Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Granddaughters And World Building


I agree with Linnea about Magic Lost, Trouble Found -- it's a page-turner with everything and the kitchen sink tossed into the worldbuilding mix.

I got my computer fan replaced and I'm back in the saddle again! (remember Roy Rogers?)
I've been talking about worldbuilding -- the writer's tool for creating an alternate reality background for the story to unfold in front of, for some time now.

Many writers just hurry through that part of preparing to write, because it's tedious, often irrelevant, and will never collect them any money or glory.

But the truth is -- world building is the writer's tool for drawing a reader into a story, especially a romance, and doubly-especially a romance that involves star-crossed lovers or the divinely inspired love that can reach across a cultural gulf, or in our case a species gulf.

The Alien Romance genre actually goes farther to define LOVE in an operational way that readers can use in their mundane lives than any other genre I know of. Love isn't "human" -- love transcends humanity.

That lays a big responsiblity on the romance writer who's just trying to make a living.
Think! As you craft this story, think about the young women and men who will read this story, who will feel these emotions with the characters, who will remember those characters' names their whole lives long as "symbols" of the philosophies they stand for.

Think about the lessons they will derive from walking a mile in this character's moccasins.
Yes, the background world building carries the thematic message of the story more strongly than the characters themselves. It's not BECOMING the character that impresses a story on the readers' dreams -- it's that mile they have to walk in the character's moccasins, feeling every stone through the thin soles.

What draws a reader deep, DEEP, into a story is the philosophical match between the character, his/her internal conflict, clearly reflected in his/her external conflict, crystal and pristinely reflected in the world surrounding the character.

The way all these levels of the artistic creation match, go-together to bespeak a certain view of Life The Universe And Everything -- matters of ultimate concern -- (astrologically 12 House matters) -- that makes that world real to the reader.

For an artist to pull that trick off, the artist must be aiming his/her creation at a very specifically defined audience, readership, market. Just as in conversation, you must take into account what the other person is thinking, feeling (mood), wanting, needing, believing, before you phrase your utterance.

Ask the boss for a raise when you've just spilled hot coffee in her lap and see what happens next! Take her clothes to the cleaners and have them back spotless in an hour and you won't have to ask.

Do the same when you create a story -- take into account who you're talking to and what else they have distracting them and craft your story accordingly.

Most romance readers are either young and dreaming of creating their own family -- or currently raising kids and dreaming of ways to make it easier.

When you craft a story and build the world to house that story, you are talking to that audience, just as you talk to your boss (and make no mistake, the reader is your boss, the reader signs your paycheck.)

So you want to start with a statement or image that makes sense to the reader before you dive off the deep end into aliens and falling in love across vast gulfs.

That one thing that almost all Alien Romance readers have in common -- almost all readers, actually, -- is FAMILY.

Now, here's an aspect of worldbuilding we haven't discussed at much length. FAMILY.
Note that Star Wars is a multi-generation family drama not unlike Dallas, the TV show was.
A popular Romance sub-genre was the Gothic -- where some young woman down on her luck inherits a haunted house with a tall dark stranger next door.

INHERITS being the operative word -- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Where there's a past, there's a future. Romance is really all about potential family.

So I have a real-life story to tell you to make my point here about how to make any alien environment you build accessible (understandable on an emotional level) to your readers.
Read this story with an awareness of WHAT you already know that you use to interpret and visualize what this story means. And simultaneously consider WHAT to invent for your alien world to fill the niches of these things you already know about our reality.

What you choose to put in those niches will delineate the philosophical statement which is the theme of your work.

Remember, your readers will use what THEY already know to interpret what you write, to interpolate facts between your words as you do when reading this story. Leave the gaps they need, but also fill ones that tickle the mind with a new way of looking at the world.

This morning, my daughter called while driving her daughter (4 3/4 yrs old) to an appointment.
My daughter said right off that she had just heard The William Tell Overture on her car radio and she instantly thought of me and how it was past time she should call me.

Why did she think of me? Because I'm a Lone Ranger Fan of the first water, and she grew up well aware of that (as well as Star Trek -- her first word after Orange Juice was Captain Kirk).
So we talked, and she told me several too-too precious stories about my granddaughter who had been nagging her to talk to grandma and grandpa. I won't lay them on you.

