Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Lady Vanishes: Showing and Telling

A couple of weeks ago, PBS aired a new version of THE LADY VANISHES, previously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. As you may remember, the story concerns a self-absorbed young Englishwoman who gets acquainted with a middle-aged, English spinster on a train in central Europe. When the woman, Miss Froy, disappears, everybody else on the train denies she ever existed. After watching the TV movie, I read the 1936 book it’s based on, THE WHEEL SPINS, by Ethel Lina White. It’s interesting to observe how the literary standards for “showing” and “telling” have changed over the decades.

The novel starts with an intriguing hook sentence: “The day before the disaster, Iris Carr had her first premonition of danger.” Then the omniscient narrator launches into two pages of exposition, telling us about idle rich orphan Iris’s background and personality, the carefree, irreverent, promiscuous “crowd” she calls her friends, and their interaction with the other patrons of the hotel in the remote European town where they’re vacationing. Although the polished writing style makes this exposition a pleasure to read, few editors would tolerate it nowadays. The author would dramatize this information in “cinematic” style, revealing it through dialogue and action the same way the movie does. It’s worth noting that some conversations dramatized in the film are written as indirect discourse in the book. (By the way, the next time you reread PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, notice how many of the conversations consist of indirect discourse rather than quoted dialogue.)

White's omniscient narrative voice reveals the thoughts and motives of other characters, and reflects on them, to a far greater extent than the movie script, which stays within Iris’s perspective most of the time. The most striking difference between book and film, though, is how the plot revelations are structured. In the movie we don’t learn the truth about Miss Froy’s existence and fate until the climax. At almost the exact middle of the book, the “black moment” when Iris decides everybody else is right and she imagined Miss Froy, the narrative shifts to England to reveal Miss Froy’s perfectly real parents and dog, eagerly awaiting her return. Later, we see Miss Froy in captivity, confirming (for the reader) the hero and heroine’s theory about her abduction long before the climactic rescue. This strategy switches the focus from Iris’s sane or deluded condition to the question of whether Miss Froy will be rescued in time to save her life. Thereby it transforms the story's genre from mystery (does Miss Froy exist, and what happened to her?) to suspense thriller (will Iris be able to find the missing woman before it’s too late?). The book and movie are equally exciting, but the movie maintains a surrealistic ambiguity the book abandons at the halfway point. It seems the author committed herself to this approach when she chose an omniscient narrative voice instead of a “tight third person” restriction to Iris’s awareness.

THE WHEEL SPINS, aka THE LADY VANISHES, is a gripping suspense adventure as well as an illustration of how an author’s decisions about voice and viewpoint interweave with the other elements of narrative.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dialogue Part 6 - How to Write Bullshit Dialogue by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Dialogue Part 6 - How to Write Bullshit Dialogue  by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in the Dialogue Series (yes, we'll get to "integration" of dialogue with other skills), can be found here:

That last one, Part 5, How to write liar dialogue, is most relevant to this post which is about something even worse than lies.

I was reading a newspaper (yeah, on paper, would you believe?) recently, in which I ran across two opinion pieces about diverse topics.  Each hung their main point on a non-fiction book.

I thought it interesting that one article pointed to the book, saying that there is something WORSE than lying, and that from the explanation I agreed! 

For the most part, you can't use this method to create dialogue because dialogue is not "speech" per se, not a simple transcription of the way people talk, but must be terse, to the point, off the nose, and  not be the author talking to the reader, but one character talking to another character.

However, when searching for a way to SHOW DON'T TELL a) the nature of a character and b) the gullibility of another character that will lead them into serious trouble, this method of dialogue generation will work very well.

Here's the book:

The thesis is that liars know the truth and are trying to cover it up, misdirect you, or otherwise convince you that the truth is not true.

Bullshitters, on the other hand, don't necessarily know the truth, and really couldn't care less what is true and what is not true.  Bullshitters are ramming their agenda into your head by saying whatever will make you do what they want you to do, regardless of whether it will benefit you, or even the bullshitter. 

The article also pointed out that the originator(s) of the bullshit dialogue may actually know it's not true, even if they don't know what the truth really is.  But those who have been bullshitted, and somehow absorb the message and become advocates of it, repeat the bullshit without fact-checking, without knowing the truth, and very possibly without knowing what agenda they are pushing!

Like gossip, bullshit takes on a life of its own.

As a result, a fiction writer can use this method of speech, discussed in the book above, to set up a plot involving character assassination.  Like a murder mystery, a character-assassination plot would have a FORM -- open form mystery, or closed form mystery.

In open form, the reader sees in the first scene who-done-it (if not how and why), and in closed form, the reader has to unravel the mystery with the detective.

Envision trying to use this "bullshit" method on Colombo -- or say, in current TV shows, Longmire.

I love Longmire's hat, and the way the camera director uses it.  But I love the underlying values of the heroic portrayal of this rural, 21st century, sheriff.  I love the modern Indian reservation and all their (rather authentic) modern day politics.  Longmire is a great show to watch -- and well written enough to learn dialogue writing by studying it, scene for scene.

So, no, a criminal is not going to get away with bullshitting Longmire!  (or Colombo).

You can also use this bullshit dialogue methodology to portray the various sides of the thematic issue you are using at the core of your composition. 

Use this blog's search-tool (on the right) to search for theme, and you'll get a lot of theme posts.  I have to make a long index of them eventually. 

The point I make in most of those posts on theme is that it is important to understand your theme, and to create characters who really believe (down to the core of their being) each side of the current arguments on that point in our current culture.

You can't fake it. 

You must actually understand where the people who loathe your own personal point of view are coming from, and for that little while that you are writing the dialogue of that character, you must be able to believe it.  Yes, it's kind of like "method acting."  You have to walk a mile in the moccasins of the characters who shun and despise your personal views, and argue their side of the matter with the character who is representing your view.

The best novels are the ones where there is no character who represents the author's personal views -- so there's no ax-grinding or polemics, no preaching, just good drama.

Which brings us to the second book I found mentioned in a printed on paper newspaper.

I wouldn't have noticed this book except for the roiling and embroiling issues raised by the SFWA Bulletin controversy, sparked by a hapless writer's blogpost (in ignorance of the SFWA issue), and then brought to sharp focus by Ann Aguirre's blog post which drew an instant splashback of several true "hate-speech" emails.  Yeah, Ann Aguirre drew hatespeech! 

Here's what I posted about this, which contains links so you can research this anti-SFR matter:

So the following Friday, there was a #scifichat on twitter about the eruption of sexism in the science fiction community, and everyone was perfectly civil, used regular English, and tossed around some really thoughtful opinions.

