Depicting Rational Fury
Here's the index post for this series on Depiction:
Last week we looked at The Flicker Men, a brilliant but purely science fiction novel.
Not much in The Flicker Men depicted the emotional tangles that drive human relationships and therefore govern (or fail to govern) the movements of large numbers of humans. There is, however, a great deal of emotion, and psychological truth underlying the actions of the characters. A solid, Happily Ever After Love Story, or a genuine Romance, could have changed all those events.
For example, if the main character had been living an HEA with wife and children, with brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, family reunions, weddings, birth celebrations -- if his life were peppered with events that held deep emotional significance on the positive end of the spectrum, then when he discovered the truth behind the structure of the Universe, that this universe is just a holographic representation created by another Universe's scientists, then he wouldn't have quit his job and destroyed his life with alcohol and drugs.
Yes, his self-destruction is "realistic" -- but it is not real in an HEA universe.
What if you take The Flicker Men premise, and add the dimensions of human emotion we deal with in the Romance Genre -- that is, take a pure science fiction novel about the impact of a dark discovery on an unstable man who stands alone -- and redesign the Characters so that they interact and bond in a psychologically healthy way?
We live in a new world, with the advent of smartphones and social networking. People growing up today will have a different idea of what a healthy relationship is and how to meet people, how to present yourself (you don't have to comb your hair before posting your first tweet of the day), how to share and thus dilute an emotional reaction.
Look at how people vent fury at a Flight Attendant or Grocery Clerk by posting vitriolic commentary, or embarrassing pictures, or scorning certain businesses by name. And those are mostly people who grew up before smartphones. What will the next generation think of as "healthy" psychology?
We are already seeing hints of what is to come in the entertainment media and the news media -- and in government, the military, even schools, college campuses, strip malls, everywhere decisions have to be made so that lots of people can move on through and get their objectives accomplished.
Accomplishing Objectives is what the Hero of the story does. If your main character does not accomplish his/her Objectives, you haven't found the character whose story you are telling. You are avoiding conflict by viewing events from another perspective than the one confronting opposition.
One neat way to re-align your thinking into that of a story-teller is to sit down with the Book of Psalms and just read it right straight through. Most of them are by King David, a Warrior King, and most of what he discusses with God is all about Enemies, his own enemies and God's enemies. It's all about Enemies, not about King David at all, and therefore it is about enmity in general and how to deal with it. Then go read through the Book of Kings, the stories of the Kings with their ups and downs, just blitz through it and don't regard it as "scripture" but as a simple template for the perpetually repeated story of humankind.
So after soaking up these classic psychological attitudes of the template of the Hero Paradigm, read through some of my posts on Targeting A Readership --
and how necessary it is for a writer to understand the world the reader lives in, and to incorporate that understanding into the worldbuilding deep inside and underneath (invisible to the reader) the rip-roaring just-for-fun story you are telling.
You've found the point in your main character's life where his/her story is happening. You've found the beginning point of that story, where the Character first confronts or stirs up the force that will oppose the Character's moves to Accomplish Objectives.
You've found "the stakes" -- what will happen if the Objectives are not accomplished.
Now you have to DEPICT how the Character who is living through this rip-roaring good story actually feels about Accomplishing the Objective, about what they think will happen if they don't, about what alternatives exist, about what alternatives the Character might generate that don't yet exist, and how to go about attaining an objective that does not yet exist with tools that do not yet exist.
In other words, the Hero of the story is the person who does not "do all I can" but rather creates new abilities. We see the yearning for this by the general readership in the popularity of the Meta-Human, Super-Hero stories on TV, and especially in fanfic even in mundane genres like the TV Series White Collar fanfic.
Look again at how King David generates new situations beyond his ability to create. He prays. He explains his situation to God in terms he knows God uses. On the validity of his understanding, David then suggests what God might do, or what objective He might allow. (smite my enemies; smite your enemies). Then look in the Book of Kings for what happened on the battlefield.
