Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Believing in Happily Ever After Part 4: Nesting Huge Themes Inside Each Other

Last week we looked at two conflict sets that form the basis for huge thematic statements that can be simplified down to something as stark and elegant as the underpinnings of the TV show Leverage. Now we'll see if we can combine these 4 thematic elements into a set of themes that generate conflicts and thus plots for large, multi-point of view novels as we began discussing in

Verisimilitude vs. Reality Part 2 September 13,2011
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/09/verisimilitude-vs-reality-part-2-master.htmlVerisimilitude vs. Reality Part 3, September 20, 2011
The previous posts in this series were posted on:

October 4, 2011
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/10/believing-in-happily-ever-after-part-1.htmlOctober 11, 2011
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/10/believing-in-happily-ever-after-part-2.htmlOctober 18, 2011
Secret vs. Private + Standardized vs. Customized

You can "nest" those two sets of conflicts to produce a huge novel with a dizzying array of Point of View Characters.

You can nest them because they are philosophically related. If you can explicate that philosophical relationship all in Show and without any Tell (i.e. tell the story in pictures, in icons and images) you will have a masterpiece of commentary on the current human condition.

To start, note that in a Standardized culture anything about you that you don't hang right out in public is going to be regarded as grounds for suspicion about you.

Why is that?

Think about it.

In a Standardized culture, we're all alike. So if there's something about you that you aren't forthcoming about, then it must be something that identifies you as "Different" -- as unacceptable. It has to be something you're ashamed of, because after all we're all the same, so why would you keep it secret?

Once you've seen a naked woman, you've seen a naked woman.

Why would any woman "hide" their nakedness (or any part of their body) from you when all women are the same? Men, too, for that matter. What's to hide?

If you're not displaying your nakedness for all to see, you are keeping something secret. It's only logical.

There's physical nakedness, and there's psychological nakedness. In a Standardized culture, if you're not as naked as everyone else, you're not politically correct. You're keeping something secret.

In a Standardized culture (science fiction extrapolation to vast extreme for the sake of illustration), there can be no such thing as "private." There is only "secret." And in a Standardized culture, secret is evil.

Why is secret evil? Because something different might undermine the standardization of everyone.

In a Customized culture, on the other hand, there can be secrets and some of them may be about Evil, but most of what you don't know about another person is just private, and you're really not curious at all about other people's private business. You have your own private business to fill up the empty spaces inside you.

That's right, in a Customized (carry to extremes, remember? It's a principle of screenwriting) culture, a seriously totally customized culture, people would still be intensely curious about all kinds of things, but never about someone else's private business.

In a Customized culture, people don't dress or talk all alike. In a Standardized culture, they do.

In the 1950's, each year brought a specific fashion-necessary hemline length. If you couldn't afford a new dress (women didn't wear pants much), then you took up or let down the hemlines to within a half-inch of the specified proper fashion, usually sewing by hand. Standardization reigned in car-manufacturing, and in fashion. Uniform spelling was not just admired but an absolute requirement. Radio announcers had even become standardized for accent. (today you hear regional accents on TV announcers -- in the 1950's you didn't., though regional accents were more redolent.)

In the 2010's, walk along any street and see some women in pants suits, others in jeans, ankle length skirts, mini-skirts, all going the same place.

The other day I saw a video clip of a bunch of people walking out of the White House after a high level conference they were reporting on. I watched the women. They ALL wore skirt-suits (not a one of dozens wore a pants suit), and the skirts were above the knee in every case. Their dress for business wear had become standardized to a new standard. Even just 5 years ago, there were lots of pants suits in such shots. Remember Hilary Clinton wore and still wears pants suits more than anything else.

In between, there was a trend where women on TV non-fiction shows (there was a time when no TV anchor on a news show was female) all wore suits, sometimes with tailored shirts and ties, sometimes pants suits, but sometimes skirt-suits and they weren't mini-skirt suits.

I've taken a recent poll cruising news shows. All the newswomen are showing a lot of skin, cleavage, and often wear skin-tight dresses with cleavage and no sleeves, showing more of themselves than they would in a bathing suit. Just a few years ago, those same women wore suits with jackets when seen among men wearing suits with jackets. Today, female reporters stand on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (which is being bought by the Germans) among men in suits, but the women are showing cleavage and lots of skin, or if it's cold outside, they wear very tight sweaters.


And the Germans have a very different culture than the U.S.A. does. As much as German culture (via immigrants) has influenced us, we are still very different.

I'm not passing value judgements here. I'm surveying details that sketch the context of your reader's real-world, against which they judge the plausibility of your fictional world. I'm selecting details here that infer other types of details. Think about the reasons for these fashion shifts. This is how you "build" a world for your characters from the substance of your theme. When you build your fictional world from the elements of your reader's real world, the readers will believe your entire story - it will seem plausible. Your reader reads about how people dress, and your reader infers the value system of the culture in which those characters walk abroad.

Women wore suits to be like men, or to seek respect for not presenting themselves as a sex object.

There was a cultural conflict there generating that fashion choice -- the striving to be taken seriously. In prior times, women news reporters were never allowed to report on business stories or crimes (or from the locker room at a sporting event). Women reporters covered women's stories only. Nothing a woman said was ever taken seriously.

