Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 7 -
Another Use of Media Headlines by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Another Use of Media Headlines by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Previously, we looked at how you can integrate current headlines into your writing by distilling the headline into a theme, then sinking it into the World you are building (e.g. creating objects, customs, Holidays, politics, in your world that illustrate your theme, so one single line of dialogue can crystallize that theme without belaboring it).
Below, we're going to discuss an example of that from the TV show Royal Pains and an illuminating article from Fortune Magazine on the famed 1% who are the subject of Royal Pains, and how to put the two together.
Here is Part 6 of this series with links to the previous parts. (Because I put lists of links in these posts, Google shuns them. Google has a lot to learn.)
Before we get to this (hot) topic of Theme-Worldbuilding Integration, here's an annecdote about the Sime~Gen RPG AMBROV X the story-driven Science Fiction RPG that could become the thin edge of the wedge to change the way the general public looks at the Romance genre (and its writers!).
Recently, I was at a doctor's office, and there was an intern following the doctor around.
I mentioned the elements of this blog entry flying into my face that morning ( while watching Royal Pains via DVR), and how the following range of topics dovetails into the whole Ambrov X video game project. The Fortune Magazine article I want to talk about here was in the magazine I'd been reading in the waiting room.
I handed her a flyer for the Sime~Gen novels and again mentioned that they are the foundation for a video game. She said SHE PLAYS VIDEOGAMES!
There is a huge prejudice (well known in gamer circles) against the women-gamers and women-game-writers.
Ambrov X has a woman in charge of the story writing (not me, and not Jean Lorrah). This splash-back against women in gaming is something I also found in an exchange on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade Group on Facebook.
So I handed this young doctor a flyer for Ambrov X.
Her smile lit the room.
I also mentioned that I had been watching the TV Series ROYAL PAINS. Turns out that, too, is a favorite in that doctor's office.
On this one particular episode of Royal Pains that I had just viewed, there was a bit of dialogue writing that was placed and framed to perfection, and forms the basis of this topic on the integration of Theme and Worldbuilding with the current NEWS HEADLINES.
Hankmed (the concierge doctor practice on this TV Series) is under threat from two sources.
On the one hand, the zoning regulations have been used to threaten to close down Hankmed because the local hospital had been closed and bought by a national chain of hospitals and Hankmed had picked up the slack by hiring more doctors and running a kind of mini-clinic in a residence not zoned for business.
On the other hand, the new hospital owners want to buy out Hankmed, hire the doctors, and run a concierge practice out of the hospital. (eventually they do that, but this episode was part of the debate -- see "debate" as one of the "beats" identified by Blake Snyder in the SAVE THE CAT! trilogy on screenwriting.)
So Hankmed is fighting on two fronts. The CFO (Hank's brother) wants to hire lawyers to fight the zoning board issue. His wife knows a more efficient way to deal with it. She delivers the THEME STATED (see SAVE THE CAT! Beat sheet) moment at exactly the right "beat" in the script.
"New Money hires lawyers to settle disputes; Old Money does it over cocktails."
She proposes throwing a cocktail party gala/extravaganza.
They try it - preparing swag to give away to make their case with the rich neighbors that Hankmed won't disrupt the neighborhood and should therefore get a zoning exemption.
As they are staging a speech to make this point, one of the older women of the neighborhood preempts the speech and declares that Hankmed can't help but disrupt because patients would be running in at all hours screaming for help.
As that is being rebutted, a patient (carefully foreshadowed earlier) runs in crying in pain, disrupting the party. Hankmed mobilizes to the emergency, thus making their opposition's point for them.
Crushed, Hank's brother insists he must hire some lawyers. Just about then, flower arrangements arrive thanking them, and Hankmed gets some new contracts from the rich neighbors, BECAUSE they responded to the emergency.
Old Money settles things over cocktails.
And that is a relevant point I want to make about our society today that points you to how to build a world and its society in such a way that it is totally alien to your reader, yet familiar enough to make sense.
We are, today, an extremely litigious society - we settle things with Lawyers at ever-increasing levels of fees for the lawyers. And we keep settling things by making new complicated laws that will make more lawyers richer. It used to be that to get rich, you became a doctor. Now, you must get a law degree.
---A side note:---
Decades ago, families raised their children to "follow in their father's footsteps" -- to go into the family business, etc. I'm not talking Middle Ages guilds. This was the early 20th century strategy for a cohesive family. ( Duck Dynasty meets The Waltons ) The strategy for beating a path out of poverty -- however grinding -- was to build a dynastic fortune. Each generation was tasked to take the meager inheritance, double it, and pass it on, again and again until the entire family rose to the top 1% .
