Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Worldbuilding From "Reality:"

On twitter on #scifi chat on Friday Feb 26th, the discussion centered on Urban Fantasy. That was the day after I saw the Healthcare Summit on live feed. Talk about a reality check!

"Reality" of course means your subjective bubble reality that you live inside of.

We all walk around inside bubbles and see the world through reflections of ourselves and ghosts of what's out there.

This blog is about Alien Romance, Science Fiction Romance, and what goes on inside a writer's mind that results in a well concocted universe and a story that fits into that universe artistically.

The main Worldbuilding Posts that I've written are here:




I've done a number of posts not listed above describing the worldbuilding process, the way a writer creates a "selective representation of reality" against which to tell a story about characters who encounter problems tailor made to break the character's psyche in half, and how the character learns to heal that broken psyche because of the traumatic events.

That applies to action stories as well as to romance, though romance is much better at breaking psyches than action is. Combine the two, toss in some skewed SF speculation, and the resulting story can resound down the ages as a lesson to be grappled with.

Nothing arouses the emotions to the breaking point like politics. Politics can break a good marriage! The human species is still trying to find a method of governing that actually works.

So science fiction writers keep exploring the options, looking for some new ideas, generating a whole sub-genre of "sociological SF" which lends itself particularly well to Romance, especially Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy.

Alternate universes and alternate histories are in style as venues for telling such stories -- but I haven't seen any really NEW ideas lately.

Fantasy genre tends to default to Aristocracy and Kings as the governing method. Maybe that's just lazy writing.

Destroy our current civilization and we start over basically with the same-old, same-old. You've seen that happen in "reality" on TV news as other countries, knocked back by natural disaster or war, re-form their organizations around "strong men," gangs, religious leaders, -- anyone who can command enough loyalty to defend a neighborhood.

Crowning Kings is what humans do. We need "Kings" to unite us in defense, and to go conquering to pacify larger territories, get water and arable land, etc.

I talked a little about that a couple weeks ago in this post:


In that post, I explored the origin of the I.Q. test and how it originated in politics and might still be used by politicians because the concepts embedded in it lend themselves to creating an Aristocracy.

At the moment, most of the world and particularly the USA is using a government format that is rooted in Aristotle's philosophies.

That's right, our concept of how to govern ourselves is THAT old!!!

Nearly a hundred years of dedicated futurologists and really original thinkers writing SF and Fantasy haven't yet come up with a new idea.

But if you look at the Romance field, you see how crucial are the assumptions about how the overall government around the bonding couple works.

Bonding into a couple is fragile at first, and very often in "reality" defies local "authority" and gets bashed down hard, sometimes too hard.

Human couples form that wondrous, and unbreakable, bond across the artificially created lines of politics, religion, and cultural taboos, and somehow, against all odds, coupling prevails because of romance, not because of practical everyday strengths.

Once formed, that human coupling bond is stronger and more compelling than any other force, even politics most of the time. It's especially stronger than religion. But both politics and religion can crack open a marriage, especially after children arrive which "raises the stakes."

So you might expect the Romance field to have produced some Fantasy Romance using something other than Kings, Queens, and aristocrats.

Fantasy has used various sorts of aristocracies -- some based on merit where the Hero(ine) has to swing a sword better than anyone else or pass some other test, or have an ESP Talent to qualify.

But, in Urban Fantasy and PNR, the default format of what can somehow, almost, manage to govern humans is a bureaucratic, autocratic or mystical aristocracy.

The assumption is that some people are just inherently better than others, that some people are born to rule.

But our real world does not laud that theory at all.

In our reality we keep trying to get this election thing perfected, and let vast numbers of people select people to go solve our problems from a central location (with the implication that once we choose the right person, we don't have to pay any more attention).

That lack of constant attention by the electorate is starting to evaporate under the impact of social networking online.

The pendulum seems to be swinging toward the general public micromanaging elected officials.

And concurrently, we are getting more of an assumption that the highest elected officials have been tasked with micromanaging our individual lives.

That's a view from inside my personal subjective bubble. Your view ought to be different (I hope).