It was astonishing how DIFFERENT the tone was.  The folks on #scifichat talk like the Science Fiction fans I grew up with and have known all my life.  The people directing hate at Ann Aguirre's blog post did not sound like anyone I'd ever met, and the stories the commenters brought to light of their own experiences likewise sounded like encounters out of the twilight zone.

So when I saw this article on an epidemic of hate online, and I remembered some of the nonsense language posts I've seen in comments on news articles (such as on Yahoo news, and other news posts that allow comments), I realized hate online could be viewed as an "epidemic."   These hate-language users represent one of those opinions I keep telling you that you need to include where appropriate in a story -- to use characters to present beliefs that you do not hold personally.

Here's the book on amazon:

Here's the blurb on Amazon:
Emboldened by anonymity, individuals and organizations from both left and right are freely spewing hateful vitriol on the Internet without worrying about repercussions. Lies, bullying, conspiracy theories, bigoted and racist rants, and calls for violence targeting the most vulnerable circulate openly on the web. And thanks to the guarantees of the First Amendment and the borderless nature of the Internet, governing bodies are largely helpless to control this massive assault on human dignity and safety. Abe Foxman and Christopher Wolf expose the threat that this unregulated flow of bigotry poses to the world. They explore how social media companies like Facebook and YouTube, as well as search engine giant Google, are struggling to reconcile the demands of business with freedom of speech and the disturbing threat posed by today’s purveyors of hate. And they explain the best tools available to citizens, parents, educators, law enforcement officers, and policy makers to protect the twin values of transparency and responsibility. As Foxman and Wolf show, only an aroused and engaged citizenry can stop the hate contagion before it spirals out of control—with potentially disastrous results. 

Note how many 1-star reviews it has pulled.  1-star is "I hate it." 

Look at Ann Aguirre's post (which has made her some new fans and readers!)

Look at the splashback emails she posted right at the end of her item. 

This newspaper article advanced the theory that the hatespeech you are seeing flood online venues is coming MOSTLY (not exclusively) from teenagers, and that parents need to police their teen's online behavior better to stop it.

I don't know if there's any value to that suggestion, or any truth at all to the allegation that it's teens -- but wouldn't it be (fictionally) interesting if the hate-email Ann Aguirre got wasn't from any professionals, active fans such as frequent #scifichat, or adults with considered opinions who are ticked off by the skyrocketing sales of SFR compared to the shrinking and shriveling sales of nuts-n-bolts SF?  What if she just hit a network of teens who love to "vandalize" blogposts with hatespeech and really have no idea what the subject actually is (and don't have the education to understand it even if someone explained it to them?)

Now that would make a CONFLICT for a novel -- and there's a theme integrated right into that conflict.  A Setting of Parenting -- especially single-parent parenting (the article I read pointed to single-parents who don't have TIME to police their kids)?

Can you see the various sides of the argument and how it fits into a Romance?

A woman struggling her way up in a traditionally mans' world profession, -- say widowed when her husband was killed in Iraq? -- and raising kids by herself.  Suitor #1 who has bought into the idea that single-parenting produces wayward kids.  Suitor #2 advocating casual live-together, but admiring her parenting skills - maybe more than her professional skills?  Which will she choose?  Or will she look for Suitor #3?  Or go the SINGLE route? 

Anyone watching THE GLADES?  Highly recommended -- not SF, but Detective Mystery -- Mystery-Romance.  Shows a man falling in love with a woman-single-parent-medical-student.

This issue - A Woman's Place In The World - and maybe even the very definition of woman and of "mother" - is under furious discussion in our world today, and criss-crosses the Religion borders like crazy.

This is a venue where you can set up any number of Romance Novels plotted around really hot screaming fights (Bullshit dialogue, Liar dialogue, Hatespeech dialogue) liberally laced with sex scenes.

In fact, such screaming fights would tend (in certain cultures) to skip from language to language.

Remember I LOVE LUCY, where Ricki shifts to Spanish when he gets mad?

Who are the really "hot" immigrants today?  What language to they shift into when exasperated? 

Remember, The Newcomers in Alien Nation?  There was Newcomer kid who as a teen became aculturated to Earth and joined a gang -- got himself in lots of trouble with his traditional parents for his LANGUAGE USE.

Now think about all this, and think about the hatespeech directed at Ann Aguirre not as anything to do with her work (those who HATE like that probably haven't read her books which are full of love overcoming the ugliest sides of our violent culture) -- but think of it as being a bigger problem that your readers are encountering in a lot of environments as they struggle to deal with things like being a single parent -- or dealing with kids of single parents who just aren't being properly parented, or some who are better parented than those from two-parent households.

Think of your broadest possible reach as a writer -- and see what you can do applying these dialogue techniques.

Try the classic exercise of putting two characters you know nothing about in a pitch black, can't see or touch each other, environment (a prison, a cave, an elevator in a blackout), and let them just TALK to each other.  All you have on your page is DIALOGUE - quotes, without description, just the names of the characters and all you can describe them with is what they say.

In fact, the classic-classic exercise is to write such a two-character dialogue without names, but just speech that is so distinctive the reader can tell who's talking without he-said, she-said.  In fact, one exercise is to write such an exchange in such a way that the reader can figure out which one is male and which female, without being told.

Read these books, look at these TV shows, all the while having in mind that you are going to use what you learn to construct such a "limbo set" dialogue exercise.

If you do this read/view/write exercise with enough determination, you may find yourself with the core scene of a dynamite novel.  But start first with the conversation in the dark exercise.  It's tough, but you'll learn a lot about the difference between dialogue and everyday talking.  This would work with a telephone conversation, too -- no videochat, just voice. 

by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Intimate Adventure with Clay and Fire

I’ve just read one of the best historical fantasies I’ve ever come across, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, by Helene Wecker. (Amazingly, it’s the author’s first novel.)

The Golem and the Jinni

Both of the title characters are involuntary immigrants adrift in New York in 1899. The owner of the golem, Chava, died on the ship to America, leaving her masterless. The jinni, Ahmad, accidentally released from an antique copper flask, suffers under a curse cast centuries earlier in circumstances he can’t remember; an iron band on his arm traps him in human form and curtails some of his other powers. To survive in their new home, both must learn to live within human society, beginning with acceptance of the mundane names bestowed by the people who take them in. At first forced to adapt to human customs as camouflage, little by little Chava and Ahmad begin to internalize human behavior and feel emotions new to them.

