Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Ran across a WIRED article that brought together a whole lot of observations about drawing a bead on your reader -- seeing the world they way your reader does and so knowing what that reader will find "entertaining" enough to memorize your byline. Here's the article:
People are increasingly abandoning cable subscriptions, hooking their new flatscreens directly to the internet via their home network (usually from a cable or satellite provider) and watching movies.
In June, I cruised ABC, NBC, SYFY, USA, FOX and a couple others I watch a lot using my cable provider's listings. I went across the grid for an entire week, and found only 3 series shows I watch coming on again.
I'd heard other series will appear later in the summer, (and they have) but in June I found lots and lots of basically empty airtime, "paid programming" slots, a great deal of news commentary repeats, some really old movies I've seen a number of times, and only a couple of series that I'm not interested in watching. I cruised maybe 20 or so of the over 900 channels on my cable.
What I deduce from this is that the networks lack money.
I've picked up a few mentions, which I have not verified, that the total audience at the broadcast networks has dropped again this last year, that cable is picking up audience, but the total-audience size for cable shows is miniscule compared to the 330 million population of the USA.
I've noticed more than just the massively skewed "slant" of the TV News (both broadcast and cable). They are using the euphemism "24-hour-news-cycle" to refer to what is essentially a news blackout.
Each successive news show throughout the day on all the channels (I comparison shop news) is covering just about the same 5 "top stories" -- over and over and OVER.
This really means that no reporters or crews are covering anything else, which means they have fewer reporters, and the reason for that is fewer viewers.
But when I use my Kindle Fire (or iPod or iPhone etc) to access an app called PULSE which lets you subscribe to newsfeeds it selects (you look on a list and populate your pages with feeds you want -- magazines, newspapers, TV channels with video, blogs, and their own distillation of news stories) I find almost the same 5 top stories pushing all the rest of the Events of the day out of public awareness.
Many pundits hold that the "general public" doesn't want more than 5 stories, no more than 3 minutes apiece, for their "news" for the day. No attention span, no intelligence, whatever the reputed cause, "people don't want it."
Well.... maybe that's true from a commercial news distribution point of view, but there's a vicious circle there.
When the news "narrative" becomes boring, people tune out, audience drops, advertisers pay less for ad spots, available funds to pay reporters to go search-out-and-report stories drops, the narrative becomes thinner, the audience drifts off bored, ad rates go down again.
The news, like fiction, like pitches for novels, has to be entertaining, gosh-wow, eye-popping, "I gotta tell Nancy about THIS!" viral, so the news editors search for something to put up there that will hold audience attention over the commercials.
I've also noted that the amount of air-time on TV news spent on commercials is now equal to or greater than the amount of time on the "segments" with content.
That's a symptom of the shrinking audience. Advertisers pay less, so the show needs more of them to pay the bills. To reduce costs, they put on fewer "content" minutes and to raise revenue they put on more ads, which drives more audience to click off.
This is happening on news and on TV fiction Series, too.
Audience is spending time elsewhere, and nothing these content providers can do is getting that audience back.
According to publishers, the number of copies of a given title (unless you're talking a "tell-all" expose non-fiction best-seller) being sold is going down, copies-sold is shifting to e-book, and to make up operating expenses they are (as publishers always do in recessions) publishing more titles with less advertising for them.
It's the same economics that drives TV cable or broadcast -- audience size.
Now we have games, Facebook and its online games, Netflix and Amazon etc etc delivering movies via the internet, so that even though we have more people ( 330 million vs 65 million in the 1950's heyday of radio when TV was stealing audience-share), we have fewer people per product.
This is the market that new writers are trying to sell fiction into.
I've discussed the multitude of pressures on the storyteller's business model in previous posts here, and no doubt will rave on and on about this because the shifts and changes veer in different directions each year.
2012 is the year of CROWD SOURCING -- YouTube videos are made professionally now, paying actors, camera, stunts, editing etc and making money by getting "hits" on pages with ads, like blogs do.
I saw an interview with "The Obama Girl" who made that YouTube Video making sexy about Obama for the 2008 election. She was paid to do that video, and though she won't publicly repudiate Obama (thinking he's done a good job) she's not supporting him either. Her career has taken off, she's making films, and she's living in Los Angeles. She had made dozens of other videos before that one "went viral" and made her career. It's a new business model.
I've also seen a number of web-based video fiction projects -- soap opera like installments in various genres, short films, all kinds of fiction-based things.
On Twitter, I regularly see crowd-sourcing for funds to make films, short and feature-length.
This is just like self-publishing except it's an entire Group of people doing a project together.
Writers now face this distracted, divided, segmented, diffuse market for fiction. There is no single model for "success" (i.e. making a living at writing).
There is no single proven solution to this problem, but I do believe that such solutions are forming in the electronic era.
I have not found "where everyone went" yet - and I'm beginning to think "everyone" didn't go "anywhere.'
I think they headed for the hills and scattered.
What could possibly call them back? What could gather enough attention to fund something huge, comprehensive, pervasive, and accurately fact-checked as CNN was a couple years after it first started?
I don't know, but recently a friend on twitter pointed out to me a facility on Kindle that I'm not at all sure about, but that holds some promise.
When you read a Kindle book and make notes, you can go on Amazon and turn on a feature that lets your "notes" that you make (like marginal notes when you read a printed book) be read by your friends from various social networks.
The access controls don't seem very fine-tuned to me, but Amazon is testing all kinds of social-interaction communications channels among consumers of various kinds of products including fiction.
I was reading a Kindle novel titled 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY by Leslie Langtry which I think I will review (it's funny and good!) and clicked on the dialog bubble at the bottom of the screen and found a large number of notes by other people.
And my hair stood on end! THIS COULD BE WHERE EVERYONE WENT!
I wonder if Apple has anything like this.
It's a kind of "book club" reading experience where you share thoughts on a subject while you're reading about it. But it kind of creeps me out.
I definitely know that "people" aren't where I am (watching TV), they aren't where I was, they ARE here among the "share notes" feature on Amazon Kindle, and now that I watch a lot on Amazon Streaming and other such services, I might be able to find everybody.
If you see me pass by, flag me down!
For more theories on where everyone went see the blog entry here on August 7, 2012.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
“Protecting the Girl” is the title of an article by Claudia Welch in the current issue of RWR (ROMANCE WRITERS REPORT, the magazine of the Romance Writers of America).
She begins with the story of a boy who loved to swim. He spent all the time he could in the water. As he grew up, he found more ways to focus on what he loved. He joined a swim team and took lessons. Later, he swam competitively in high school and college. Somehow, along the way, as he devoted more and more of his life to swimming, it became work rather than a joy. He forgot how to have fun at it and eventually quit. Welch’s parable has a happy ending, though: Later in life, when the boy, now a man, got a dog who loved the water, the man rediscovered that swimming could be fun. He found his joy again.
Applying this analogy to an author’s life, Welch compares the boy who loved to swim with the girl (since this article is directed to an overwhelmingly female membership) who spent hours pouring out words onto the page. That girl loved to write more than anything else. As the girl grows up, she discovers a way to get paid for doing what she loves. She becomes a professional writer. Now she has an external goal—to get published. After publication, she has a new goal, to be published “well,” to receive favorable reviews, multi-book contracts, and high royalties. She studies craft and marketing. What she once did for the sheer joy of it has become a job.