This blog is not about what my (or your) political bias is. The point is that we all have a bias, and the very existence of a bias or perhaps a scorn for those who have a bias, makes a great conflict to embed in a world you're building -- so the bonding couple can have a hard time and learn from that.

Another subject we've been discussing here is screenwriting, or "visual storytelling."

Text-narrative writers have to do this, too, but with different tools.

A feature screenplay or TV show can simply specify the visual clues in the environment that illustrate the emotional undercurrents and richly built world behind the drama.

A text narrative has to accomplish the same thing with tools more like a Japanese Brush Painting, illustrating the rich detail with a few, bold, vivid strokes that engage the human brain's ability to fill in the gaps by inference.

If you do a quick survey of the Urban Fantasy novels of the last 2 years, two things leap right out at you.

1) There's almost nothing but SERIES, and some are not numbered but labeled "A Violet Simpering Novel" or whatever the main character's name is.

2) They use what I've called the "thin film over a seething cauldron of Evil" vision of reality to create dark, ugly, underbelly-of-civilization stories.

The most popular are told in our everyday universe where in some adjacent universe with evil, bad, ugly, threatening beasts plot to invade and destroy or take over our reality. The only thing stopping them? Our Hero(ine).

The evil is among us and someone has to live a nasty life in order to save us - whether we want that or not.

Amidst this all-encompassing "darkness" we sometimes have a pair of lovers who somehow find each other against all odds (I personally love that story!)

Now duck back into everyday "reality" and take a look what's coming off your TV screen.

The USA is in the midst of take-2 of the Healthcare Debate.

OK, now everyone is standing up shouting at me, either "healthcare is a right!" or "healthcare is a privilege" -- or whatever your opinion might be.


This is a writing exercise that requires looking at "reality" as objectively as you can in order to create a few swift strokes to depict a fictional reality where everything is sooooo diffferrrennntttt!!

To be different, you have to figure out what you're different from.

So we need to look at the US government with an artist's eye, with a visual story-teller's eye, and with a philosopher's eye.

Where have we been with governmental forms? Where are we now? Where are we going? Extrapolate - "If This Goes On ..." where will we be?

Worldbuild the place where we're going, and set your romance there and it will be sociological SFR.

Well, that's what I do everyday, even when I'm not particularly focused on building a new world or writing a new story.

So a couple weeks ago, I sat all day Thursday and watched the antics of real world politicians before national cameras "discussing" healthcare reform. Well, truth is I multi-tasked, cooking while watching.

And though I searched, I didn't see any discussing at all.

The POTUS ordered "no talking points" and everyone proceeded to utter all their most polished talking point lists uttered in perfect sound bytes.

Each person at the huge, square table gave a prepared speech, and only acknowledged anyone else at the table in cursory asides that made it seem like a conversation -- but it was not a brainstorming, problem-solving, solution-inventing session, which is what it should have been.

I mean, we pay their salaries to solve these problems. They wasted our time right in front of our faces. Personally, I'd dock their pay.

If you wanted to hear what these people were thinking, you did well to not-watch the 7 hours of television. I've seen miniseries that were shorter.

On the other hand, it was a feast set out for a writer!

Defiance of authority seemed interesting to me as talking-point after talking-point was uttered but only one man got scolded by Authority. Since I knew the back story, I found that had subtext galore.

I was particularly interested in the face of authority defied. Lots of good drama there.

But there was other really rich material, especially for a romance writer.

Because the networks kept cutting in to insert commentary and commercials when someone they didn't like was talking (sometimes when POTUS was talking), I ended up switching to my computer and watching it "live streaming" where they showed every single moment.

And I'm glad I did because later, comparing the clips shown on TV to the view via live-streaming, I SAW THINGS in the room that I wouldn't have seen, things the TV shots left out, visual clues which I could use to make up a story.

Perhaps the 7 hours is archived online somewhere, I don't know. If you have a day to waste, you might want to hunt it up and watch.

But here are my observations.

The one single, loudest cry from the voters that I've heard consistently from all shades of the political spectra is that "Government Is Broken" -- this from the people who want a public healthcare option and from those who are against it. Both sides are convinced "government is broken" because they can't seem to get government to do anything, and when it does do something, it's disastrous immediately, or in the future.

