL.

What is "all"? - it includes you but is not limited to you.

You see why I don't want politicians fighting for me? The more fighting, the less Love.

Fighting doesn't conquer anything, least of all All.

You can't win by fighting, just as you can't get rid of starfish in your clam beds by cutting the starfish in half and throwing the halves back in the water.  The more you fight, the more enemies you have. 

When you start to fight, you lose. If you win, you're miserable because you caused someone else misery. If you lose, you're miserable because you don't have what you went after.

It's the zero-sum-game model of the universe that causes people to reject the HEA, to be unable to feel the emotion generated by novels that lead, however logically, to the HEA.

The zero-sum-game model of the universe has become an unquestionable assumption at the bottom level of our subconscious minds.  You don't even know you believe it, or how it limits your actions. 

To gain acceptance for the HEA, artists must successfully challenge the zero-sum-game philosophy by worldbuilding with Fire and Ice.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Links You May Have Missed

Basically, I've amused myself with the labels, and also with alliteration. I thought I'd share a list of some of the places on the internet that I've been.

Sites that I've bookmarked this week:

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (you value more what you have to work harder to obtain)

Fantasy world-building

The well-being of sperm

Neanderthals Live On

Or maybe they don't

Did We Mate With Neanderthals Or Eat Them?

Motivated Reasoning (Believing what you want to believe, regardless of the evidence)

Critique of the Kindle and its ilk, and gobsmacking ignorance about copyright law

One ripped-off author

Ripping (Rightly) Into (an alleged) Ripper-Offer

 A lot of good info about copyright and a who's who of professionals who care passionately about plagiarism and copyright infringement.

For Lovers Of Lists (10 Things You Didn't Know...)

Do let me know which you enjoyed most, if any!
All the best,

Rowena Cherry