This is Part 9 of a scattered series of writing lessons on applying observations of the world around you and your reader to creating a fictional world in which to embed your own story.
Here is Part 8 of this Series
Part 8 has a link to Part 7 which has a list of links to previous parts.
Last week I brought you a Guest Post by Deborah Macgillivray whose real life produced Events requiring the kind of heroism we mostly think of as purely fictional.
Now I'm going to require a bit of heroism of that caliber from you, the aspiring or even established professional writer looking to up your game.
Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to set aside all your very personal politics, all your current events opinions (as writers, you certainly have many, and not all of them on the same side of any issue!). This is an exercise in BEING NOT HUMAN, in living in the skin of a different order of being -- the kind of being we want our heroine to fall in love with and somehow manage to Bond with and live happily ever after.
One of the cardinal principles of a Good Marriage is Peace In The House - leaving the "real" world outside, entering a private space where the agenda is Soul to Soul, and all else is just noise and irrelevant.
The easiest route to that condition is what we normally term ROMANCE. As I've noted here in my posts on Astrology, that mental condition is usually signified by some high-impact transit of Neptune which is about Idealism -- which is the mundane way of trying to identify the ability to perceive the World via the underlying vibration of Love.
Those who master that perspective of Love are often considered WISE -- which is what it takes to keep Peace in the House.
So you see, life is really all about mastering Romance. That's my thesis for the following discussion -- and I'm betting you'll lose track of that as I hammer away at your personal BUTTONS -- things which get you steamed up to rage, the very RAGE that can not be allowed into the House.
So here I'm going to present an email I got from a WRITING STUDENT of mine, and I can't tell you how unutterably proud I am to have been one of his teachers!
This fellow is an Engineer (he like designs and builds things like oil refineries). That's not just his job, it's a perfect description of the wiring inside his mind. He's Canadian, but he's worked in remote places all over the world. He's even worked in Texas. He knows CULTURES from all kinds of angles. And what he gives us below is a Canadian perspective you really need to consider when worldbuilding for a Romance.
Years ago, he brought me one of his early novel manuscripts, a book he thought he'd "written" (but had actually barely started thinking about). This was at a Writing Workshop at a World Science Fiction Convention.
See my post on Denvention here for an idea what a Worldcon is like:
This workshop design is the best I've ever participated in.
Three selling professional writers read Manuscripts by 3 beginning or almost selling writers. The three students also read each other's manuscripts.
The 6 meet with a Moderator - 7 people around a table - who has also read all 3 manuscripts.
Each manuscript is discussed in turn. First the fellow-students give their comments, then the 3 professionals discuss what issues they see in the manuscript. Usually, these comments are written, typed on a page, or scribbled in margins of the reading copy. The free-flowing discussion is really the learning experience. The writer whose Manuscript is being discussed is required to remain absolutely silent.
Very often the student listens and cries or freezes trying not to cry. But you can tell they don't believe a word they're hearing, at least at first.
After a round, there's a free discussion where the student can ask questions. No trying to explain what the readers didn't understand, just try to understand what the readers were saying.
Usually, the 2 other students fumble around trying to express "I liked this" and "I didn't like that" -- all kinds of comments having to do with their taste as readers and nothing at all to do with the publishability or marketability of the manuscript.
Then the 3 professionals bore down to the underlying errors the writer has made in formulating their story.
Almost without exception, all 3 professionals agree on each manuscript's flaws, often though by pointing to different sources for that flaw or different ways to fix it.
Almost without exception, the flaw each of these hopeful writers demonstrate beyond all doubt is that their piece has no conflict and therefore no plot, and/or it has no conflict or no plot because they started in the wrong place or took the wrong point of view character as the Main Character. Most often, there's plenty of story in these pieces, but no structure.
VERY OFTEN those trying to write science fiction or fantasy produce a piece with no conflict, no plot, and no properly chosen main character with an internal conflict -- a person to whom the plot happens -- BECAUSE THEY FAILED ON WORLDBUILDING.
The core of worldbulding, as I've been dinning into you, is THEME, and the hottest Romance is based on a theme that is a philosophical statement about current reality the reader is living in.
A list of my posts on THEME is on the post here dated Tuesday August 28, 2012.