Government Is Broken

If you've wondered if government really is broken in the USA, it might be informative or at least stimulative to the imagination to watch a good portion of the live-streaming feed of this healthcare summit meeting.

Now, I've wondered about this idea that government is broken. And I keep thinking a good SF writer ought to be able to posit a fix for the break, if it exists.

Note that above I said that the best Romance is written by taking a character, breaking the character's psyche with Events, then healing that character by lessons learned from those Events.

Government has experienced an Event (the Financial System meltdown).

If they learn from it, and heal, then "broken" is a really good way to be at the moment. If they don't learn and heal, then "broken" portends personal disaster for us all.

But why would the financial system meltdown Event "break" government?

Was that Event the source, or just a trigger?

Let's say it was a trigger.

We have to look for the source of the weakness. Something within the governmental philosophy behind the structure of this government FAILED.

What was it?

The electorate is gearing up to "throw the bums out" and get ourselves some "new bums" which has always worked before.

A democracy representing a Republic, that's the nested structure of the USA. We have a Representative Democracy.

As far as I know, we're the only democracy that uses the form of government we have -- everyone else uses the British parliamentary system or some variation on a multi-party system.

Ask The Next Question.

What could cause a representative democracy to fail?

Well, let's look at how the Federal Government functions.

a) No Congressman or Senator ever reads all the Bills they vote on. In fact, the elected folks don't WRITE the Bills - aides do that.

b) Congressmen and Senators are on multiple "Committees" and "Subcommittees" -- all of which cram meetings and hearings into the very few work-week hours these people are officially on the clock.

c) They have to show up in person on the Floor to vote, but they DO NOT SIT THROUGH the "Debate" on any bill. I've seen on CSPAN and elsewhere any number of really important Bills debated. The speaker stands up at a microphone and reads a prepared speech TO AN EMPTY ROOM except for the presiding officer (usually not the actual top official who should be presiding) and a secretary.

OK, it's true this stuff is televised and they can watch from their offices, but do you think they're hanging on every word? Do they read the Record or even read the text of the speeches from the opposing side?

Why aren't they all at the floor sessions, listening? Well, they're on committees, in meetings, or out to lunch with lobbyists. They're on the phone with constituents. They're all over town, and in some cases actually doing some work. They're too busy to sit and listen.

d) There are exactly 2 Senators from each state, regardless of the population of that state or its physical size. 100 Senators.

e) There are a fixed number of Representatives (that could be raised but hasn't been for a while) apportioned among the states by population and among the counties of a state by population, all according to the 10 year Census.

This from Wikipedia:

Each state receives representation in the House in proportion to its population but is entitled to at least one Representative. The most populous state, California, currently has 53 representatives. The total number of voting representatives is currently fixed by law at 435.[1

Do you see what I'm getting at?

I've run through the population growth statistics of the USA here a few times because anyone trying to market fiction has to learn to think in terms of "market share" and market composition. You need to know what the numbers mean.

Roughly, the USA population grew from 200 million to 300 million from 1960 to 2000 and today is estimated to top 330 million.

That's a 50% rise in 40 years.

The 1790 Census stood at 4.55 million. That's the kind of population magnitude the structure of this government was created to handle. That was before California was discovered. (Gold Rush was 1849)


At the time the Constitution was framed, who could IMAGINE 400 million people under ONE GOVERNMENT, all of them voting and micromanaging the government via twitter?

In Business, the corporate structure is periodically examined with an eye to "scalability" -- and very quickly and efficiently restructured as the company grows.

But in government, the same structure is pushed to govern through growth of 2 orders of magnitude.

OK, government added Representatives -- but a single body of 435 disparate voices all concerned about local things but not national things is just way too large to manage.

We added States so we added Senators. We started with 26, you know. In a body of 26 people, everyone can talk to everyone and make group decisions. In 100, it can't happen. In 435, it's ridiculous.

How many corporations have TOP management of 535 individuals all with equal authority? (Senate and House).

If the USA government is broken, then I suspect it's because of scalability in the structure.

Not only do we have about the same number of people doing the governing work as for 200 million, but we've INCREASED the amount of work they have to do.