Today that cultural conflict is gone, and women are behaving as if they can be taken seriously and display as much skin as they (or the news producers) want. Yes, it seems the real reason for the cleavage display is that sex sells. Nothing rivets a man's attention like cleavage and the producers (even the women producers) of news shows see that in their ratings demographics. But the men don't wear wet T-shirts to display a six-pack.

I've seen prime time hard-news TV shows with a female anchor and a couple of female reporters, all showing a lot of skin, and reporting on serious news. Big change, and I haven't seen anyone note it even in passing.

The writer's eye must observe these things and translate the visuals into thematic substance.

Compare that cultural shift to the one described in the article I sited earlier in this Believing In Happily Ever After series about the increasing internet speeds and what enterprise has been able to do with that technological advance.

Here's the link again:

Microsoft and Google, the two publicly traded titans who, along with amazon.com, reign supreme in the Customized culture, actually operate on the old Standardized Worker-bee model. Though their products are created by wildly dressed individuals, they are developed and marketed by standardized workers, in standard business suits.

Consider that Facebook became a publicly traded company in 2011. Now Google has launched Google+ a serious competitor to Facebook. Google+ is another example of a user customizable service that's standardized on the back end.

I was talking with an employee of GoDaddy the other day about this very thing, and we agreed that GoDaddy is the Home Depot of the digital world (GoDaddy is a do-it-yourself website hosting service with customer service phone answerers who really know what they're talking about just as Home Depot clerks know what the products on their shelves actually do).

While GoDaddy is enabling individuals to create totally Customized (or templated Standardized; your choice) websites, they treat their employees like identical worker-bees, and pay really low wages, rewarding the best sales people with bonuses. (Sears does the same, as do many department stores).

At GoDaddy the art staff gets paid less than the customer service reps, according to my informant.

Well, that's how it used to be.  Things may be changing there, too.  See this?


GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain registrar, has been sold to three private equity firms in a deal valued at $2.25 billion, the company announced in early July 2011.

So these successful businesses (creating those rich folks who take what they want) are now hybrids of the Standardized and Customized cultures.

They sell customizable products (all the same out of the box; you make them different), but manufacture them in a Standardized Henry Ford style way. Do you smell a conflict generating a plot yet?

Now, you all know of the "privacy" issues on the internet, and the hacking incursions into bank records, even personal cell phones of celebrities.

Take that "real" world your reader lives in, slice and dice it just as you sliced and diced the TV Show Leverage which we discussed in Part 2 of this series.

Build an alien culture from one of these sets of themes, and a futuristic (extrapolated to extreme) human culture from the other set, put them in CONFLICT over a problem, resolve the problem, and you have a major novel that seethes with Romance one way or another, because the only thing that can Conquer this stuff is Love.

In the Standardized culture in which every instinct to Privacy is regarded as keeping illicit Secrets, the unique individual strives to 'break free' of a stultifying oppression. The Standardization is the problem.

In The Customized culture in which Privacy is treasured (what happens in the family, stays in the family), the Businessman who seeks to maximize profits via standardizing both workers and products, strives to hammer slippery individuals into shape and make everyone want the same thing. The Individualization, the sacredness of privacy, is the problem.

In a previous post we discussed the origins of the science of Public Relations. You should read the wikipedia article on PR and advertising.

Here are 3 posts on PR and altering the perception of reality in the way described above with fashion.




Remember the principle, create a frustration then sell the solution and alter the general perception of reality.

To get the greater readership to accept the reality of the Happily Ever After ending, that ending has to become the solution to their greatest frustration -- like increasing internet speed and selling data connections by the megabyte.

The greatest frustration out there right now is the conflict between the innate (and I believe intrinsic in human nature) desire for individual uniqueness to be recognized (i.e. unconditional love) and the survival-instinct need to hunker down as one of the herd, to be a worker-bee and get a paycheck, to use the most popular brand of shampoo.

God Forbid anyone should think you're Different - because you know you are. That's CONFLICT the very essence of STORY. But more than that, it's the essence of Romance, because Romance starts with the impact of the vision of a future where you are not alone in your privacy.

The desire to be unique, and yet the same, and also recognized and appreciated for your individual uniqueness is the "problem" in the us vs. a problem conflict formula.

Right now, our genera population can't see Love Conquers All as the solution to that uniting problem in our culture.

Use Art to demonstrate that solution, and sell big time.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Jacqueline, I want to believe in HEA, I really do!

    BUT my inner pessimism says humans aren't made to achieve balance for any substantial length of time. Not even with Love because Love becomes flawed when humans are the conduit.

    What you seem to be saying is that IF Life ultimately imitates Art, artists best get busy saving the world (or at least making it to the bestseller list! :D).

    I really like this series. The standardized/customized theme has given me lots to think about. Thank you!

  2. Well, there you go -- you have a THEME "I want to believe in the HEA, I really do!"

    That's a theme, a conflict, a plot, and even a character with a story.

    And you need a counterpart character who just can't find the courage to overcome pessimism.

    Then let them argue the point not in words but in life choices and deeds, in friendships, loyalties, alliances, causes marched for, and children raised.

    One who wants the HEA to be "real" will hold that most humans twist Love into something else, but there do exist a few who get it right, so it's not a property of humanity per se to be flawed.

    The other will say that a single white raven doesn't establish that all ravens aren't black. There can be an albino who isn't necessarily a better raven, can't there?

    Hmmm -- oh, make that a series of novels!

    I'm in a romping mood because my novel MOLT BROTHER is out and selling as an audiobook!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. Congratulations on the audiobook!!