The actual vision was that by building dynastic fortunes this way, that "top 1%" would become the top 10%, 20% etc -- and eventually everyone would be very comfortably rich.
It was a war on poverty with a multi-generation strategy. The current legal structure of Welfare, Food Stamps etc etc. was launched as "The War On Poverty" right after the tax laws were changed to PREVENT the building of dynastic wealth (e.g. the INHERITANCE TAX was one piece of that strategy.)
Most of your readers will not be old enough to remember the dynastic-war-on-poverty that was launched after the Civil War freed the slaves and created that dynastic view of wealth building out of the old Plantation Owner model. Most of your readers will believe that repealing an inheritance tax would destroy all hope of the poor person eeking out mere survival on government assistance programs. Your current readers don't remember how well the dynastic approach succeeded (which it did), nor do they remember any of the pitfalls created by dynastic wealth (the ne'er-do-well of the Victorian Romance was believable because people knew them in real life).
The Art of the Best Seller is founded on the writer's ability to articulate the beliefs, yearning desires, and wish fulfillment fantasies of the primary audience. And that Art is now finding its way onto the TV Screen in such bits of dialogue as: "Old money settles matters over cocktails." Memorize that line, and then go search your current world and create a bit of dialogue that encapsulates your theme.
---End side note---
So right after watching that ROYAL PAINS episode, I was reading this article from a very old magazine in the doctor's office.
You'd probably do well to read the whole article, if it's still available, but I want to particularly point out that it cites statistics indicating that the 1% Big Money Fortunes belong to people who have made that money themselves (i.e. NEW MONEY -- within one lifetime, not inherited.)
There is a rapid churn in "who" owns those fortunes, so the "money" is always "new" not accumulated dynasticly.
Those are the people with the money to BUY books (rather than borrow from a library or pick up a pirated copy.) OK, not maybe the 1% -- but the middle-class on the way up, or struggling to hold their own against the down-rushing tide of fortunes being shredded by the business cycle coupled to inheritance taxes that force the sale of businesses to pay the tax on capital transferred.
So here is the link and an excerpt -- and while reading remember that we already have a detailed history of "lifting everyone up" on record between about 1865 and about 1910 - 1935.
SUBTITLE: Instead of taking them down, shouldn't we figure out how to lift everyone up?
FORTUNE -- Alexis de Tocqueville famously chronicled American society's love of equality -- and its equally passionate pursuit of money. "The love of wealth," the French historian wrote in the 1840s, "is … at the bottom of all that the Americans do." America stands out among Western nations for its grudging, and often fawning, admiration for the wealthy classes it produces. With the road to riches seemingly wide open, Americans favor aspiration over resentment, envy over animus.
Except when they don't.
Rebellions against the rich are as much a part of the fabric of American life as the Horatio Alger myth. One year ago this month, that rebellion crystallized at lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, with the start of a series of autumnal protests called Occupy Wall Street.
During summer organizing meetings, anthropologist and former Yale professor David Graeber had hit on a brilliant marketing formula for the rebels: "Why not call ourselves the 99%?" he recalled asking fellow plotters. "If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians … why not just say we're everybody else?"
In a hotly contested presidential election year, that formula found easy political resonance. The 99% doesn't just mean the poor or the unemployed or even the hardhat crowd. It includes the vast middle class of blue collar and white collar and pink collar -- even the upper middle class. It's the 99% that defined America's post-World War II economic might and remains the target of any serious aspirant to the Oval Office. With head-spinning speed, the 1%-99% divide entered the vocabulary of journalists, politicians, and voters. More than ever in recent memory, both a presidential election and critical policy debates in Washington are being fought through this prism.
Sadly, it is a confusing and flawed prism, marred by hyperbole, half-truths, and unnecessary pessimism about what it means to succeed in America. Yes, in politics, perceptions do matter. Reports of CEOs making 231 times the average worker's pay, news of fat Wall Street bonuses often unhinged from performance, and images of executives flying to Washington on private jets to beg for bailouts feed fears that the system is hopelessly rigged toward the rich and powerful. But it's wrong to lump the 1% into a monolithic group of greedy, tax-avoiding, selfish capitalists. They are a lot different from what you might think.
MORE: Obama - a president ready for a showdown
Most of the 1.4 million taxpayers who make up the top 1% gained their wealth through their own efforts rather than by inheritance. This group consists of a large number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and small-time entrepreneurs, many of whom are working hard to create jobs. To vilify them is the wrong debate. It's a conversation that tends to cast blame on people who have made it to the top or anywhere near it, since Obama's tax proposal labels as "wealthy" households making more than $250,000 a year -- a comfortable income in Indianapolis (where the median home price is $102,000) but barely enough to afford a studio apartment in Manhattan, where tax rates easily hit 50%.
