Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Failure of Imagination Part III: Education

We're going to look at an article that surfaced in July 2010 in Newsweek Magazine, of all places, that unintentionally reveals a lot about the fiction marketplace and how that fiction market is morphing as we begin this new decade.

Who would think Newsweek would give writing lessons?

The overall general topic I've been tackling in these posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com is how to improve the general reader/viewer's opinion of the Romance Genre - particularly SFR and PNR.

Part I of this sequence on Failure of Imagination is not labeled Part I because I had no idea the topic would spread so far:

Part I is about professional romance writers unable to imagine the HEA is actually a real part of everyday mundane life.

Part II is here:

Part II looks at our failure as a society to imagine solutions to some problems -- and therefore we must suspect we fail to imagine and actualize solutions to other problems. It's not a failure to solve A problem - it's a failure at problem-solving-methodology. I wrote this before the Newsweek article came out.

Part III is this post where we will look at why Americans are wearing such blinders on the Imagination.

We put blinders (those leather cups around the outside of the eyes) on race horses to help them concentrate on running where the jockey points them and not spook at every movement close by, especially when being put into the starting gate stall. They also protect the horse's eyes from flying mud kicked up by a horse next to them.

It's a kindness to the horse, and a way of getting the horse's best out of him/her.

But should humans be treated that way?

When some of our data-input channels (mental and emotional bandwidth?) are blocked by "blinders" do we perform "better?"

Well, if you prevent certain sorts of human behavior before the behavior is even conceptualized, the human might become more tractable, more easily directed into certain group coordinated activities like running in a herd.

How can you put blinders on a MIND???

I don't mean how can you get up the nerve, the gumption, the chutzpah to do that -- but rather how can a mind be "blinded?"

Well, it's psychological of course.

And isn't psychology what fiction is about -- while Romance genre specializes in microscopic examination of the psychological?

You know me and cliches. Here's another old one I haven't harped on before. "As The Twig Is Bent, So Grows The Tree."

People can be bent psychologically if you can get at them early enough in life. The rule of thumb is give me a child until he's 7 years old, and you can do anything you want with him after that. (Is that from the Jesuits?)

We know this from child-abuse studies. A person abused in childhood turns out to be an adult with "issues" -- if overcome, those issues can be a strength, but if not overcome then they can cut swaths out of the individual's total potential.

People are bendable. Thus humans can "adjust" culturally, physically, psychologically, to almost any environment and circumstance.

Humans inhabit this world from the Arctic to the Tropics, on tundra and in deep forest. Humans live packed into cities, and spread onto prairie. Humans live under dictators and alone in single families or tribes. Humans can do anything if they start young enough.

This is what gives us the scope to postulate human-alien Romances, galactic civilizations, lost human colonies on worlds peopled primarily by Aliens (Examples: C. J. Cherryh's fabulous FOREIGNER series and my own Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends. Find free chapters of my novels at http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com )

This bendable trait of human beings gives fiction writers much fodder for character development, story arc, plot and worldbuilding.

There's the story of overcoming childhood trauma -- the story of frigidity being overcome by Love -- the story of a weakness becoming a strength as someone takes their trauma and say, founds an organization to fight that issue in the general public.

Say a kid witnesses their elder sibling being killed by a drunk driver and grows up to found a National Chain of Bar & Grill joints which fight alcoholism and drunk driving, hiring real Psychologists to be bartenders?

There's no such thing as a life-event that is inherently ALL BAD. But there is trauma that changes people in ways they would rather not be changed.

As I've detailed in my series of posts here on Tarot and Astrology, all these life-events are just made of ENERGY - and it's how we bring that energy into manifestation and make choices which put the energy to use that determines whether the energy does more damage than good.

That's the essence of the "Beat Sheet" -- a "beat" is a BANG made by ENERGY - kinetic energy turned into sound. Or in the case of a story: emotional energy turned into action. It all has rhythm. The energy builds, the energy is released in a BEAT.

The rhythms of the world these fiction-beats are derived from are well depicted in Tarot and Astrology (and dozens of other fields of psychology) in a way that writers can use them to create characters, life stories, and plots.

Find the series of posts on Tarot and Astrology listed in these posts:




http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/04/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me.html (this one lists a group of very esoteric essays I did for my professional Review column on Snyder's Beat Sheet - and Snyder agreed).

So people (humans and most of the aliens we write about) can be "bent" as children, and very often, without warning and at great inconvenience to the "benders" they can, as adults, "snap back."

And those snaps can be used by writers as beats for fiction -- beats that mirror the rhythmic drumbeats of real life.

So what has all this to do with Newsweek Magazine?

Well, Newsweek featured a story which came out of scientific research.

The importance of this article is largely in the fact that it is a subject taken up by Newsweek. People will read this who would not read the peer reviewed articles in a Journal.

Read this article on Creativity Quotient if you missed it in your dentist's office:


----Quote From Newsweek--------
Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.
----End Quote From Newsweek------

Go read that article.

Creativity Quotients had been steadily rising, just like IQ, until 1990 when among American children, the CQ scores suddenly bent down, and kept dropping.

For this CQ test, they target 8 year olds, 3rd graders.

Kids who were 8 in 1990 were born in 1982.

See my blog entry on the character of generations as described by the position of Pluto in their Natal Chart, and what that means for writers looking to target an audience.

followed by

I just got an advertising email for a seminar on screenwriting about how to pitch your screenplay to producers. The pitch for the pitch-course asks, "Do you know how to answer the most common first question producers will ask in a pitch session?" If you can't answer it, you won't even be considered.

Q: What demographic does your screenplay target?

See my series on WHAT EXACTLY IS EDITING -- 7 posts in a row, Tuesdays starting August 3, 2010.

This Producer-pitch question is the editor's and agent's primary question.

Several tweets from Agents on twitter have pinpointed the first sentence of the query letter as crucial, and the information in that sentence has to be WHAT this novel is, meaning the demographic it's aimed at.

That doesn't mean you should write "This Novel is aimed at girls 8-14 years old" -- but it does mean that whatever you say has to IMPLY STRONGLY that you have a direct bead on a specific demographic and what that demographic is.

In fact, the first sentence of your pitch or query letter is an opportunity to show-don't-tell that you have the ability to "show don't tell" as well as that you know the demographic, can hit the demographic, and can specify that demographic.

Marketing is all about demographics, and today everything is so advertising supported that demographics is the be all and end all of saleability.

So in 1982 where was Pluto?

PLUTO IN LIBRA generation (assimilating out of justice?) Late 1971 - 1984 (Gen Y? sort of)

PLUTO IN SCORPIO generation 1985-1995 or so (video game generation?)

Those born in 1995 were 8 years old in 2003.

The Newsweek article points at video gaming and the TV as babysitter (a 1970's 80's phenomenon) as possible culprits in blunting American creativity.

But then it looks at the various attempts to "reform" our education system, and the current "teaching to the National Tests" format.

People born in 1984 are raising kids now. In fact many may have 6 year olds now. That critical first 7 years of bending the twig is in its second generation.

The Newsweek article makes some assumptions that writers working in Contemporary settings need to take into account.

The most glaring to me is the assumption that kids are the product of the school system, and how school is taught determines how the kids turn out.

Well, it's a big part, to be sure.

And perhaps in today's world, the current 20-somethings raising kids with both parents working 40 hour weeks (they should be so lucky these days), perhaps the school and daycare center is in fact the biggest influence on a child's direction of growth.

How many parents teach their kids to stand up to the teachers and show the teachers where the teachers are just plain wrong to teach "what to think" rather than "how to think" -- and just how far would the poor kid get with that? In fact, would it do the teachers any good? Teachers must do exactly what the Principle and Board and so on tell them to, not what they believe is right. Kids don't understand "the system."

How much face-time do you have with your 8 year old (and younger).

Will that sparsity of face-time with their parents make them turn out to have different "issues" than you do when they grow up?

Cruising the web, I saw an article about education advancements. Kids in K-8 grades are using handheld devices to interface with classroom servers. Teaching is high tech because the jobs these kids will eventually need to do will be even higher tech.

Even car mechanics work with "chips" now -- and if they don't do it right, your car stalls or accelerates out of control.

With all of these factors shifting in less than the span of a mere 20 years or so during which a person can go from being a child to being a parent, which way should we bend our children to give them the best chance in the world we can't even imagine?

Because our imagination fails, we don't know how to bend and blinder our children for their success - or even survival.

With the torrential information explosion, overload, blasting at us all from every direction, do our kids need to have "blinders" installed to protect them from the flying mud kicked up by the kid next door inventing something in their garage that will change the world?

Do we need more information, or less, or someone "up there" in authority controlling our information?

Do we need totally free access to anything anyone wants to put up on the Web (including things we'd rather our pre-adolescents not be exposed to?)

Do we need blinders so we don't see those things that would spook us and distract us from our job?

Or would such blinders "bend" our imaginations so that we can't even imagine that we might imagine a solution to a problem that nobody has ever imagined existed?

What if we imagine a solution to a problem that nobody has ever solved before?

Isn't that the beginning of a Ph.D. thesis?

Those questions each can be morphed into a Theme and used to generate incredible fiction very relevant to today's demographics.

But the writer needs to look at that Newsweek article from another perspective, the demographics of the writer's intended audience.

Pitch a "concept" at a producer who was 8 years old somewhere between 1990 and 2000, and if that "concept" is in the youngster's imagination-blindspot he/she won't be able to see it as a commercially viable concept.

You might have the best idea ever for a High Concept novel-film-TV show, a potential multi-media empire seething through the worldbuilding you've done. If the producer, agent, editor can't "see" it because their imagination has failed - then they won't buy it from you.

And that producer would be correct to pass over your property.


Because your property would fall into the imagination blindspot of the audience demographic that producer is aiming for. It would mean nothing to that audience, certainly not what it means to you.

So a writer must know what blinders her audience is wearing, blinders the audience is not aware exist. The writer must know the limits of the audience's imagination.

What happened when Star Trek first went on the air - say 1967?

It set off an explosion of imagination among young college students - 20 year olds born in the baby-boomer years.

PLUTO IN LEO 1939 - 1957 (Became The Flower Children of 1960's and '70's)

Pluto in Leo folks have a magnified emphasis on being leaders, commanders, examples that others follow. Pluto is a magnifier and Leo represents "The King" - the chief. Gene Roddenberry had Sun in Leo.

And Leo rules the natural 5th House, so it's associated with entertainment, and children and siblings, with personal CREATIVITY in general.

Star Trek dropped into the minds of 20-somethings who already had an excess of creativity. That generation, fans and non-fans, produced the Internet, the Web, home computers, satellite, GPS navigation, genetic engineering, even matter-transmission and the discovery of planets around other stars, all in the last 40 years or so.

That didn't happen worldwide. It happened in the USA. But then it started, and is now continuing to happen in other countries where Star Trek has reached. It's slacking off in the USA, and many patents corporations have filed are actually in the names of folks born and raised, even educated elsewhere.

Star Trek may not be the "cause" -- but its popularity, its appeal, is to the imagination. It energizes imagination that already exists. It can't be popular where that imagination fails.

But now the USA is not producing such imaginative people though other countries are.

So the position of Pluto in natal charts and other factors that exist worldwide doesn't account for the change the Newsweek article notes in creativity in the USA as opposed to creativity in other countries.

So where are these blinders on the imagination of USA youth being implanted? In school, by daycare, in sports and other group activities, or in the home, in TV, Internet, and gaming hours?

And what will happen when this generation, or two generations, snap back, rip off the blinders and look at the world again?

Did we implant these blinders on our children to protect them from the excess amount of change the information age has created?

Again, each of these (unimaginable) questions could lead to blockbuster novel sales, films, TV series. Who knows? Can you imagine that?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Wow. Interesting stuff!

    How imaginative are people born 1953-1956, if that won't spoil a future episode?

  2. So, Erotica is all the rage, and has been for a few years. I've also noticed that a couple of the pirate sites seem to share a disproportionate quantity of m/m or m/m/f material.

    Can Astrology account for that?

    And if so, when will readers cry out for cosy mysteries? (Or any other genre that is currently out of favor?)

  3. All great stuff, Jacqueline, and, as usual, it will take me a while to digest it.

    Hey, can you bloggers here start tagging your posts so I can just click on the tags on the sidebar? All of you post such great stuff and it can be hard to find a particular topic.

    Also, I'd reeeeeally appreciate it if you guys would consider blogging about the following topics-

    1) Writing short stories.

    2) Writing from the male Point of View. (So few authors write well from the POV of the opposite sex, but I have a short story nagging me with it right now and I'm scared.)

    3) Moving on to writing more complex stories. Sugar Rush clocked in just under 70,000 words and is told only in the Heroine's POV, 3rd Person. If all goes well, the next book in the series should be a little longer with more complex plot threads. The book after that begs to be shared with the Hero's POV. And the final will be the most complex which leads me to the next question.

    4) Writing a series.

  4. KimberAn
    Thanks for the list of topics. Boy do I have a lot to say about all that! And yes, "series" structure is precise and defined in the commercial markets. POV likewise a big deal with lots to learn.

    PLEASE remind me in November about this topic list.

    Rowena - email me for more specific answer to your question.

    As for erotica vs. cozy-mystery - lots to say about TRENDS too, but right now my mind is buzzing with the following post and all my objections to this man's thesis:


    That link was pointed out to me on facebook by Cie McCullough.

    Full of stuff I disagree with, full of facts I know are true from which a picture is drawn that doesn't fit other facts I know of, and ONE ITEM I learned unless it turns out not to be true - ORIGIN OF THE Ph.D. degree and the influence that has spread through USA's higher education system.

    Great jumping off point for another post in this FAILURE OF IMAGINATION series because the philosophy discussed bears directly on the plausibility of the HEA, and why it is so hysterically rejected by modern America.

    One thing about reading GOTTO INTERVIEW linked above -- think about Alvin Toffler's Future Shock book and then read my blog entry


    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  5. KimberAn:

    I don't know how to index all these articles on the top page by subject.