Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Worldbuilding with Fire and Ice Part I Failure of Imagination Part IV

Worldbuilding with Fire and Ice Part I
Failure of Imagination Part IV

Politics is surely fire, especially in the run-up to an Election.

Philosophy is surely ice, especially in the run-up to an Election.

Mix in pair-bonding in any variety or style, especially if you include Soul Mates which implies some dimension of spirituality, immortality, possibly reincarnation - i.e. a larger point to your life than is apparent in this life itself --

Stand back and just admire the mushroom cloud.

And that tall mushroom cloud creates the potential for a huge audience "reach."

But you (the writer) have to make the mushroom cloud comprehensible as a mushroom cloud.

You have to show-don't-tell your readership and audience that it's beautiful and captivating and they should just sit back and enjoy the show.

How, exactly, does a writer do that? How does a reader become a writer?

What is the transformative moment when the passive person who just imbibes and enjoys fiction becomes the active creator and purveyor of that inner pleasure we all know but can't name (probably because English doesn't have a word, or the word has fallen into disuse).

As I've explained and explored in a number of posts, the key ingredient in the writer's craft tool box is philosophy.

That's why it's so hard to explain to a new writer what a "Concept" actually is (as opposed to an Idea For A Story) and how to identify a "High" concept.  A High Concept is that cap on the mushroom cloud mentioned above.  At that moment of recognition: "My Idea Is Actually A High Concept" a reader may be spurred to write, if not become a writer.  Very often a reader sees a novel they are reading as a movie -- or a movie as a novel -- or a TV show as missing a "story" (hence fanfiction). 


The artist's job, role in "society" is to translate the abstract into the concrete, to make theory visible, to make aspirations and dreams tangible, to give the customer a whiff of what life on Earth will be like when they reach "success" (whatever that might be for the individual) -- which for us means the elusive HEA.



Right now, the USA has returned to a knife-edge balance, half passionately convinced that one philosophy is the only honorable and true philosophy, and the other half convinced that the opposite philosophy is the one and only honorable and true philosophy. A hefty percentage of the electorate stands in the middle of this half-and-half split, convinced that neither side is right, but both sides are right.

Few, if any, are doubting or questioning what they "know" to be true.

Leaders, entertainers, and information vendors (i.e. "news") are using every sophisticated tool in their toolboxes to sell their ideas, to convince a lot more people that this one idea is correct.  But they aren't thinking in terms of Concept - the highest crest of that mushroom cloud that can be seen from afar. 

Read again this description of High Concept and why it serves so well to convey Idea to so many.


Read Sarah Beach's comment of Sept 9th on that page where she says:

I’ve always felt that High Concept was like seeing a line of mountains on the horizon. You know exactly what is in front of you, and even at a distance, you can see the main features of it. Low Concept was like a rolling landscape where features are hidden, waiting to surprise you.
Notice that High Concept can also have surprises in the detail (like hidden canyons and rivers). But you still have a very clear idea of what you’re heading into.
-----END QUOTE-----

Or you can think of it as the top of that huge mushroom cloud formed by the explosive force of Fire and Ice, Politics and Philosophy. 

But there are some whose work is extremely effective and efficient who are indeed thinking in terms of Concept rather than Idea. 

My blog post on October 19, 2010, "Glenn Beck Didn't Invent The Overton Window"...

...flicked past this issue which I'm going to explore now from the point of view of the Failure of Imagination preventing the popularization of the Happily Ever After concept of real life.

See my post FAILURE OF IMAGINATION PART III, September 28, 2010 on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com

Failure of Imagination Part II is

Part I is

Where Imagination has Failed is in questioning basic assumptions about the nature of reality.

We saw in Where Expert Romance Writers Fail that when asked, ordinary people say the reason they refuse to read "Romance genre" novels is that the HEA isn't "realistic" or is a requirement of the genre that just does not satisfy them in their hunt for an emotional payoff.

We discussed that "emotional payoff" problem referring to a blog post by an SFR writer reviewed on thegalaxyexpress.net chaffing at the "restriction" of the HEA requirement for storytelling.

See my post on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com on September 21, 2010 titled "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA"

From our point of view the HEA is not a restriction or formulaic requirement but the natural, inevitable, unavoidable point at which "the story" is over. Until you get to the HEA, you haven't finished the story. Would you think you'd finished having sex if you didn't finish?

From our point of view, it's inconceivable that anyone could possibly even think, nevermind actually say, that the HEA is a recipe for boredom.

But that's a point of view, not a fact of life.

It's hard to understand how it might be possible for anyone to fail to understand that the HEA is NOT a "fact of life."

But that's what writers (artists of all stripes) do for a living. Understand the alien. Explain it.

We have to put yourselves into the mind of "other" people - people who really do live in "alien" universes, who look out of their eyes and do not see what we see.

We have to be able to understand how different people see the world, then create a piece of art that explains one kind of people's views to the other kind of people.

What kinds? Men. Women. Gay. Bi. Rich. Poor. Democrat. Republican. Independent. Christian. Muslim. Hindu. Jew. Human. Non-human. (WRITING EXERCISE: extend that list to 10 more kinds of viewpoints.)

Take any category from that list, and explain it to another category.

To achieve that explanation, you will find yourself grappling with politics, philosophy, religion, sexuality, morality, ethics, -- all manner of intangibles that must be made tangible in order to tell the story.  Show Don't Tell. 

To present that story, you must worldbuild.

You must create the "world" that one kind sees that the other kind does not see, and create it in show-don't-tell so that it can be understood by those who can't see it, won't believe it if they do, and must suspend disbelief to enter the story.

Neither one of those worlds will be your own world (most of the time).

But your own world, your point of view on reality, your essential take on Creation, The Soul, Evolution, Justice, Ethics, Morals, will show through.

Not only can you not help it - you should not help it, because that show-through is the carrier wave of your own ART. It's your "voice" - the thing that makes you distinctive as a writer.

OK, now back to the "real" world.

It has been noted any number of places, the Glenn Beck show in particular in 2010, that in the last 50 years or so, the "Liberal" political viewpoint has become utterly dominant in Hollywood.

There was a whiff of Liberalism in "Hollywood" in the 1950's which sparked the Witch Hunt conducted by Senator McCarthy - if you're too young to have studied the McCarthy Hearings in school, go google it up. Hold your nose and read carefully.

McCarthy was right - Communists and proto-Communists and pre-Socialists, and people who were generally critical of and obstinately against many of the values held most dear in the USA during the 1800's had begun infiltrating the entertainment media.  Or perhaps the entertainment media had summoned them because they had a High Concept to display. 

Being writers, creative types, they re-invented the entire vocabulary by which their vision of how a country should organize its economy and government could be discussed, a vocabulary of images and characters, of symbols. They renamed philosophies without changing the tenants much. They set out to use their artistic skills to change the "image" of the then-demonized philosophies.

Three generations later, according to Glenn Beck, they've succeeded. He's made a huge fortune exploiting the absolute lack of his point of view in the media.  He has hit on a High Concept and tickled imaginations into gear with it.  Remember, this man is an actor who got his start in comedy, exploiting his ADD tendencies to advantage, and never lets you forget he's a recovering alcoholic.  He's a performer who presents himself as an overgrown child, but does that in and of itself totally invalidate what he's saying?  After all, he employs 40 researchers in addition to the Fox News resources.  His imagination hasn't failed.  And he's making money from it.  He's holding out, as a carrot on a stick, the inkling of a suspicion that the HEA might be possible in real life, and it's making him a fortune. 

Maybe he's right - maybe not. Our question is, "Does it matter?"

CAUTION: don't for a moment think that I'm a "Conservative" -- or for that matter "Progressive" or "Liberal" -- the "politics" that describes my personal philosophy does not exist on this Earth and as far as I know never has yet.  I'm a writer.  I build worlds to ask entertaining questions.  You have to do the answering. 

If you let yourself get all wound up in Glenn Beck's politics, you'll never be able to discern the mechanism he's using behind that smokescreen.  So take a few deep breaths, cool off (yeah, it's hard, but being a writer is not an easy life), and study the phenomenon Beck has created with his High Concept. 

That's the kind of phenomenon we need to create for the HEA driven fiction that is the core of the Romance and SFR and PNR genres. 

Part II of Worldbuilding with Fire and Ice next week.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Awesome, Jacqueline, and extremely useful. Thanks!

  2. I'm glad people aren't being encouraged to disrespect Glenn Beck for being a master manipulator.

    He deserves credit for beating Hollywood at its own game.

    And while from the outside looking in it seems a shame that the public has to be (or even can be!) manipulated in such a manner, I suppose once you reach the inside you understand it quite well. Or you wouldn't have been able to get inside in the first place.