It's also a conversation that misses the point. Stirring resentment and pitting Americans against one another distracts from the harder and far more important conversation: how to jump-start the escalator for 23 million unemployed and underemployed -- and for those whose incomes were stagnating well before the 2008 recession. Diatribes against the 1% are provocative and ...
--------- end quote -------
Referencing my "side note" -- we want SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE novels to "enter the vocabulary" of journalists etc with "head-spinning speed" and need a coinage like that "1%" concept. So study this article's notation about the origin of the 99% phrasing.
Here's an article I found via a tweet from Random House that claims half of the adults in the USA read a book for pleasure last year -- a book? Harry Potter? Shades of Gray? Who knows, but half is the highest figure I've seen.
Usually, the figure I see (worldwide and including children) is that only about 5% of humanity (sometimes 10%) ever has read books for FUN -- or read "text stories" for fun. But a much larger percentage will watch TV Series, movies, videos, YouTube clips, and play videogames. There's something about text as a delivery medium that just doesn't have the "reach" to get beyond that 10%. And don't forget that is A BOOK, not "books" (as in every day spending 2 or 3 hours reading.)
Romance genre has a much bigger "reach" than the text medium can allow. Our subject, here on this blog, for the last few years has been how to present Romance genre to that larger audience in such a way that the HEA ending seems plausible to those who have no real-life model for it (e.g. the Romantically Impoverished).
More reading on the Estate Tax:
So back to the FORTUNE article.
FORTUNE also covers the opposite side of the argument, as I keep telling you good fiction must. In Romance, that means any given novel or story must cover the inevitable plausibility of the HEA as well as the view that the most one can get out of life is a Happily For Now.
Keep in mind, it's NEW MONEY that you are writing about and to.
Since the advent of the Inheritance Tax laws (or Estate Tax or Death Tax), the entire concept of "ever after" has been erased from our purview (yes, it did dominate our views before 1910-1935). Wealth, and thus worry-free living -- the feeling of stability, is gone, and we have only "for now."
Your primary audience is probably lower-middle-class, flush enough to buy a book, but not to think of themselves as rich (yet.)
Your THEME to build into your WORLD can be fleshed out with the thought processes taught in the older book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
That book outlines how to answer the challenge in the sub-title of this Fortune Magazine article:
SUBTITLE: Instead of taking them down, shouldn't we figure out how to lift everyone up?
But I don't think that book highlights (it's not a Dad kind of thought) the principle illustrated by Hank's sister-in-law: Old Money Settles Things Over Cocktails.
That is a particularized statement of an even more abstract principle, or philosophical paradigm. The theme element is behind that statement, while the statement is a particular application of that theme.
Put another way: "There's more than one way to skin a cat."
That's to say that there are at least two ways to say the same thing. The "same thing" you are saying is the theme, not the two different ways of saying it. Get at the abstraction behind what you are saying with the way you arrange the history, architecture, laws, mythology and sexual mores of the world you are building.
Here we're discussing a theme about problem-solving that says there are many solutions to any one problem.
A "problem" is a PLOT-CONFLICT, a synthesis that arises from the main character's internal conflict and illustrates the philosophical lesson the character is learning because of the events of the plot.
I have often said here that the flaw in many books I read (well published ones, too) is that the Events of the Plot do not HAPPEN TO the main character. The events happen, but not TO the character -- i.e. the character does not recoil under the impact of the event, then rebound along a different story-arc.
To avoid that kind of failure, you take a character, and you present that character with a problem. What the character does to solve the problem is the plot. What the character learns from the mishaps along the way to success is the moral of the story, the thing that changes the character, matures that character and causes the character to "arc." That's what I mean by Events happening TO the Character.
So take a financially poor character, present him/her with a problem and a choice among solutions, then, via the events (and deeds of others in the story), teach your character to problem-solve like "Old Money."
Consider the same Old Money/New Money dichotomy in another venue: the Martial Artist.
The beginner in Martial Arts, however fast-and-strong in a fight, goes into a fight with "something to prove" because his skills are New Skills. The winner, the mature fighter goes into a fight with nothing to prove, just a problem (the younger fighter) to solve. The mature fighter has Old Skills, and uses them differently. The Old Skills allow the mature fighter to solve the problem more efficiently. (remember the Karate Kid movies - or watch them again!)
Physical prowess, financial prowess, or romantic prowess, is all about how you apply power, not about how much power you have. It's about cost-efficiency. It's about elegance and strategy -- it's a video game RPG where you build a character who has Dynastic Prowess - training from the cradle in certain cultural attitudes.
