Tuesday, November 13, 2007

4 Pentacles - The Almighty Cliche

Prepending a note about Linnea's post of Monday November 5th, 2007:

Let's consider HOW to achieve the effect Linnea is urging new writers to strive for. There is a mechanism for it and another motivation to master that mechanism besides winning contests.

Linnea pointed out something I've noticed in every workshop I've taught that was open to beginners.

The use of language.

Believe me, she's not shilling for this column!

I really had no idea she'd post that right before I posted this 4 of Pentacles (written 2 weeks ago, and she didn't see it!) and focused this essay around the Cliche, and an in-depth discussion of the way a living language is wildly abused by spin-doctors (labeling progressive behavior as conservative; creating odious associations with words that actually are uplifting in their original meaning, i.e. jerking you around.)

Since the universe was Created with words, as noted in the series on the Suit of Swords, we must guard our usage of words carefully. Even words spoken without forethought have an effect on the universe as a whole, no matter how insignificant you may think you are.

Words written and read by others have a magnified effect. Our usage of language is one of our tools for soul growth. Abuse can lead to disaster because words are power. Remember this when reading my post later on the 6 of Pentacles.

Spin doctors re-label and twist the meanings of words using SEMANTIC LOADING. By changing the semantic loading, they can change your behavior. So can any fiction writer.

All new writers should google up "semantic loading." And read up on "General Semantics" -- it is an objective method of studying (an entire science) how words create emotional effects.

It is the science behind advertising -- and political campaign "talking points." How you say a thing determines how most (not you and me, because we're writers, but MOST) people will react emotionally to words and thus subsequently behave.

Yes, it's the science of how to jerk people around.

It's also the science behind storytelling in all forms, acting -- everything. It's how to cast an illusion.

There's another study which can replace a lot of the adjectives and adverbs that spoil a narrative -- BODY LANGUAGE. Learn that science.

In acting, that's called "business" -- such as when a scriptwriter specifies that the actor should twitch her nose in order to activate a magic spell. Or the "tell" as gamblers call it -- when a character is lying, he pulls his earlobe every time.

OK, those examples are way too broad. You have to be original and subtle when using these techniques -- semantic loading and business. There are many more techniques that can be learned handily by studying some basic screenwriting books.

Characters, like people, have unconscious habits that bespeak their emotional pitch. Use those habitual actions to SHOW the reader what the character feels (that the character may not even be aware of) without TELLING the reader with florid adjectives and overused unusual verbs.

To implement these techniques in your writing, you must ask yourself what you really meant by using a particular word, then try replacing that word in various ways. Eventually, the choice of word becomes second nature -- habitual (Suit of Swords), but to start out, there's a tried and true way to teach yourself to do this.

There are perhaps 10 or more language-control techniques (some involving sentence syntax) that a writer can use to paint an emotional picture behind the characters, so dialogue can carry the impact without explanations of what each person is thinking (creating the "heads" problem Linnea mentioned.)

Exactly how do you create a manuscript using these word-control techniques after you've gone and looked them up on the web?

You leverage the fact that you're using a computer not pen and ink. You don't have to make it read well in first draft, condemning yourself to months of copy-typing the manuscript every time you edit.

You can lay down each layer of the story, going over the text again and again, adding more and more color each time - deleting bits, tightening, wordsmithing, and actually spend less time producing final copy than ever was possible in prior generations.

So, FIRST you write the story in very plain English, no decoration, no sensory context, no depth of emotion. Plot-plot-plot.

Once it's laid out and you can see how long it has to be, you spot the points where your (ahem) climaxes must be placed. Then you go over the whole manuscript working the emotional tension up to those climax points subtly using those techniques -- and then use word-management techniques, syntax and vocabulary to REDUCE the tension dramatically at the climax points.

You add and trim back wordage so each emotional beat falls on the correct printed page.

Your finished product should have a succession of emotional peaks on precise pages (depending on your market), but in every case the peaks should march in a straight line UP to the final climax at the end when you pull out all the language stops and reach for the sky.

Stagecraft principle is "Less is more."