Welch urges us to protect the girl who wrote for fun, joy, the “sense of play and freedom.” If we’re not careful, “we can kill that girl” by getting trapped in behavior patterns that kill our motivation. Every writer is different and has different motivations for writing. We should pursue elements that feed our own motivation and avoid those that drain it. For instance, if what a writer wants most ardently is to be read, contests and reviews probably energize her. If her main fulfillment comes from success (however she defines it), she will probably feel drained by every contest loss and unfavorable review, so she should focus on other areas.
This article really resonated with me. I have vivid memories of pounding away, at the age of thirteen, on my aunt’s old typewriter, pouring out stories. I didn’t know they were fatally flawed in craft terms. I didn’t know any of the terminology and techniques associated with professional writing. I just wanted to get my fantasies on paper. Now, it’s certainly a good thing that I’ve learned all that stuff. My writing has definitely improved (I hope so, after fifty years!), and I’ve enjoyed becoming a published author. But like the centipede trying to decide which leg to move, I have to stop and think and agonize over the process. That spontaneous outpouring no longer happens. Where has the “girl” gone?
My idol, C. S. Lewis, wrote about the same phenomenon in terms of Enchantment, Disenchantment, and Re-enchantment. Enchantment happens when we first discover an activity that excites and delights us. (The example in Lewis's essay is riding a bicycle.) Disenchantment, the next stage, occurs if we pursue the activity long enough to discover its routine, chore-like dimensions. If we're blessed, we transcend the second stage to arrive at Re-enchantment—not a return to the "first, fine, careless rapture," but a deeper joy. As writers, how can we attain Re-enchantment in our vocation?
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Yes, it's a giant chasm, a leap upward in skills as monumental as the leap from novel to screenplay.
Just like so very many of my prior students, this one keeps reverting to PASSIVE VOICE when summarizing the story in order to pitch it to an editor for a specific anthology aimed at a specific market.
Hitherto, the one student has been writing stories in personally created worlds. Now the pressure is on to meet a particular external set of requirements -- a specific "trope" if you will, the action/adventure trope for the 10,000 word max story form.
There's a terrific story, great material, fantastically valuable wide-audience characters and plights, and a rip-roaring adventure during which much of the worldbuilding can be shown without being tediously told.
But though the writer has an intellectual understanding, and is absolutely personally convinced, that the point of view character must drive the plot, the description (the pitch) keeps turning passive voice.
Obviously, it's a major, huge, giant, incredible STRUGGLE to get the writer's hand inside the main POV character and dive into action. We are on, I think maybe, the fifth iteration of my saying NO MAKE HIM ACT and the outline coming back to me saying "THIS IS DONE TO HIM."
The first iteration of the outline was a couple pages of long, dense paragraphs with multi-syllable words, a complete brick wall between the editor and the pitch.
See my series on What Is an Editor.
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/09/what-exactly-is-editing-part-vii-how-do.html has links to the previous 6 parts.
Don't make your editor struggle, and don't make your editor suspicious that you don't know what you're doing.
The pitch outline must contain the information "I know how to write in this trope." Whatever the editor needs, you can supply it, no sweat. Really, the Hollywood truism holds in publishing, "Don't answer on the first ring, and never let them see you sweat.'
This raises 2 questions:
a) How do you create a pitch that shows-without-telling that you can write this particular trope
b) How do you write such an outline and such a story?
WRITING IS A PERFORMING ART
That's the answer in a nutshell.
This new writer is experiencing the learning curve for PERFORMING AN OUTLINE.
That's what a pitch is - a PERFORMANCE of an OUTLINE.
It's just what a pianist does when practicing scales.
All piano pieces contain some of the notes of one scale, but a pianIST can play all the scales.
Proficiency at scales goes hand in hand with proficiency at playing whole pieces.
An editor looks at a a pitch letter and assesses the skill of the writer from the form and mostly from the SEAMLESS EASE with which the pitch letter reads.
If you sit and sweat and strain, pondering each word you type, re-reading and re-editing and polishing and polishing your pitch, it will be summarily rejected across the board.
If you are asked for a "story" with certain parameters, and blink and write a 1 page pitch without thinking about it, without strategizing about whether it will be bought, without anxiety or effort, it will be bought instantly.
Think about that. Do you want to sit in a piano teacher's living room and listen to a 9 year old laboriously work their way through chopsticks? (if it's not your 9 year old, that is) Would you pay $100 to sit there for an hour? But $100 to listen to a true master render a Chopin etude and some other pieces would be a bargain!
In fact, one lifetime highpoint I remember was watching Victor Borge (a so-so piano player with pizzaz http://www.victorborge.com/ ) render Chopsticks in a concert hall.
Writing stories is just like that. The story you are writing, however original, is not original. It is a RENDITION of something everyone loves, and whether they want to read it again or not depends on how well you render it, how you perform THEIR STORY.
If it's all about the ease with which you perform, how do you acquire that ease? How do you get to where you aren't giving editors a hard time and making them teach you writing while they desperately try t save their job?
Just like piano playing, practice-practice-practice.
How do you live long enough to practice that much novel or story writing?
You practice by creating OUTLINES.
Yes, the power is in the outline. That outline is not a "rendition" of the story, but a rendition of the trope, the scale behind the piece.
If you see a passive construction slip into your outline, you know your subconscious is fighting your purpose, that you are not well tuned inside yourself.
The objective of practice with writing is the same as the objective with the practice of music, or the martial arts!
The part of you that does the actual work is not your hands, your eyes, or your conscious mind.
The part of you that does the actual work in music, driving a car, martial arts or writing is your subconscious mind.
The objective of practice is to train the subconscious, because it can not learn. It's not conscious, it doesn't KNOW, it only FEELS. But random, rambunctious, flashes of feeling can't perform a structured piece.
The subconscious mind does not "mature" at the same rate as the conscious mind. Think of a teenager, 14 years old going on 5. Blows hot and cold, bursts of insane jubilation followed by blasts of depression, absolute confidence and ten seconds later total terror. Now think of a 35 year old who has actually matured. The same sensitivity is there, the capacity for jubilation, depression, confidence and terror in response to changing situations, but the magnitude of the emotional blasts is tamed down, and the power behind those blasts is used not for sound-and-fury but actual, visible accomplishments.
The subconscious is like a rebellious little puppy, eager to please but easily confused. The trained subconscious is like a mature professionally trained guard dog, sounding off only when there really is an intruder (e.g. a passive verb in your pitch). The trained guard dog's tail wags with delight, but he sits decorously until released. The emotions are there, but they don't take over and dominate the direction of events.
But how does a puppy get turned into a guard dog?
It's that consistent, kind, generous trainer who rewards good behavior and steadfastly ignores bad behavior.
The trainer shows the puppy the task, over and over leads the puppy through it, then gives a treat for success. As the puppy matures, the tasks get more demanding but anticipation of a treat keeps the puppy trying to perform.
The new writer's subconscious is a PUPPY ever so eager to please, dashing this way and that, pulling on the leash, jumping on the trainer with muddy paws, chewing on everything in sight.
The writer's imagination incites that puppy to yap incessantly.