Another cliche I love: The Bigger They Are; The Harder They Fall.
What Hank's sister-in-law (in the TV Series Royal Pains) said about how Old Money solves problems opened the possibility of solving the problem by a different (more cost-efficient) method than calling in the lawyers. She found another way to skin the cat by saving the cat with cocktails.
The CFO of Hankmed loves cost-efficient. In fact, your boss in any job will love cost-efficient because it's likely to get him (not you) a promotion.
Which brings us back to the Romance element here.
Common wisdom insists that what women want from their man is to be treasured for their personal, idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind-among-all-humanity traits, not physical beauty which is an attribute of most adolescent girls, or barely post-adolescent women.
Physical "beauty" is generally speaking a trait that blossoms at puberty (called pulchritude for a reason), and fades with the fading of reproductive proclivities. The flat stomach just begs a man to fill it with a baby.
But a marriage of Soul Mates can't be based on a trait that fades after a few years or few births. "What worth am I after my beauty fades, if all you treasure in me is my appearance?"
Here is an article worth an in-depth discussion on the nature of sexuality in humans.
One suggestion this article hints at is that male testicle size might be reduced by hands-on nurturing of their own children. Smaller testicle size is associated with good fathering and faithfulness. Maybe that's not true, but it's a dynamite plot thesis! Which is the cause; which the effect? A novelist can play that idea from every direction.
A science fiction romance novelist might conclude that all the cultural and religious systems created by and for humans are about domesticating the male of the species to fatherhood, and to that end, the building of dynasty is paramount.
Males must have a stake in their children, and their children's lives, so they won't run wild. That could be a Worldbuilding thematic element. A theme is a Philosophy, and Worldbuilding is the process by which a writer makes an abstract idea behind a Philosophy into something that the audience can SEE, something concrete, a symbol that has meaning.
If Life is all about offspring domesticating and taming the wild male, then the male of the species must build dynastic wealth ( create something to pass on to offspring ), so offspring will climb out of the inefficient beginner's mindset of New Money solutions and acquire the suave, smooth and efficient methods of the 1%'s Old Money (or Old Martial Arts skills) method of problem solving.
A theme/worldbuilding structure could be built to argue that destroying Dynastic Wealth (shades of the TV Show DALLAS !!!) via the tax code has destroyed the nuclear family and increased the incidence of warfare or violence as a method of problem solving (violence being the preferred method of dispute settlement for the testosterone driven male, the victim of large testicles.)
Read up on "performance enhancing drugs," which is a term I should add to the blog on misnomers.
Here's a CNN article summarizing legal moves on steroids:
General theory is that such steroids in high doses have been responsible for uncharacteristic violent out-bursts.
Just what kind of "performance" is being "enhanced" by the disproportionate elevation of male hormones? If a little is good, does that always mean a lot is better? Do they enhance a male's ability to be a good father? Is being a good father what it really means to be a Man? Is fatherhood manly? These are questions that can become thematic statements in the hands of accomplished writers.
Soul Mates mate not for "life" but for many "lifetimes." Just as in Dynastic Wealth, the strategy is multi-generational, and you will remember the vast popularity of the multi-generation saga. I expect that type of story to become very popular again, soon.
Therefore the attraction between Soul Mates can't be based on something transitory and incidental such as appearance.
So a woman wants to ignite a man's ardor via physical beauty, but needs to ignite a man's loyalty because of a trait that becomes better with age.
And it should be a trait the man doesn't have in himself and never knew he needed in a woman.
Hank's brother and sister-in-law portray the potential for such a Relationship -- she is beautiful (now), and growing in stability and wisdom under the influence of the CFO view of the world in terms of cost-effectiveness. And she is cultivating a career based on an interest in Art, and "now" works for an art auctioneering firm.
The TV Show Royal Pains is not a Romance per se, but it has Romances in it - one that seems to be succeeding after a rocky start, and another that has failed after a promising start.
Royal Pains is a TV Series that is story-driven, and Relationship based, liberally decorated with bits of "science" (medicine). Science, as a subject, is supposedly reserved for a 1% -- a tiny fraction of those who read.
Royal Pains is not science fiction but has all the elements of science fiction (the science is sort-of real, the story fiction). It has all the elements to intrigue and satisfy the Science Fiction Romance crowd without attracting the opprobrium we seem to be the target of these days, both in women writing Science Fiction and women in videogaming.
As I said above, thin edge of the wedge. Easy Does It. More Than One Way To Skin A Cat. Old money does it at cocktail parties.
by Jacqueline Lichtenberg