The blog is:
Sometime next week (March 12-16, 2012) the audiobook of the first novel in Sime~Gen, House of Zeor, is slated to be released as audiobook from audible.com (on Amazon and iTunes etc) and so far the fans who have heard samples of Michael Spence's reading are absolutely thrilled with his rendition of the main characters in that novel, Heroic, Villainous and Mystical alike.
While I've been working on the audiobook project (Molt Brother is out, City of a Million Legends is being recorded, and Michael is getting ready to start Unto Zeor, Forever), and thinking about characters and actor's renditions of characters, on Google+ I found the following link to a newspaper article being shared that made a big impression on me:
It's about brain research chasing a link between violent video games and the behavior of children who grow up playing them. It doesn't site conclusive evidence, but it's "hot pursuit" time in this area.
We all know the link between sexuality and violence, and how "dark" sex-based fiction can get especially when the Romance is left completely in the dust by mechanical sex scenes.
I'm all for really good sex scenes, mind you, but they have to be essential to the theme, make a clear statement, and advance the plot swiftly while deepening the flow of story. Good sex scenes are harder to write than good combat and violence scenes. Good sex is a form of communication, a language of love. Substituting anatomy for announcements is weak writing.
MY OPINION ON THAT ARTICLE: It's not "sports" or "videogames" that cause "violence" -- it's the enactment of the "zero sum game" model of reality.
A sex scene that's a "zero-sum-game" will be an announcement of aggression that will be an act of dominance and maybe violence. Do you only love and treasure what you dominate? ("Dominate" means to be able to "take away" (I have/ you don't zero-sum-game model) anything from possessions to self-esteem from another human being.)
"Sportsmanship" used to include celebration that the other guy won, not you, and you didn't have less of anything because the other guy scored more points: not less prestige, strutting rights, joy, or anything. It wasn't a zero sum game even with rules and scores.
"It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game that counts." (Honor, integrity, fairness). As society has evolved over the last few decades, we can see in our films and novels how that concept of sportsmanship became ironic, then ridiculous, and now isn't even said.
Sports is about honor and heroism, about helping the fallen get up and go at it again, about breaking through your own inner, personal barriers and becoming a better person (and not on drugs) -- not better than some other person you "beat" but better than you, yourself were. Sports is about excellence (as is Sime~Gen's House of Zeor) - it's about excelling your own personal-best, not about excelling someone else's personal best.
It's not "sports" that's the problem in our current society; it's sanctioned viciousness. Sports used to be an exercise in character development. Now it's more like politics, an exercise in character debasement. What you practice, you get better at.
But that's the world we live in, isn't it? The world of raising children by debasing their characters to where they only know how to "win" by debasing the character of others.
How many mothers out there ever even notice their kids staring at political ads? How much do the kids understand? What do they model from that? How does that affect what they look for in a Soul Mate -- someone they can easily debase, or someone they will allow to debase them?
MY OPINION: No, no, no!
This world is made out of love for love, and because of love. That's not my opinion. It's my perception. It's what I see when I look out of my eyes and assemble all the little pixel-dots and the black space around them (an image I used in a previous discussion here of a trilogy of historical romance novels set around 1050 C. E.)
Character is one of the "filters" you use to "select" what is signal and what is noise in your life around you. Your character is what selects what lights up the pixels that form your image of your life, and what you suppress or ignore. These bits of information form a picture of the world around you that you can work with and within.
It's your character, and the assessment of the character of others that creates that picture of the world, your life, and your potential.
Ask most readers of Romance stories and you'll find that' it's character they respond to most. If they can't relate to the main character, they just won't finish the book. Romance books need "strong" characters -- characters with character.
You know, USA NETWORK's "characters welcome!"
One of the things writers use to add "color" to characters is the techniques used to "reveal" their character strengths, weaknesses, and the identifying, individual quirks.
When you weave all those character traits together, strength, weakness, quirks, you get a "strong" character, a character who doesn't change behavior or values in an emergency -- a character that's been built from childhood in a non-zero-sum-game world. That's a character who has the "strength" to "give" himself - to sacrifice for the good of others.
