Previous Parts in this series are indexed at:
Theme is what you, the writer, have to say on a topic, and thus includes broad hints about what the topic is as well as about who, exactly, you are. What you SAY, in all instances in life, reveals more about you than about the topic or person discussed.
Story is the sequence of impacts Events have on the fictional Character who is the main driver of the plot (the hero, the protagonist, the Main Character).
The Character "arcs" (or changes) under the impact of the Events which form the "because chain" of the Plot.
Things happening aren't a plot, and they aren't a story, and they aren't a novel. A list of things that happen isn't even an outline, but it is a necessary ingredient in an outline.
PLOT is a list of things that happen TO SOMEONE, i.e. that IMPACT a Character and prompt that character to re-examine his/her assumptions and change their mind about some topic -- e.g. to learn some new information, test it experimentally, and integrate that new information into their view of the universe from which they infer that if they DO THIS, then it will cause THAT to happen.
Cause/effect is the foundation of modern civilization, and has its origins in Ancient Hellenistic thinking, but was formulated by Roger Bacon.
-----quote from Wikipedia------
Roger Bacon OFM, also known by the scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis, was a medieval English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empiricism. Wikipedia
Born: 1214, Ilchester, United Kingdom
Died: 1292, Oxford, United Kingdom
Education: University of Oxford
Nationality: English, British
Yet an attitude toward Romance genre widely held across this modern civilization is that the Happily Ever After never happens -- empirically established by anecdotal evidence. Study nature through empiricism - essentially means anecdotal evidence trumps statistics.
So since we all know Romance never leads to the impossible "HEA" - well, then we don't waste money on statistical studies that might prompt revision of that idea.
I can wonder if any grad students have been denied Ph.D. thesis go-aheads because their advisors knew they'd never convince a board that the HEA is real, attainable, and actually quite common even today.
So I find it odd that objections to the idea that the HEA is more than silly-girl fantasy never ask, "Happily Ever After What?"
What Event divides a life from miserable to happy?
Why is such a fraction of our current population stuck in misery? Why is the divorce rate so high, the marriage rate dwindling?
Historians and philosophers have often attributed war and wanton destruction that it causes to a high number of un-married young men plus widespread poverty-misery-oppression.
Juxtapose that ides to the glorified Hollywood World War II love stories, and yes, as I keep harping on the Classic Helen of Troy story.
We touched on Helen of Troy again in How Do You Know If You've Written A Classic?
Note that ultra-magnified passionate love that drives men (or women) to feats of derring-do, risking all for Love, is usually coupled to obstacles even more magnified.
Our war-torn world has millions faced with a lifetime of nothing-but-obstacles, and as the proportion of young men burgeons, we see them leading the charge OUT of one country, seeking to circumvent the wall of obstacles to a good life.
When society melts down, the fabric of law and order collapses, Gangs develop, strong men, alpha-males (or wannabe alphas) gather subordinates and preach takeover, usually in the name of protection.
We see things like MS-13 exported to broader territories where fewer obstacles seem evident.
And then the moving population meets resistance from the entrenched population (think about the Germans just after they invaded France in WWII - and what the everyday French did about that).
And you have CONFLICT, the essence of story.
Story ends where the Main Character's internal conflict is resolved.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION is the ENDING.
That's a major rule of drama evident in the oldest Greek Plays.
The audience is grabbed, drawn into the story, fascinated, held through all the ups and downs, and finally RELEASED to go their own way as the "hook" conflict stated at the opening sentence is resolved.
Resolution then is the essence of Story.
A good story is remembered for its resolution -- for example, the tragedy formula where the most beloved character dies.
The most potent tragedy usually involves death-for-no-apparent-reason -- the collateral damage done by war when explosions hit a hospital and kill newborns.
These giant Events are usually regarded as on the "dark" end of the spectrum, where Romance is on the "light" end, just short of comedy.
The mixing of War/Action genre with Romance (and yes, even comedy) captured two generations of Americans -- The Greatest Generation and The Silent Generation, while even Baby Boomers were generally enamored by the genre mixture.
That being my observation, I'm even more puzzled why Publishers catering to the groups called Gen X and Gen Y so resist the Cross-Genre Science Fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, etc.
Science Fiction was (before Star Trek) considered the literature to entertain adolescent males -- never of interest to females. Thus, it was called "neck up science fiction" (purely intellectual conflicts with no "sappy stuff" that so distresses early adolescent males).
