Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Communicating in Symbols

In my previous blog entry here:
I mentioned the process of acquiring language rather than learning it, which sparked a lively exchange in the comments all about communication which is so much the heart and soul of every romance.

On http://editingcircle.blogspot.com/2009/03/in-beginning.html , the comments on my entry about the art and craft of constructing the beginning, opening, and narrative hook of an SF Romance novel got into a discussion of the Protagonist's Goal at the opening and how that determines the ending.

In one of the comments, I pointed out how it is possible to telegraph the Protag's goal to the reader without the Protag actually knowing what his/her goal is. That is the goal that will be achieved at the ending in order to resolve the conflict, but the protagonist might have his/her conscious mind focused on a different goal, or even on avoiding the actual goal.

When you open a story with the Protag declaring (aloud or within) that under no circumstances will they do this or that -- you are telegraphing to the reader that in the end, they will do it (and might not even consciously know they have done it), and there will be unforeseeable (suspenseful) consequences.

The adamant declaration that an action is out of bounds is likely to be taken as true by the reader if the declaration comes in the Middle (low point - major defeat - certain failure looms). But if that declaration is on page one, or in chapter 1, the reader knows this is blind stubbornness that must be overcome, not an expression of a true point of Honor that must be lived up to.

How can this be? The same words on page one mean the opposite of what they would mean on page 200?


The novel's structure is what it is (varying across genres, but even in new genres settling into what the readers enjoy most). The novel is an artform in which the very structure telegraphs a philosophical position, a theme. And that structure telegraphs the theme of the genre by symbolically representing some well-known pattern of real life.

Remember on Buffy The Vampire Slayer -- they would often refer to "oh, this is the sad part" or "oh, this is the happy part?" Kids learn early that novels and stories have "parts" and even before the kid has lived long enough to know life has parts, they understand "parts."

Writers use the novel structure to SYMBOLIZE those "parts" of life that bespeak the theme of the genre. Break the genre pattern and you have a very difficult commercial sell, or you have a NEW GENRE.

Stories as a whole are SYMBOLS, and the 3 points, Beginning, Middle, End, are SYMBOLS for "life" - the shape of some part of real life is symbolized by that sequence.

The location in the novel structure of the story-event symbolizes the real meaning of the story-event, regardless of the words (which are also symbols.) People, readers in particular, believe the message in the symbolic placement of the dialog about say, goals or values, over and above the message in the event itself. "I won't" means one thing on the first page, and the opposite on page 200.

Writers communicate with Readers in symbolism.

Structure is symbolism too.

Art is symbolism.

Oddly, algebra and higher math rely on SYMBOLISM.

Science relies on Math, and Math is symbolism.

Religion teaches and conveys values, behaviors, and runs the gamut of all philosophies, invades every aspect of life, and speaks to our deepest mind, heart and soul -- in symbolism.

Great films speak to us in symbolism.

Film uses a set of symbols established and evolved only in the last century or so, but now part of our culture. For example, in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, the Fashion Industry symbolizes everyone's job in every industry.

Written language is symbolism. Alphabets are symbols -- the more so in pictographic writing.

What about spoken language? Conversation? Dialogue?

Yep. Symbolism. "The map is not the territory." But in the realm of psychological and philosophical symbolism used by novelists, there is a magical link between the symbol and the territory. Powerful change can be wrought in a reader who responds to the symbols in a story because in magic, the map is the territory, and storytelling is magic.

Also by manipulating the symbols, by manipulating the map, we can learn new things about the territory. We can learn about hard, objective reality by manipulating fictional symbols.

Our brains are not digital. We're analogue creatures.

So, to interface with reality, we have to build, in our minds, an analogue of reality, a set of symbols that seems to "work just like" the reality outside us. I've borrowed from E. E. Smith's LENSMAN SERIES the phrase Visualization of the Macrocosmic All to refer to that internal analogue of reality we all build.