The "strong" character will create a good cause, not just find one. The "strong" character is the one who loses a child to a drunk-driver accident, and founds Alcoholics Anonymous or Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The "weak" character is the one who loudly and publicly proclaims his "values" and "moral compass" and "leadership" and then, in any little emergency (unexpected event) throws all those values away in order to respond to the emergency.
Consider the classic "lifeboat" situation where say, 6 skinny people are huddled on a lifeboat tossed by high seas and a 7th very fat person is sinking the boat. It's an emergency, so the 6 skinny people are therefore morally required to throw away the "Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder" commandment and toss the fat person overboard for the good of the majority.
Those are 6 people of very weak character.
If they were of strong character and normally held that murder was not something they would ever participate in, they would never consider tossing anyone overboard merely for their own survival.
Those of strong character who believe that murder is wrong would never even consider murder in large groups like a mob. The force of "mob psychology" and destructive frenzy explosively released in resentment simply leaves such a "strong character" cold. A strong character standing in the midst of a mob that bursts into frenzy will simply edge to the rear and drift off down a side street. She may then circle back, get help, and confront the mob's head end and try to stop the destruction. But not with violence.
We're not talking "army" here; the army does not murder, but can and does "kill" for the good of the group, which is completely sanctioned by the 10 Commandments. Translations usually say "kill" but the actual text says "murder." That's killing for personal gain, not self defense. Soldiers don't set out to kill people, just to "neutralize" them -- make them stop destroying the soldier's own family and nation.
That "Kill"/"Murder" distinction is one I use in the Sime~Gen novels because I thought about it very carefully and studied and learned.
Now why is it relevant to a writer creating a Romance story? I mean most Romance doesn't involve killing or murder (though I do love a good detective novel with a hot romance driving the plot.)
It's relevant because "Values" has everything to do with "character strength" which is the lynchpin in the whole Soul Mate concept.
Character is the connecting link because it is the one thing that you can "take with you" beyond this life. What character strength you develop in this life will be there for you to retrieve (by repeating some experiences, sometimes vicariously by just reading a Romance story) once you reincarnate. That's the theory anyway, and it turns up in so many theories of karma and reincarnation that I suspect it's real. It certainly resonates with a majority of readers and forms the foundation of most fiction that doesn't even deal with the supernatural.
I use the idea of murder to measure character strength just as an illustration of the principle of what makes a "strong" character in the eyes of an editor.
A strong character is one who stands up for what he/she believes in (whatever it is) and will put their life on the line, their life savings, or even the lives of their children. A strong character will risk the dangers of other people despising them because they hold to their Values even in an emergency.
Values that have to be discarded in order to deal effectively with an emergency were never held to begin with, only espoused or given lip-service. In emergencies, the real character becomes visible -- which is why most novels hurl the main character right into an emergency (trust me, a first date is an Emgergency!)
Strong characters contain the potential for becoming Heroes and thus tend to die young or survive to ridiculously old ages.
For you astrologers, that's a placement of Pluto in the natal chart signifying a life of having strength of character tested. Usually that "test" is one period of 3-5 years of sheer-bloody-hell -- and then either a dramatic death or smooth sailing into really old age. Many don't survive that test, but that doesn't mean they "failed" -- because the strength built in the testing period will still be there in their next life.
For MOTHERS - consider what that means in your infant, toddler, especially a venturesome son. Strength of character from previous lives turns up in those fearless lunges into dangers the baby does not perceive. The cowardice of the terrible-twos (and the fearless lunges into wild self-assertion) may be decoded into some idea of "who" this person you're raising really is, was, and will be.
Note, today Romance stories with second-marriages, and including young children, abound for a reason. Sometimes a marriage happens for past-life reasons, and to bring to birth certain individuals who need different parenting than the birth parent can provide. (not always, though).
So, considering brain research that is chasing the link between how the brain develops and violent videogames, what are the chances a modern teen will find fun activities among peers to develop social interactions that build character strength, solutions to social problems that don't involve "beating" or "winning" or out-maneuvering other people? How many teens see life not as a contest to win but as an arena in which to build a structure that need have no limits?
Will teens raised on solving problems by killing to "score" even recognize "strong characters" in their Romance stories?