These two creatures, one of earth (clay) and one of fire, meet by chance and become friends because they share a sense of being out of place in the mundane life of the city. Neither one sleeps, and their first meeting occurs during their nocturnal wanderings through the streets of New York. They can’t reveal the full truth of their natures to anyone but each other. They’re opposites in more ways than their elemental origins: The golem, created to serve a master’s needs, is driven to be useful, happiest when ceaselessly working, and restless without somebody to obey. The jinni, raging against the slavery to which he was bound against his will, is arrogant, volatile, averse to commitment, and often scornful of the mere mortals around him. Both have to keep secrets for their own safety. Yet both eventually form true friendships with some of the people they live among. Little by little, they learn about love—love of many varieties, not only romantic or erotic. Finally, for the welfare of their human companions, they take the risk of exposing their true natures, and both make sacrifices for those they care about. Chava learns to become an independent being, and Ahmad learns to serve the needs of others. This story is an outstanding example of Intimate Adventure.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Theme-Conflict Integration Part 1 Battle of the Sexes by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Conflict Integration Part 1 Battle of the Sexes
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Buzzing through the June 2013 kerfuffle started by a SFWA Bulletin cover (classic brass bras Warrior Woman image) and a blog post that ignited another explosion in the sexism wars, I've been surveying some of the blog entries by both men and women writers on the acceptance of SFR by SF writers. 

And of course, every day I spend a bit of time watching the TV news -- just for fun and inspiration.

And suddenly while watching the news after viewing an episode of NBC's J. J. Abrams REVOLUTION, the world flipped into a new focus. 

It was one of those "artist's eye" things I've been talking about here since I started discussing writing craft techniques one at a time.  (yes, we'll get to three at a time!). 

And I went, AHA!!! -- that's THEME-CONFLICT INTEGRATION!!! 

Trying to explain what I saw in a) our fictional environment b) our (allegedly) real world environment and c) our writer's marketing environment --- all three integrated, BANG in one 3-D vision -- is going to be a serious challenge.

But if you can grasp what I'm saying, then look at your world from your own personal point of view, you may become the one to launch this enormous breakthrough novel/film that we've been envisioning on this blog since I began the writing craft series here.

So you may want to review some of the elementary posts on structure, and where conflict fits into it all.

There are hardly any posts I've done that don't involve the use of conflict to generate the plot (and everything else in a Romance Novel).

But you might want to review these:

Conflict is absolutely the hardest thing for writers to master.  Women have the hardest time with it, but I've seen men writers who just can't "get it" either.  It's a blind-spot common to both genders at the beginning of the learning curve.

Once you get conflict, you start selling even if your stuff is really bad, an embarrassment so bad that eventually you adopt another pen name because you don't want your current stuff associated with that old stuff.

Conflict is the essence of story, and has been since the beginning of story-telling as an art-form (think cave man fireside entertainment).

And yet, it is very hard to learn how to go about arranging the distinctive elements of your story around a core of a conflict to create a plot.

You know it when you see it in a novel or movie, and you love it, every time.  CONFLICT - WORKING OUT - RESOLUTION.  That is a highly commercial winning sequence every time, regardless of the content.

However, there is "throw away" entertainment -- what they once called "the pulps" -- cheaply produced magazines to read and toss, and there is classic literature.

The error that we, as Science Fiction Romance writers, have been trying to correct is the assumption that Romance is "pulp" and only pulp.  The assumption is that Romance is suitable only for lining bird cages and wrapping dead fish.  Oddly, that was always the assumption about science fiction.  Hmmm. 

It is an unconscious assumption, and our entire civilization is founded upon it. 

Once you see that manifesting in TV News, popular TV Series, and heated blog controversies over "sexism" you understand that we've been had.  Big time.

Like Science Fiction, Westerns, and many other genres so disparaged, Romance is not now and never has been "throw away" literature.  It is CLASSIC by it's very nature.

That fact is so terrifying that it is buried in the subconscious (Neptune, Pisces -- the best horror genre novels are fabricated out of NEPTUNE EVENTS (illusion) just as Romance Genre pivots on a Neptune Transit).  Buried in the collective subconscious, that fact about Romance being Classic Literature by its very nature is left to suppurate and rot us all out from the inside.

Do you see how I've taken a CONFLICT (the battle of the sexes over the prestige of Romance Genre) and edged it over into a THEME? 

Read the series of posts on Theme-Character Integration:

The process I just demonstrated, extracting a theme from a mishmosh of something else is discussed in those theme-character posts as is the crafting of the ending of a novel. 

The ending is the point in time where the theme is rammed down the character's throat and becomes totally assimilated, thus ending the story.  The ram is the Plot.  At the ending of a story, plot and story become indistinguishable.  That's how you know you are at an ending. 

One of the most often repeated errors beginning writers make is to start at the end.  And that's why beginners often can't grasp the difference between story and plot. 

To find the beginning of a story, you must train yourself to think backwards from an ending or a middle that first occurs to you to find the place in the story-arc where the story and the plot both begin.

And that same kind of backwards, inside-out thinking is useful in extracting a theme from "the world" as it exists in a mishmosh.

I had immediately noticed that the SFWA Bulletin cover controversy hit critical mass when the simple blog post
ignited a firestorm.

And the firestorm was all about sexism -- in the SF community, and in the world in general.

Many horror stories emerged via comments on Ann Aguirre's simple and factual post about her experiences in associating with SF writers:

And the conversation became laced with outrage over sexism.  All the old tropes were trotted out for an aria or two center stage.  People complained that the same-old-same-old discussion was boring.

It is boring. 

As Theodore Sturgeon pointed out many decades ago, writing science fiction is all about training your mind to ASK THE NEXT QUESTION.  Don't just accept what is said.  Question everything.

That's how art (all fields) is done, and that is the drill that produces (a few times in a lifetime) those moments such as I described above where everything flipped into focus, AHA!  (such as when a character reaches THE END of the novel and the theme is rammed home by the plot events intruding into the story.)

People commented on the blogs with comparisons to 1953 -- saying that the women's movement had won in the 1970's so why are we fighting this battle over again?  And others commented on that view saying things like we just have to wait for the old guys to die off -- or we have to fire them. 

And others insisted this is a NEW WORLD.  Everything's changed (which I've been pointing out on this blog for a while now) and we won, we defeated the ugly monster of sexism, so therefore it is gone.  Why is it still here?