In the Lensman Series, the aliens called Arisians were energy beings, pure thought, whose main hobby was visualizing the macrocosmic all. By perfecting that Visualization, they could predict events thousands of years hence, and had done so in their age old battle against Boskone, manipulating human history and breeding the special humans called Lensmen who had an ironclad ethical code built into their genes. The Arisians were the Good Guys (just read to find out what Boskone was!) and the Arisians perfected the symbolic analogue of reality as no human ever can, not even the Lensmen.

Science calls this symbolic analogue a MODEL.

A novel (or feature film or TV Show) is a model of a universe built by the writer to be analogous to your personal small corner of reality so that it will speak to you on a deep, inner level, stir emotions you never knew yourself capable of, and let you walk a mile in some character's moccasins, learning lessons you may never need in real life.

Science does most of it's work on models - trying to "model" reality in such a way that the model behaves like the reality it represents. Get the model right, and you can predict what some small corner of reality will do under stress -- just as the Arisians did in fiction for the entirety of all creation.

This is what the Treasury department is trying to do now with "stress testing" big Wall Street firms. They will run a computerized, mathematical model of the economy crashing further, input the firm's current financial data, and the model will produce a graph showing at what point the firm would have to declare bankruptcy. (OK, it's not THAT simple; but that's the idea).

The touchstone of science is predictability -- the model of reality should replicate the behavior of reality so well that when you make a change in the model that has never been made in reality, what the model does will be exactly what reality would do if hit with that change.

The failure of the levees under the impact of Katrina was a failure of the engineering MODEL, as well as politics that prevented spending on upgrading the levees before Katrina. To date, the levees haven't been upgraded to withstand what a Katrina type storm making it all the way to land might deliver, according to some models of the atmosphere.

If this sounds a bit like voodoo dolls, think really hard about that. Math is the cornerstone of magic, too.

Our political decisions are made by politicians under the impact of public opinion which is guided by the media -- and the media speaks to us in symbols such as dead bodies floating in the exact same New Orleans streets many of us had visited.

Madison Avenue advertising firms have spent hundreds of millions of dollars studying how large populations respond to symbols -- what makes you buy this toothpaste or that car? (OK, sex. The hope of romance. But what else?)

Today, I saw an item on CNBC about the dire state of the advertising industry, and learned a new buzzword from this science of manipulating behavior with symbols. "Influence Consumer" -- that's you, the consumer of products designed to influence your behavior, the person at whom this multi-million dollar research is aimed.

How much have you spent learning to resist that well financed force?

Trust me. You haven't a chance against this kind of force unless you invest in mastering symbolism and how it works inside you, personally.

Our largest decisions as a civilization are rooted in models made of symbols and communicated to us in symbols -- dramatized by symbols. We understand drama better than expository lumps, which is why so many "news" shows are nothing but gossip about individuals.

Remember Ross Perot running for President - the man who coined the term "giant sucking sound" to designate the loss of jobs that N.A.F.T.A. would bring - and how resoundingly he lost that election?

Remember also his speeches being expository lumps illustrated with mathematical graphs in color - like a Corporate meeting, not a political speech fraught with symbolic rhetoric. Contrast with Obama's speaking style. See how the public handles symbolism. Remember that when you set out to write a popular novel about love.

Modeling is a process which is currently in progress with our atmosphere. There are competing models, some predicting global warming, some not, some predicting a cooling cycle. These are computerized mathematical models made of symbols connected in ways which are mostly theory, or even untested hypothesis.

The disagreement over global warming is not just political, but also represents two groups of scientists, each emotionally invested in their own carefully built "model," trying to communicate with each other -- over the barrier of the press, politicians and the general public in between them.

This generates screaming and yelling not unlike what we discussed about Twitter as portrayed on YouTube, and for pretty much the same reasons pointed out in the comments to that post. The participants are not talking about the same subject and they aren't "in the conversation."

All our lives and our grandchildren's lives are at stake in who's right about which model replicates the Earth's Atmosphere correctly -- and these groups of scientists are not able to communicate properly despite having symbol-sets in common. Because of all the people in between them, they can't argue until they figure out which Model replicates the atmosphere. They can only take sides and yell.

Their MODELS OF REALITY don't match -- so they are shouting at each other like the Tweeters on Twitter. They're using the same symbols, the same math, but their models of the rest of the universe besides the atmosphere don't match so they can't communicate about the atmosphere.