What video games award double-points for avoiding harm to the 'bad guys?'
By what criteria do we judge character? And by what criteria should we judge character?
Remember the research article -- I think I pointed it out to you here some years ago -- that shows how the whole human species millions of years ago was twice reduced to nearly below species survival numbers? Two bottlenecks in our evolution stripped out entire genetic characteristics.
That is similar to the Biblical history that indicates how Adam and Eve arrived in our reality out of "The Garden of Eden" and proceeded to have children -- and later, The Flood reduced us to just Noah and his family with the Rainbow as the promise that the world would not be destroyed by flood again (didn't eliminate other means.)
The Bible indicates Seven Laws were given to Noah. That's all the moral code humanity as a whole is responsible for, not all 10 Commandments (or 613 given in the Desert) -- just 7 catch-all principles.
With Free Will, each individual human must personally choose to accept these 7 rules of behavior and implement them in their life.
Those who choose to do that, and don't toss those 7 away just because there's an "emergency" are considered of "strong character" (not just by readers, but by editors, too).
In fact, these 7 Noachide Laws are the most effective ways to handle "emergencies" -- and what the person searching for a Soul Mate looks for is that behavior in emergency (great plot fodder there! The third date can be a major emergency!) which applies those 7 Laws rigorously to generate a solution.
That kind of "strong character" who bends the world to his values is usually looked up to as a Leader. "Leadership" means not just getting people to follow you (like Captain Kirk on ST: ToS ) but living a life which spurs others to become leaders. The character to inspire and nurture Leadership in others is what any woman would look for in a potential father for her half-orphaned children. Then her children would become leaders with strong character.
Leadership is (as any trained actor will point out) entirely described not just in the tone of voice (as we find in audiobooks) but evidenced in the GAIT -- the way a person walks, at least if he/she is young and not arthritic. Consider that as a subliminal element in the "Love At First Sight" syndrome.
You might want to study the British import TV show Masterpiece: Downton Abbey for the character of the new Valet who shows up in the first episode of the first season and is summarily rejected by the other servants because he's a "cripple" (i.e. has a leg injury from military service - class society rejects cripples just as a flock of ducks would). The master of the House hired him as the new Valet because he's an old friend, but didn't know he had an unhealed injury and couldn't carry trays and so forth. The Butler urges the Master to fire the fellow, and the Master does that. The new Valet accepts the decree with a very civil, quiet objection to the Master's face saying only that he has nowhere else to go and it's unlikely anyone would hire him, and then he has a private cry because he has nowhere else to go. But at the last second, as the new Valet is leaving, the Master rescinds his edict, and with embarrassment says "We'll say no more about it."
The discovery that the new Valet's performance is impaired is (for the Master) an "emergency" - and at first he tosses his personal rules of honor away in order to conform to the "standards" of the house's servants. This is what a weak character does. Then he reasserts himself, thus "showing" us rather than "telling" us that the Master of this house is a man of "strong character." Thus the entire issue of who will inherit the estate becomes much more important because we care about strong characters -- but not weak ones.
The Master and the new Valet, of all the characters introduced in the first episode, pop out of the screen as "strong characters."
Meanwhile, another one of the servants, displaced by the new Valet from promotion to "Valet to the Master," turns out to be a blackmailer trying to blackmail a Duke about a gay affair (in that time and society a blackmail issue). So we are shown rather than told by stark contrast what the character of the new Valet is compared to that of the former Valet who is dominated by jealousy and manipulates with force.
The former Valet is shown to be of weak character, not a leader. The camera work on the new Valet focuses mainly on the eyes, and the steady gazes of pure Heroism he gives the Master of the House (who obviously was a superior officer to the new Valet in service in South Africa.) They are men of different ranks, different stations in life, but they are both Heroes, strong characters. One is appointed Leader by his born station in life, the other has attained leadership qualities by sheer determination. But he starts out at the very bottom of the pecking order in this household's staff.
Even the crippled Leader (Wounded Warrior) has a way of moving, holding the head, using the eyes steadily, an expression engraved in wrinkles, that bespeaks confidence that can only come from having forged a path through emergency after emergency without tossing out their core Values.