In Depiction Part 11,
we looked at depicting complex (galaxy sized) battlefields. And we discussed the galaxy sized battlefield with the added dimension of Time in reviewing the famous Romance writer, Jean Johnson's Theirs Not To Reason Why Science Fiction, Galactic War Series (which has spinoff novels we will be discussing.
Now look at the world around you.
You can do this real-world survey from various points of view rapidly and efficiently with the app or browser version of http://flipboard.com -- it is a news aggregator. Apple is launching a new News Aggregator, and there are many others around, but I am currently using flipboard where you can subscribe to a multitude of international news sources. Just reading the headlines is instructive -- stop and read a full article or two with awareness of its source, compare the same Event covered by other sources, notice the commentary posted on blogs (yes, you can subscribe to blog feeds on flipboard), and get an idea of what "the world" looks like to your Target Readership.
You can follow my news item selections here:
Soon, you'll be making your own magazines. The point of making a magazine (for a writer) is to collect stories to read in juxtaposition while putting yourself into the mind and emotional framework of people you'd never voluntarily associate with.
Now, to depict a Character who is the Hero of their own story, but not necessarily Heroic by nature, you have to depict the ups and downs, the contrasts, in the Character's emotional life.
Most new writers will insert long paragraphs of multi-syllable words telling the reader all about how and why this Character feels this or that, maybe including the Character's early life story (how they were abused as a child), and go on and on about why the Character feels as they do.
Seasoned writers do it in dialogue one-liners, maybe half-a-line with lots of empty space on the page.
Here are a few posts discussing dialogue, its creation, and its use in plot-character integration:
Yes, we've been at this topic a long time, but it is literally endless. Every time "the world" changes, every year that new young readers take up a genre that had been "too old" for them, the details of how to write great stories change -- but the essence of the framework, the techniques, do not change. They have not changed since Shamans told history over the campfire.
That image shows how to write dialogue. Characters, like real people, don't talk about what they are talking about. That, in screenwriting (see Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! screenwriting books), is called "off the nose" dialogue. You execute it with lots of white space on the page -- the empty space speaks volumes.
Dialogue is all about communicating. It is not real speech transcribed. It is point of view, conflicting subjectivities.
How a Character speaks, and how the Character speaks differently to different Characters, depicts the Character's character.
Dialogue is the writer's tool for convincing the reader that this Character whose story is being told is actually a perfectly level-headed, rational, sane person who totally understands what is TRUE (not "Truth" in that diagram but one of the shadows of Truth.)
The trick you play on your readers, the wink-and-a-nod agreement between you and your reader, lies in convincing the reader that you, the writer, know "Truth" -- all sides of it -- but understand how the Characters you are following each see only part of the truth, and the shadow of Truth that they see is True.
How do you resolve a conflict between True and True?
Also remember humans don't generally change their minds about what is True because they lose an argument. Once the heat of the moment is over, they look again and see what is True -- and it is just that, true, therefore since it is true it can't be false! So they go back to their old way of thinking.
Here's an example "ripped from the headlines." Internet Security is a huge issue in your reader's world. Since it is a huge issue, politicians have leaped in to offer to solve your problem for you (which is their business model in action).
So we have an internet supporting the "world wide web" (and a Dark Web run outside the purvue of Government). The Internet was built via a few Universities connecting mainframes in order to share research. It attracted graduate students who wanted to play Star Trek games, and set about improving the connections. Off across the Atlantic, brilliant contributions created the foundation of what we call today a "browser."
All of this was created by well meaning, good people who couldn't think like criminals to save their lives. The absolute most wrong-doing any of them might have been guilty of would have been pre-empting the credit line on a paper nobody but peers would ever read.
For years, that was the sort of person who used email and the internet. Then commercial interests swept in to make a profit, and on their coat-tails came criminals, and after them came true nefarious actors.
Now governments want to make laws outlawing the "dark web" or outlawing encryption.
