Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Depiction Part 31 - Depicting Random Luck

Part 31
Depicting Random Luck
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of the Depiction Series can be found here:

One bewildering criticism editors level at writers is, "But, why did this just happen???  Why did this Character deserve this?"

You can't sell the book by answering, "By sheer, dumb luck."  At least you can't unless the main Theme is luck as an "undocumented feature of the Universe."

Editors worry about readers finding a novel "contrived" -- nothing throws readers out of a novel faster than the impression that the writer just artificially threw something in because they didn't know how to get the story to go where they wanted it to go so the writer just forced it to go there, just said this is where the story is going.

That's "contriving" -- deciding what you want to happen in your story, and just writing that it happened.

In real life, we all know, things "just happen" at random, with bewildering and derailing impact.  Life just gets shattered for no discernible reason and you just don't understand it.  Nobody you ask can explain it.  It is just the way the world is, lump it.

But in fiction it is different.  We go to fiction for entertainment, and a  change of emotional framework, a different way to look at the world.  We go to fiction to walk in someone else's moccasins, someone who does not live in a random world of hurt.

Romance Novels are for people who do understand the world in terms of "luck" -- but in terms of both good and bad luck, and how those two types of events are connected through the depths of the Spirit -- through the Soul, and thus through Soul Mates.

The world is a tempestuous sea, and often our life's boat must plow straight through a hurricane, through the eye of the storm and out the other side to get to that peaceful tropical island of Happily Ever After.

The waves that batter us this way and that may seem random as they dump us under, but they are not random.  The Soul knows that, but we mortals can't see it, and don't grasp it.  But like a hurricane that swirls around a center, the storms that derail our lives do have a pattern behind them.

What angle we attack those ranks of waves from, which way we go relative to the wind, and how well we buckled our flotation harness, how well dressed we are against the cold ocean, and maybe what sort of boat (family, Church, community, work-friends, Facebook friends, etc) we have chosen to use, all determine how well and how easily we may survive.

All these choices (made long before adversity appears) depend on our Character -- how compromising, how careless, how obliviously accepting, how Prayerfully Faithful, how self-confident (with or without justification), how studious in researching, how strategically planning, how foresightful, depend on all the Character traits that are innate, and then honed by upbringing. Thus parenting matters, schooling matters, work experience matters, and the crowd you hang with matters.

We may imagine we see patterns in the furious and destructive waves driving us off our chosen life-course, or we may imagine them random, without a pattern.  Readers live in a real world where either or both of these views is their normal way of looking at the world.

But every one of your readers knows, at the Soul level, that there is sense behind this somewhere.

Some are convinced that it is incumbent upon them to figure out what that sense is.  Some know beyond doubt that there is no such sense, and we live in a random universe just imagining patterns because our brains can't process life any other way.  We are just animals, subject to whimsical floods of hormones -- unable to "resist" the temptations of the world, especially sex with the hottest one you have ever encountered.

These are two entrenched beliefs you will find in literature as far back as literature goes -- Ancient Greek and older.

We are animals, subject to animalistic drives -- and it is insane to fight those drives.

We are Immortal Souls here to learn harsh lessons, to suffer here so we may attain Heaven after death.

We all live in the same world, but SEE that world and the import of Events (novel plots) differently.

Reality is an optical illusion - like Rubin's Vase - two vases or two faces?  Well -- in truth, both!

It is easier to see on the black and white, but you'll find it on the yellow and white, too.  This is a perfect example of the "difference" between those who see the world as created and run by God, and those who see the world as run by humans, or a machine humans are slowly learning to work.

It isn't "point of view" -- you are looking at the same pattern with the same eyes, but your mind can shift focus to "reveal" a truth you hadn't noticed before.  Keep it up, and you can get confused.  But there does exist a Truth -- it's just that the truth is not either/or.  We don't live in a binary world, but we can make it binary for convenience.  We don't live in a zero-sum-game universe, but for FUN (so we can all fight to the death) we can make it zero-sum and steal from each other for fear of not having enough.

Truth exists - somewhere "out there" -- and maybe somewhere "in here" -- but it is often inconvenient.  We studied "truth" in several blog entries under several topics.  Conflict is the essence of story -- but truth is the essence of conflict.

Listen to a famous person saying something on TV, then listen to the commentators or read some articles reporting on what was said.  Look for it, and you will find 3 things --
What you heard --
What Reporter One heard --
What Reporter Two heard --

We all heard these same things, but interpreted them differently depending on whether we view the world as two-faces or two-vases or have the ability to switch, or see  both at once.  Writers see both at once.  The writer's job is to show readers what a "both at once" world looks like.

The difference in what is heard or seen is inside the listener/viewer, in the filters created by basic assumptions about The World and the Nature of Reality.

Some of us learn to switch filters to suit the occasion, others consider that switching dishonest, and still others become frozen in one or another state.  Strong Characters retain or recreate that choice, and then make that choice deliberately.

The Animals vs Souls argument is like interpretations of what famous people said -- each person hears it differently.  Animal vs Souls is like two-faces/two-vases -- or the shadow of the cylinder being round or square depending on the angle of the "light" (spiritual light by which we "see" truth with the "third eye.")

So what is a writer to do to make readers understand what these Characters are SAYING (to each other, and to themselves inside their own heads).

How does a writer scoop up a bedraggled person from their real world and transport them to another world, to become another person with different concerns living in a world that makes sense?

If you take the view that humans are only Animals, you lose half your readers.

If you take the view that humans are basically Souls, you lose half your readers.

However, if you (as the writer) can see both Faces&Vases, you can take the view that the human animal body carries the Soul through life -- sometimes as an onlooker, sometimes as a helpless passenger, and sometimes in the driver's seat -- different people being so very different -- then you may scoop up the vast majority of readers who are "in the middle" or "confused" or "don't care" or who tend to vacillate from one view to another, sometimes depending on if it's Sunday or not.

"The book the reader reads is not the book the writer wrote." 

You may write vases and some readers read faces.

Our current culture has adopted a social stance requiring us not to "judge" each other, not to be judgmental (which is taken to mean exclusionary) but rather to be accepting (which is taken to create diversity).

But the thing is all humans, for all time, have always "judged" each other and nothing will make that stop.  Try it.  Try writing a novel about a Character hitting a Life-Storm who never - ever - judges any other Character they interact with.  See how much story you can write before your main Character has to decide who to trust, who is guilty, who has to be fired, or who to hire.

Damsel In Distress, running away, slips into a tavern by the docks and has to pick out a ship's Captain to approach about passage.  She has to judge that man or woman.  How far can you write your story without a character passing judgement on another character?

To choose a mate (Soul or otherwise), we form a judgement about that person.

The only way to learn to form accurate and useful judgments, to form reliable judgments of other people is to practice -- a lifelong practice starting at about Age 2 -- which is famous as the Terrible Twos because at that dawning of judgement of others, all humans but Mommy are threats of the first magnitude.

Later, all strangers are attractive -- hence it is easy to kidnap a 10 year old by offering a car ride.

Sometime in the teens, with arduous exercise, judgement will (or will not) develop, steadying down between those two polar opposites -- trust no one, or trust everyone.

We learn to tell people apart.  By 20, you've got it, or you never will, unless a hurricane sweeps your life aside and hammers the lesson home the hard way.  Disillusionment works wonders, but that usually takes a string of hard luck events.

We learn to tell people apart after age 21.  The third quartering of Saturn to its own Natal position happens at about age 21, chosen as the Majority year, or maturity for a good reason.  Saturn represents judgement, and everything related to separating this from that, to discipline and focus.

Learning to distinguish between animal sexual attraction, infatuation, and Soul Mate level attraction Love, is the subject of most Romance Novels, whatever sub-genre they belong to, Paranormal or Nuts-n-Bolts science fiction.  The hurricane that blows life off course in the Romance Novel is usually an unexpected, and highly improbable Love, the incongruous love that shifts the view of life from two vases to two faces.  In a blink, you suddenly know you were all wrong.  What does a strong person do when discovering an error of that magnitude?

Saturn is "exclusive" -- it severs ties, sorts friends from enemies, and its transits often signify divorce (or even bereavement).

By contrast, Jupiter is "inclusive" -- and our solar system has both a Saturn and a Jupiter (a face and a vase) for a reason.

Plot is the sequence of events.  I have said many times in this blog, that plot = because line.

Because Character One did this, Character Two responded by doing that, whereupon Character One countered by doing something else.  Etc. to the resolution of the initial Conflict.

Note, though, that Plot (e.g. Life) is generated by a Character Doing Something.  What a Character does about a circumstance or happenstance, about an Event that seems sheer dumb luck,  reveals the strength of that Character's character.