While reading commentary along those lines, I was thinking about J. J. Abrams (and the Star Trek movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness which I discussed here

And I was thinking of J. J. Abrams TV Series Revolution, and the news of the day (wall-to-wall-scandals lightly laced with murder trials and fresh new murders), and I was thinking of how we choose our (scandal prone) politicians for their sexy TV images rather than boring desk-jockey skills, and the next question occurred to me.

What if there is not now and never has been any such thing as a Battle of the Sexes?

That could explain why it is absolutely "un-winnable."  It does not exist.  It is an illusion of Neptune.

If you haven't read the posts on Astrology Just For Writers -- the whole Neptune and Pluto relevance is explained in these posts which are listed in this post:

Note the fellow who claimed responsibility for the NSA security leak involving data collection is a 29 year old.  That's the year of the Saturn Return (when Saturn gets back to the place it was when you were born -- happens to everyone at that age, and every 29 years thereafter).  The first Saturn Return is notorious for having certain kinds of dramatic effects (being an Ending and a Beginning just like in novels). 

Knowing the clues in those posts on Astrology makes character creation and plotting very easy.

This Question -- what if ...?  Is the core-essence of Science Fiction.  Thinking out of the box, daring to ask the un-askable, the un-thinkable. 

It is an unthinkable question because throughout recorded history, and as far as anyone can tell from pre-history, males and females have always been at war, and we all accept without question that sex and violence are related.  There must be dominance in sex, right?  Must! 

Throughout the Middle Ages (the model for so much Fantasy-Romance with Kings, Queens, handsome Dukes, etc.) The Church kept women subjugated because of the story of Adam and Eve, which (to them) clearly says Eve was a bitch who tricked Adam, and therefore all women are Evil.

In the USA, we had to fight (FIGHT!!!) for the right to vote, have a bank account in our own name, etc. etc. 

Now the fight is over abortion, equality in marriage, and equal pay for equal work.

Where does it end?  What does Victory actually look like? 

This Battle of the Sexes is like the wars in the Middle East where we hammered two countries to smitherines, then tried to get soldiers who specialize in killing people to "nation build."  And then we leave, unilaterally proclaiming victory.  Huh? 

They coined a phrase to describe this process that we see in The Battle Of The Sexes.  Mission Creep.  Politicians call it "Progressivism" -- and I call them scam artists (like guys who just want to get you into bed, and leave when they get bored).  Move on dot Sex! 

I discussed grifters a little bit here:

It's a scam.  The Battle of the Sexes is a scam just like on the TV Series Leverage -- a 21st Century version of the old Mission: Impossible.   

One of the principles of running a game on a mark is that you must rivet the mark's attention AWAY FROM what you're doing -- like a stage magician, prestidigitation. 

To do this, you create a problem for them -- it's not real, it doesn't exist, so it can't be solved, but while they're busy trying to solve it with increasing urgency as you "play" them, you have a clear field to steal everything they have.

In the case of the Battle of the Sexes, what is being stolen is Identity. 

Your strength, your ability to cope with the world and stay alive in it, is based on your sense of individuality.  Take that away, and you are helpless - a mark ripe for the grifter's art.

If you want to understand the world: Follow The Money.

Or to solve a Murder Mystery, find out who benefits from the death.  Motive; Method; Opportunity.

Our mystery is Who Is Running This Scam? 

Apparently, both males and females are the Marks.  So who's the Identity Thief?

Who's playing "Let's You And Him Fight?" 

Someone is cleaning up, big time.  Bet on it.

Money, as I discussed in the Tarot Just For Writers posts, is a form of Power. 

Here are the Tarot posts in case you missed them.

To understand power intoxication, read this non-fiction book I reviewed in depth under DIALOGUE titled How To Write Liar Dialogue:

The principle used by the best grifters is that the mark must never know he's being played until the coups.  Then he falls down to the mud, head spinning, utterly paralyzed with the realization that he's been had.

Are we there yet? 

Are we aware we been had? 

Because that's THE END of this novel -- that's the point where the theme is rammed home into the guts of the story by the ram of the plot events.

Or are we waking up in the middle of the scam, not yet had, not YET fleeced?  Do we have a chance to turn the tables?

There's a massive, blockbuster Romance theme in that idea of turning the tables on the grifter running The Battle of the Sexes, but if you try to write it outside SFR or Paranormal Romance, you will have a hard time selling it -- because it will be deemed implausible. 

If you don't think The Battle of the Sexes is a scam yet, find another explanation for the entire kerfuffle over that SFWA Bulletin cover and a reasonably innocent blog post by a guy who apparently is being played by the grifters behind this thing. 

Why is the Battle of the Sexes unwinnable if it is a battle at all and not a scam?

If it isn't a setup, if we're not being had, then what would the world be like after one side or the other WINS? 

Post-apocalyptic is very popular right now -- J. J. Abrams TV Series, REVOLUTION being only one of many examples.  Think of all the zombie stuff that nearly took over the world.  We are obsessed with "what will happen after all this falls apart?" 

What if the apocalypse is not vampires, zombies, werewolves, EM Pulse attacks, nano-whatevers?  What if the apocalypse is "we been had."  What happens after that?

Here are some comments I made online that convinced me to try to start this Theme-Conflict Integration series now instead of next year.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg: If there really is no difference in capability and potential, in respect due for accomplishment, between male & female humans, then why is every comment on this issue based on the assumption that there is a difference? If we believe what we're preaching, we should behave accordingly. There IS NO SUCH THING as "sexism" because it's based on a false premise. So to "fight back" as if the enemy has a case is to legitimize that case. We shouldn't be fighting. We should be explaining, as Starla Huchton pointed out -- because THEY HAVE NO CLUE WHAT THEY'RE DOING WRONG.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg: Consider the 'glass houses' issue, and first ask yourself what WE are doing wrong. Certainly we can't be entirely correct on every underlying issue in the SF vs SFR confrontation? Find the hole in our argument, fix it, then explain to "them" where the hole is in their argument. We should do a workshop at a con where everyone has read the same pair of novels demonstrating the dichotomy, and explain where both sides are right, and where both sides are making errors.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg: Look on Ann Aguirre's blog entry comment 387 by Carole Ann. She is from the UK. CONSIDER women are proven just as capable of being techs, and we read the SF-war-stories just as avidly, love ACTION (there is such a thing as action-romance, I hope you've noticed!), and we have attracted a number of men into reading, writing and discussing SFR. Think about what Carole Ann told us in that comment -- How can you win a "war of the sexes" and it not be a Pyrrhic Victory? The whole point of Romance is men and women love each other, fit together, make dynamite teams. Somewhere in History someone suckered us into thinking in terms of War. Do we have to let "them" (whoever they were) set our agenda?