The one command the writer must first teach that puppy is NO. Then "here, like this" -- that's reading other published works, dissecting them, copying them. Get a good copy, give the puppy a treat. Eventually, with REPETITION (e.g. writing many story outlines though not the stories), with practice the puppy starts to perform well enough to go out in public on a leash (make a story submission to a paying market.)
So I have this writing student I'm taking out in public on a leash, and a pocket full of treats waiting for performance.
Know what? Life is FUN!
Thursday, July 19, 2012
I've been reading a nonfiction book from a prestigious publisher, written by a distinguished scholar. Within the first few pages I found several blatant copy editing errors, e.g., "desert" for "dessert," "fawns" for "fauns," and an "-ed" missing from what should have been "renowned." Less obviously but therefore more likely to confuse the reader, "1790" appeared twice on a page where the context clearly indicated the author meant 1690.
I tend to blame spellcheck for these lapses in some books. People depend too much on it, overlooking the fact that it can't flag a correctly spelled wrong word. One of my most memorably hilarious reading experiences came from a sidebar in THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO VAMPIRES. Someone had obviously run spellcheck on autopilot and accepted its changes without question. The vampire in Suzy McKee Charnas's THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, Dr. Weyland, appeared as "Dr. Wetland." Author Whitley Strieber became "Whitely Striper" -- to mention only a few weirdnesses. The publisher of a scholarly book, though, should be more careful!
Typos and mechanical errors in print make my teeth grind. It might seem I'm that way because I'm a proofreader in my day job, but the causation may run in the opposite direction. Such things have leaped out at me for as long as I can remember; that's why I applied for this job in the first place.
How do typos and other technical errors in books affect your reading enjoyment? Barely noticeable? Slightly distracting? Extremely irritating? Do they influence your decision on whether to buy other books from that author or publisher?
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Here are the previous parts in this series:
The first 3 are from a very different "angle" than 4, 5, and now 6 involve. We'll get back to this mix of Sex and Politics, weaving in Romance, Love and goshknows what else, a little at a time. These posts are the foundation upon which to build facility with the use of THEME as discussed in previous years.
Part 7 is scheduled for August 14th, 2012, and Part 8 for October 9, 2012.
We're dissecting and discussing a single World War II film made in 2005 titled THE GREAT RAID. We started this discussion in WORLDBUILDING WITH FIRE AND ICE PART 4: STORMS OF DEATH That post has links to previous worldbuilding posts.
Death is an odd topic for a Romance blog, but a necessary one if you are a Romance writer. This discussion will lead us deep into worldbuilding to show-don't-tell theme, so you never have to explain philosophy in words. It is, however, the presence of conflicting philosophies shown by Values that makes Art live for generations.
Now we'll look at some ways this 2005 film shows the pivot point in audience values, the twist between the 1940's and 2012.
--------Values Twist -------------
By focusing on an accurate portrayal of the actual historical Events -- using some of the old footage, too -- THE GREAT RAID casts an air of authenticity.
Unlike many modern films and TV series, this film does not totally rewrite History into the opposite of what it was. Even in the 1940's there were many women like the nurse/resistance-leader in this film. There were many Japanese who didn't respect the Catholic church enough to stop when confronted by a Priest (but there were also many who would have stopped.) The explosions might be a bit bigger than the usual WWII actual explosion, but that's Hollywood.
The prisoners of war in this film might have looked a little handsomer than starved men would look - and there were no issues of lice, no swarms of mosquitos, no rats, and other jungle-island pests depicted in the film.
In a film made in the 1950's, you wouldn't find the icky realities portrayed graphically either.
In this 2005 film, we watch as a Japanese garrison commander (portrayed as cruel and evil as any Nazi is ever portrayed by American films) orders 10 men executed because 1 man disobeyed a regulation of the prison camp.
He lines up the men, swaggers a bit, and makes the others watch as their comrades (some of which the viewers now know) are shot in the back of the head. Yes, it's a cliche scene, too, but it's well staged.
Here's the twist: in a 1950's war movie, you wouldn't see blood gouting from the ruined skulls at the headshots. In this 2005 film, you don't see the blood gouting -- and the shooter, who stands way too close to the men he's shooting doesn't get spattered with obvious gore.
Note that this execution is not done by firing squad so that the person who murders another in cold blood will never be sure it was his bullet that murdered the prisoner. In a firing squad, only one rifle is loaded with live ammunition, and the squad stands a good distance from the victim. The victim's face is covered, and any onlookers don't see the expression -- nor does the victim see the squad. This procedure is considered clean and merciful insofar as possible under those circumstances, preserving humanity.
In this 2005 film, one Japanese solder stands BEHIND the prisoners he, by himself, is executing, and shoots them drug cartel style. We do see the line of victims fall one by one, but the camera is at a good distance -- there is no emphasis on the gore, the anguish. It's distanced physically and thus emotionally, but it is raw and direct. To half the audience it depicts the Japanese executioner as evil; the other half of the audience simply sees a scene that could have been more interesting if it were more realistic (realistic like a videogame, maybe).
In a 1950's film, the cliche scene would be a closeup on the commander of the prisoners listening to SHOTS FIRED outside the wall. We wouldn't see the people lined up, nor see them fall.
This is a cinematic TWIST at this pivot point in audience sensibilities.
There are many examples of this kind of twist in this film, but let's get back to the Religion aspects because they are stark, and relevant to the worldbuilding issues writers face today.
All human cultures we know of have SOMETHING in that niche Religion occupies. Today, in the USA about half the people are on a campaign to expunge religion from public consciousness, even though at least 70% (according to an annual survey) believe there's something more to life the universe and everything than can be measured and quantified by science.
Hence we have the popularity of shows like the syfy channel's ghost hunters and other shows about the Paranormal. We also have a raft of TV series where paranormal creatures (Vampires, werewolves etc) are taken for granted, or a best kept secret of the town or show's main characters only. We have comedy like PSYCH which parodies the psychic, and real psychics who help the police, too. People are pushing hard to penetrate the veil between the reality science shows us and the "other" side whatever that may be, but at the same time denying the possibiity that God is real.
That is a brief sketch of the audience a new writer is inheriting now. That ambivalence needs to be built into the fiction if it is to reach across those audience boundaries and unify an audience.
So let's look at some of the dialogue in THE GREAT RAID. If you watched it as I recommended on July 3, 2012, find your notes on the dialogue.
"My future isn't in your hands."
That is very profound, and very pre-2000 audience appeal. But it's phrased ambiguously. Some will hear that the person's future is in their own hands. Some will hear it as declaring the future is in God's hands.
"You have to believe in something stronger than yourself."
A priest says that to a worried soldier.
Our 2012 culture is trending away from such beliefs in God -- maybe toward the Supernatural or Paranormal but away from the concept that a single Creator still commands every little event in our lives, and most especially our Destiny.
If ONE mind is behind all reality, one would expect that when we look at Reality we'd see a coherent pattern. In a way, we do. We've deciphered genes and found how all life on earth is woven of certain patterns replicated in many dissimiliar creatures. We are soooo one organism infesting this Earth. Yet Death (the main subject we've been addressing in Parts 4, 5 and here in Part 6, of this series) seems sporadic, unpredictable, unjust, and a destroyer of the Happily Ever After ending to any Romance. No rational course of action can avoid Death -- therefore how can you say that life is commanded by a Creator? Or at any rate by a Creator who cares?