This diagram of marching climaxes managed by changing language-techniques holds across all genres, even Literature and especially Best Sellers, and in screenwriting. If you can discover the exact pacing of climax points most admired by your particular market, you will be a best seller within that market.

This part of the writing craft really is objective, cut and dried, pure science, and anyone who can craft an English sentence can learn to do this.

What can't be taught is the art of what story to tell in order to say what important thing about Life, The Universe, and Everything.

OK, now to today's work - the 4 of Pentacles and the use of language.


As noted previously, this is a chapter in a book about the Tarot aimed at Intermediate students of Tarot, not beginners or advanced students. It is particularly aimed at writers looking to learn World Building and Alien Character building.

It should eventually be titled: The Biblical Tarot: The Not So Minor Arcana by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, but who knows? It has no publisher yet.

And Remember: The meaning of a Tarot Minor Arcana resides in the placement on the Tree of Life (i.e. the number on the card) integrated with the "World" or Suit of the card.

For the Tree of Life and the Jacob's Ladder diagrams see:


I don't really go with the way this page explains the Tree, but it is worth thinking about. There are many other ways. For now, ponder the diagrams on this page or Google up some others.

I have been posting here since August 14th, every Tuesday, the 10 minor Arcana of the suit of Swords. The Ace of Pentacles was posted Oct 23, 2007. By accident, the 3 of Pentacles was posted on MONDAY NOV 5, 2007. Look for posts in this series on Tuesdays.

ASIDE: Rowena posted on Sunday Nov 4th about "Uncivilized Behavior" -- well, here in 4 Pentacles we'll think a bit about what civilization is and what it requires of us. We aren't collaborating on these posts -- truly we're not.

4 Pentacles

We're now discussing the second circle up from the bottom of the right hand column of Jacob's Ladder. It does not overlay a Swords card.

Words get redefined continuously -- that's the nature of a "living" language, and it's a good thing. But it sometimes makes it hard to communicate across generations.

The slippery word to grapple with under 4 Pentacles is probably "conservative."

Politics and religion have ladled layers of non-meaning on top of the core concept there. It may take some thinking to strip away the negative semantic loading (the emotional content of the word) and begin thinking within the 4 Pentacles domain of definition.

Remember the 4's are all associated with the astrological meaning of the planet Jupiter which rules Sagittarius (ever so much about truth and honesty, painful blurt-it-out honesty).

Jupiter is about growth, expansion, reaching out to include (Saturn being about exclusion), and thus the Law (or legal courts system) and social order and organization.

Jupiter is about how things go your way when you "go with the flow" -- and thus about "luck," which is the result of being in the right place at the right time.

So what's Luck to do with "conservative?"

Ah, well it's hard to grow if everything you add gets thrown away before you add the next thing.

"Conservative" means to conserve, preserve, or keep. It doesn't mean to not-change. It means to BUILD, GROW, systematically improve toward a goal.

Even the dictionary says "conservative" means opposed to change -- but it doesn't. It can't.

You can't preserve something if you try to freeze it in place and refuse change.

Change is life -- life is change! Growth is an essential life process.

"Conservative" doesn't mean death -- it means systematic, targeted, purposive, true-to-the-origin growth.

But, as you know that's not what the modern English language uses it for.

Consider that you can't progress without conserving.

If you have a savings account and put money in to increase your savings -- what happens if you take out as much as you put in? Or more? You have to keep what you've got in order to grow your savings.

Pentacles are about material reality, the concrete level of existence.

4's are about the long, quiet, growth period between commitment and challenge. (see 4 Swords).

The 4 of Pentacles is about the long, quiet accumulation of material resources.

Saving for the vacation of a lifetime is 4 Pentacles. Taking the vacation might be 6 Pentacles.

5 Pentacles would be the part of the saving process where you make excuses to take out of your savings account for other things, or it might be where other people tell you what a miser you are and you believe they are justified in vilifying and rejecting you.

But having a savings goal isn't being a miser.

4 Pentacles is about building infrastructure. 4 Pentacles is investment of capital in growth.

What is capital?

Capital is not money, but it is perfectly represented by Pentacles.

Capital is accumulated (conserved) profit from prior operations.