And it's not just population growth that increases the work load on Congress and the Senate. Today, no sooner do they get something done than they have to do it over because the world changed.

We made it through the industrial revolution, but we've totally drowned our government with the technological revolution.

They can't make new laws fast enough, nevermind anticipate what laws we need governing what new invention.

That's how the financial meltdown occurred.

Some bright people had the brilliant idea of a way to make a huge profit off of loans that were certain to default and never be paid back.

They went global with the idea (the group was originally based in London).

It worked gangbusters, mostly because no government had authority or power or the computerized tools to audit, regulate, or assess these instruments. They were HIGH TECH instruments nobody understood, least of all the inventors and others who pretended to understand.

Because our government is stuck in the stone age of mainframe computing, and because all our laws are archaic, and can't be deleted and replaced as fast as corporations can invent and ditch technologies and strategies based on video-game-speed transactions -- we got destroyed.

Because our government is designed to govern 4.5 million people, and is now governing maybe 350 million (soon to be 400 million I don't doubt - and that's not counting illegal immigrants though the early census counted slaves), and because our government is not state-of-the-art computerized, we will crash again. Maybe this summer.

In today's age, it should take Congress and the Senate maybe a day to write a Bill, and get it passed by the President. It'll be obsolete when Microsoft releases its next operating system.

If our government can't move that fast, we will be thrown back to the stone age -- or become an anarchy. (I'm not sure we aren't already an anarchy, but Congress hasn't noticed yet.)

So What Shows That USA Government Is Broken?

If you're writing a book or screenplay and need to show a government that is broken, what would you show -- what images would you use.

Here's an idea:

1) Show the governed doing business. Show a corporate meeting. Show "Go To Meeting" or some other teleconference. Show a brainstorming session where actual problems are solved.

What would you see in a real working meeting of a functional international group?

Computerized "white boards" -- whole wall flatscreens like you see on TV tracking elections or weather where the reporter kind of waves his hands over the screen and windows open and move, text boxes show up with statistics all organized. A big iphone screen.

Watch TV news. Say CNN. The commentators sit at a high table with notebooks or netbooks open before them, earbuds connected to producers.

Watch yourself doing some real work. If your internet connection is down, you can't work. You need google and bing and whatever to look stuff up to be sure of your facts.

2) SHOW the broken government doing some work, holding a meeting, solving a problem. (Healthcare is not something to fight over; it's a problem to be solved and it should take about 2 hours to write a whole new healthcare system, and update it next month.)

If you wanted to show the broken government trying to manage a populace armed with computers, earbuds, cell phones, etc, you would concoct the visual images we saw at Obama's Healthcare Summit.

To invent a totally new form of government for your novel, you have to incorporate clues that tell the reader you understand the current state of affairs, so your invention seems plausible not naive.

So you have to study the visual differences (show don't tell) between the governed and the governors as it stands today, then invent visual differences to indicate how well the invented form of government works.

What did I notice in the healthcare summit live-stream that I could use to show broken government, and generate a visual indication of a non-broken government?

a) Only on the live streaming internet view, I saw closeups of each person at the table, looking DOWN on them. I saw all around the table, everywhere. I saw the table in front of each person. NO COMPUTERS, no netbook, no handheld (even Obama didn't have his blackberry and had to be handed a paper note at one point). This is our government at work. They may as well have met in 1790, not 2010. I was so horrendously embarrassed, you have no idea. Crushed!!!!

b) I saw stacks of bound printouts we were told were the passed Healthcare bills. They were thumb-indexed with sticky index tabs.

c) I saw a several page printout we were told was from the website posting Obama's proposed Reconciliation bill. We were told that once written up properly it would be that huge. As I said above aides do this, not actual elected people we have given the sole authority to write bills.

d) I saw a couple aides sitting behind people at the table who had cell phones or blackberries. I saw Secret Service people with nothing in hand paying actual attention to everyone around and about.

e) I saw what each person at the table was wearing (very informative). I compared what they were wearing then, to what I see them wearing in Hearings to what they wore at the State of the Union address and the Inauguration. I noticed how they wore their hair.

f) I saw what people at the table were doing while other people were talking.

g) I saw the speaker system set up in the open square in the middle of the table.