"It isn't safe to bring them here."
This line turns up as they strategize how to complete the rescue mission. If they extract the prisoners, they have to take them someplace, and it better be someplace that won't be destroyed by the incoming US invasion force clashing with the Japanese defenders.
Of course, the reason for the Raid is that the POW camp is not safe either.
These soldiers are not volunteers, as we have today. They were drafted. So it isn't right to say that because they're soldiers they know the risks, they signed up to do this risky job, and they willingly put their lives on the line for the defense of Freedom. They didn't. They were forced - most of them anyway. We had very few career military in that fight. We did, at the beginning of the war, have volunteers who rushed to sign up to defend the country after Pearl Harbor. But by the end, it was drafted army.
So in the context of this 1940's situation, that line of dialogue can pass by you without making any impression.
Even in the context of 2005, prior to 9/11, you wouldn't notice that line of dialogue.
But it's the spike around which the entire value-system pivot is rotating.
Today, as I noted previously in this discussion of THE GREAT RAID, it has become immoral (and in many cases illegal) to put anyone at risk of anything for any reason. All risk is being expunged from life.
The sole property that a Happily Ever After ending must have to be valid is that it must be absolutely risk-free.
That's our real-life, real-world post-9/11 view. Consider the TSA -- what is their reason for existing? They submit anyone to any indignity on any statistic's whim simply to "keep us safe." Nobody ever considers that the public would willingly risk another plane crash into a building in order to get rid of the pat-downs and other "unreasonable search and seizure" the TSA was created to impose.
Consider the scene in THE GREAT RAID where the prisoners are lined up outside, and because 1 had violated a regulation, 10 are shot.
That is a standard method of controlling hostile crowds. It is used in every totalitarian state because it works (include the old Fantasy world standby of the Kingdom in totalitarian). Think about the French Revolution.
If you don't know much about the French Revolution, you can have a great time and learn too by reading Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain novel set in 1792 at the time when Thomas Paine was writing two books that literally shaped the post 2008 culture of the USA.
Here's the Vampire novel of the French Revolution:
And here is some of Thomas Paine's writing. He wrote in the 1790's and you can get everything he wrote on Amazon Kindle for 99cents (a bit more if you want it on paper!).
Just imagine where we'd be if the Founding Fathers in the 1700's (or the farmboys who fought WWI and WWII in the 1900's) had been as obsessed with safety as we are today.
We flinch at everything. Our food is dangerous, full of pesticides (it really is) and now we keep getting e. coli and other infections in salad, which is the only healthy food left to eat! We sue our doctors if they give us the wrong medicine (many are very deadly). We want to crack down on "illegal aliens" because the drug dealers shoot each other in the street (that's real! I live near it all.)
We are becoming psychologically incapable of accepting RISK. Our mental model of what life must be is "safe" -- i.e. sans all risk.
The pioneers who trundled across the prairie in Conestoga wagons lived with risk and death every moment of their lives -- and voluntarily chose to take the risk to get land of their own upon which they could do as they chose.
They took that risk to get out of the control of Kings and other kinds of governments that wanted to keep them as "peasants." That is, a class of poor farmers who could be controlled by such tactics as killing a bunch as punishment for what 1 person did as THE GREAT RAID shows a Japanese commander doing to control a prison camp.
How many of you have been in a grammar school class where the teacher punished the whole class because a couple noisy kids were cutting up?
That's what teachers are now taught to do -- I think it's largely because we no longer have any teachers at all, we have Educators who don't know a subject they are teaching, but only how to teach.
Your audience is familiar with the tactic of punishing the whole class, or an entire group, for the misbehavior of a couple. That's why the TSA seems so logical. People don't think it's wrong to impose a burden on everyone because of something a few people did -- or MIGHT DO.
That attitude toward controlling groups is a huge Value Twist between the 1940's and the 2000's. And 2005 is a pivot point, as this film depicts.
Today, nobody questions the premise that a group must be controlled by force, and if you have a group of opinionated indivduals as Americans tend to be, you absolutely must control them.
Nobody asks WHY control a group? Why bother? The assumption is in place that the individual can not and will not control himself. The absolute proof of that is the way a handful of men from another country hijacked aircraft and crashed them to make explosions and kill people.
Since we must be safe at all costs (literally all costs) and the threat lies with our individualism we must be hammered into a group, then the group hammered into a mold that behaves itself. Thomas Paine made that clear, but what he didn't foresee was how fearfulness would invade our command structure.
That's one main Value Pivot you see in this 2005 film. When a bully (such as the Japanese Commander we see in this film -- and I'm not implying there weren't such Commanders among the Japanese) gains power and is given the task of controlling individuals each with personal, individual self-esteem, the only tactic he can possibly envision is to KILL 10 for every 1 who misbehaves. FEAR -- instilling fear -- is the main tactic of the bully.
A bully is a bully because he/she lacks self-esteem (and some other character strengths that can be acquired under kind teachers). Lack of self-esteem leads to feeling powerless, which leads to fear, which leads to lashing out at someone weaker in order to feel a sense of power as a substitute for self-esteem.
Or it can work the other way. The fear can lead to knuckling under to the Bully, backing away and backing down until backed into a corner -- when for fear of life itself, the fearful person lashes out blindly. If the attack succeeds and vanquishes the bully, the Victim can oh-so-easily become another Bully.
OK, that's very simplistic, but when you are creating a character, keep-it-simple is the rule. Your audience understands bullies, even better maybe than the 2005 audience did. But we also now understand the Victim better than we did. The Victim also lacks self-esteem, or has it but has lost access to it from repeated abuse, and is therefore ripe to become the Bully they fear.
THE GREAT RAID depicts this subtle psychological connection between seeking safety, fear, power abuse, and the "glory" of rising to an occasion requiring valor, honor, teamwork that isn't forced on the individuals from above but rises from below as a leader is chosen and followed. That one line of dialogue where the US soldier commanding these untried trainees discusses glory just says it all. That is the kind of dialogue writing we strive for, and seldom reach.
You can exploit the modern audience's familiarity with the safety/fear/crowd-control-by-punishing-all-for-transgression-of-one connection as a writer because Bullying has made headlines as it rises into High School. It used to be shed by 8th grade, now you see it all the way into college, and students are being bullied to the point where they will commit suicide, or take up a gun and hose down a cafeteria full of people.
This is the reality your reader lives in. When you incorporate that into a worldbuilding exercise, you produce a world they can believe in. Then you can do anything. You have power.
The scrambling, screaming, overwhelming need for safety at all costs is the signature of lack of self-esteem at the core of the bully personality. People with high self-esteem are Leaders. They're not fearless. They're not risk-averse. They live risky lives and fail a lot, often enough to get used to it as the pioneers of the Old West got used to arrows springing up in the side of their horse-troughs.
A Leader with high self-esteem does not become a Bully when handed the job of getting people to work together to common purpose. He doesn't have to fire 10 others every time 1 person violages a rule. He doesn't have to hide behind metal detectors and guards. It isn't that he's ignorant of the threats that are coming at him. It's that he can handle it. That is the attitude of the Hero in a really hot Romance.
Or you can flip all this upside down and write about the connection between punishing all for the transgression of one and its obverse, what the philosophers term Collective Salvation -- the bedrock principle behind the hammering repetition of the word, Fair, by so many in the media today.
I'm not saying here one side is "better" than the other, just that this is a SOURCE for writers looking for a defined conflict that can "reach" a wide audience. But to use such nebulous conflicts as Values, you must be conversant with both sides of the argument, really understand the positions from the inside, create characters who espouse those positions from comprehensible human necessity, and then you must argue the fine points of the positions just as this film does, "off the nose" -- in symbols, in brief throw-away dialogue, in a hesitation before acting, in a riveting glance before swallowing an objection and saying, "Yes, Sir!"
"It isn't safe" is substituted for the more likely 1940's line, "It's not far enough away." If you're writing a novel, one of your characters will say "It's not safe," and another will counter, heatedly, "Who cares!" and a third will put in, "Here, that's far enough away from ground zero." In a film, you can have only 1 line of dialogue making that point about Values.
Here's a wikipedia entry on Collective Salvation in case you've missed it.
It's harder to write about because there are not that many who understand it, but soon it may be a full half of the USA that accepts this philosophy as reasonable.
That's another huge Values Pivot represented in THE GREAT RAID.
Hitherto, WWII has always been about individual salvation. Now history is being rewritten to make the entire 2-theater conflict about collective salvation. It's subtle, at the moment, though, and you can still argue it in fiction.
You may want to watch that movie again with all that in mind. There are a number of terrific Romance novel concepts in this film.
Part 7 in this series is scheduled for August 14th, 2012, and Part 8 for October 9, 2012. We're going to move way beyond this film and what you can learn from it.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
I watched the Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing film I, MONSTER last week. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” allowing for the usual cinematic embellishments that stretch it to almost and hour and a half. Even though all the secondary characters have the same names as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, the protagonist is unaccountably renamed “Dr. Marlowe,” with the Hyde persona called “Blake.” Baffling. Anyway, the movie brings to mind how differently a new reader of Stevenson’s story would approach it today, in contrast to the audience for the original publication. We forget (if we’ve read the original at all) that the novella is structured as a mystery: Who is Edward Hyde, and what hold does he have over the upright, highly respected Dr. Jekyll? Until the climax, neither the characters nor the readers know that Jekyll and Hyde share the same body.
Nowadays, the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” has become such a universal metaphor for the divided self that the shocking revelation of Jekyll’s plight couldn’t possibly surprise anyone. No film adaptation I’ve seen has ever tried to hold back that plot point as a surprise. The audience witnesses the doomed doctor swallowing his potion and changing into a monster long before any of the other characters learn the truth. This shift in the expected audience reception of the Jekyll and Hyde story reminds me of a comment by C. S. Lewis about the element of surprise as an artistic virtue. He says its value doesn’t mean this quality can be appreciated only on first exposure. Rather, its appeal is enhanced on later readings or viewings because what’s appreciated isn’t the surprise itself but a certain “surprisingness.” The audience of the work gets extra enjoyment out of anticipating the twist they know is coming.
I think my own reading experience supports this position. On reading a book for the first time, I get pleasure from the suspense of waiting to find out what happens. On later readings, I get a different kind of pleasure from watching how the author prepares for the revelation that I know will occur at the climax. If I really enjoyed the story the first time, it often gives me even more enjoyment on subsequent readings because I’m not distracted by the suspense—what Lewis calls the “sheer narrative lust” of rushing to the end to find out what happens—from appreciating the nuances of plot and character. A story or movie whose appeal depends entirely on not knowing the ending—a work that can be “spoiled”—lacks something compared to works that can be pleasurably reread or re-viewed more than once. That’s why I don’t mind being exposed to spoilers. True, there are some pieces of fiction (print or film) that would lose something if the first exposure didn’t include an unspoiled experience of their surprise ending; still, if they’re solid works to begin with, I don’t think they could be completely ruined by “spoilers.” Okay, a mystery novel especially could be an exception, but I have reread some of Agatha Christie’s very plot-driven books, complete with twists at the end, with delight, even knowing who’ll be revealed as the murderer on the last page. Does any potential reader nowadays NOT already know who killed Roger Ackroyd?
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
we began looking at the 2005 film, THE GREAT RAID and ended off allowing a week to find it and watch it carefully. Now I will assume you've seen it recently enough to remember it. You will remember it differently than I do, and you will remember different scenes than I do. Comparing our descriptions of this film, and its highlights, will reveal something important about storytelling.
War is all about death, yes, but it's about survival too. More, it can also be about defeat and/or victory.
The key historical record of the Pacific in World War II was originally titled BATTLE FOR THE PACIFIC, and it was a TV series decades ago when TV was new. HBO has redone it, and now you can get it on Amazon by episode or by season, watch it on your Kindle Fire. The old title now has been co-opted by a video game, which odd fact (co-opting) actually says something about the writing craft topic we're discussing.
The Iwo Jima battle depicted in THE GREAT RAID is only a small part of that overall war theater's action, but anyone who wants to write fiction should have a working knowledge of how that war for the islands was fought. It's strategy and tactics melded to drama, and you can use it to shape a similar battle on another world. In fact you can use it to go to an alternate universe, then back in History, and write a whopping love story that knows no bounds. Here's a (long and still going) series that does a great job of that by Taylor Anderson:
When you write about death, you come face to face with the inevitable human questions about "what comes after death?"
I can't answer that question -- at least not any better than you can! So the rest of this discussion will be on fitting your worldbuilding into the audience's mindset and changing assumptions.
Remember how Gene Roddenberry employed the writing-rule of not answering questions with his Star Trek episodes, but just ASKING the questions - posing the conundrum or riddle for viewers to gnaw on.
Again here's Part 4 - which has links to previous parts of this series.
That question, "What Comes After Death" and the need to ask it with its imperative to answer it somehow, is one course of bricks in the foundation of all human culture. That's why we are currently innundated with novels about Vampires and other long-lived or immortal Beings. Our culture has been disturbed. Religions have been challenged, some displaced, some fighting back, some evolving, some disappearing, and some new ones being founded. This is far more than a "disturbance in the Force" -- this is a disturbance in culture.
If, in your worldbuilding for your story, you are going to build a culture (rather than use what you think you know about contemporary culture around you), you must have a "course of bricks" for each of the layers of bricks your readers' culture rests upon. That congruence of shape and size between the cultures of your imaginary world and your readers' "real world" experience gives your story verisimilitude.
If you build the imaginary culture in the same size and shape as your reader's real world culture, the reader will feel subliminally comfortable there, and every crazy thing you include will be plausible and entertaining not distressing or confusing. The potential power this gives writers over readers' subconscious minds is obvious. Pause for a moment of awe about that then use that power wisely!
To suck a reader into your world using the power of verisimilitude, you must first learn the world your reader lives in. Most of us are blissfully unaware that we have a culture, nevermind what it actually is! We bandy the world culture about as if we all mean the same thing by it. We don't.
"The Silent Language" -- and your eyes will open.