It doesn't have to be material profit.

For example, your time (time is a Pentacles manifestation) can be capital.

You rush through your work day, gobble dinner, sit down at the computer and invest your saved capital of time by installing and configuring a new program. Your joy knows no bounds. You're now out of time, and have to go to bed to get up and save more time tomorrow, but for the moment you have invested your capital in future joy with this new program you haven't used yet.

Your computer should conserve that install-configure nicely until you get back to enjoy it.

What if it doesn't? What if someone just erases the program leaving your operating system messed up and crashing?

What if that person erased your time investment because they wanted to upgrade your operating system for you and they're mad at you for being so conservative you bull-headedly resist change?

When the expensive, irreplaceable accumulated infrastructure of your life is attacked, you will resist "change" too won't you?

The applicable cliche is, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." Don't discard a huge investment in order to get rid of the dross.

Now take another scenario. Suppose you installed the program, configured it, and then got to use it until it was obsolete (all too soon these days) and now you want to do things that this old program can't do?

Now you will uninstall it, and install and configure the upgrade. Maybe even upgrade your operating system, or even get a new computer.

You made an investment of capital (time) in your program, reaped more from it than you invested by using the program until it became obsolete, and now you are ready to invest more capital.

Conserving isn't anti-change. It is the fastest and most powerful change there is.

Take a longer, more impersonal perspective.

Knowledge (not ideas which is Wands, or feelings which is Cups, or actions which is Swords) knowledge is a manifestation of Pentacles. Knowledge is a concrete thing created from ideas, dedication, and actions.

Knowledge can be accumulated, and in fact it is said we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Civilization isn't just the business of living together in cities rather than following herds as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Civilization is vertically integrated through time.

Civilization means conserving all the knowledge so hard-won in the past by our ancestors, adding to that database, always investing and investing more and more of our intellectual capital for future generations. And so we grow.

High School students often feel that being dragged through old experiments that prove that something is true -- but today we know it's not true -- is a futile waste of time. But it's not. By walking through, hands-on, the experiments that led to new knowledge, subsequently proved false, we come to understand that today's truth is tomorrow's falsehood. What we have is theory which can be overturned at any time by new facts. And we learn how to explore the world to add to human knowledge.

Some people call the defenders of an overturned theory "conservative" -- but they're not "conservative" if the old theory really has been overturned.

The true conservative will grab for the new theory with both hands because it represents growth, just as the satisfied computer user above would gladly install the upgrade to his wonderful program once he's garnered his profit.

So we pass down our accumulated knowledge (our intellectual capital) from generation to generation, and that is the hallmark of civilization and the essence of 4 Pentacles.

We also pass down accumulated wisdom, techniques for managing human emotion, methods of living productive lives, procedures for developing sound relationships.

As science is still a work-in-progress, so is our wisdom. In fact, science used to be "Natural Philosophy" and Jupiter is Philosophy (ruler of the natural 9th House). All 4 of the 4's are represented by Jupiter.

As in both science and wisdom, what we have accumulated should not be discarded when something new is added, or you will have only the new tidbit and have to start the infrastructure build over from scratch, perpetually reinventing the wheel.

The body of wisdom can be enlarged (Jupiter - 4) to include the new, even when the new contradicts the old. We hold those two contradictory truths until a new one comes along to resolve them. If we forget the old untruth, then someone will ask if it's actually true and repeat the entire experimental research procedure, wasting capital that could be invested in progress.

So how do we pass down wisdom?

For the last thirty years or more, book editors and Hollywood film makers have forbidden the "cliche" from stories of all kinds.

As a result, few young people have even heard some of them.

Why are they cliches? Because they got repeated until people couldn't stand the sound of them any more. (me, too)

Why did they get repeated so often?

Because they are hard won, expensive lessons encapsulated for easy transmission. Learning the cliches is as unpleasant as learning the original lesson someone suffered through because they will be recited at you every time you make that old mistake. Repetition is the only way humans learn this kind of thing. So cliches are a treasure trove we have discarded.

That inventory of cliches is Wisdom Capital deleted from our astral plane hard drive.

Repeated cliches feel just as futile as the High School science lesson about a lab experiment that proves something is true -- when we know it's false.

In fact, cliches do sound false to those who have not learned the lesson by living through it.

A stitch in time saves nine.

But we don't mend things anymore. We throw them away and get new.

Think again. That cliche isn't about sewing or mending. It's about doing what you don't want to do NOW before your neglect causes you to have to do even more of what you don't want to do later.

That is, it's about procrastination -- which unfortunately will never be vanquished from human nature.

Featured on recent commercials: The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. (Be the hammer!)

That's not about nails or hammers. It's about the wisdom of conformity -- or seeming to conform -- or imposing conformity upon reluctant others. It's about individuality, the foundation of the philosophy of the U. S. A. pioneers. Note this one surfaces as a commercial when China is rising to ascendancy.

There are thousands of these wisdoms that have been banned from our media, with a few daring exceptions, and some uses in comedy.

Is it any wonder that younger people don't have the mastery of these techniques of life at the same age that their grandparents mastered them?

The capital of thousands of years of experience has been discarded, leaving only the one new thing in hand, and abandoning all these young people to reinventing the wheel instead of adding to human accomplishments.

4 Pentacles also describes the situation where you are building a business relationship.

Building relationships is badly disrupted today as people change jobs fast. Today's postman is gone next week. The clerk at the hardware store is gone. The hairdresser you like is gone.

Your doctor is gone. Your dentist is gone. Your editor or her assistant is gone. Your agent is gone. You spend thousands of hours developing relationships with them so they understand who you are and what you need so that when an emergency strikes, you get efficient responses without friction.

All that time-capital is wasted when the person moves on to another job or location. Or when you move. Capital is destroyed and you must start again from scratch.

Small wonder people today are not enthusiastic about building long-term relationships. But of course it's irrational to resist change. Change is good -- the ultimate good, progress! Right?

So 4 Pentacles is about the long, quiet accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, money, relationships, time -- the accumulation of capital which you will (in the future) profit from investing.

To accumulate, you must hold on to what you have while you get more. The cardinal rule of Wall Street is "don't lose money," more than it is "always make money."

The Waite Rider deck depicts 4 Pentacles as a figure with two coins under his feet, one in hand, and one over his head. Old, well built, solid capital under his feet, plans for new innovations over head, and a project in progress in his hands.

We know, from the second oldest profession (cliche!), accounting, that your liabilities (debts) are part of what you have. So 4 Pentacles is also about debt. Just as in business, in the rest of your life, you must borrow in order to grow, and then pay back.

Growth and real change is a long, systematic process. Once begun it can't be changed until completion. You must use the borrowed capital to make a profit, then return the capital paying off your debt. Then you can move on to the next process. Not before then.

In writing a novel, you have to finish it and polish it before you take it to your critique group (5 Swords).

Cliche: Don't change horses in mid-stream.

It's not about horseback riding or the nature of rivers. It's about commitment (the 3's).

Commitment is about the situation your project is in after the 3's processes have been passed through. It's about how change costs capital and sometimes isn't worth it, even if you made a wrong choice in 3 Pentacles.

Karmicly, you took this lifetime to be you for a while, wearing this personality, working through these life-events in this order. You can't become someone else or change your life into someone else's. You want to, though, because you almost remember being so many other people.

If you blow away this life, all the work of those prior lives is destroyed and has to be done over from scratch. You can't make progress going round and round, doing things over.

So Conservatives are about progress and progressives are about destruction to the extent they throw the baby out with the bathwater. To make progress you must build on what has been accumulated. (The 5's & 6's are about judging when you should clear everything away and start over.)

4 of Pentacles is about the accumulation of capital and debt, but remember Pentacles is the end-result, the materialization, of all the ideas, emotions, and actions that have gone before. Without what went before, (WRITERS: "backstory" goes here) there would be no value in these Pentacles.

And 'before' is not just this one lifetime -- but all prior lifetimes.

So 4 Pentacles includes your karmic credit and your karmic debt. 4 Pentacles is what you have been building at the soul level for lifetimes.

Thus when you find yourself in a position where what you are doing is costing more than it seems to be worth, it's possible you are in a 4 Pentacles Reversed situation of paying off a karmic debt.

4 Pentacles Reversed can be about procrastination (that's how you get karmic debts, you know, by not paying them off in the lifetime where you accrue them), or it can be about a failure to conserve, a failure to build on what has gone before. You may be discarding the wisdom contained in cliches just because it annoys you.

Psychologically, the 4 Pentacles Reversed can be the subconscious defending against a minor pain by using a major crippling tactic, keeping you trapped doing the same thing over and over.

In Astrology, Jupiter represents a happy, expansive, lucky, magnanimous and generous force for growth. Jupiter is all about accepting and including, and growing thereby.

Jupiter builds civilization both by enlarging it in the current day, and integrating vertically through time, binding past to future through the present. (Jupiter rules the natural 9th House which includes "higher education.")

Jupiter can expend wantonly, but Jupiter is never a miser. So though the Waite Rider deck's picture makes some sense, the typical interpretation clashes with the ingredients in the meaning, 4's and End-Result Pentacles.

Take our writer who started selling her work in the Suit of Swords. Now she's FOUNDED A CAREER (despite the lousy packaging of her first novel) with her second work started in Ace of Pentacles, worked down through 2 and 3 of Pentacles and now in 4 Pentacles she has contracts for two years of work ahead, -- because (note that because) she is building on the success of her first book which was built on years of struggle to master the craft.

Here in 4 Pentacles, she will be writing sequels, and thus capitalizing on her prior work. She will be incorporating the hard-won lessons learned in 8 Swords and 9 Swords, and she will be avoiding mistakes that cost grief before.

She will be investing in a professional relationship with an editor and publishing company. She will take pride in delivering product on time and in good condition. (Yeah, she has to upgrade her word processor, *sigh*).

She will be conserving her prior work, translating it to the new word processor, building on it, expanding on it, capitalizing on it. Even unpublishable things she wrote that are penny-dreadful (cliche!) can be mined for kernels of wisdom.

If someone came along and told her to change her byline and abandon all her prior work because change is progress, she'd probably punch his lights out.

And then she'd stand accused of being against change. But she's not. She's changing as fast as she can write, faster maybe than the world can keep up with her.

How many characters have we written who defend civilization against the forces of destruction?

How many times a year do our characters save the world, the universe, humankind, alienkind, etc.?

The motive of those characters is the 4 of Pentacles -- what has been invested can not be retrieved until the profit has materialized.

Perhaps a better image for the 4 of Pentacles would be the hen sitting on a nest of four eggs.

The hen's not against change, is she?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Great stuff, Jacqueline, and at just the right time for me time. I'm juggling Slashing & Burning one novel into a comprehensible draft and polishing another to high sheen because it has a requested partial out on it.

  2. Oh, by the way, I sent out a bunch of eQueries on the HOLY BENNU in September. Only now do I realize I've changed email addresses since then. Is there any point in re-sending those queries before New Year's Day? My stories are bottlenecking on me.

  3. Send Change of Eddress and resend queries January 3rd.

    Meanwhile, take a lesson. NEVER close up an email address until it stops getting anything but spam (several years).

    Get a gmail eddress!

    And thanks for mentioning me on your blog!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. Thank you for the advice, Jacqueline!

    I'm just flattered silly you would even *read* my humble little blog.

    I have a Yahoo email which I use for my sites. I'll just start using that for all but my personal correspondances.

  5. Great material about language and building to climaxes! I've found that the "layering" method you describe has become the way I write (esp. since I'm using the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method, which produces a "draft," really an in-depth outline, that is highly detailed but mainly just-plot). So it would be hard to say how many drafts I do. I think of the "expanded" outline that becomes my true first draft as draft 1.5. What I end up with after incorporating changes suggested by my critique partner and other revisions I think of on my own becomes draft 2. There's always a draft 3 after an editor goes over the file, but those changes are never extensive. I've often thought about the drawbacks of word processing for manuscript collectors and literary historians. For authors who never print out a draft, the earlier versions of their works may be simply GONE!