h) I saw one cameraman with a camera on his shoulder -- obviously there were others, someone took the picture of the cameraman. Usually, at committee hearings, there are a few dozen cameramen/women squatting before the speakers or on the sides by the wall.

i) as the day wore on, I saw water GLASSES (few plastic bottles) appear before people while the camera I was watching through looked elsewhere. I saw after lunch a couple of COFFEE CUPS -- gold gilt, open handle, very elegant presidential grade china cups with embossed saucers, set behind where they wouldn't be in the TV broadcast camera shot.

j) we were told there had been debate whether the attendees would eat while before the cameras and it was decided to have a buffet style lunch served off camera. We were told the menu (elegant - nothing I'd care to eat).

k) at the lunch break which was delayed because speakers ran over time, they HAD TO BREAK then because the Representatives had to go to the Floor to vote. That's important. That happens at Hearings, too. They don't have time to listen to debate on the floor, they just run in and vote and run out. They're not doing the work we hired them to do. Why not? Because they don't want to? Or because they've got too much work?

We saw them walking out across the street from Blair House wearing what they wore inside even though it was really cold in DC, though not snowing as it was in NYC. They did return (presumably after the buffet lunch) pretty much on time, and the POTUS allowed the whole discussion to run 1 hour over the announced time and he called that good for a DC meeting.

l) That night, I was thinking about all that I saw, and noticed something else that hadn't struck me at the time. These folks, I know most of them by sight because I do watch congressional hearings sometimes, these folks are the heads of committees, the ones elected to internal offices of their parties, (like Majority Leader and Whip) functionaries of the Congressional organization. These were not the everyday worker bees of Congress -- these were somebodies at the top of their careers. Mostly elder white males, a couple young white males, a couple of women also not young, I recall only one other black male besides Obama, again not young.

This group did not visually represent a statistical cross section of America. No Indians, no Spanish accents, no Hispanic looking people, no Orientals of any ilk, and no American Indians (though 17 Healthcare bill amendments inserted a specification that a paragraph or another applied to American Indians, too, all 17 submitted by one person).

m) Also noted how the microphones had red circles that glowed when the mike was on, and a switch the person sitting at it could control. Didn't hear any howls of feedback, so that tech was pretty modern.

n) noted the hanging ivy behind the POTUS, artfully draped over the old mantle but no skylight in the room that I could spot. It was a room the size of a ballroom at a hotel, with a good carpet and fine acoustics. I didn't see any ugly gray duct tape on the carpets securing wires for the microphones but it might have been there. I think the system was wireless. At least that. *sigh*

o) I also noted, many times, the horridly uncomfortable straight backed cane chairs, ever so stylish period pieces, but everyone seemed to sit so still, straight, and stiff when the cameras were on. Maybe nobody wanted to show their age or infirmity when the cameras were on. I felt that a really functional government would have provided chairs that wouldn't distract participants with pain.

I do know that Congress and the Senate are a lot more "diverse" than what I saw and Congress itself has slightly more modernly ergonomic chairs.

Now there's your visual portrait. Think about those points.

Nevermind the incendiary subject they were discussing, nor the total lack of HEAT from any of them except POTUS scolding one Senator.

Think about what you see in that image. And what you do not see. And what you see among the working people these folks are there to govern when a group sits down to solve a problem with corporate policy.

The USA government is behaving as if the internet is irrelevant. These are "executives" (the level that doesn't type and doesn't make coffee and does take inordinate pride in their practical disabilities).

They are publicly, (knowing they're on national television) showing you how wonderful they are, how on top of everything, how much you can trust them to do this job, and how fabulously efficient they are at it. Some of them are up for re-election this November and really need to get that message across.

Not a handheld or computer. Not an earbud. No way to find a page of that bill they're discussing and project it to the overhead, use a laserpointer (no laser-pointers in breast pockets or on the table) to highlight an item and discuss it. If they had networked laptops, they could all be referencing the same sentence and could hash out what to change it to. Nope. But they're supposed to be showing us how competent they are to manage our government at Broadband Speeds, do an end-run around corporations and protect us from corporate predation.

At one point one person challenged another person's statement about a "fact" -- saying the fact referred to was not a fact at all, but didn't say what the real fact was.

After that challenge, there was no equipment brought in to overhead project or whiteboard illustrate where the cited fact came from and what the true fact actually is.

How can this group solve the healthcare problem (or any problem) if they don't even bother to ascertain the correct facts?

The total lack of computer equipment, the reliance on hand written (hand written, not even typed) notes likewise indicates a total lack of competence to do the job they've been elected to do (make laws faster than corporations can circumvent them).

These folks aren't incompetent. They're among our brightest and best!

It's not the people we need so much to change (you can't find better people anywhere), but the scalability of the government structure.

The way this government does its work -- not the work itself -- is broken because it has not been updated to keep pace with the governed.

The second-biggest-failure in the history of the USA (the financial meltdown) happened because our government is unscalable and obsolete.

The first biggest (the Great Depression) happened for essentially the same reason and a measure was passed to prevent that happening again -- the act which separated deposit banks from investment banks. That act was repealed a few years ago, but not replaced with something more modern. Lawmakers could see the original act was way obsolete, but could not see what to replace it with.

The government can't move fast enough to keep up with the governed.

So we need to invent something new in governmental forms and that's the business of futurologists, essentially SF writers of all stripes and ilks, including SFR writers.

The thesis here on this blog is "Love Conquers All" -- and it seems to me if a philosopher is going to arise to point us at the first totally new form of government in, what?, 2500 years (if you don't count Sharia Law circa a thousand years later, but as I understand that system, it's another form of dictatorship or totalitarianism where the governed don't get a sayso; anyone know more about it?), then it'll happen because of LOVE not because of politics, hate, or healthcare.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. "What could cause a representative democracy to fail?"

    Any history can tell you. So, that's where I go looking first. Human history. My class on anthropology has served me better at worldbuilding than any other class I took in college. And I majored in History.

  2. Yes, first the textbooks and more imaginative sources (Thor Heyerdahl comes to mind).

    THEN apply Theodore Sturgeon's "Ask The Next Question" and consult my post on how to get a crazy idea:


    And then keep thinking. You may discover that "history" as recorded actually misses something obvious.

    Then you have a Blockbuster Film on your hands.

  3. "No Congressman or Senator ever reads all the Bills they vote on. In fact, the elected folks don't WRITE the Bills - aides do that."

    Of course they don't write them!! (And I believe your remark about the Senators and Representatives having "sole authority to write bills" represents a slight misunderstanding; they have the sole authority to INTRODUCE bills. If a Congresscritter is introducing a bill to advance one of the President's programs, for instance, it's someone on the staff of the Executive Branch who has actually written it. That is, a Congresscritter "sponsors" a bill requested by the Executive.)

    I'm a legislative editor for the Maryland General Assembly. Before I was hired, I assumed (if I ever thought about the topic) that legislators wrote their own bills. Have you-all read MURDER MUST ADVERTISE, by Dorothy Sayers? A copywriter for the advertising agency in the novel remarks that the average person thinks the clients write the text for their ads, and he laughs about what a mess the ad would be if they did. Laws would be even more of a mess if they were written by legislators!

    Bills are composed by professional bill drafters with law degrees (in Maryland, anyway, and from what I've heard, in most or all other states). A legislator sends his or her aide to the drafting office with a bill request, explaining what he or she wants the new law to accomplish. The drafter writes it up in the proper format, inserted in the proper location in the existing Code, and sends the result to the legislator for approval. Only when the Senator or Delegate agrees that the future bill says what he or she wants it to say, does he or she sign off on it and introduce it as a First Reader.

    Right before the draft gets introduced as a bill, the sponsor has the opportunity to write in changes. Any such changes have to be approved for format, etc., by the drafting office. When I first started working in Legislative Services, that requirement wasn't in effect yet, and we saw firsthand what a disasters could result when someone not trained in bill drafting tried to tweak the law.

    Your description of how it looks on the floor of Congress sounds pretty discouraging. In the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, all the legislators have to be physically present unless formally excused at the beginning of the day's session. Now, I don't doubt there may be some wandering in and out. But the few times I've dropped in to sit in the gallery over the years, the chambers have always been nearly full.

  4. Margaret:

    Oh, yes, of course your description of the "real world" and how it actually works is right on.

    But yes, they actually do give those speeches to EMPTY Senate and House chambers. In fact the Kennedy who just lambasted the press for not covering Afghanistan "correctly" was ranting and gesturing in front of a camera -- behind which was a totally empty chamber with a couple of reporters in the balcony.

    However, my post was about Worldbuilding. I've done a number of posts on worldbuilding on this blog, mostly about theory.

    This one was demonstrating how to do worldbuilding in practice.

    I have said many times, you have to create the illusion of reality not reality itself in worldbuilding.

    There has to be something that "rings true" or familiar in the foundation of your fantasy world, and then it will support all manner of crazy ideas.

    You get that "rings true" effect by looking out of your own eyes and observing what you see.

    I illustrated the technique by showing what I saw in that particular TV spectacle. What any OTHER writer might see would of course be different.

    Just as an artist sketches people walking down the street, the writer "sketches" the world the reader lives in, then colors it differently than "reality."

    It's all about impressions, not about "truth" - unless of course you get to instructive non-fiction.

  5. It's interesting and a bit shocking to realize the differences in procedure between Congress and a state legislature.

    "I have said many times, you have to create the illusion of reality not reality itself in worldbuilding."

    Yes, I see what you're getting at. However, if the illusion the author creates contains something that actually contradicts the facts, readers who know the facts will get frustrated and throw the book at the wall. :)

    I've read that illusion vs. reality can become a problem in filming because the "real" way something looks or sounds isn't the way the average viewer expects, so replicating the real would look fake to them. Years ago I reviewed a historical novel and got caught in that trap. The author mentioned a baby bottle in a context of over a century and a half ago, which I pointed out as an anachronism in my review. The author contacted me and sent me to a website with pictures of infant-feeding equipment from that era.

    Well, naturally the objects didn't look at all like our idea of a "baby bottle" -- something glass or plastic with a rubber nipple. So her reference, although technically accurate, sounded wrong. IMO, she should have described the bottle in a few words so that her scene would have LOOKED "realistic" as well as being technically factual.

  6. Margaret:

    You wrote:
    Yes, I see what you're getting at.
    Yes, I know you do but there are those who read these blogs who maybe haven't gotten around to looking at the world the way you and I do. This commentary is an illustration of a mental process which I call worldbuilding for SF/F.
    You wrote:
    However, if the illusion the author creates contains something that actually contradicts the facts, readers who know the facts will get frustrated and throw the book at the wall. :)

    Ah, and again you've put your finger RIGHT ON IT.

    Those "throw the book at the wall" readers are not the right readership to aim an SF or F type story at -- most especially not SFR or PNR.

    The whole POINT of SF is to create a world where the FACTS so well known to the readers (scientists, mostly, scientists at play) are blatantly and knowingly (with a wink and a nod) contradicted.

    Then see what the "logical" consequences of that contradiction might be by playing the premise out to its resolution.

    The POINT of Fantasy is almost exactly the same. Believe 6 impossible things before breakfast.

    The game, the playing, comes in setting aside your entire view of "reality" and the way things are, and "suspending disbelief" to play in a world refreshingly different from our actual reality.

    The exercise breaks the rust out of the part of the mind that "knows" facts and makes you doubt everything you are really sure about. The more sure you are, the bigger the doubt. That's called having FUN.

    This is the most necessary part of the mental process of "doing science" because "the facts" change daily (especially today more than in Galileo's time).

    What we solemnly believe today turns out to be naive nonsense tomorrow. But it won't if we don't "ask the next question" which we can't do if our minds are rusted shut around "the facts."

    That doesn't mean fiction has to guess what the new "real fact" will be -- just to break the rust out of the brain so maybe you can be flexible enough to think of what might actually be wrong with today's "facts" and ask that next question, the unthinkable question.

    Now, if you're writing contemporary fiction for muggles, you have to stick closer to the "facts" so they won't feel anxious because they really don't want to ask those kinds of questions, especially not for fun -- but I would never do that (at least not under the Jacqueline Lichtenberg byline) and you have that figured out by now.