From the perspective of the cultural anthropologist, Atheism per se is a "religion." Agnosticism is the position which allows for "I don't know" as the answer to most of the ineffable questions about Death. But even that position can be hardened into a superstitious dread, a flinch from all religion and even just spirituality which isn't formalized into a verbalized system of beliefs.
The writer who is a worldbuilder has to take into account what seems plausible and entertainingly novel to the target audience.
There's not much that's "novel" about death, but we are in an era when death is a riveting fascination, not something hidden offstage. In our current TV and film fiction, blood doesn't just appear on a wall, we see the living person decapitated, the blood fountain in drops, THEN the blood on the walls.
Look at all the violent videogames -- the thesis is that if there's a problem where someone wants to do something other than what you want them to do, the ONLY solution is to kill them. The better killer wins and is celebrated, covered in glory.
But we hold a contradictory philosophy at the same time: "stay safe at all costs." Oddly, this philosophy is showcased in THE GREAT RAID, too. Keep in mind that this film came out in 2005.
In 2012, putting anyone in danger of anything is immoral. More on that in Part VI of Worldbuilding With Fire And Ice.
In 2005, the release year of the film THE GREAT RAID, near the end of the film, there's a line of dialogue defining what the commander of this group of US soldiers understands about what they're doing there. He says his men deserve their chance at glory, and when challenged defines glory not as the opinion others have of you, but the opinion you have of yourself for the rest of your life because in the moment of challenge, the moment of facing death, you did the RIGHT THING.
Now this is a philosophy, and it underlies most of this film very solidly making it a good 10-star level film.
The one hole I might poke in it could be from the actual real-life, true story it's based on, and that is the "senselessness" of who dies. In a fictional story, if someone dies "senselessly" (without good reasons being depicted in show-don't-tell), the editor sends it back for rewrite. But in "real life" people die with no apparent reason in sight, and in war the "senselessness" almost becomes the point of the story -- war is senseless. The best people die for no reason.
The HEA or Happily Ever After ending requires that there be sense and reason driving destiny, so that when a "happy" point in life's arc is reached, the characters got there in a way they can understand. With that understanding comes confidence in foreseeing the far vista of their future unrolling in sensible and understandable ways. Therefore they know they will be "happy ever after."
Finding that pattern and those "reasons" in real life and laying down the foundation for them congruently in your story is difficult because life, as we know it, just doesn't seem to have that sense to it. The business of the artist is to find that pattern in real life, just a shadowy hint of it is enough, and replicate that in fiction in such a way that readers can find that shadowy shape in their own lives. That's the secret to writing the re-readable book or the classic film.
We are studying THE GREAT RAID because I think it is just such a classic film. It shows us something we would not otherwise look for in real life.
This is a war film. It's about who survives and who dies, not really so much about why. So as such it deserves 10 stars, or the highest IMDB rating -- because the only thing that's missing is the "poetic justice." That lack is very revealing of that shadowy pattern we need to discern.
Note again the release date - 2005. That means the film represents the views of the target audience -- a broad swatch of the public -- around the year 2000 when it was being marketed and developed.
In the twelve years since 2000, the American pubic has undergone a sharp and drastic reversal of philosophy. The most visible symptom of this reversal is the way all mention of God has been labeled as unacceptable in public -- almost the way any mention of the word "sex" was banned in public in the 1940's (the era this film depicts).
Now naked sex scenes are required in print and on film, and any gesture or word depicting faith, God, or any religion except maybe satanism is banned.
I'm not commenting on whether that public reversal of values is "good" or "bad" -- I'm focusing on how public values of that kind affect a professional storyteller's worldbuilding choices, as well as plot elements placed in the foreground and plot elements placed in the background.
The 2005 film is a terrific example of this change. It makes no comment on that change directly. Its commentary on the subject is totally "off the nose" (film scriptwriting term you must master. See Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series).
THE GREAT RAID tells the story of a group of US soldiers rescuing 511 US soldiers who were held prisoner by the Japanese on Iwo Jima for three years.
Those soldiers came to believe they were utterly forgotten, written off as dead by the USA -- until their encampment was left unguarded for a little while, and they broke into the Japanese command station and discovered a warehouse fulll of Red Cross boxes filled with food that had been meant for them. Then they realized the Japanese were eating well and deliberately starving the American prisoners. The prisoners were riddled with malaria, and survived on the small amounts of quinine smuggled to them by the Philipine Resistance fighters. Many prisoners in this camp were unable to walk. The able bodied had been taken elsewhere.
Meanwhile, we follow a group of raw trainees, essentially farmboys drafted into the war, who've never been in a real battle. They are assigned to run ahead of the invasion by US forces (the battle of Iwo Jima that is so famous) and get the US prisoners of war out of the way of that impending battle.
Sweep a random few dozen men off America's streets today, and you won't be able to 'whip them into shape' in 6 weeks as was done during World War II. The typical American male of fighting age today is not in good enough physical shape to do this kind of work (not many "farmboys" left). (That statistic from an article I saw recently on the problems the Armed Forces are having recruiting - it's not a lack of volunteers but a lack of robust health among the volunteers.)
In THE GREAT RAID, the prisoners are held in an encampment full of tanks and armed Japanese, a prime strategic target the US forces must neutralize in order to take that island. But in doing that, they would also be slaughtering those US prisoners. There are no experienced US forces to spare to rescue the prisoners. So they send in the raw team that's well trained but never seen battle. Do or die they must get those men out of the area before all hell breaks loose. If they fail, they themselves will be sitting on ground zero of an area slated for destruction.
WATCH THIS TRAILER VIDEO:
It's important to watch that video especially if you did just watch the whole movie. Note what's excerpted, and how the concept can be set out in just a few words of dialogue. Just 29 seconds of the trailer and you know what that entire movie is. That's a CONCEPT.
Remember, this is WWII -- there are no computer chipped munitions that only kill what they are aimed at, and all targetting was kinda approximate.
The Love Story is between a prisoner in the camp who has malaria and (unknown to him) the woman he loves who is married to someone else. She's a nurse, and who has stayed behind in the Philipines to run a resistance cell that smuggles quinine to the POW's. The casting is great. She's a tall blonde among these short-dark folks, really conspicuous for a spy!
The thesis in this film is that old saw, "There Are No Atheists In A Foxhole" -- that saying is from WWI, and it essentially means that when facing death amidst horror, suddenly the most skeptical among us will pray, whether they believe or not. It's probably not 100% true today, and it's certainly not "politically correct" to suggest it is 100% true, but it's a real life observation. This 2005 film makes the point that in the 1940's this saying was still very true.
In one scene, there are two solders about to go into this battle. One has one of those Catholic devotional cards in hand. He gives it to the other solder saying he has plenty. The other guy asks what he should do with it, kiss it? He tucks it away. After the battle, he offers to buy the card for $10 (a small fortune at that time!) but the owner refuses to sell. He says his mother gave it to him and he only has the one. The other guy complains, "But you said you had plenty of others." "I lied."
This exchange straddles the values of the 1940's (he wouldn't have lied in 1945), and the values of the 2000's when he would have lied, but wouldn't have given him the card. Today, the headlines are full of armed forces officialdom putting major obstacles in the way of religion in the military. Even the Chaplain corps which was sacrosanct in the 1940's has trouble today.