You see that exact thing in both the Villain and the Hero -- but it is most visible in the Mystical Leader, the Gandalf or Yoda of the Romance story. That, to me, seems to be the kind of character the new Valet is set up to play - advisor.
Any one of the 7 Noachide Laws will provide you with enough theme and plot to support the steamiest Romance story of Love At First Sight leading to a Soul Mate bond that creates a Happily Ever After.
These are core thematic principles that subsume all human cultures all around the world -- translation may be a bit more difficult.
What are these catch-all principles of such powerful use to Romance writers?
THE 7 LAWS (see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Noahide_Laws
The seven laws listed by the Tosefta and the Talmud are
- Prohibition of Idolatry
- Prohibition of Murder
- Prohibition of Theft
- Prohibition of Sexual immorality
- Prohibition of Blasphemy
- Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive
- Establishment of courts of law
These 7 rules are the "Rules of the Game" and apply to all human relationships, but especially to the sexual one.
"Sportsmanship" is essential and teaches good sexual relationships if the sport is played to develop your style of human interaction rather than to demolish the opposition. In real sportsmanship that models real life, you see opposing interests cooperating to develop each others' strength of character. In youthful sports, children can re-possess themselves of the lessons driven home by previous life challenges and set off to live a much more productive life this time, one with a genuine Happily Ever After.
You can set up innate conflicts within each one of these (don't try to tackle all of them in one novel; you'll create a mishmosh). A Hero, a Villain and a Mystic will each interpret these 7 concepts in different ways and apply them in different ways. They will work at cross purposes, then toss their tools aside and go at one another to make the other stop interfering. And in the end, both "win."
You can't stick with these 7 Noachide Laws through emergencies and not win because these rules do not apply to a zero-sum-game reality model. They are predicated on the assumption that there is a Creator who is limitless and is creating our reality to be limitless, or at least sufficiently elastic to seem so.
Read Rule #5 again and you'll see what I mean. Land, Water, Oil, Herds, Money, Wealth, physical resources of all sorts are not to be fought over even if the apparent consequence is a loss. Strength of character means proceeding through a conflict over material wealth (such as a divorce?) without deviating from the path you would have taken had the challenge not appeared.
In the zero-sum-game of reality, if one person is wealthy, then that means many others will be poor because there is only so much wealth to go around. And if we look at our world in a certain way, that is a clear and obvious truth. "If those people control that water, then I don't control it and therefore they will not let me water my animals and I will die and so will my children. Therefore I have to kill those people."
In the Noachide model of reality, thinking like that violates both Rule #5 and Rule #1 because you have made an "idol" (a source of the solutions to your problems) out of your own actions. You assume that you and only you can solve the problem and that if you don't do this, then necessarily that will happen. Same problem as the lifeboat problem, a classic philosophical conundrum.
The Hero with a strong character will put his life, and his family's life, on the line in order to avoid violating either (nevermind both) of those rules. The Villain with a strong character will do exactly the same, but upholding different rules, or the same rules with different interpretation.
The strong character would rather die than violate a rule of that level. The weak character will toss the rules of his or her life overboard because it's an emergency. The real Villain will use one of the set of 7 rules to prove that a behavior violating another one of the rules is "right." The real Hero does it more like Spock did in ST:ToS -- if it's deemed necessary to do something dishonorable, then willingly accept the consequences which are determined by others.
"Values" are the prioritized lists of individual applications of these 7 principles. "Maturation" is the process of organizing your listed priorities -- what would you do to avoid doing whatever?
Understanding how your opponent is another version of yourself with a different prioritized list of Values, how each of us is a unique individual muddling through "Life" as best we can, helps you sort out Heroes, Villains, Adversaries, and Opponents. Any one, with any oddball list of priorities, can be a Strong Character or a Weak Character. The biggest fiction market is for "Strong" characters -- in Hero, Villain, and Mystic.
If the Hero and the Villain are Soul Mates, you have got a winner, what they call in Hollywood a "four-bagger" that appeals to all ages at all levels of affluence. In my novels, especially The Farris Channel, the Mystic is the Leader trying to make leaders out of the Hero and the Villain. It's a multi-lifetime endeavor.