And from Gini Koch's blog 

Gini Koch says she has nothing to prove, and I think she's nailed it.  There is no controversy, there is no war of the sexes, there is NO CONFLICT here and thus NO STORY.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Killing Characters

I finally got around to reading THE GAME OF THRONES (and watching the first episode of the TV series). You’ve probably heard the joke that goes, “George Martin’s Twitter account got canceled because he killed off all 140 characters,” and from only the first installment of the series, I understand the joke. How do you feel about the deaths of major characters? Not in a work labeled as tragedy, where it’s expected, but in other kinds of dramatic fiction? Sometimes letting a protagonist meet a heroic end works, as in THE ROBE, where Christian converts Marcus and Diana joyfully embrace martyrdom on the final page. However, that kind of scenario violates most readers’ expectations of most novels.

Lots of people die in GONE WITH THE WIND (after all, much of it takes place during a war), including Melanie, a major character. She’s still a secondary character, though, and her death has a critical, plot-justified impact on the development of Scarlett, the protagonist. I had a different feeling about the death of Duncan’s beloved Tessa in the HIGHLANDER TV series. Not that I couldn’t accept having the hero’s lover die as a contribution to his character development, but that her fate was so pointless. Immediately after getting rescued from the villain, she got murdered in a mugging. This incident was probably intended to reflect the randomness of real life, but I found it dramatically unsatisfying. J. K. Rowling killed Harry Potter, but not really. If Harry’s sacrifice had resulted in his permanent death, readers would have been outraged—justly, in my opinion. In a seven-book saga centered on a single protagonist, the author has an implied contract with the audience to reward the hero’s efforts and sufferings. How about a novel with an ensemble cast, such as GAME OF THRONES? I was shocked when the closest that novel has to a main protagonist, and one of the few thoroughly admirable persons in the cast of characters, got killed off at the whim of a tyrant. (I won’t go into further detail in case you haven’t read the book.)

In a “nobody is safe” fictional universe, do you appreciate the realism of knowing anybody can die, just as in real life? Or does the death of a central character turn a book into a wall-banger for you?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Theme-Character Integration Part 4 - Selecting a Setting by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration Part 4 - Selecting a Setting 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Below you will find 8 steps to Selecting a Setting.

From the Amazon Vine program, I got a pre-publication proof copy of   QUEEN OF THE AIR, a True Story of Love & Tragedy at the Circus, by Dean Jensen, published by Crown.

I chose it partially because I remembered the posts we've had here on Setting:

I selected this nonfiction book from the books offered by Amazon for review because I've long been a circus fan.  One of my first ambitions (like maybe 5 years old?) was to be a circus flyer, but I was told that you could only be that if your parents were and you were born into it. 

That was not exactly untrue.  There is a genetic disposition that underlies acrobatic talent, and the Circus was and still is a difficult society to break into. 

So many years later, when Marion Zimmer Bradley took me on as a writing student, and I mentioned CIRCUS as a passion, and my (as yet un-realized) ambition to create a brand new circus act which could only be appreciated by interstellar audiences, she revealed a project to me that she had been working on for about 20 years.

I've talked about MZB a great deal here, and I've mentioned this book many times, so I'm going to assume most of you have read it by now.

MZB used the various drafts of her circus novel (working title Flyers -- ultimately the publisher required the title change) to teach me many, many craft tricks that I'm passing on to you here.  But I had not thought of the connection between this discussion of Theme-Character integration and Catchtrap until I was more than half way through Queen of the Air.

Reading this new non-fiction circus history that covers the same time-period that Catchtrap does, and summarizes and presents the exact same source material that Marion used (and which I dug into as I was studying her drafts), I suddenly realized that put together the non-fiction and the novel, illustrate exactly what I've been talking about in the Theme-Character Integration series.

I pointed out that I've been using an analysis of novel structure that distinguishes sharply between Story and Plot. 

All professional writers that I know use this distinction habitually, and exactly as I do, exactly as I was taught by writers and editors.  It's just that everyone calls the working parts of a novel by different terms, so new writers are always confused.

A finished work has these parts blended and integrated so deeply that the reader can not tease them apart to see how the parts were put together in the first place.  A finished novel is an iPhone -- you can't get the case open, but it makes pretty pictures on the front! 

So when a new writer gets "an idea for a novel" and just can see the whole finished product in their mind, they don't know what to do to achieve that exact novel.  They know what they want to write will be exactly like the other books on the market, maybe like some best sellers, yet different, distinctively better!  But now, looking at a blank screen, what WORDS DO YOU PUT DOWN to make people see your story the way you do?

This is a difficult and discouraging moment for beginning writers. 

The answer is to take those marvelous novels that you've reread so often, that you want to write a book that will be better than, and analyze them for the component parts.  You have to destroy the novel, take the cover off, take a microscope and pick the parts out with micro-tweezers and find out where the parts came from.

In these advanced craft posts titled Theme-something-integration, I've been showing you how to RIP A THEME FROM THE HEADLINES, to grab some epic story that exemplifies the issues and angst of the current times and cast it into a NOVEL. 

And as I've been showing you this process, I have not once thought that I learned it from Marion Zimmer Bradley while studying her early drafts of FLYERS. 

FLYERS became CATCHTRAP and burst on the scene, became a best seller, and opened many amazing doors to MZB's other non-SF, somewhat fantasy, writing.  MISTS OF AVALON followed, "the women of King Arthur) and became a made-for-TV movie and spawned sequels.  MZB's struggle with Catchtrap paid off big time.  She got the idea for Catchtrap from "The Headlines" I've been telling you to mine for theme.  And those headlines are delineated and summarized in the new non-fiction book Queen of the Air. 

Watching MZB struggle to turn FLYERS into CATCHTRAP is probably not the first place I learned to mine the headlines, but it is where the techniques finally came to vibrant life inside my own mind. 

MZB did not set out to teach me this.  Not on purpose.  Mostly because she didn't know she knew. 

She was a supremely talented writer.  She was born able to just do these things.  She was writing and even started selling in her twenties.  She just jumped in and started producing words -- lots and lots of words, most of which didn't say anything, but painted a picture. 

Her assault on the project of creating this circus novel was the same. 

She wrote lots of character sketches and scenes where people just talk to each other but nothing happens.  Then she extracted, cut and tightened, focused and re-focused the theme without consciously thinking about it.  She often didn't know the theme of a novel she had written until she reread it years later.  Most of her books were written in a few months, sent in, published and that was that.  CATCHTRAP as I said was written and rewritten over 20 years (as were a couple other projects that weren't SF or Fantasy). 

Remember that I've pointed out in this Theme-Character integration series that Character is about the story -- and the plot is external, about the events that happen TO the character.

Because the events that happen to the character are caused by the character's actions which come from the character's decisions, which are often based on emotions triggered or focused (but not caused) by something another character did -- because the events are "integrated" into the character like that, it is very difficult to tease apart a finished work and say "this belongs to the story" and "this belongs to the plot."

Story and Plot when you're finished have to be almost the same thing.

But when you're trying to sort out what you want to write in your own mind, when you're facing that blank screen, you may need to know the difference between story, plot and theme, in order to figure out where to start. 

Before you can figure out where in your character's life his story starts, you sometimes need to have an idea of where (in the world or out of it) the character IS.  (i.e. you need a SETTING.)

Now previously, I pointed out that a novel ends where the Main Character (Point of View character) is finally and definitively impacted by the LESSON stated by the THEME. 

When the PLOT EVENTS drive the THEME home into the character's inner-mind and ram their way into the STORY, you have come to THE END (and should stop writing; many new writers miss that point because the opening is in the wrong point in the character's life).

To create such an explosive ending, clarify the theme in your own mind.  State it as a lesson the characters are presented with, reject, run from, flee at all costs, bankrupt themselves trying to avoid, and finally - finally-finally -- have to stand there and absorb the impact of THE TRUTH.

OK, so now read QUEEN OF THE AIR.

Now re-read CATCHTRAP.  (you can skim real fast if you've read it before).

And here's what I saw reprising the historical facts I'd learned while studying FLYERS being transformed into CATCHTRAP. 

MZB was as taken by "Circus" as an artform as I was, probably at a similar age.  She dug up the history from before she was born and from when she was a little girl, and just absorbed the HEADLINES.

She zeroed in on what makes a circus STAR -- what captures audience imagination -- and focused on the history of the flying trapeze (which actually isn't all that long!)

She distilled out of the headlines and the gossip-stories about flying stars (Cordona in particular) a THEME -- a thesis, a lesson, a reality that her characters would deny and then finally have to accept.

That theme was embodied by the idea that the fueling essence of what makes A STAR -- (in any type of stagecraft, but particularly exemplified in FLYING) -- is sexuality.  Not especially sex-appeal, but the driving force of ART IN GENERAL is sexuality.

That's the theme ript from the headlines.  (read QUEEN OF THE AIR, really!)

The non-fiction book does not dig that deep into the material, but all the clues MZB discovered prying this stuff out of newspaper accounts and magazine articles are just laying there on the surface of the events described in this historical summary of Cordona's making the Triple the eye-popping feature of RINGLING BROTHERS BARNUM AND BAILEY CIRCUS.

MZB's corollary to this is that there are those who invent tricks, and those who perfect tricks.

I've found that to be true throughout all the Arts! 

It's not "sex sells"  -- in fact, I would argue that sex doesn't sell, and publishing and TV/movies are about to discover that. 

It's not sex that appeals to audiences.  It's ART that appeals to audiences.

Raw life-force of sexuality fuels the ART that appeals to audiences.  That fuel source is what distinguishes some art from other art.  The type of art fueled by sexuality's life-force is the type that rockets to the top of the charts.  

ART SELLS -- sexuality is the rocket fuel that causes art to be created. 

The trick that has been "invented" is to rip the veneer off the Art and reveal the underlying raw sexuality.  But how much fun is an iPhone you've busted the cover off of? 

The next step, the next big blockbuster (and it could be a Science Fiction Romance Novel!) will perfect that trick -- will make it repeatable and explosively popular.  Sexual-power will become more sellable when the audience can't see how the trick is performed.

How much fun is it to read a plot-outline?  To read a story-outline?  A Beat Sheet? 

There are peculiar people like you and me who get their jollies out of playing with these component pieces, but most people like their entertainment integrated, that is, they  like their iPhone to have a cover and a pretty picture on the screen, with nice clear sound, rather than have all the components laid out across a desk top one tiny, nearly invisible piece after another. 

To stick with the iPhone analogy, consider that the electricity stored inside the battery is the sex, the picture on the screen is what we buy the device for.  Without the well charged battery connected to all the components, the device is pretty useless.  But when fully charged, that device is sexy as hell.  (OK, there are other brands perfecting that trick, and like tantric sex, they have longer lasting batteries.)

So in the creation of a Best Selling Novel, you start with something that catches your attention in today's HEADLINES.  (for MZB that was circus flying, but any topic that intrigues you will do). 

1) rip your topic from the headlines (separate it from reality)
2) research it's history in depth in reality
3) figure out WHY IT INTRIGUES YOU -- why is theme, theme is lesson
4) figure out what lesson you, as an ARTIST, see that others don't see
5) clarify a statement of the lesson you see ( Sexuality is driving force of Art was MZB's)
6) Take those real people (as MZB took Codona) and re-imagine them as Characters who can and must learn this lesson you have discovered (separate your Character from the reality of the people).
7) Find the setting that makes it necessary and inevitable for that Character to learn This Lesson.

To achieve step 8, use the SETTING to generate the EVENTS of the PLOT that will ram the lesson home into the character's story.

That's why choice of SETTING is important, and it is not arbitrary or random.  Setting is not an independent variable.  Change the setting, and you change the genre, which can change the theme.

MZB chose CIRCUS as the backdrop for a story that had to do with explaining to non-artist readers what it is about ART that drives individuals to take risks, to live cheap and poor, to refuse to give up doing what they do just because others reject them.

When separated from his Art, the Artist whithers away to dust as a character, becoming directionless, and making choices that are obviously disastrous but just not caring about the results of those choices. 

The only thing that matters in life is that Art, and that Art (and thus life) can't exist without that sexual fuel. 

If you compare QUEEN OF THE AIR with CATCHTRAP you will see, almost point for point (including the relationship between circus flying and movies, stunt doubling, etc etc) exactly where MZB got her best seller material, and how she changed that material to be unrecognizable yet identical.

Very possibly, the most important thing you can learn by a close comparison of these two books is how to make a thematic point off the nose, how to say it without saying it, how to show-don't-tell, and still be abundantly clear about what you are saying.

Characters, like people, learn their lessons best when they have no clue what they've learned.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Who Is a Fan?

Recently one of my e-mail lists had a discussion about whether the same person can be both a fan and a scholar of a particular area of fantasy, SF, etc. The consensus was that a scholar can definitely also be a fan. But the list didn’t reach a consensus on what makes someone a fan.

The stereotype that “fan” implies uncritical enthusiasm was quickly disproved. As several people pointed out, fandom often involves encyclopedic knowledge of an author, TV series, etc., and fans notoriously enjoy nitpicking inconsistencies and other defects in their beloved material. And fan publications can feature in-depth analysis as insightful as any academic article.

So what defines a “fan,” as opposed to someone who enjoys a certain body of work but wouldn’t claim that designation? (A member of my family recently remarked about a TV show he’s fond of that he considers himself a fan of it but “not a FAN.”) Is it enough to have watched every episode of a program or read every book in a series? Does one have to pore over the material repeatedly and learn the plots and characters well enough to pass a trivia contest? Or is a true fan someone who engages in fannish activities such as reading fanzines, writing fanfic, and attending conventions?

I’d say it’s up to each individual, regardless of defined categories, whether to identify himself or herself as a fan. Many people, however, recognize different levels of involvement as the threshold for that self-identification. Where do you locate that boundary?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Theme-Character Integration Part 3 - Why Did Spock Become Popular

Theme-Character Integration Part 3 - Why Did Spock Become Popular
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Last week, in the context of the criticism of Science Fiction Romance novels,  we looked at the TV Series Vampire Diaries, a Fantasy, and Gray's Anatomy, a mundane Series, so now let's look into a Science Fiction series.  Of course, Star Trek leaps to mind.

Part 1 of this skill integration sequence is here:

Previously we discussed What Does She See In Him (an essential ingredient in firing up a love life)

Note there is a rising attempt by David Gerrold and many folks long involved in the series to create a new Star Trek TV Series, and it's rolling along, even though it fell just short of it's Kickstarter goal.

Here is the Kickstarter for Star Wolf email sent out on June 3, 2013, (or thereabout).

----------QUOTE ----------------
...we almost made it... Just almost!  (Well, maybe we were a little further off...)

It has been heartening to see so many people pledge their support for

I want you all to know that I absolutely consider you all honorary members of our official Launch Crew, and will tell you now, that we will go on! 

Although the Kickstarter is over, we want to keep all of you...our fans of great Science Fiction involved.

By the end, we received an incredible amount of media attention and letters of support (from including Bill Prady (BIG BANG THEORY) and of course Spock himself (Leonard Nimoy)! This well help greatly in our next steps.

We're 100% dedicated to launching, and the success of the series and we will be updating you on our progress in making it happen.

Presently, we're starting our own mailing list to make it easier to reach you, and will soon be converting '' as our headquarters for the series, and will be posting updates as we proceed...

You're support here touches our hearts, and as a thank you for your enthusiasm, those who pledged, AND sign up for the mailing list will receive the PDF of the pilot episode script on Wednesday (to give people time to send us their e-mail addresses. When we send out the e-mail, the link to the PDF will ONLY be available for a 24 period, so please send us your e-mail address soon!  (If you send us all of your contact info, mailing address, etc., you may get a surprise in the mail in the future.

So please... send us an e-mail right away to:


As for those hard earned dollars you're still holding onto, we would of course ask you to pledge again if we were to start another campaign but as for exciting projects being funded now, we'd like you to take a look at:


Our friends at Alec Gillis, Lance Henriksen, and Dennis Skotak (ALIENS, TITANIC, X2), (The Star Wolf's VFX Director of Photography). Are working to make a great practical effects sci-fi horror film that celebrates old-school animatronics and Makeup FX.

They are taking a stand for great live-action visual effects, and are truly a great collection of talent.  We love them, and you'll love their work too.  So PLEASE... seriously consider showing them the great support you've shown us, and we'll all enjoy their terrific work soon.

From the bottom of all of hearts, thank you for your pledge, your time and your support.


Thank you again!  We love you guys!

-- David C Fein
----------END QUOTE------------

So we'll be seeing and hearing a lot more about Star Trek coming at us from every direction. (good, I say!)

You all know I'm primary author of the Bantam Paperback, STAR TREK LIVES! which blew the lid on Star Trek fandom and ignited the revival campaign at the time the fan-run conventions had just begun.  At that time, no way on Earth would any professional in Hollywood (movies or TV) ever listen to a word any mere viewer said.  Nobody cared what we thought.

There was no feedback loop from consumer to producer that could guide them in creating entertainment that people would pay for.  They thought what they thought because of statistics generated by phone-survey firms and the TV set-top devices that Nielson used to monitor what a couple hundred select houses watched.  Statistics was just in its infancy.

Today we have that giant data center the US Government just fired up to collect all the internet traffic -- it will eventually be able to mine out exact numbers of how many watch what, and maybe even track what you, yourself, actually watch or spend time on.  Hollywood (if it can afford the fees) will be able to determine in advance what will be popular.

Today, there's all the streaming stuff -- audiences are wholly fragmented, but that gives new writers a chance to break in and create an audience for the stuff that author really wants.  Of course, the technical bar keeps getting higher.  To get your writing "out there" you need a full time tech specialist (or 10). 

So let's look at what a writer can do that replicates what Star Trek did to change the entire world of entertainment, and make "them" pay attention to "us."  The thing is, (considering the SFWA Bulletin Controversy we discussed last week), this is exactly what we need to do with SFR.

Star Trek actually launched the SFR genre via fan fiction -- fiction mostly written by women for women, and all about the real lives of the Enterprise crew and other crews of other ships in Star Fleet.  Today, all that fanfic pours online, all mixed up with beginning writers immature attempts.

Many people scoff at young writers writing about how the adult emotional world seems to them.  I don't.  I see these initial attempts to communicate what's important about life as the absolutely necessary work of training up a writer's mind.  All the best writers I've ever met started in childhood writing exactly what you see flooding fanfic online (nearly drowning out more mature attempts). 

Listen to the scoffing at young writers -- that's the scoff being aimed at Science Fiction Romance novels!  Same attitude.  Really.  Think about it.  If you have that attitude about young writers, can you seriously ask working SFWA members not to scoff at you?  Karma can be an issue in life.

So How Do We Replicate Star Trek?

The key question is why was Spock so popular?

He wasn't expected to be by Hollywood TV crafters, not even Gene Roddenberry! 

The "Spock" that gripped the world was originally two characters, a woman First Officer called Number One who was from a culture that was emotionless.  And the half-Vulcan Science Officer who was called Spock but behaved with obvious emotional reactions (especially the appreciation of beauty.) 

The Network wouldn't allow a woman to be in command on the bridge, to boss men around.

There's that sexism that exploded all over SFWA earlier this year!  It is not FROM SCIENCE FICTION, despite what SFR writers think.