Then she told me that at a garage sale a couple weeks ago she picked up for $5 a video camera you can hook to the TV set and see yourself. Immediately, MY GRANDDAUGHTER (here is absolute proof of the relationship!) seized on the camera, set up a vanity table chair as a stage and pretty backdrop, put her Barbie Dolls on it and proceeded to move them around watching on the TV and telling Princess stories.

At her age, I wrote words on paper (even if nobody but me could read the squiggles I thought were writing), my granddaughter tells stories in video! But stories are stories -- I've spawned a PRODUCER!!! Maybe she'll produce one of my unsold scripts she finds when cleaning out my house after my funeral. (Now there's a Gothic tale untold!)

Then we discussed what to get this kid for her birthday. One of my presents to her is this blog which occurred to me when I spoke to her on the phone. Maybe she'll stumble over it when she's a teen surfing the web for romance novels.

Jacqueline Lichtenberghttp://www.simegen.com/jl/


  1. Bravo, Jacqueline!

    I grew up in a multi-generational Trekkie family, so it's no wonder my babes rocked out to Deep Space Nine music in the womb. The eldest had her planets memorized at 16 months, courtesy of the intro to Next Generation. Now, she's watching Voyager re-runs with me.

    Each individual is herself uniquely, but she is also the sum and total of those who've gone before her. A writer who leaves off that dimension to a character does so at her own peril. Sure, some readers like a story in which they can fantasize about not having a family, if their real family is dysfunctional. However, for better or for worse Family is an essential part of human existance.

    This is why it baffles me when novel after novel has a couple shagging like minks, but not getting pregnant. I mean, sure, not every woman wants to be a mother, but a lot of us do. Of course, I admit to being on the far end of the spectrum - I'd have a dozen babies if I could!

  2. JL writes: "Think! As you craft this story, think about the young women and men who will read this story, who will feel these emotions with the characters, who will remember those characters' names their whole lives long as "symbols" of the philosophies they stand for."

    This is SO awesome, JL and what scares me is yes, I do think about that...probably more than whether or not my proposed hyperdrive design will actually 'work'. So if there's a failing in my Intimate Adventures it's that yes, I will sacrifice word count of 'hard science' for those scenes where the emotions reign and potentially influence readers.

    JL writes: "What draws a reader deep, DEEP, into a story is the philosophical match between the character, his/her internal conflict, clearly reflected in his/her external conflict, crystal and pristinely reflected in the world surrounding the character. "

    This is so essential it should be in neon lights, IMHO. The world(s) the writer creates are as much a part of their makeup as their religion, their clothing, their moods. Moreso in spec fic, we have the chance to explore unknown-to-our-present-reality worlds, thereby changing or rather expanding on what the character experiences. It's mind-boggling. Or as a good friend from the UK taught me to say recently, gob-smacking.

    I did the reverse situation with my THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES, which Kimber just read as an advanced ARC. I brought a not-from-this-planet character HERE and let her judge and experience our known world through foreign and innocent (though not unprejudiced) eyes. It took a reversal of my normal thinking to become her, because I'm so used to where I am. But yes, I'm hoping that seeing this planet through Commander Jorie Mikkalah's thoughts will give readers a reason to rethink some of their knee-jerk assumptions about "the way things are."


  3. Oh, I think you accomplished your goals, Linnea. I would psycho-analyze it more, but I've been suddenly struck with another wave of Wannanotherbaby Syndrome. I'm off to surf adoption websites now. Buh-bye.

  4. Linnea:

    After I wrote this entry, I did an email interview for Margaret L. Carter (who blogs here)in which one of the questions was what influenced you to want to become a writer?

    You've nailed it -- that view of this world through totally virgin eyes.

    One of the things I love about the movie STARMAN is that though everything here is truly surprising, alien, awkward, inefficent, primitive - he's never judgemental about it.

    He's accepting of things alien to HIM.

    That is an attitude I am still aspiring to internalize!

    I hope I'll get a review copy of your new novel!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  5. Wonderful point about Romance being about Family. I've never thought of it quite that way, but that's what I've been getting at in the past when I've remarked that it seems odd Romance is so looked down upon by the "literary" world. The choice of a mate (or the choice to remain single) is the one most critical decision everyone makes in a lifetime. Careers come and go (esp. nowadays), but once you've married a person, your lives are bound together forever (even if you eventually separate). And the family ties you create together -- even if later altered by divorce -- affect you for the rest of your life. How can such a vital decision NOT be considered an important subject for fiction?

    I love world-building (because my favorite part of the writing process is outlining -- just call me weird).