Or take another example, Kaynesian vs Freidman economic theories -- each mathematically MODELED from reality to represent the behavior of large economic systems.

NEW KAYNESIAN theory http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/NewKeynesianEconomics.html

MILTON FREIDMAN's Nobel winning theory of economics

These two MODELS of how an economy functions are currently duking it out for control of the US government and the world.

The fights over Pres. Obama's 2010 budget and the stimulus packages are huge, prominent and dire examples of how mere mathematical SYMBOLISM controls our lives on a very intimate level. The two articles I referenced are couched in words, "made-simple" articles, but the textbooks about these theories contain a lot of math, graphs, statistics.

Which model is the correct model? They are mutually exclusive, aren't they? It is a zero sum game, isn't it? One works and the other doesn't, right?

In childhood, each of us creates an internal symbol set, pretty much originally, and on our own. Forever more, those symbols represent TRUTH for us.

Symbols (from kid book illustrations of Moses parting the Red Sea to novels full of words without illustrations) can bypass intellect and connect directly with our emotions. Isn't that ironic -- Symbolism, the most powerful tool of the "coldest" discipline, Mathematics, is actually the most powerful tool of the "hottest" discipline, rhetoric, President Obama's forte.

Semantics is the study of the emotional loading of words -- and of course words aren't the "thing" they represent, "the map is not the territory;" words are symbols.

Words have power. But some of the power they have is invested in them by the child first ACQUIRING them. Think about the comments on my blog entry of last week:

Children store the newly acquired word in context associated with the sound or written symbol, smells, colors, possibly the perfume of the woman bending over them and pointing out the word under the picture of Moses.

Forever more, that word MEANS "right." Or possibly "fear" if the teacher was harsh. Or whatever the context suggests. That emotion will always rise on hearing that word, though adults can cram the emotion back down into the subconscious and pretend it isn't there - even believe it isn't there. Nevertheless, it's there and it can manifest in a person's choices and actions.

Given this idiosyncratic response to symbols, the random way we acquire those responses, and the writer's absolute necessity of choosing the most effective symbols to communicate a story to the widest possible audience, how do you choose symbols for your Chapter One?

Your own internal symbols won't mean the same thing to your readers, especially if you are aiming this story at a broad readership.

Perhaps the most prominent symbolic utterance pivotal to all Romance sub-genres is the phrase, "I love you."

You would think everyone knows what that means. Well, we all do know. The problem is, we all know something different about that phrase than other people know.

We each create a mental model of the universe around us, a Visualization of the Macrocosmic All, and having invested so much of our Self into creating that internal model, we cherish that model as we cherish our own souls.

Therefore, we subsequently take any incoming information, any event or tidbit of fact, and try to fit the new bit into our Model.

If the bit does not fit -- we discard the bit not the model. The model we have created is our own self on a very deep level. A threat to our model of reality is a threat to something more precious than our very life. That model we create is our main symbol of reality

"The Levees will hold!" we scream. Or "The Economy Is Sound!"

Adherents of Friedman say, "Sound Economies Hold Recessions! It's Good!" and Keynsians scream back, "Recessions Must Be Controlled, Damped Down, Eliminated By Government Action because that's what government is for!"

"There is no Global Warming!"

Whatever does not fit our model of reality, we reject. That's how we decide what's right or wrong, what's true or false, and it's also how we decide "Does she/he love me?" We take all the little, tiny gestures, expressions, tones of voice, and fit them into our model, and feel either love or rejection according to how well the bits fit into our model of how a lover behaves.

We'd throw our lover away long before we'd ever consider modifying our model of the universe.

That fact is so universal that you can code it into the symbolism of a novel in any genre. It is symbolized by the moment of epiphany when the Protagonist has been beaten down, destroyed, (this is usually the 3/4 point of the novel, what I call "the worm turns" point). At that moment when the protagonist's model of the universe has been totally smashed, he/she can reach down inside and create a NEW model of the universe more congruent with actual reality. Or at least the reality the reader/viewer prefers.