That sexism is from OUR OWN CULTURE.

That sexism isn't gone, and it isn't just a few remnants inside SFWA that harbor this toxic stew.

So Gene Roddenberry's solution to that problem (he was the least sexist man of his age I ever knew) was the classic solution every beginning writer learns.

What you do when your THEME isn't "working" can be one of three things:

a) divide one character into two
b) combine two characters into one
c) add a new character

In TV and Film, adding characters adds expense, and that can prevent production from ever happening. 

GR wanted ST to get on the air.  He COMBINED TWO CHARACTERS -- and it made that one character much more powerful.

GR combined Number One and the original Spock into ONE CHARACTER -- our emotion-challenged Spock.

GR saw this new Spock as having emotions that he repressed. 

That is an anti-science-fiction premise that I rejected long before I met him and got to ask what he had in mind.  I wrote my fan-fic universe, Kraith, to explore "What If Spock Really Is What He Says He Is?"  Taking people at their word always leads to interesting territory and always generates great science fiction!

I did a very deep analysis of what makes Spock popular in STAR TREK LIVES!  I stand by that analysis, and it's still working today.

But today's world (as I've spent many posts here describing) is in massive shift due to new communications channels -- the web being only one.  Lately, Verizon (which provides fiber optic TV feeds as well as landline phone and cell phone) is offering TV channel feeds direct to your phone or other mobile device.  Take your TV shows with you, watch any time. 

The un-tethering of the world is going to affect what fiction gets popular enough to afford expensive productions, and that will change everything -- except the core essence of what makes a story gripping and energizing.

That core essence is theme-character integration -- and all the theme integrations with other story elements.  But what really grabs and won't let go is character. 

How do you build a gripping character for today's media distribution methodology?

You do what has always worked.  You look at what is popular today, and ask WHY? 

The TV show The Vampire Diaries is very popular -- as are other Vampire works.

OK, why are Vampires popular and what is it about The Vampire Diaries that is rattling teen minds?

As noted last week, the element of The Vampire Diaries that is drawn from the deepest (and thousands of years old) depths of human psychology is the combination of Good vs. Evil with Emotion vs. Logic.


Remember last week we noted how the THEME-CHARACTER integration in The Vampire Diaries is a perfect "show don't tell" for the philosophical discussion this entire world is having (with guns blazing all over the Middle East) about the place of EMOTION in the scheme of LIFE.

Vampire Diaries modified the Vampire myth so that when these vampires turn OFF emotion, they become the typical Evil Menace type of selfish, power-hungry, dominating, tyrannical, human-eating, remorseless, force of evil that Vampires used to be in the standard myth.

If they turn ON their emotions, they become pretty ordinary humans, spanning the spectrum of good, bad and who-knows?

The thematic statement is woven into the Worldbuilding seamlessly and thrusts up into the characters as they play out the plot-events. 

Emotion = Good.

VULCANS are depicted as having the reputation of looking like the Devil (they're greenish instead of reddish -- the remake Spock isn't so greenish), and of being Emotionless.

That premise arose in the 1960's and ignited sexy-panting-furor.

Spock was the sexiest thing EVER on TV or in Film, and that's proven by all the non-fiction now being written analyzing the appeal of Star Trek and the history of it.

In fact, I have an essay in yet another book on the topic of Star Trek fandom.  When it's published, it will appear on my amazon page

And at the top of the right column you should now find an 'EMAIL ME WHEN THERE ARE NEW RELEASES BY JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG"  -- so you can keep up without effort.


Hmmm, and that dates back to the 1960's and 70's - the sexual revolution begun by the "Hippies" and then carried into adulthood and the workplace in the 1970's by "Women's Lib." 

And it still works today.

EMOTION = GOOD has surfaced now into explicit, on the nose style, dialogue. 

But it works even better when sunk deep into Worldbuilding as in The Vampire Diaries (which now has spun off THE ORIGINALS, the older and most Evil of the Vampire-Siblings with a leader who wants to be King.)  We're talking major success for EMOTION = GOOD on the commercial markets. 

Here's a link-list index post to Theme-Plot integration

I'll have to collect Theme-Worldbuilding Integration at some point.  Here is #6 with links to previous parts to that series.

And here is my post on Star Trek: Into Darkness:

It has links to prior posts in that series.

It is followed by Part 12 about a Tom Clancy book/movie.

The essential ingredients to creating your "Spock Character" are as follows:

1) Use the techniques I've been illustrating for studying our "real" world, the world of your reader, from an angle and at a depth the reader will not be aware of.  See my posts on THE ART OF WRITING.

2) Extract the THEME of your reader's world that's bugging them mightily and encapsulate that theme in a simple statement (like EMOTION = GOOD and THOUGHT = EVIL, but pick one of your very own, something that has true meaning to you personally) (this is what Gene Roddenberry did, but came up with 2-characters to state that theme, and the sexist thing really bugged him.)

3) CAST that theme into a Work by building a character, then building his/her world out around him from the essence of that character's internal conflict.  Remember Spock's EMOTIONLESS exterior covered a BURNING CURIOSITY -- and so he chose (against parental will) a career in Star Fleet to go where No Man Has Gone Before (sexist -- read last week's post on sexism).

4) Write your story to speak to your chosen audience in their medium of choice.  

5) Come back here next Tuesday for more.  We have barely scratched the surface of what there is to learn about fiction. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Human-Animal Hybridization

Experiments with inserting human genes into animals have, among other astonishing results, produced mice whose brains are 1% human. Here’s an article discussing some research projects that have produced human-nonhuman chimeras:

National Geographic

The most crucial question about these lab animals, as mentioned in the article, is “When do they become human?” If some future experimental hybrid contains enough human DNA to cross that threshold, what rights would it have?

I view efforts to grow human-compatible tissues in nonhuman creatures (if they’re treated decently) as an exciting advance toward solving the transplant organ problem. How would that application be different, in principle, from extracting insulin from the pancreases of animals? Other applications of this emerging technology look more problematic. However, I don’t agree with the person quoted as saying any such hybridization “diminishes human dignity.” Much less a different article I read recently, which characterized any mixing of human-animal DNA as an abomination on the same level as breeding viable human-ape babies.

Imagine mice genetically engineered to produce human sperm cells and ova. Nobody is attempting this bizarre project now, but something similar has been done with mice for pigs and goats:

National Geographic

Someday we might actually face the ethical and social problems of intelligent, humanoid animals living among us like the Underpeople of Cordwainer Smith’s classic stories.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt