Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So what then does an Author have to hide?


Linnea brought up a very classic writing lesson with her own unique twist on it -- every character has something to hide and that makes for a riproarin' good story.

For the last few weeks I've been talking about genre and worldbuilding in these posts -- allied topics. Last week another blogger dropped by and noted that he had posted on the worldbuilding topic too -- so I read his post and answered (see my answer in the comments to Tues Feb 6, 2007's post.)

The gist of my answer is that most of the worldbuilding has to be done subconsciously and the writer's conscious mind has to be shielded from knowing all that detail during the writing (but not during the rewriting!) It is the cohesive and coherently built world underneat -- unseen -- hidden behind -- the story that makes the story powerful.

When a story has hidden worldbuilding behind it, the readers are drawn into asking questions -- of themselves and others and even sometimes of the author, and those questions often generate more stories.

This past week, a reader who is also a professional writer has been digging worldbuilding info out of me just from sheer curiosity about my Sime~Gen Universe novels. I've been asked this question a number of times, but never in quite this phrasing and I've never answered it quite this way before.

Why did I choose to start the Sime~Gen saga with House of Zeor, the chronicle of a Grand Tragedy in the making and cut it off on a high note of the apparently happy ending (exalted ending!) for House of Zeor?

a) ONLY "happy endings" were selling in the early 1970's, so there was no choice. I had to find a S~G story (among the dozens and dozens in my head) that could be called "complete" on a high note.

b) On MZB's theory, which she learned from her mentors, every ending is a beginning. I see storytelling as an artform - a selective recreation of reality.

c) The biggest problem writing a S~G story is the BACKGROUND (or worldbuilding) which is more like "reality" than it is like any worldbuilding you usually see in fiction. S~G is SF -- it is based on a solid scientific view of "reality" with a couple of seriously fundamental laws changed to illustrate what is essentially a spiritual point. Therefore, writing a story that readers who don't know all the background will assume is a happy ending is a real tricky matter.

The stories that actually do have a happy ending do not seem "happy" to readers who don't know the background.

d) I set out to write the kickoff first book in a long, long LONG series of novels in a publishing environment that looked down on series and though there were some long popular ones, always panned the middle books as "weak."

I set out to break that mold and write strong "middle" books. Also all the series in existence then were written in haphazzard internal chronological order -- I set out to write a long story starting at the beginning and going straight through to the end. (didn't happen -- fans kept asking about the past while I was trying to write about the future when in fact I had started in the past).

e) What exactly then (according to my blog entry of Feb 6, 2007) is the point of rebuilding "reality" into the S~G Universe world? Why did I build this world so that it's so complex and deep that every happy ending is a prelude to tragedy and every tragedy is a prelude to pure joy?

Well because I intended to write a long series with many "reveals" (as they call it in film lingo) -- and because I wanted to write "rereadable books" because books were priced too high so you had to be able to reread them and discover a whole new book totally different from what you thought you had read the first time in order to get your money's worth.

So if you read the novels in the order in which they were published, you can re-read all the previous novels and discover you had NO IDEA what was really going on in those books.
House of Zeor does not explain Imprintation, but the depiction of an Imprintation event establishes that as a plot-moving event which can be built on. It's used again in Channel's Exemption.

Transfer Dependency is a universe premise that opens the philosophical discussion this alienjinnromance blog is about -- RELATIONSHIP as a plot-driving mechanism.
In 1970, a new author could not sell an SF novel that was relationship driven.

It took me until 1974 to sell House of Zeor and it played to very mixed reception. Some wanted it to win a Hugo (I kid thee not!) and some felt it was some kind of perverted gay novel (which it isn't).

Why did Hugh and Klyd end up in a transfer dependency?

Because Hugh didn't know what the shen he was doing, so it was inevitable. But also because Hugh was indeed Klyd's matchmate. But also because that's what it would take to illustrate the whole philosophical basis of the series, and incidentally allow a glimmering of hope that humanity would survive Zelerod's Doom.