Romance was considered only for adolescent girls. It was all about attracting men, maybe a little about choosing which among the attracted was the best bet. The female lead character was never a Hero. This made the entire genre of Romance, by definition, badly constructed literature.
The world has changed as generations have rolled by.
But, though there is broad discussion of "generations" and the traits that define them, there is no consensus on where the dividing line is, or what exactly the common trait is.
Look at this article, one of many that comes up on a Google Search.
No official commission or group decides what each generation is called and when it starts and ends. Instead, different names and birth year cutoffs are proposed, and through a somewhat haphazard process a consensus slowly develops in the media and popular parlance. Because generations are often shaped by specific events, their labels and spans sometimes differ from one country to another; here, I’ll focus on the U.S.
But it makes my point about Theme-Story Integration very well. Generations are shaped by Events.
Those "Events" are the "What" that comes before the Ever After.
The adults that emerge from the currently war-torn Middle East will have an experience in common, and thousands of different responses to those experiences.
The adults who emerge through adolescence during this current strife-torn American Election series will be triumphant or crushed in spirit -- each half forming an audience for fiction writers who artistically rationalize the dominant (and often crippling) emotion.
Remember, 8 years is time enough to pass through adolescence into the period of adulthood characterized by an ineffable certainty in one's own understanding of reality, the Twenties.
That period of young adulthood ends with the first Saturn Return, at age 29, a "reality check" on life's chosen course.
So we come to the Astrological definition of "generation" -- not exactly 20 years, but pretty close, give or take.
Here's a summary I did of how Generations affect the receptivity of your readership to particular Themes (which are statements of the nature of reality), all tied to positions of Pluto, Neptune and Uranus.
The astrological definition of Generation that I espouse explains why the media can't identify and tag a "generation" with a name and a trait in common.
The "edges" of a generation are not clean-cut, as the Planet (OK, argue that with astronomers) Pluto tends to go back and forth several times over maybe a year or so. This Retrograde Motion phenomenon (which is not real, but an artifact of sitting on a moving observation point) blurs out the precise line between those born with one tendency and those born with another.
Those born over the course of 2-4 years will be divided by having Pluto at the end ozone sign, or the beginning of another -- having the planet be "direct" in motion, or retrograde, and of course being placed in different Houses, with different personal (or fast moving, inner planets like Mercury or the Moon) in different aspects to Pluto.
And Pluto isn't the only factor defining Generations -- as Neptune and Uranus likewise take a long time to transit a sign and therefore large numbers are born with the planet in that sign. One-Twelfth (12 signs, 12 Houses) of those born at any given time, in any given place, share a House position -- but the fast moving planets and the Moon can change a lot, so you get distinct individuals reacting to similar Events all in idiosyncratic ways.
Yeah, it's complicated, and even identical twins don't have the SAME natal chart, or the same life.
So in your reader's real-reality of everyday existence, Events they had no effect on, did not cause, could not stop, DEFINE who they have to become among all the potential identities they must choose from.
The choice they make from the menu limited by external Events may determine whether they survive to grow up -- or not.
Your readership is composed of the survivors -- and yes, survivors of trauma. Adolescence is strewn with trauma that shapes the young adult to be. Those Events seem ginormous to the adolescent, but the 40-year-old can only scoff at the trivialness of the matter.
That's true only of our very sheltered teens. Those growing up in the rubble of warfare, imbued with hatred of the purely external forces ruining their lives, are dealing with another level of reality. But even some of them will be potential Romance readers -- because they retain the ability to dream of a better day.
So out there in the real world, your potential readers may not believe in the HEA ending, so you must convince them. To do that, first grasp their view of the world, find the barriers they face that prevents the conceptualization of the HEA, then reduce that barrier using techniques in this book:
The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone's Mind Kindle Edition by Jonah Berg
Use these techniques, combined in different ways, and you can convince most readers that your Character is a real human being (or an Alien with enough in common with humans to make an excellent mate).
One barrier your potential reader may face in believing in the HEA is a lack of seeing how to overcome the obstacles in their own life, and maybe even why bother battling the obstacles?
We discussed this book in a previous blog:
Now we are looking at how PLOT in a novel is the CATALYST that kicks the protagonist into reassessing opinions and changing those opinions, thus resolving an internal conflict. Once you've done one of those resolutions, you learn to hunt down and change other subconscious opinions that have been making you miserable.