Another such cliche scene that straddles the values is the cliche scene where the hostile occupation forces storm a church and a lone priest stands in the door, or the street intersection, and holds up a hand.
In older films, the charging forces STOP. In the 2005 film, the charging forces just run right over the priest, batting him aside with casual cruelty.
Perhaps half the audience now responds to that casual, symbolic batting aside of impotent religion as a good thing, as "progress." I'm not saying here whether this is good or bad, only that it is a kind of visual symbolism that writers must master. It keeps the "philosophy" off the nose. It keeps the discussion of values as subtext which different viewers interpret differently -- thus enlarging the potential audience.
Half the audience gasps at the sacrilege proving the occupying force is evil, and the other half gasps at the brilliant proof that silly superstition can't stand against armed might. To win the videogame, you have to be faster and better at killing the opposition regardless of right or wrong. Understand your audience, and speak to them in all their languages.
In several scenes, especially the cliche scene where the captors shoot 10 prisoners because 1 prisoner tried something against the rules the captors imposed, you see US soldiers cross themselves. Mostly, they get killed right after that. But religious display is not going to be seen in many near future films (Tim Tebow notwithstanding.)
In the middle of THE GREAT RAID, we see the malaria ridden prisoner getting help writing a letter (in pencil on scrap paper) to the woman he loves, and a bit of their story is discussed but not shown. We understand this love story instantly. It's a cliche so that they can just plant it and spend no scenes detailing it. But it does say that love doesn't stop just because of war. Lovers torn apart by war is a seminal theme, and you can use it in any fictional universe you build and it will work without explanation.
At the end of the film, the malaria ridden soldier is rescued, but by the time he's transported to the town now captured and held by US forces, he dies just moments before the woman he was writing to (the nurse, resistance leader) gets to him through the chaos in the streets. His friend hands her the letter he helped write, the letter where he ends off confessing he loves her.
It's a tear-jerker scene, and it's a cliche war-movie scene. In fact the whole movie has to be labeled cliche. How could it not be a cliche? It's about the battle for Iwo Jima. How many films, books, stories, have been made about that? It's all been done and said many times, so it's cliche by definition.
But in 2005, there were already a lot of young people who hadn't studied all the details of World War II, in both theaters of war -- Europe and Pacific. The first time you see a well worn cliche, it's fresh, startling, brilliant and can change your life forever.
In the process of becoming a cliche, a scene or situation gets written and practiced many times, all the awkward bits worn down until the modern version is polished smooth and shiny -- better than the original if you haven't seen all the intermediate drafts.
THE GREAT RAID does the cliche scenes very well, which is why I give it 10 stars.
But it also depicts the pivot point where our public values spun into a new direction.
Pick out a few lines of dialogue you think represent that values twist-point and we'll discuss them next week in Worldbuilding With Fire And Ice Part 6: Values Twist.
Sunday, July 08, 2012
One of those innovative, new technology sites is up for sale. The sort that makes a fortune from exploiting quality content on the internet.
The sort that relies upon internet "privacy" and "anonymity" and on irresponsible advertisers turning a blind eye to what sort of activity their advertisement dollars are encouraging and funding. Or worse. A large chunk of the site's revenue comes from "hosting" sites that many would call pirates. More than one pays this "e-book search"site in Euros.
This site is valued by the seller or perhaps by the brokers as six million dollars, predicated on an average income from affiliates and advertising and fees over the last three months of $60,000 (a month), and traffic exceeding 21 million visitors in the last three months.
What this site does is to help would-be downloaders to locate "free" ebooks. It does not host the ebooks itself. It simply provides live links to where they are hosted. A lot of internet businessmen do this, and very few of the links appear to go to legitimate sources such as authors' or publishers' websites, or retail sites where the ebooks are being given away voluntarily by the copyright owners.
|free ebook search|
Over the last three months, 3.5 million visitors from the USA visited this site looking to download ebooks without paying for them. (Indians ranked second with 3.3 million searchers. Britons were third with just under one million, Canadians were fifth with 725,000 visits, and all credit to Australia which only accounted for fewer than 500,000 visits and ranked 8th.).
A few years ago, apologists for copyright infringers claimed that most of the piracy happened because people in foreign countries had no access to great American fiction, or were unable to pay for American ebooks because PayPal or other international online payment processors did not serve addresses in their countries, or that evil greedy American publishers added exorbitant surcharges for books shipped to their foreign countries.
Something has changed!
Is it reasonable to extrapolate that American ebook readers are the most dishonest in the world? If so, why so?
$60,000 a month gives one pause. Could this work for publishers? So-called pirates tell copyright owners that we are dinosaurs, and that we need to embrace the new reality, and find new ways to monetize our intellectual property. With the best will in the world, I do not see how this site's business model would work for a publisher.
From what I can extrapolate from the financials to convince some sucker to pay $2,000,000 outright or $6,000,000 at auction for a site that (in my opinion) could be seized by the Feds as was MegaUpload, the system works like this.
Members of "Load-of-it" (made up name for a hosting site) upload e-books that they do not own. They are paid by "Load-of-it" possibly at a rate of $25 for every 1,000 downloads.
"Load-of-it" pays ebooksearchsite a commission for every referred visitor, and/or a commission every time a visitor from ebooksearchsite buys a subscription for greater downloading capacity.
It is profitable because the copyright owners are completely out of the loop.
Could publishers upload all their authors' ebooks free to a website, and charge downloaders a membership fee for faster downloads? I don't think so. I think speed is important and worth paying for because the download needs to be as quick and as anonymous as possible, and the "freebie" could be removed at any time.
If the free download were legal, no one would pay for speed. Moreover, at the rate of $25 per 1,000 downloads, a self-published author would do better to sell through Amazon!
If every publisher gave away every book, the model would not be sustainable. Already, Kindle owners and EBay 'DVD' customers have hundreds if not tens of thousands of ebooks on their ereaders and in their clouds.
Thursday, July 05, 2012
Horror writer Jonathan Maberry has edited a shared world anthology called V-WARS, based on an innovative approach to vampirism as disease or mutation. The book became available in comic stores and in Kindle format on June 27 and will have its general release on July 10. Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Jonathan that will appear in the August issue of my monthly author newsletter:
JONATHAN MABERRY: In V-Wars we explore how science might explain the worldwide presence of vampire legends. Melting arctic ice releases an ancient virus which triggers dormant DNA (junk DNA). This DNA was once responsible for the phenomenon of vampirism, but over the centuries all vampires were hunted to extinction. Now the disease causes mutations which transform a percentage of the population into vampires. The thing is, vampire legends are different in every country. The vampires of Japan are different than the vampires of France or Peru or Alaska. So, as the disease manifests, people become the kind of vampire typical of their culture.
Some people act on their new predatory natures and begin hunting humans. Some resist those urges. The humans react with typical fear and aggression, so we have atrocities and violence on both sides, and that escalates into full-blown armed conflict.
The stories of V-Wars are told by eight writers: Nancy Holder, Yvonne Navarro, Gregory Frost, Scott Nicholson, James A. Moore, Keith R. A. DeCandido, John Everson and me. And we had a hell of a lot of fun with this project.
(End of interview excerpt)
In case you want to read the entire interview, this is the URL to subscribe to my free newsletter:News from the Crypt
The Amazon page for V-WARS:V-WARS
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Here's a post with a list of prior Worldbuilding posts.