As with guns, law-abiding citizens will not have encryption but the outlaws and government-sponsored-hackers from our Enemies (think King David) will have unbreakable encryption.
Legislators want to make laws that say that software manufacturers have to leave 'a back door' in all their software so that government can break into anything (given a court order.)
The argument is that without being able to stealthily penetrate widely-used email or blog, social network software, and the backbone servers of the Internet, they can't protect the population from Terrorists. That's TRUE. Look at that diagram carefully. It's true, but is it truth?
The FBI or CIA or whatever it's called in your country is probably saying what is in fact true -- that they can't break the encryption the Enemies are using. (think King David; think Hero).
We have tasked "government" and thus the law-makers with the Objective of "keeping us safe" and defined "safe" as NO POSSIBILITY OF HARM EVER. We are not "safe" if we feel (rationally feel) that there exists a finite possibility that we might be harmed in some way.
Is that a "heroic attitude?"
Is it a rational attitude? Can you depict the rationality of a Character who has that attitude?
OK, now consider King David, and creating impossible alternatives that suddenly come to exist. Today we call King David's attitude, "thinking outside the box."
So let your Character who rationally chooses the objective of "no harm can be threatening my cyber-life at all, ever. I am safe online," discover another True thing, a different shape.
Again, think dialogue and white space. An argument doesn't have to use the vocabulary of the subject matter. Innuendo and inference speak much louder. Go watch The Godfather, or read the script.
For example, your Character discovers that the software that provides this "safety" makes his computer run unacceptably slowly. Understanding the problem, he wants to buy a faster computer, but can't because it costs too much. Only the very rich can afford smartphones or computers that have enough capacity to run the Government Mandated version of ordinary software.
Lets suppose that the Government backdoor lets the government snoop into your stuff, but at the same time, as a trade-off, actually does prevent malware, viruses, worms and whatever comes next. Remember, this is science fiction, so a couple of absurd concepts have to be made plausible.
But the price is slowing hardware, or only the rich can afford to function at full speed in this new world.
Or take another situation. Suppose the government mandated anti-encryption measure leaves you wide open to anything hackers want to do to you. But the government mandate does allow your paltry level of hardware to run at a good speed.
Take one of those scenarios, or create a different one, and let your Main Character whose story you are telling get out of High School and come up against the Cyber-Security Problem.
Now, some Characters would major in Law and become politicians. Others might go into Computer Science. A few might major in Divinity and become Preachers. Still others might major in Criminal Psychology. Then there's the drop-out who creates Facebook or Microsoft. A few might major in Literature and become writers.
Pick a Character, let his/her Enemy steal his Identity, or perhaps send him/her into the Witness Protection Program. Now what?
If this is a science fiction romance book you are writing, you can go research the Cyber Security field as a whole, all the way back to its origins, and perhaps the psychological origins of the concept Security, and re-think it. Perhaps you want to use a galactic setting, and introduce Alien Ideas about what constitutes cyber-security.
Consider, for example, re-defining "the problem" (again, think King David and generating impossible options such as "smite my enemy.").
The problem is there is an Enemy who has done you damage.
Unlike King David who voluntarily goes to a Third Party (God), here a Third Party comes along and offers to solve your problem for you, convincing you that it's their job to solve your problem.
You welcome that Third Party's solution, and pay the requested fee.
The Third Party's solution is to pepper your life with obstacles, making everything you do slower and more difficult, so you won't do anything that might let your Enemy harm you.
Meanwhile, the Enemy that is your problem has their path smoothed and sped up.
Since so much of your money went to paying your Third Party protector, and so much of what's left of your energy is expended overcoming the obstacles the Third Party created in your life to protect you, you therefore have very little left to fight your Enemy. You are now an unarmed, sitting duck etched against your Enemy's horizon.
Note that Kind David prayed to his Third Party to smite his enemies, pledging that his Enemies were also Enemies of the Third Party. King David requested help from a carefully chosen Third Party, made alliance, and was thus able to smite Enemies.