So why did I choose to build a universe with these complex, interwovan, tragedy imbued, premises?

Because I had a statement to make philosophically opposed to all the SF on the market up to that time.

a) The Universe is not fragile and human beings can't break it. Human beings can't break "the earth" either.

b) God is merciful -- but think twice before begging for His/Her mercy!

c) The human spirit is good. It's just more powerful than most people can handle.

The symbol of the S~G universe is the Starred Cross -- a combination of the 5 pointed star which is the symbol of humanity, and the equal armed cross which is a symbol of the balance of Nature. When rendered in 3 dimenstions -- topologically that symbol is identical to the Tree of Life symbol used in Kabbalah. There's an article about that posted online:


The essential point is that human body and spirit are at home in manifest reality - we are an integral part of Nature and never at odds with Nature - ever. There is no conflict between humanity and Nature.

d) When I first invented the S~G concept, at the age of 15, I didn't know there was a theory of reincarnation -- didn't know that word or anything about it and had never heard of karma. But I'd read a lot of SF and I decided it was all wrong and was missing a big bet for drama.
So I invented a universe where God recycles. (at that time (the mid-1950's) the SF magazine editorials were all about ecology, global warming, and recycling, 20 years before such words appeared in newspapers).

So I decided God would recycle souls because they're expensive to make, complicated, and they change with experience -- they're huge capital investments even for The Infinite -- and God isn't stupid. No SF stories had God (the real thing) in them -- they only made up versions of old pagan gods which is fun and a good language to discuss things in, but just really doesn't work. The alien religions didn't work either. Sf as a field seemed to me to be missing some good bets.
So I invented whole cloth from scratch the entire theory of karma and reincarnation and was utterly crushed when I later discovered it wasn't original.

But I decided to use it in an SF universe story anyway because it's still a great dramatic premise.

So S~G started as the story of a single soul who has a peculiar talent, sets out to change the world for "the better", makes a horrid mistake, and spends lifetimes trying to clean it up. That soul is Del Rimon Farris and Klyd Farris, and Digen Ryan Farris, and Klairon Xigram Farris, and Yone Farris. (etc)

Now in a universe where this always happens -- other souls are also on such a journey.
So I asked myself (in the 1950's) what is it that humans do that they have to learn not to do. What would really fix the world?

During WWII, I was about like 3 years old, and I loved to listen to The Lone Ranger on the radio. But sometimes they would interrupt for war news and "rejoin" the program with a part skipped. To me this was the ultimate evil. The Lone Ranger is far more important than war. I still stand by the philosophical premise. Killing people doesn't solve problems. But fantasy is like the algebra of the soul, and it really can solve real problems.

So I decided that what people do that they have to learn not to do is kill people.
The only way to really learn any lesson is by experience (or so my Dad taught me).
So the only way to learn not to kill is to die.

Therefore the only way to tell the story of someone who has to learn not to kill is to re-birth him, grow him up again, and kill him again and again and again until it finally dawns on him that killing doesn't work.

And it occurred to me, "Maybe, just maybe, that's how God teaches? Oy."
Many other kill-related methods of building relationships (which is what killing usually is - an attempt to establish a relationship that satisfies the killer) don't work, but other methods do work.

If you kill somebody, you'll be reborn in the influence of that person somehow and have to re-confront the issue one way or another. The more you kill the people you hate, the more surrounded you are by people you hate who hate you.

So finally God gets fed up with humans being so stubborn (WWII) and dull witted, and injects the NEXT STEP IN EVOLUTION -- the Sime/Gen split into larities (a word coined by the fans on the list).

At the time this premise occurred to me (mid-1950's) the BIG deal was the threat of nuclear war with Russia (OK, now Korea and Iran), and radiation was sooo mysterious, so "mutation" SF stories were all the rage and I loved most of them -- Mutant by Henry Kuttner and Star Man's Son by Andre Norton for example. But I didn't believe them.

So the S~G Universe God responds to human stubbornness and mutates humanity.
This time, we get an evolutionary step that is equivalent to the diversification into male and female, but it only hits the top of the evolutionary ladder.

And now survival depends on not-killing to get what you want. The formidable predator who can take what he/she wants is actually dependent on freewill gifting.

The reason you couldn't sell that in the 1970's is that it MIXES GENRES -- something that's all the vogue now.

It's an SF universe with a Fantasy premise welded to a Fantasy Universe with an SF premise (genetic mutation).

So why did I choose to plant the seeds of tragedy at the end of House of Zeor?
Because those characters were up to a major karmic lesson and in living through that lesson on the public stage were able to teach it to all humanity in a way that eventually STOPPED the Kill. But they weren't harmed by it. Dying doesn't do you harm, it teaches the soul.

So with the Kill stopped, finally, finally they will live in a universe where The Lone Ranger won't be pre-empted by war news -- that's why I did it.

That's my fantasy universe -- a universe where fiction is more important than war.

Hugh and Klyd are pivotal lives in achieving that -- but this depicts the second big mistake the Klyd-soul makes -- launching the Modern Tecton. The first mistake was putting channels between Sime and Gen - then launching the Householdings.

(yes, I had all that mapped out in the 1950's)

Those were mistakes because they made the world dependent on channels, and disrupted the natural forming, maturing and breaking of relationships which is how souls advance. But those acts were successful because they prolonged lives and saved the world from Zelerod's Doom.
Had it not been for the Householdings, nobody would survive. Therefore a good thing comes out of what appears on the surface to be a very bad thing -- out of tragedy comes triumph. Or a very bad thing comes out of a good thing -- out of triumph comes tragedy.

And that asks another serious philosophical question. Is there really any difference between tragedy and triumph? Are they really distinctly different things?

And that's why House of Zeor ends where it does and how it does. Its ending was designed to be a springboard for the reader's imagination -- and it has been.

The novel was designed to be the first of a trilogy with the Aisha-Hugh-Klyd novel next (a romance actually which would never sell, but so horrid and terrible and awful it couldn't possibly sell to the romance market even the SF Romance market of today; and besides I don't want to write it), and then Zelerod's Doom where Klyd and company save the world. Meanwhile Jean Lorrah turned up and Rimon Farris started yelling at her to tell HIS story and that changed the universe.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/Creator of the Sime~Gen Universe


  1. Wow! What a lesson in what happens when a series 'universe' comes to full fruitation. It makes me feel so small with so much work to do.

    The basis for the religions I create in Star Captains' Daughter is the question of Predestination versus Self-Determination. The Humans represent Self-Determination while the major alien group, the Menelaens, represent Predestination. The daughter of the Star Captains bridges the gap, laying a foundation for peace much later in the series should it bear out. She can do this because the Menelaens believe she is a sacred envoy of all their major religions and, as such, determines her own fate. By determining her own fate, they believe she will determine theirs.

    The funny thing about the philosophical backbones to Star Captains' Daughter is that my critters and betas figured it out before I did. This makes me want to roll my eyes and groan. But, they also told me I do my best work when I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm still not sure how to take that, but as long as the story is appealing...oh, well!

  2. Jacqueline, your (and MZB's) advice to build only as much of one's universe's background as one needs for the current story in progress has always gone against the grain for me. I like the process of constructing the background, and I enjoy a fully worked-out, consistent fictional universe. (MZB's openly stated disregard for consistency in the Darkover series sort of bugged me.) And Tolkien did it the opposite from the "build as you go" method. He made the world first (and the inspiration for building the world came from the languages, which were created earlier still), and he wrote the stories to fit the world rather than vice versa. However, it's also true that you're absolutely right in saying too much premature world-building can lock a writer into "facts" that might hamper the writing of later stories in the series. (I had to drop some of my earlier ideas of how my vampires' biology worked, when I found some of the "facts" I'd assumed didn't work in practice.) Robert Heinlein's elaborate "future history" timeline was eventually overtaken by primary-world events. I like his way of dealing with the problem -- all the novels written late in his life postulate multiple (indeed, infinite) timelines, all equally "real."