Readers live for experiencing that moment of epiphany with a protagonist. Make it deliver everything you've promised up to that point, and readers will memorize your byline.

Readers love watching a protagonist they really like (SAVE THE CAT!) change their model of reality into something closer to the reader's own model (but not the other way around). It's so much less painful to watch a fictional character change their model of the universe than it is to change your own.

The new model of reality that your protagonist adopts must fit into your reader's personal model of reality. That fit is at the core of the concept "plausible." We believe plausible things because they fit our model. We reject "implausible" things because they don't fit our model.

If you want the reader to believe six impossible things before breakfast, this is the level of your fictional construct where you do that. Plausibility has everything to do with that symbolic level of the model of reality. I've discussed this on this blog in relationship to "background" and "worldbuilding."

Plausible means "fits my model" -- and "my model" is a symbol composed of symbols, each of which has an idiosyncratic meaning.

So what's a writer to do?

In any Romance based story, the writer has to show-don't-tell "What does she see in him?" and "What does he see in her?" These are the key questions that, when answered in the right symbolism, trigger a cascade of great emotions in the reader. Real lovers see each others' models of the universe.

Where do you look to find the most universal symbols that carry the most widely understood semantic loadings?

Think about it. The letters you are reading in this message are symbols that we agree on. People with different accents might make different sounds out of these letters, but still get the gist of what I'm saying.

I might make typos, or (heaven forefend!) actually misspell a word, but you could still make out the gist of what I'm saying.

We have a symbol system and a language built from it in common.

Likewise with the pictorial images, the symbols such as Moses parting the Red Sea become common symbols among us.

Oh, yes, it's in the Bible of course -- but that's just words. The SYMBOL, the image that speaks across cultural gulfs is something like Charlton Heston in the Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster remake of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Oct 5, 1956. (correlate that date with advances in Keynsian economic theory and ponder it all from a futurologist's point of view). It's the visual image that has such incredible power. That's why kid's Bible Study books have pictures.

Anne Phyllis Pinzow,
a professional reporter who moonlights in film, says of Heston in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS:
What they could do with creative editing for a few thousand dollars can only just be matched by millions in technology now. Him standing there, both hands on the staff in front of him, spreading his arms proclaiming to the Hebrews to see the power of G-d. WOW Star Wars looks like shlock compared to it. Not because it's shlock but because it looks like a comic book come to life, or really high-tech animation. Yes, there was animation in The Ten Commandments, and yes, some very sophisticated editing for the time. But when watching The Ten Commandments, audiences looked at that and felt it WAS REAL. THIS ACTUALLY WAS HAPPENING. I don't think anyone could ever say that about Star Wars. Also, this was just 11 years after the Holocaust, and 8 years after the founding of Israel. In a very huge sense, the movie was symbolic of what was actually, really happening at that time. Take that in your symbolisim and smoke it.

I couldn't have put it better. Note how Pinzow draws the parallel between what was happening in the world, and the images that rocked the entertainment industry. SYMBOLISM. Something currently real reduced to symbolism -- taken from something far older, something studied by most of the intended audience in words, cold print or static pictures -- suddenly turned into a Big Screen Reality. The impact was epic for the intended audience of 1956.

That's an important part -- INTENDED AUDIENCE. Wouldn't play so well in Moslem countries.

Images, pictures, become a language of their own. One symbol goes with another -- but not with a third because the third is in a different "language."

Our cultures and societies and civilizations have ordered and organized our symbol sets -- and we've inculcated those subconscious symbols into our children for generations.

The writer, on a very mundane level, belongs to such a society or culture, and can speak in their symbols natively -- because the writer (being of an artistic temperment to begin with) has ACQUIRED the image-symbolic language of the writer's own society.

A drastic change in that acquired symbol set (video games) has made the current generation gap much wider than previous ones.

If Jung was right, there may be some universal (primal) human symbols that communicate across civilization boundaries.

But today, the USA is such an un-mixed stew pot of cultures that we don't have a "universal" symbolism in which to speak to each other any more. The generation gap is only one cultural gap dividing us.