Characters choose what to do by those mental "filters" that cause us to hear the famous people saying things that others proclaim they did not say, that make the world always two-faces, or always a circle.

You have read self-help books that urge you to change your life by changing your internal dialogue. There is a science behind that.  What we tell ourselves, over and over, habitually, does direct our choices, especially in an emergency when action must be taken without sufficient information -- we fill in the gaps in our information by imagining what "must be there."  That is why soldiers and emergency workers "drill" -- doing the motions over and over until they become conditioned reflex.  What you say to yourself, over and over, will determine what you do in an unfamiliar situation.

Fictional characters do that, too, which is what makes them seem like real people.

Recently, a lot of money has been spent studying human behavior.  We've discussed that in the mathematical development behind PR or Public Relations (an obscuring term for manipulating large groups of people, fooling people into buying your product, advertising).

Some studies are turning up in the popular press, and they are worth noting and thinking about. These are traits ordinary people use to judge other people as friend, foe, or victim.  These are the scripts ordinary people repeat in their minds, hoping to acquire desirable traits.

I found an article in Inc magazine that is a case in point.

These articles are now called Listicles and have become click-bait.  But this is a good one for writers:

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do
Give up the bad habits that drain your mental strength.


Probably without knowing it, the author, Amy Morin, has summarized a set of tests or guidelines for writers doing the internal dialogue and plot-driving-responses of the Main Character or Hero of the story who must be a Strong Character -- or at least a stronger character by the end.

Take any one of these weak-character signals in an otherwise strong character, and portray it clearly. Then you can hurl a "random" bit of bad or good luck at that trait, a hurricane of events to drive the character to remedy that flaw - making them stronger by the end of the story.

The weakness caused the hurricane, so the Character deserved to get smashed by a wave out of nowhere.  Fighting through the storm causes the unexpected strength (that comes out of nowhere in response to a test) that we see at the end.

Here is Amy's list - the article discusses and describes each item, so read that article.
1. They don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves.

2. They don't give away their power.

3. They don't shy away from change.

4. They don't focus on things they can't control.

5. They don't worry about pleasing everyone.

6. They don't fear taking calculated risks.

7. They don't dwell on the past.

8. They don't make the same mistakes over and over.

9. They don't resent other people's success.

10. They don't give up after the first failure.

11. They don't fear alone time.

12. They don't feel the world owes them anything.

13. They don't expect immediate results.
------end quote---

Now you know how to tell readers which characters are weak in specific character traits and thus why it is poetic justice that some ignominious fate befalls them.  Editors will be able to see "why" this random event happened to this Character, and readers will come away satisfied.

What readers want to see is how the weakness is remedied by the plot disaster.

Get that structure right so that otherwise implausible, random events make for reader satisfaction. The key clue is that articles like this delineate how people you do not know assess other people who are not like you.

Transport your life-bedraggled reader to a world where things make sense.

It's not random luck: it's Karma.  Life is a poem.  It makes sense if you know how to listen.

If you are not strong - you must become stronger.

Note how this plays into SAVE THE CAT! -- the writing book I keep recommending.  You introduce your Character "saving the helpless" - doing an act of kindness, which is the kind of thing done by someone whose self-image is strong.  The "cat" is weak, scared, helpless, and needs saving.  I am strong, powerful, brave, and will do the saving.

Now the reader has a "first impression" (which is lasting, you know) of this Character as Strong. Whatever weakness (as delineated in this article) your character displays next will be interpreted (like the words of famous people) through the filter of the sure knowledge this Character is Strong.

The things that happen because of the Character's weak-spot-flaw as demonstrated by the 13 traits above, will then be "well deserved" and caused by the weakness.  The resolution of the Conflict will remedy that weakness. The Life Lesson will be learned (next time, wait for the Queen Mary -- dingy will not make it across the Atlantic).

In a Romance Novel, the Lesson is driven home by the Character of the Soul Mate.

One useful definition of Love is that the True Love's presence makes you exhibit your very best Self -- maybe even be a much better person than you think you really are -- maybe be so good you actually like yourself.

You gravitate to that person, you want to be with that person, and you admire that person.

Few love what they admire (hence Numbers 9 and 12 on that Listicle).  But loving what you admire is a master trait of the Strong Character.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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