Theme ript from the headlines is why fiction written 50 years ago doesn't seem interesting today -- our THEMES are different so our conflicts are different. The exception is science fiction and fantasy (my field) where futurology is the core of the worldbuilding, plot, story, and characters. That's why Sime~Gen is a classic -- it's conflicts are about life in 2020, not 1970.
See my blog post on writing classics:
Romance, too, produces timeless classics because the themes are stable through generations, but look at Romances written in 1890 and contrast to those of today to see what I mean about worldbuilding being the core of the conflict which must be expressed in theme.
So, in this writing workshop where I met Ed Wilson for the first time, it came my turn to comment on his work (it was a long novel, but they could only submit a sample as one does to an editor), and I looked him in the eye and told him point blank it was unpublishable. He took notes and nodded.
I told him how incredibly talented he is (he actually is, that's the truth) at spinning a yarn, at creating memorable characters, at a profusion of detail. This man is a veritable FOUNTAIN of IDEAS. But he was absolutely clueless about the need for STRUCTURE behind the fiction -- a structure readers can not see or percieve. To be effective all fictional structure has to be invisible to the reader, but it absolutely has to be there.
So I explained there would have to be many rewrites, and first do this, then that, and that'll show you what to do next. He took notes.
During the discussion he told me he had read my first published novel, House of Zeor, and so had been eager to get into my section at the Workshop. We talked. He has become a dogged, persistent, and attentive student, producing works of increasingly well structured design. He hasn't sold anything yet, but I know he will.
This email comment that he wrote me demonstrates WHY he will sell, and when he does it will likely be a case of "exploding onto the scene with overnight success" and people will think he came from nowhere and got lucky for no reason.
He does not write Romance, and his work is very action oriented, but he demonstrates with this commentary that he's finally caught onto the worldbuilding trick used by the best selling authors -- OBSERVATION OF CURRENT REALITY.
It is upon observations such as this one here below that the most explosive best sellers are built.
Reading it, though, will be a challenge for you -- and my response may be an even bigger challenge. This entire exchange should have smoke coming out of your ears before you finish reading the links provided.
If, however, you can take notes on the emotional reactions as you have them, peg them to the bits of information, and chart that into a structured set of themes as I described in my previous posts on THEME, you will have the hottest, best selling romance of the decade, a classic that could out-last your lifetime.
The important thing about Ed is that he muttered a bit, then went away, and came back with BETTER material, got clobbered for making the same mistakes in different guise, went away uncomplaining, came back with BETTER YET material, and so on. That is the mark of the professional writer. "Uhuh. OK." and a bit later, "Try this." In other words, pretty much like a professional Engineer whose lab bench model fell apart or blew up. "Uhuh. OK, I can fix that." And again.
So, now watch the INSIDE OF A WRITER'S MIND work just the way I've been trying to show you so you can teach yourself to think like this. This thinking pattern is subject independent. That's why it's so powerful for worldbuilding.
--------Ed Wilson Wrote To Me Privately (posting here with permission) -----------
Between job interviews today I went for lunch and via the really good magazine store in down town Calgary. While there an article titled: Why Republicans Don’t Trust Science in the Skeptical Inquirer caught my eye and I read it. It is largely summarized in:
It resonated with Richard Landes: Romney Is Right on Culture and the Wealth of Nations that I read last week.
In on Culture & Wealth of Nations we hear of: attitudes—that everyone strives to get to "yes," to positive-sum, win-win, voluntary relations; that everyone holds productive work in high respect and prizes the principles of fairness embodied in the meritocratic principle of "equality before the law"; that everyone encourages criticism, treasures intellectual capital, promotes risk-taking, prizes transparency and fosters innovation
And those where: the favored mode is not voluntary but coerced and zero-sum relations, where the principle of "rule or be ruled" dominates political and economic life. The elites in such cultures hold hard work in contempt, and they distrust intellectual openness and uncontrolled innovation as subversive. They emphasize rote learning and unquestioning respect for those in authority.
My Empire stories are at a time when some people are trying to move from the former to the latter. Again Science Fiction acting as ‘Other’ shows as future what is currently happening.
As a Canadian these two articles are very very disturbing, there are many things Canada can afford, but what these suggest, and what is current in my writing we can not afford on our southern border.