It seems to me that one of the important tasks of the splintering and reforming Romance genre is to re-establish a common language of symbolism in which we can speak to each other in the USA, and across the world, about the things that matter most - love, aspirations, nesting, building a life for our children, all the ingredients in the HEA ending -- the part of the story the Romance writer does not write but symbolizes for the reader.

Love is universal. It is our job, as writers, and maybe especially SF Romance writers, to establish a common symbol system in which future generations will be able to communicate - even on Twitter.

Analyze what deMille did with TEN COMMANDMENTS -- think about what Moses parting the Sea means to you today and drop a comment about what tidbits like WWII are floating around in our collective consciousness that could be dramatized to become a symbol of love across all our communication gaps.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Anne Pinzow4:09 PM EDT

    What is interesting too, and I don't know if it's just me or universal (probably universal) is that when we come across a piece of something that doesn't fit our model, we don't just reject it, but it can anger us.

  2. Jacqueline, I've just GOT to introduce you to flash fiction. :)

    As is so often the case, your scope is so wide, my poor fuzzy brain boggles and I go into mental dog-lock. But at the end you summarize, only this time I was stalled making a reply because I flat could not think of a contemporary corollary which you asked for.

    That, and I was stuck on Anne's association of The Ten Commandments with world events, which, while no doubt true doesnt take into account that "wonder" still existed in the eye of movie-goers back then, and is remarkably diminished now.

    Since that isn't exactly germane to this entry, I didn't bother to comment.

    Then I read the blog entry you cited regarding the construction of a story. Specifically, you said "However, I suspect that the Romance will have a bigger teen audience than the SF because that's the trend in the world."

    And then it dawned on me; there is no symbology because there is no sense of community.

    Yes, that's a horribly broad, horribly cynical observation, but consider Anne's comparisons to the movie. At that time, most of America was still united by a commonality called war. WWII ended less than a decade before, but it had been such a pervasive part of (American) life that it was still foremost in peoples thoughts, if only because of the industry boom that followed.

    (Contrast that with the events of 9-11 which put a flag on nearly every vertical surface at the start, and less than a decade later is largely a footnote in history.)

    Put another way, people in general no longer have a sense of community larger than themselves.

    Call it information overload, or the decline of national awareness, or lousy schools. It doesnt really matter, because the end result is the same.

    We as human beings avidly seek out community, a sense of belonging, from the earliest cliques in grade school to the cheerful gossip over the neighbors fence while our gray hair drifts in the breeze.

    All well and good, but the internet, and by extension social networks still do not fulfill that sense of community at it's most basic, personal level. And it is the internet and social networks by which most teenagers, most people, communicate.

    No matter how many forums you visit, no matter how many blogs you comment on, no matter how many friends you have on facebook, or twitter, myspace, et al. you cannot *touch* most of them. The communication is simply too remote and too shallow.

    That very separateness forces us to seek still other surrogates to fill the void.

    Enter Romance.

    Long held as a device for swooning housewives looking for an escape from the drudgery of housework, (Rescuing the fair maiden is a *staple* plot line, after all) Romance has become an alternative to 'touch', delivered in a medium already familiar to those who seek it. In text.

    No matter how intriguing the conflict, if the reader cannot feel like she is involved with the characters, the story tanks because she is looking for a sense of herself in the stories she reads. Emotion becomes the central attraction, and a decent plot is just icing on the cake.

    Distilled to its most basic form, it is the sense of belonging *to the characters* that makes it readable in the first place.

    Ask any fan of the romance genre why she reads it, and she will invariably say something like "I can relate to the characters." Dig a bit deeper, and you find that statement is often a broad substitute for "I want to BE the character." Towit, she wants to be sought after, found, held, and appreciated. She wants to belong.

    Romance gives us a sense of emotional belonging, no matter how specious, because the events of the story unfold within our minds. We get caught up in the characters lives, intimately (in the broader sense) just as we used to get caught up in our classmates lives, or our neighbors as we chat over the fence.

    So Jacqueline, the answer to your challenge is simple. There is no particular symbology because the genre itself, and the stories which come of it, ARE the symbol for what is missing in our lives.