In that listing, I skipped the previous posts in this series, which includes the explosive mixing of Politics and Religion, Fire and Ice indeed:
Now we'll extend this series to talk about sex and violence, love and war, Romance Amidst Destruction, about how we, as human beings, come to understand not just "the meaning of life" but the meaning of our own personal existence.
That very personal connection with the purpose of life is what all good stories are about. Story is about how a character, any character, comes to understand their own idiosyncratic, answer to these questions of "ultimate concern."
So we're going to look at a war movie (I do so love a good war movie, any war!)
This one under our microscope is the 2005 film THE GREAT RAID.
On Amazon you can rent it cheap.
I'll include "spoilers" in the discussion below, so if you haven't seen this film, at least go read about it.
This is a 2005 movie, and should be a 10-star film on IMDB's scale, but it's pulling only 6 stars at IMDB at the moment. It has a few scattered mentions of God, a Catholic church (of which there were many in that area of the Philippines at that time), and a red-hot Romance without a preponderance of naked sex scenes. In fact, the two lovers (man and woman, where the woman is married to someone else) never really lay eyes on each other during the film until the end, and there's heart-wrenching disappointment at the senselessness in who dies and who survives. She, however, is a hero in her own right, as post-1970's female characters are supposed to be.
Early in this series of writing tutorials on Alien Romance -- science fiction romance, or fantasy romance, or Paranormal Romance -- I mentioned that Romance writers who dive into the established field of Science Fiction and Fantasy often get readers pointing fingers of ridicule at them.
My aim with these posts on Worldbuilding is to remedy that situation because what I've always been writing is actually Science Fiction Romance, but with the Romance part disguised so that Science Fiction editors wouldn't necessarily notice it.
I grew up on nuts-n-bolts SF, and loved every bit of it, BUT was just deeply convinced that "they" (the young guys writing that stuff) were doing it "all wrong." And what they did wrong was the Relationship part, and the total absense of Romance. Romance is what fuels every human endeavor, and Love is what all life is about. Love is what the material universe is made out of -- it is the very substance of the universe.
That is what I understood, and what I wanted to see in the fiction I read, but I could not abide "Romance genre" writing that excluded nuts-n-bolts science as well as fantasy premises about "The Ineffable."
In other words, as I saw it, the main failing of early (1950's) science fiction was a lack of WORLDBUILDING.
What I saw as the main failing in attempts by (trained, expert and wonderful) Romance writers to set a story on a space ship, or in a parallel universe, back in time, or in a dimension where Magic works, was a lack of WORLDBUILDING.
Not all writers fail in that dimension. There are multitudinous examples of towering successes, but how does a new writer learn to a) do the worldbuilding and b) not include too much of their wondrous worldbuilding and impede the story/plot pacing?
There is a tense balance point, a traveling point as dynamic as the point at which a figure skater's blade touches the ice -- or skims the melt above the ice, just kissing the medium and flying in graceful swoops above that "reality." A writer crafting a story has to do that, but first the writer has to run the zamboni over his created world. That last polish before sending the characters out to skate a composition is often the step new writers leave out.
So we're going to look at this "incorporation" process -- how to blend all the elements you've built into a platform that won't attract the audience's attention but will support your characters.
I'm particularly focused on this right now because I'm involved in the worldbuilding portion of constructing a "shared world" in which many anthologies of stories will be written.
The world we're building is called SILVER MOON and the first volume, now being written, is called A GATHERING STORM. That storm is a war where the entire population of a north section of a continent goes to war with the population of the southern region. That and the location of a few major cities, and the co-existence of both magical and scientific philosophies was all we started with.
The salient issue for worldbuilding is that this is a world about to go into a massive paroxysm of war, so the worldbuilding writers contributing stories are examining the sources of massive wars, population migration, (the 4 Horses) and the effects of such Events on cultural elements (such as burial customs, detective work both government official and private eye, prophecy, beliefs, the spur to the development of science for use in warfare, and how normal people just hacking out a living manage to survive it all.)
Each of so far 28 writers on the team have vastly different life experiences, educational backgrounds, and writing genre expertise -- all different sorts of genres, so this world's anthologies will be of various genres.
Living among expert worldbuilders brings some of these worldbuilding techniques to sharp focus.
You can start with the physics of a star coalescing out of space dust, or of a planet heaving and seething to develop oceans enough to spawn life, of life evolving along certain tracks leaving the dominant intelligent species with biology that isn't human, and then let that biology spawn cultures (plural; cultureS, lots of them that clash and go to war).
Or you can start with 21st century Earth humans, plain people we know, and destroy everything (post-apocalyptic) then start over with or without remnants, legends and memories of the prior civilization.
There's no telling how many times such things have happened on Earth alone, nevermind on all those planets they are now discovering for all the new SF/F/Romance writers to play on.
In my review column for themonthlyaspectarian.com I write about how the best SF is built on current headlines, and non-fiction books about various international situations, such as the monetary crisis, or national situations such as "lets reform the tax code." Ray Bradbury, who passed away in June, 2012, wrote straight-line extrapolation of his current headline issues and became famous for his cautionary tales and grimly horrid future visions. His novels stand in contrast to Robert A. Heinlein's novels, ript from the exact same headlines and extrapolated in a hyperbolic curve into a much brighter and more optimistic view of the future. Many of Heinlein's visions (the moving sidewalks in airports for one) have come true, while Bradbury's visions have (thank God) not come true entirely, (yet).
International Headlines and non-fiction about the doings of humanity are good starting points for worldbuilding. Well-read readers will find it easy to slip into a world that is built from the familiar headlines, but does not seem to be related to their reality.
No matter where you start worldbuilding, you end up writing about LIFE.
Even if you're writing about Vampires, you don't have a story until you are writing about LIFE -- of some sort.
When you write about LIFE you have to write about DEATH.
Here's an excerpt from an article posted online by a Rabbi who was given 6 months to live by his doctors. The article has the eye-stopping headline, HOW TO DIE.
Today I continue, thank God, to feel perfectly fine. My team of doctors is still wondering how that happened. I tried to explain to them that I am on a medication that has proven successful for thousands of years, although it's healing properties haven't yet been scientifically identified. Having successfully prescribed it to others many times, I put myself on the "Recitation of Psalms" program. I asked friends and family to join because I have oft times witnessed the miracle of the power of prayer. And although I continue to be aware of the fact that some day I will die, I continue to go about my life's tasks of studying and teaching Torah, of lecturing and writing in the hope of bringing people closer to God and to Judaism – because I'm convinced that it is in the merit of mitzvahs that I can best hope for continued miracles.
My primary focus isn’t on “How to Die;” thank God it’s on how to live.
When you write about death, you come face to face with the inevitable human questions about "what comes after death?"
I can't answer that question -- at least not any better than you can! So the rest of this discussion will be on fitting your worldbuilding into the audience's mindset and changing assumptions.
We'll pause here until next week, so you have a chance to watch THE GREAT RAID. As an exercise in writing craft, note down the lines of dialogue that leap out at you, the scenes that bespeak the 2005 origin of the film about the 1940's, and what all that means about the books that will be popular in 2015.