------------END COMMENT FROM ED WILSON--------
My reply: (I left out all my excited praise for his observation and thinking!)
------------QUOTE JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG TO ED WILSON----------
I haven't read the article links you site -- but I'm brewing up some blogs going in that direction -- re-drawing the "dichotomy" between philosophies and looking for the next NEW philosophy, one based on the culture that will grow out of the new internet connectivity life-model.
I've berated and pounded on Jean's head (I'm often very cruel to Jean as I just won't STOP when something bugs me) about my theory that every one of these NEW PHILOSOPHIES that takes root and lives beyond it's propounder (from Jesus's 40 days in the desert, or before to the Jews 40 years in the desert, to Mao to Marx to Lenin -- Thomas Paine too -- and the fellow who founded the Moslem Brotherhood
which is so counter to basic Islam, and The Rebbe who popularized Kaballah) ALL OF THE IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENTS that steered future societies came from someone PUT IN JAIL who wrote a BOOK IN JAIL. Find an exception!!! Jean's muttered about a few exceptions and no doubt we'll be thinking about who to put in jail in Sime~Gen at the con.
But the dichotomy you finger between these two articles is VERY REAL. It's obscured by the stew of criss-crossing communications (shouted lies) on the internet, blogging etc. They actually hire and pay people to spew obscenities and vilification at anyone who ventures to express a NON-LIBERAL idea on a news blog. PAY!!! "Speech is free as long as you agree with me!" is the new standard.
So out of this murky PAIN I'm seeing, I expect someone to be jailed for saying something -- write a book -- get released (remember Nelson Mandella?) and change the world.
Meanwhile, it's up to science fiction to explore different ways of arranging these old philosophies. Well, and fantasy too.
My problem with the "Liberal" standard being raised in the USA is that it smacks of totalitarianism, socialism, and at the extreme of the spectrum communism -- all archaic isms.
My problem with the "Conservative" standard being raised in the USA is that it smacks of the Inquisition, or this new radical Islam Sharia Law thing, where one religion forces people to behave according to it's idea of what God said we should do -- likewise all archaic isms founded on superstition.
"They" are using the relatively new science behind Advertising (Public Relations -- a very statistics based mathematical way to control the behavior of crowds).
Human populations are vulnerable to that science of advertising only insofar as they understand how it shunts the critical faculties aside and plants ideas in your subconscious where they pre-empt your cultural values. (buy this candy bar and you'll have lots of friends.)
Therefore, my solution is to teach kids to be immune to commercials.
Instead, they've removed teaching "proofs" in HS Geometry which is the basis of critical thinking which is the basis of science.
Then the Liberals are teaching the young (whom they've conditioned never to think critically) that the word "science" means "Absolute Truth."
The "Conservatives" then out-shout the Liberals, saying "Bible=Absolute Truth" but you must not QUESTION!!! (Judaism is all about asking questions -- but really ASKING, not using the question syntax to express an opinion, which is the cultural signature of conversational Yiddish.)
A shouting match is no way to guide policy -- and no way to determine what concepts you need to use to generate a profitable policy direction.
I don't think we're ready yet to put this whole discussion on the Facebook Group -- it's too explosive. But once the element we need to add to Sime~Gen (the philosopher put in jail who writes a book) is created, (likely a henchman or sidekick of Zelerod), then we can present it and kick it around.
Meanwhile, I'd like to post your comment with links and what I wrote above as a blog post on alienjinnromances.blogspot.com because it's actually a writing lesson. (he wrote back with permission).
Like a portrait artist, a fiction writer must VIEW the world around them in order to portray that world in a way that the art consumer will find meaningful. This issue you've raised gives a perspective from which various writers can VIEW -- and then create various portraits of reality which could be Science Fiction or Fantasy or Romance, or any combination.
Romance across that dichotomy described in your comment is the hottest thing going.
-------END QUOTE FROM JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG TO ED WILSON------
I am certain we will re-visit this topic. Just remember, it's not about POLITICS but about OBSERVING THE WORLD so you can use politics in worldbuilding with Fire And Ice.
Comments on writing technique are welcome here. Comments on specifics of modern day politics belong elsewhere (but yes, they should be written about and disseminated far and wide, just not HERE.) Comments on the archetypes underlying the origin of human politics do belong on this blog.
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