The Enemies felt that smiting, severely. The target of all that output energy was the Enemy, not King David, who fought most of these truly forlorn battles before he became King and thus took over "the government."
If your Main Character is a Hero, his/her "Security" does not consist of being disabled before Enemies by Friends or Hirelings. "Security" means Friends and Hirelings focus their smiting upon the Enemy, not upon the Main Character.
Since, in your reader's real life today, Cyber-security is accomplished by hampering the reader's ability to function without touching the reader's Enemy (hackers), you have an excellent chance of engrossing your reader with a tale of a world where the characters representing the reader's Enemy get the brunt of the smiting.
This happened when Google crowd-sourced spam filtering. Just take a look at your spam folder on gmail. Very seldom does a spam get through to your inbox. At one point, it was 300 spams to 1 genuine email.
Email users' rational fury was redirected by Google's crowd-sourcing data-mining to target The Enemy, whereupon The Enemy got the brunt of the smiting. Since a few spams still get through, and there are still a trusting few who click where they should not, spammers still try to bring down the Internet Backbone by overloading it with spam messages -- and they somehow make a profit. Or it is possible they are paid by foreign governments to make running Internet Backbone Servers more expensive -- with the objective of bankrupting the more advanced countries. Enmity.
Google didn't punish the recipients of spam, but let the recipients pour out their fury on the spammers.
Right now, your readers are feeling the government pouring out its fury (we must have access to your everything in order to protect you) on the readers of websites rather than on the disruptors (hackers) of web-services, web commerce, and reader privacy.
In our real world, we practice a principle, "Don't blame the victim." In the case of cyber security, the smartphone user, the web browsing public is the victim, but the only solution being offered is to punish the victim, hamper the victim with privacy restrictions.
Think outside the box. Suppose, your Aliens' idea of cyber security was to equip every victim with the ability to strike back at any intruder with lethal force? Suppose any hacker who penetrated a server had his/her equipment blow up in his face? Suppose the target of all efforts at protection was the Enemy, not the enemy's target.
OK, that isn't possible with today's hardware, software, and the whole psychology that created our Internet. Think King David. Think about an Ally that can do miracles.
That Third Party, that Ally, is the "Game Changer" you insert into your Worldbuilding.
Fury that your Main Character directs at his/her true Enemy will always seem rational.
Fury misdirected at the proponent of a different version of "Truth" (see the image above) that, while different, is still true, will not seem rational.
Your Hero may have irrational moments, and in those moments do things that later cause plot-complications, and serious trouble, but to be the Hero, your Character must fix what he/she has broken or ruined.
The Hero can't remain a Hero in the reader's eyes if the Hero spews vitriol or rage at another Character's TRUE facts without searching for that central figure that joins the Hero's True Facts to the Antagonist's True Facts -- thus revealing "The Truth" to both of them.
If both Hero and Antagonist are "rational" and furious for rational (true) reasons, then discovery of "The Truth" at the center of things will make them Allies, friends forever, possibly a Bonded Pair living Happily Ever After.
If one or the other clings to what is True because of Enmity for the other, the Fury will continue in a fight to the death.
The one exhibiting irrational fury is the one the writer has to kill off to give the reader "closure."
The Hero must win through to an unrestricted field where life can be re-created freehand, reflecting the Hero's own will, a field shared only with those the Hero chooses. That is one defining parameter of the Happily Ever After -- the ability to choose, personally and without restriction, who does or does not share your living space, how large that space is, and what it's shape is.
That means choice of profession, lifestyle, associates, and how loudly you play your music.
The writer can convince the reader of the rationality of a character's fury simply by allowing that fury to arise only against restrictions imposed by an Enemy or a Confidence Operator pretending to "protect" by "restricting."
"Happily Ever After" means you don't have to protect yourself, or pay someone to protect you, because your Enemy has been smited out of existence, and anyone with the power to harm you is your ally.