If there's no HEA, why strive to overcome vicissitudes? Now, that thought-train leads to depression, inaction, and despair.
A good Romance novel can inspire those treading water in a well of hopeless despair. Make the HEA real, and also realistic, and some readers will catch fire and roar out into their own world to conquer all.
And that's the key idea - Love Conquers All. It's really true, It really does. But few today believe it. Use THE CATALIST to convince them, and spread happiness.
So how do you do that with a novel?
It's the Main Character, the protagonist, the Hero, who does the convincing.
How can a fictional character do that?
By overcoming an internal barrier right before the reader's eye, and becoming a CHANGED PERSON.
That is, by bringing the reader into the story of the character's life, walking the reader through the character's story arc to and through the resolution of the Character's internal conflict.
The "ever after" referred to in the HEA is the period of life lived after that major internal conflict is resolved. The novel ends, the story ends, the plot ends, and "ever after" begins.
Ever After is the period when the internal conflict, the eternal pain that can't be faced, that has been suppressed behind psychological barriers, has been resolved and no longer exists.
Life isn't painful or scary or offensive any more. The stakes aren't too high. That's where "happy" can maybe begin.
That happiness is not an uneventful experience, nor one without confrontations with more conflicts. But the Life Events, the milestone events like burying a parent, naming a baby, sending a kid off to college, are confronted and resolved without having to battle internal barriers.
What is an internal barrier?
Popular psychology has tagged these things with various names so there are hundreds of good books talking about overcoming your neuroses.
Each generation names these neuroses uniquely because each generation feels they are the first and only ones to ever have this experience.
So we have "don't push my buttons" and "I'm going to find myself" and these days, "I'm offended by that" so therefore you can't do that.
Running through it all is "conform or die." That is more a Saturn confronts Pluto phenomenon.
So humans acquire these internal barriers which prevent changing opinions via teenage angst, twenties dreams shattered at age 29 (Saturn return), and relying on anecdotal evidence.
In the course of life, an individual will rise up and drive toward a goal, then meet up with that internal barrier. If thwarted by their own psychological barrier, scars of earlier experiences, the individual may fail. If this has happened repeatedly, the individual may accept failure as inevitable and such goals unattainable.
This individual is in an INTERNAL CONFLICT.
Walk this individual through a process of overcoming such a barrier by dragging them into the psyche of a fictional Character with a similar barrier, and the real-life of the individual could change.
The fictional character must not have the same internal barrier, or the same external goal to drive toward, or the same reasons for failing previously. If they are too similar to the reader's personal plight, the novel just won't be interesting.
But create a model of the reader's reality, using the same shape barrier but different content, different reasons and different excuses, and the reader will be fascinated.
Without even knowing that he/she is applying a fictional lesson to real life, the reader may begin moving life ahead toward an HEA for real.
To reach happiness, we have to confront subconscious demons and drag them into the light of day, into conscious knowledge of what subconscious forces are driving us to self-sabotage, or mis-allocating resources, or whatever mistake we're making.
The journey to happiness is one of changing your own mind, and the catalyst might be a novel, a series, a particular writer's themes.
If other people change your mind (as per the book, THE CATALYST), you don't come to happiness; you come to compliance.
Take your reader into a mind that the reader can see needs changing, and demonstrate how that mind changes itself, resolves its conflict with long-ago events, dissolves lingering scars, and releases a burgeoning and permanent happiness.
Happiness doesn't mean no challenges, no defeats, no cold, miserable, lonely nights. Happiness means having the internal stuffings, the strength of character, the vision that brings resiliency in the face of vicissitudes.
For the science fiction reader, happiness means comprehending the mechanism of the world, being certain that when you do THIS, then that causes THAT to happen. If you don't want that, then don't do this.
For the romance reader, happiness is capturing the high regard of the Soul Mate, requited love, a closed loop of love energy which imparts enough strength to withstand any vicissitudes.
Both genres require the resolution of an internal conflict, and a clear representation of the mechanism of cause-effect that links the resolution of internal conflicts to the resolution of external conflicts.
That is the portrait of reality that creates verisimilitude enough for an everyday reader to accept 6 impossible things before breakfast.
For both types of readers, happiness is having a model of the universe that actually works.