  3. Cool stuff, Jacqueline. Your advice really helped me sort things out too.

  4. Anne:

    Yes, it's the symbolism that jerks our emotions around! And often we will have a fulminating overly intense response to an apparently innocent piece of fiction and not know why.

    Those who know the secrets of symbols however will know why.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  5. Patric:

    Yes, you've nailed exactly the subject I've been blogging about and gnawing on and asking about and investigating and stomping around in frustrated circles pulling my hair out over for a couple years now.

    I asked a Question on LinkedIn and go nothing but flip and innane answers -- and there's some real brainpower collected on LinkedIn, too.

    I asked "What do Americans all have in common today?" And gave a few examples of what we have had in common in the past -- such as the way in WWII the Army used baseball as a source of code-recognition and ID.

    What is it that the USA has in COMMON?

    The answer seems to be NOTHING. We've lost "community" on so many levels.

    Yesterday, it was announced that the oldest running TV show THE GUIDING LIGHT which started before I was born and was my Mom's favorite radio soap, has been cancelled.


    Soaps provided that common symbolism that bound generations together. This cancellation marks a REAL CHANGE in this world on a level most can't understand.

    And yes, it's the information explosion, the social gap between those online and those not-online, the tech-facility gap between generations, AND the oddest gap of all that has occurred because of a GOOD THING.

    Our country splintered with the follow-up movement to Women's Lib -- in the 1980's with ROOTS and other trend-setters that created the "politically incorrect" wall around racial slurs, and at the same time elevated racial origins to iconic levels.

    We now acknowledge and laud our "roots" in other cultures, celebrating our cultural diversity while at the same time trying to refrain from disparaging any culture.

    This has shattered the cultural unity -- the "melting pot" that we once lived in where every immigrant had to learn English, the Constitution, and The American Way!

    This shattering of our unity has produced now a mishmoshed confusion on the level of fictional symbolism.

    There were 3 TV channels; and they only broadcast a few hours each day! EVERYONE knew Uncle Miltie! Ed Sullivan. I mean everyone.

    Today lots of people don't know who they were or why they were important.

    This social observation has been driving me to distraction for years and years.

    With Romance reaching teens and twenty-somethings as no other literature does -- Romance Writers have a CHANCE to heal this country, and perhaps the world, by inventing new SYMBOLS to unite us in mutual understanding.

    Love is a common denominator, Romance is a familiar referrant. It can be done, and I am convinced the venue in which to do this is both the e-book and the ONLINE VIDEO.

    I think this VIDEO trend is vastly more important (mystically speaking) than almost anyone else I have encountered thinks it is.

    The TEN COMMANDMENTS movie, and analyzing its place in the social trends and its relevance to today and how we can leverage that understanding to accomplish these lofty goals within a genre that is so despised -- all of that is a topic of astronomical proportions.

    The symbols that must re-unite us will come from our deepest past because those living symbols express what is most purely human.

    The medium of disseminating the new symbolism will be online and VISUAL -- I can't imagine any other way it could spread these days.

    It has to be visual, and that's the area where I have no competence.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  6. Jacqueline,

    You aren't the only one to recognize the phenomena, though I dare say you are one of the few that understands the necessity of visual communication.

    I recently finished listening to an audio recording of several of the "Enders Game" series by Orson Scott Card. In his afterwards, recorded solely for the audio versions, he comments several time on the (to him, apparently) bewildering need for books to be made into movies, quoting the old chestnut of "It's a really great book. They ought to make it into a movie." and while I dont recall his exact words, he seems to consider it a result of the general public "seeing film as the highest form of expressive art." [paraphrased]

    I think he has it wrong, frankly. Certainly it's the most recognizable form, given society today, but no one seems to take into consideration that on a purely mechanical level, we are visual creatures. Estimates suggest one quarter to one third of our brains are devoted to processing visual information. That's huge, given all the other processes that one organ handles.

    At the risk of a really bad pun, think about it for a minute. Eyes are the first features an infant recognizes in its mothers face. From that point on, we process visual information at an astounding rate, learning such subtleties as facial expression and body language with all the facility of a second language. On a purely hard wired level, our eye are coded to note movement first, and with enough light, color and detail. The human eye can distinguish between roughly 16 million discreet colors, and distinguish shades of gray on a scale roughly equivalent to comparing a crack in the sidewalk to a small canyon.

    The point is, its *natural* to be predisposed to visual stimulus.

    Consider memory: Ask someone to describe an event from their past and they will rely with visuals. "My mother wore a blue dress." or even when the crux of the memory is based on odor ("I remember the smell of cookies at Christmas.") there will always be a visual element.

    I seriously doubt any early movie maker consciously thought about this, but from the very beginnings of film, directors strove to make the scene as visually realistic as possible. The special effects in The Ten Commandments were unheard of in scope for the time period, but they are what largely made the movie such a memorable experience, because the visuals *so closely resembled the visual cues of our imagination.*

    This is important, especially when you consider the transition from books to film.

    A generation ago, when books were at their peak (roughly speaking) imagination fired the stories, made what we read more real because we could *see* it in our heads. We were accustomed to exercising our imagination because we had radio. (A medium begging to exploit imagination if ever there was one.) As more and more books made it to the screen, most of the success could be directly attributed to how well the director envisioned the stories for us. The following generation, however, lacks that fundamental comparative analysis. They started out with TV as a staple in almost every home, as common and as necessary as toilet paper. Thus, they simply have no need to imagine for themselves. Movies do it for them.

    Can I say this generation is lazy? Maybe, but I wont. They simply dont know any other way. By the time us old goats die off, no one will even remember what it was like to sit in front of a radio and imagine the characters on "Guiding Light", except as a head scratching novelty. Of course, by the time the generation after that comes into play, *they* will scratch their heads and wonder how anyone could stand to watch a FLAT screen. :)

    So in a very real way, it could be said that the only true commonality we share is a demand for visual media, whether it be delivered on TV, a DVD, at a theatre, or online.

    The really nifty thing is, no matter how it is delivered, there simply is no media without a good story to drive it. :)

  7. Anne,

    Were I to make an uneducated guess, I'd say it was 'universal subconsciousness'.

    Apropos of the visuals discussion, and the risk of yet another bad pun, take a look at 3D human animation. No one reading this blog can deny seeing a 3D human character looking "odd" or "creepy" or simply dead, but very few of them could tell you why.

    On a purely subconscious level, we note the lack of expression, subtle shift of facial muscles, etc. All the things we were trained from birth to recognize, our 'model' if you will, and when something so fundamental is missing, we feel uneasy, repelled, or angry.

    Likewise with a good story, whether it be romance or any other genre. If something fundamental is missing, no mater how good the plot concept, the story tanks.

    We say things like "The language doesn't ring true." or "That's not what the character would do." or even "That's a passive voice!" but the reality is simply that the model we expect to find, isn't there or is broken in some way.

    No one wants their fundamental core values/beliefs/understanding to be shaken, (or stirred) so we get angry, and more often than not, we can't even say why. :)

  8. Patric:

    Again, you're exploring exactly the aspects of the visual symbolic issue that occupies me.

    Books that "need" to be made into movies are those that say something a wider audience needs to hear. Readers have always been a small minority.

    But not all stories translate exactly into visual symbols. HOUSE OF ZEOR is one of those. The symbology is non-tangible.

    But I still believe Sime~Gen can be made visual.

    At any rate, I agree about radio, and it fascinates me that the internet has occasioned a revival of the radio "broadcast."

    As for those growing up with TV as necessary as toilet paper, well, that is the generation that invented Star Trek fan fiction which then started a whole wave of fan fiction devoted to other TV shows.

    Then the younger ones transplanted it all to the Web -- and there is still a vast amount of new "cold text" story material being posted.

    But meanwhile, the visually talented and business oriented created Star Trek anew as video episodes The New Voyages which has changed its name to Phase II


    And then Marc Zicree made a professional episode!

    Cold print can spark the visually talented into high gear. And creativity breeds creativity.

    But to find something powerful enough to knit us all back together into a culture again, we need the (as you point out) far more visceral or primal VISUAL ELEMENT. Nothing less can do it.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg