Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time Travel Intervention

Now that I’ve seen the pilot of TERRA NOVA, a couple of my doubts have been addressed. Its premise seems to make more sense than I originally thought. The characters from the overcrowded, dystopian near future have been sent back in time to make a fresh start for themselves and humanity in a new home, like colonists in the historical age of European expansion or in many SF novels. But instead of colonizing a virgin continent or planet, they’re settling in an earlier time. Unlike such real-world ventures, though, it’s a one-way trip. Why did they choose such a distant, dangerous period as the age of the dinosaurs? They didn’t purposely decide to go there; that eon just happens to be the point an accidentally discovered rift in time leads to.

I also wondered whether the series would acknowledge that a human presence in that prehistoric era, assuming the colony takes root and the characters’ descendants survive, will generate profound changes in the future. In the classic Ray Bradbury story, simply having a time traveler step on a butterfly creates a changed future, although not an unrecognizable one. Fortunately, Spielberg and his writers haven’t forgotten that problem. They even include a bit of dialogue alluding to Bradbury’s story. In TERRA NOVA, it’s explicitly stated that the past they have traveled to belongs to a “different time stream” from the world they came from. Therefore they won’t be changing “their” future and possibly obliterating their own existence.

Robert Heinlein deals with the impact on the future of travel into the past in two principal ways: (1) Whatever happens would have happened anyway; the effects of the character’s actions were built into the existing timeline all along (e.g., "By His Bootstraps" and THE DOOR INTO SUMMER). (2) Each change causes a different timeline to split off; the future the character changes isn’t the future he or she came from. So the approach in TERRA NOVA is something like the latter.

Lots of time travel stories feature characters trying to make some change in the past that they hope will improve their own time. That was the premise of the TV show QUANTUM LEAP, in which Sam is destined to “put right what once went wrong.” Stephen King’s forthcoming novel (due this November) stars a character who travels to 1963 in an attempt to prevent the assassination of Kennedy. Some authors assume such attempts are doomed to failure; whatever happens is what would have happened anyway. That’s the outcome in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series when Claire and Jamie try to mitigate the disastrous results of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. They succeed in saving some individuals, but history on the macro level remains unchanged. The same premise drives the action in Connie Willis’s wonderful novels about an Oxford-based team of time-traveling historians (DOOMSDAY BOOK, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, BLACKOUT, and ALL CLEAR). The time stream itself—or so their scientists believe—prevents travelers from getting too close to the sites of historically critical events. The only changes they can effect (supposedly) are minor ones invisible to recorded history.

My recent reading of M. J. Putney’s YA fantasies DARK MIRROR and DARK PASSAGE (with at least one more to come) brought to mind the fact that we don’t often see the kind of time travel intervention featured in these books—time travelers attempting to change for the better not the past, but the future. Putney’s teenage mages travel from the early nineteenth century to World War II and aid England’s struggle against Nazi Germany. The only novel I remember reading in which a time traveler comes from the past specifically to help someone in our contemporary present is Dean Koontz’s LIGHTNING, still one of my favorite of his books. Trying to change the future rather than the past at least avoids the usual problems of time paradoxes involved in attempts to alter a known timeline.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Twitter Chat On Isaac Asimov

On July 8th, 2011, @DavidRozansky the publisher at Flying Pen Press I've mentioned many times here, supplied the #scifichat topic of a tribute to Isaac Asimov.

That hit one of my buttons and I posted way too many tweets all at once, but oddly nobody was upset about it.  In fact, several people, David Rozansky included thanked me.

And someone suggested I should post what I'd said as a blog post, so despite Asimov not writing Romance, not even as much as Heinlein did, I'm offering this here as context for most of what I've said here.  A lot of what I've learned about writing, and what I've been showing you, comes from Asimov, Heinlein, Clement, and of course Marion Zimmer Bradley as well as many writers currently publishing.

"@" means the screenname of a person on twitter.  Some have their own names, some a handle.  All of these posts are from me, unless noted otherwise, and I was mostly using tweetchat and HootSuite posting tools for twitter. @Davidrozansky was using TweetDeck which I also have and like.  See and and and for all kinds of free twitter tools. 

A paragraph preceded by RT is a "retweet" -- something I picked out of the stream and repeated for all my followers to see, so that my response would not be totally out of context.  Sometimes I forgot to RT so you see answers here without seeing what's being answered.  Infer it.  Sometimes what I RT'd didn't have "Asimov" in it so it didn't get picked up by the search I used to retrieve this timeline. 

When these tweets start with an @someone it's me talking back to that person.  When a paragraph just starts with a word, it's me just saying that.  When a parag starts with A and a number such as A3 it is the answer to a Question (Q3) posed by the moderator for people to discuss. 

There were a number of my tweets and those of others that said "Asimov's" so my search for "Asimov" didn't retrieve them.  And between these tweets below, I bounced tweets around with other people, too.

Social networking is easy and fun.  Don't do it for profit, do it for satisfaction of talking to fabulous people.

Here's how it went:

RT @DavidRozansky: Well, I'm late getting #scifichat prepared, and I am 2 questions short of a full set of 8 questions about Isaac Asimov. Sigh. #SciFiChat

RT @PennyAsh: RT @scifichat: Remembering Dr. Isaac Asimov in #SciFiChat today, in 10 minutes.
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 10:55am via

@davidrozansky I heard Asimov speak at a ABA in DC about the future of ebooks when publishing scoffed #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 10:55am via TweetDeck

RT @DavidRozansky: Remembering Dr. Isaac Asimov in #SciFiChat today, in 10 minutes.
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 10:56am via HootSuite

David Rozansky said something about researching Asimov for this chat.  I responded.

@DavidRozansky I didn't need to RESEARCH Asimov's opinion of GR, met them both at the 1st Trek Con, got many ears-full! #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:01am via TweetChat

David said something about how interesting it was that I knew Asimov.  I answered:

@DavidRozansky Oh, gee, now I need to take a moment and note to include my Asimov stories in my memoirs! (Asimov at ST Cons!) #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 10:56am via TweetDeck

Asimov was of "First Fandom" the founders of the disorganization known as "fandom" and they were serious about "futurology" #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:06am via TweetChat

Asimov was always up on the very cutting edge of RESEARCH, but saw science as solving by successive approximations, so ... #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:09am via TweetChat

so, whenever science got wind of something new, Asimov would speculate it to the next higher level. Positrons come to mind. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:09am via TweetChat

Everyone here knows that Asimov was first to write about the "Positronic Brain" 4 his robots, one of 1st to use robot characters #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:10am via TweetChat

I hope everyone here knows Asimov wrote some of the best popular-science nonfic, and did one on the Bible w/o PEER #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:11am via TweetChat

Asimov had an eidetic memory, which is why he could write nonfic without looking things up, so he was FAST. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:12am via TweetChat

Asimov's nonfic spanned all kinds of nonfic subjects because he was interested. But he wrote fic & nonfic on sociology #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:13am via TweetChat

Like RAH (Robert Anson Heinlein) Isaac Asimov had a personal political view that informed and infused his fic and nonfic #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:14am via TweetChat

@DavidRozansky The BIBLE is a best seller. Asimov had opinions and knowledge, but also was market savvy #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:15am via TweetChat

@simonm223 @DavidRozansky Oh, yes, Asimov like most scientists didn't have opinions about things he hadn't studied. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:16am via TweetChat

@simonm223 @DavidRozansky Also the Bible is great source material for HIGH DRAMA, so Asimov mined the classics for material #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:17am via TweetChat

And with all, Asimov's volume on The Bible is referenced today by those who don't know his SF and wouldn't touch it if they did #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:18am via TweetChat

@simonm223 Thank you, didn't know Asimov was today's topic-I missed last week. But he was a good friend I could go on for hours #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:19am via TweetChat

I think the reason Asimov's SF is so memorable and perspicacious is that he was a Scholar and used that to reveal human foibles #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:20am via TweetChat

When you discuss someone as deep as Asimov, a person of vast achievements, you shld keep quirks in perspective #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:21am via TweetChat

RT @DavidRozansky: I am also a fan of Asimov's Black Widowers stories. He was also a great #mystery writer. #authors #books #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:23am via TweetChat

@simonm223 @JasonMHardy At the time Asimov wrote, sociology was anti-science in most ppl's minds. HE CHANGED STUFF! #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:24am via TweetDeck

Asimov was socially integrated (social networking isn't new) with First Fandom and hang out in bars & cons with other writers&fen #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:26am via TweetChat

With that fertile Lunarians and other NY SF groups, Asimov knew that a lot of SF writers moonlighted as Mystery writers #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:27am via TweetChat

Ted Sturgeon was one of my all time favorite people, too, but I never saw Sturgeon and Asimov in a room together! Both Trek fans #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:28am via TweetChat

A3 Asimov's work is "endearing" because he wrote series and connected works while others wrote stand-alones #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:30am via TweetChat

@JasonMHardy Right, Asimov asked the questions others weren't able to ask for lack of a wide enough readership #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:31am via TweetChat

Asimov built his readership via the Magazines (which don't really exist now) -- today it's online fiction that builds following #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:33am via TweetChat

I offered folks pdf files of 5 anthologies published by Wildside Press to be distributed free as advertising (whole stories, not a sampler).  DM me on twitter ( @jlichtenberg ) if you want them, or by now you may find them on amazon. 
@davidlesummers asked if Asimov was in them and I answered.

@davidleesummers No Asimov stories in those free anthologies though. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:33am via TweetChat

@Wyld_Dandelyon Like most SF writers (Hal Clement comes to mind) of that era, Asimov didn't do Relationship well #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:35am via TweetChat

@Wyld_Dandelyon It was Asimov's popularity that made publishers draw a hard line in the sane against ROMANCE in SF #scifichat

@Wyld_Dandelyon Because Asimov, Heinlein, Clement, et. al. could not write Relationship, the readership was anti-Relationship #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:37am via TweetChat

We're talking about Asimov, but Clement was in his circle too, and Hal Clement read my first novel and declared it would sell. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:40am via TweetChat

RT @davidleesummers: @JLichtenberg Were they Asimov et al really anti-relationship, or was it that SF was purely perceived as a "boys" market? #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:42am via TweetChat

Star Trek gathered a 50% female following AND Asimov, Clement, Sturgeon the whole pack of First Fandom! #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:42am via TweetChat

A8 most meaningful to me, I can't quote Asimov, but I heard him at ABA in DC trying to convince LIBRARIANS ebooks were future #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:47am via TweetChat

Now to the Asimov annecdotes. He was on a BIG poster for Apple Computer(?) I think it was Apple who gave him a computer #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:49am via TweetChat

Asimov made himself write a novel on that computer he was given, so they could use it in an advertisement. Then he abandoned it #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:51am via TweetChat

I got my 1st computer in 1980 or so, and haven't written any other way since. So maybe I'm more RAH than Asimov-esque #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:52am via TweetChat

A5 - Asimov lived in NYC and really fit in there in many ways. The Cold War gave New Yorkers much pause #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 11:54am via TweetChat

@simonm223 But then ASIMOV did everything from Medieval Studies through Physics (& nonfic on physics) Rennaisance Man #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:02pm via TweetChat

Asimov's Nonfic was popular because barrier of techphobia was melting just like the Soviet Union (founded on fear of Aristocrats) #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:10pm via TweetChat

A6 I don't think you can separate Asimov's Yiddish background from his New Yorker social milieu which is very mixed #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:12pm via TweetChat

A6 Asimov specialized in thinking the unthinkable, and doing it first. He competed with RAH and Clement etc, racing forward #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:16pm via TweetChat

Asimov was very intelligent, and thought faster than most people. He read faster too. He devoured nonfic and made it fic! #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:17pm via TweetChat

Asimov created the concept of a Future History and Psychohistory because he could read & remember so much. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:18pm via TweetChat

You all know that Asimov didn't fly even to cons. He'd only go where he could take the train. & it wasn't ecology at issue #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:19pm via TweetChat

Asimov was a likeable guy, affectionate and warm in person, affable and large of spirit #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:23pm via TweetChat

Now we come to the lecherous part of Asimov-in-person. But let me remind you this is a minor and trivial aspect of his being #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:25pm via TweetChat

He was Asimov-Writ-Large in every personal/public encounter -- and totally different inside his own abode I'm told. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:27pm via TweetChat

Asimov wore drama like a cloak, and exaggerated lecherousness was just another example. His personality was consistent. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:30pm via TweetChat

So, at ST cons where we often met, Asimov would treat me just like every other female within reach, hands-all-over-curves #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:33pm via TweetChat

Asimov was very physical with his hands on women. Today that's seen as sexual harassment & could get him jailed. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:34pm via TweetChat

Back then, it was something you put up with until you could surreptitiously nix it. But Asimov had PUBLIC POWER. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:35pm via TweetChat

Here's the truth as I see it. Asimov was not actually lecherous, or at least not by fannish standards of the time. He PLAYED IT #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:36pm via TweetChat

Asimov played the lecherous sod the same way he played the overweening pride, exaggerated for dramatic effect. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:37pm via TweetChat

And all that play-acting covered a wondrous, warm, gentle, marvelously deep and perceptive Asimov. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:37pm via TweetChat

Asimov's wildest boasts on stage were actually vast modesty, because he seldom touched on his real accomplishments #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:38pm via TweetChat

So Asimov himself, as a person, felt to me like SPOCK. Way super-intelligent, gentle, deep, complex, vastly sensitive. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:39pm via TweetChat

Meanwhile, David Rozansky and others were talking about Asimov's Foundation novels.  I chimed in:

@DavidRozansky Of course Asimov nailed "the future" trends as often and as accurately as Heinlein did. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:40pm via TweetChat

@DavidRozansky Asimov's psychohistory was right-on because of his vast perspective on humanity. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:41pm via TweetChat

@DavidRozansky I just tried to explain where inside Asimov that future history and other great contribs came from. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:41pm via TweetChat

@ebonstorm @Wyld_Dandelyon I hope I made the point that I personally feel Asimov was actually a very humble person #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:42pm via TweetChat

@DavidRozansky We couldn't be here were it not for Asimov, Clement, Sturgeon, Heinlein, et. al. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:48pm via TweetChat

@DavidRozansky So what would Asimov have done with FALLEN SKIES? A simple war-story? Or humanity's opportunity at the stars? #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:53pm via TweetChat

Asimov's visionary books led into an interstellar civilization for humanity, yet he, himself, didn't want to fly in an aircraft. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:56pm via TweetChat

@PHCMarchesi @elizabethkarr Thank you for spreading the word about this chat, this week on Asimov. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 12:58pm via TweetChat
RT @JasonMHardy: @JLichtenberg That's too bad--a conversation between Sturgeon and Asimov would be epic! #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 1:00pm via TweetChat

RT @rfamovie: Check out @JLichtenberg timeline for comments on Isaac Asimov, who she knew personally. #scifichat
JLichtenberg Jul 08, 1:28pm via Nambu

A couple of people retweeted what  @rfamovie (a screenwriter) said. 

So that's why I'm putting this post up.  I did other tweets and answers in between these but couldn't retrieve it all in any semblance of order. 

And the next morning, an old friend turned up on twitter  and we had a nice exchange. 

He pointed me to a blog entry of his that I then put up on facebook.  You might want to look at this if you're interested in podcasts.  That is one distribution channel Asimov didn't envision - but he could never have convinced the anti-ebook librarians to admit that such a thing as a podcast could ever come into existence, nevermind popularity.

Here's the link he referred me to:

And here's his comment he dropped on my facebook "share" of this link:

MichaelSpence: Thank you for sharing this with your circles! When anyone asks me what's so special about radio or podcast fiction, I refer them to this piece. For people who especially like action/adventure with generous admixtures of humor, I also refer them to Decoder Ring Theater (

That started a whole conversation, and Michael Spence ended up contracted to read House of Zeor

 for audiobook release.  That project is currently greenlighted while I'm reviewing the audiobook recording of my novel Molt Brother. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sample Take-Down Notice

If you find your work being shared without your express consent on a "file-sharing" site, or a subscription site, or on a blog, or on a social networking site, please feel free to adapt this template Cease and Desist notice.

I, (Insert Name), have permission to act on behalf of copyright holder (Insert Name) and the author(s). I have good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. The information contained in this notice is accurate and under penalty of perjury I am authorized to act on behalf of (Insert Name). The following link/s are being shared illegally via this particular page(s) and user through your site and page(s):
Please remove the entire page:
(Insert Links to Titles Here)
These users do not have permission from (Insert Name). to offer these books for download. This constitutes theft on the part of your users and this note serves as official notice of illegal activity taking place through your website as well as a clear violation of your stated Terms of Service.
Please cease and desist from allowing the uploading and trading of these materials immediately. No further warnings will be issued.

If your works are being shared on EBay, you can click to Report the copyright infringement, and you will probably be told to sign up for EBay's VeRo program or VRT program (both relatively useless) and to send a fax to EBay.

If you do go to the trouble of contacting EBay (and EBay uk), it is worth demanding a recall.... Ask EBay to inform all Buyers of the illegal copies of your work that they have purchased an illegal copy of a copyrighted work; ask EBay to ban the account of the copyright infringer; demand payment of the fair market price of each copy of your work that was sold by the Seller. You can extrapolate this by looking at the Seller's Feedback as a Seller.

Keep a screen capture.

You probably won't get paid a cent, but for legal reasons, it is worth making the demand.

It is also very much worth reporting copyright infringers to PayPal if you know their email address.

Go to


My Account
- scroll down to the bottom to-
Legal Agreements

Under "For All Users" choose Paypal Acceptable Use Policy
- scroll down to the bottom to-
"Violations of the Acceptable Use Policy" where it says "We encourage you to
report violations of this Acceptable Use Policy to PayPal immediately."
Click "Report"
Topic = Report Fraud/Prohibit Use
Subtopic - Report Prohibited Items Being Sold Using Paypal

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New TV Season

Insofar as TV seasons as such exist anymore, the summer series are winding down and the fall programs are starting up (with more overlap between the two phases than usual, it seems). EUREKA, set in a small town inhabited almost entirely by scientific geniuses working for a cutting-edge technology company, climaxes with a space flight to Titan. TRUE BLOOD has finished its season, and HAVEN, which so far I haven't found as exciting as I'd hoped (lots of delicious hints about the town's past but few revelations), will end for the year next week. I liked FALLING SKIES, about a group of human survivors coping with an alien invasion, very much and was glad to learn it's returning next summer.

Of the regular-season SF or fantasy series I watch, SUPERNATURAL and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES are still around. I gave up on FRINGE a long time ago (which may have been a mistake) and never got into some of the other cable SF shows.

New series: THE SECRET CIRCLE, based on novels by the author of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, has already started and shows possibilities. A teenage girl gets drawn into a coven of witches replicating a similar circle their parents belonged to. The heroine's situation, not surprisingly, has distinct resemblances to that of Elena at the beginning of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

There are two fairy-tale-based shows I'm looking forward to: In GRIMM, a detective who's descended from the Grimm brothers solves crimes involving evil creatures from legends and fairy tales, which, unknown to the general public, really exist. ONCE UPON A TIME features characters such as Snow White cursed to live in our world.

About Spielberg's TERRA NOVA, I'm dubious. I'll give the pilot a try. A group of colonists is sent back to the age of the dinosaurs to make a fresh start for humanity. How is that supposed to work? If they're intended to engineer a reset for human evolution, they're starting way too far back. Given the butterfly effect, who knows what kind of world would result from their intervention? Or maybe the purpose is to establish a population base in a fresh environment unspoiled by the human-made disasters that have ruined the future they've come from. If so, again, why pick the dinosaur era? Couldn't they find a more recent epoch just as unspoiled but a lot less dangerous?

What returning or new spec fic shows are you looking forward to?

By the way, what caused the decline of the old TV schedule with premieres in the fall and reruns in the summer? Cable? In my view, that's an improvement, by the way—lots more viewing choices. And why do contemporary "fall" shows typically have fewer episodes per season than series did decades ago? When do we ever see a conventional 26-episode season anymore? Cost of production, I assume, but I don't know enough about the industry to guess why the present-day cost per hour would proportionally exceed similar expenses thirty years ago.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Verisimilitude VS Reality - Part 3 The Game, The Stakes, The Template

Last week we covered 3 "Clues" about how to integrate Multiple Point of View with Story Structure; Master Theme Structure,  The Camera,  Nesting Plots and Stories.
This week we have 3 more "Clues" for the advanced writing student, and a homework assignment that should keep you busy a few years.

CLUE 4   The Tennis Match vs The Football Game

Your reader is reading your novel as if watching a tennis match, or a football game (depending on how many Point of View characters you have).

If you write a novel with only one point of view character, that character is the only thing in the novel that the reader is watching.  That character is the only thing that matters to the reader.  So if that character fails to capture affection or identification from the reader, the novel fails.  But it is much, much easier to write from a single point of view with one theme, one conflict, one resolution.  Do that in 1st person, and you may have a small readership, but you will glue those readers to the page.

When you have more than one point of view character, the reader ceases to be totally absorbed in one character. 

At least that's how it should work.  If a reader finds one POV character much more absorbing than the others, the reader is likely to skip the sections from the other POV and then not recommend the novel to friends.

So when you move from single POV to multiple POV, you shift what is important to the readership from the character of the person experiencing a story, to the PLOT rather than the STORY.

Consider the person who goes to a dance recital to see one dancer perform several pieces on stage, to demonstrate what they've learned, or how good a dancer they are.  Or Figure Skating championships where you have the single skater at a time, but several in a row to judge against each other. 

That's a single POV novel, or novel series where each novel has a different protagonist, POV character.

The typical Romance bounces the POV from the woman to the man and back, each of them most concerned about what's going on in the other's head and how to get the attention they want.

The typical Romance novel is more like a Tennis match where the audience watches two people volleying a ball back and forth.  It's pretty simple, the stakes and the feats required to prevail are clear.  But the viewer watches the ball, not the characters. 

Now move up to the football game. 

Yes, we cheer particular players or root for this team or that, but we go to THE GAME not a given player's performance.

The performance (the story) is secondary to the GAME and it's outcome. 

The viewer's attention is on the scoreboard, the referees' calls, the bench, the coach, the cheerleaders, and the concessionaire barker moving through the stands, maybe the TV cameras in the booth above.  And the viewer is having a great time.  People "go to the game" not for the players but to have a great time! 

The Camera mentioned in Clue 2 which was on the POV character's shoulder, and is on the shoulder of each of the POV characters in a more complex work, now is on the viewer's shoulder.

The writer of a 2 or 3 POV novel can inter-cut from all 2 or 3 cameras on character's shoulders, creating verisimilitude by following each POV character's story and plot within that character's "blinders." 

Use more than 3 characters and you don't "intercut" you "pan" the camera from one thread of a story to another.  The reader's attention is under the reader's control, not yours, and your success as a writer depends on anticipating where the reader's eye will light next, not on guiding it where you want it.

The technique of inter-cutting between cameras to get a different perspective on what's going on, becomes the technique of following The Game - following the ball when it's in play, following the bench when a player substitution goes on, following the TV cameras up above when something happens, following the cheerleaders when they take the field at half-time (yes, the 'beat' that belongs at the halfway point changes by how many POV characters there are).

The reader is no longer interested in the emotional reality of an individual character, or two, but is interested in the outcome of The Game.

That makes all the stories of all the characters of lesser import.

But it allows the writer to tackle bigger, more emphatically egregious themes, themes which violate all the reader's ideas of reality.

Such novels place the reader in the position of Observer, outside the action, above "all that."  The reader can feel superior to all the characters because the reader understands what's going on better than any given character on the field.

That makes it harder for the writer to get the reader to care about "the stakes" a given player is playing for.

The trick in Point of View Shifts is to follow The Ball, follow The Game, to follow the journey toward finding out whether the stakes are won or lost. 

So you come to a point where a character throws the ball, and shift point of view in a PAN not a CUT to the player who catches that ball, then follow what the player with the ball does with it until it leaves his/her hands, and you follow that ball not the character's story, across point of view shifts.  How the ball travels, where, to whom, who gets smeared and who carries it to the next touchdown all explicate and illustrate the theme without ever stating that theme. 

So in a multiple point of view novel, you don't shift point of view, you follow the ball that is describing the theme by the way it moves. 

So we're back to THEME. 

CLUE 5 The Stakes

The more points of view the writer presents, the more crucial it is to get the reader involved in The Stakes, and the harder it is for the writer to achieve that involvement.

When you have only one Point of View, "The Stakes" are just what that one person stands to gain, lose, or learn from resolving the conflict.

When you have 2 Points of View (as in a Romance) "The Stakes" are whether that couple will coalesce into a working Relationship that will last.  The rest is decoration.  The real goal is forming a stable Relationship.

When you have multiple Points of View, "The Stakes" is the outcome of "The Game." 

In the first two instances, the writer's job of getting the reader to care is fairly easy.  Show don't tell how the character is likeable and the rest falls into place.  That's the thesis of Blake Snyder's works on screenwriting, SAVE THE CAT.

To create a likeable character, show the character's very first action the reader sees as "saving a cat" -- doing something that displays a good heart, something the reader/viewer approves of that takes an effort or a risk on the part of the character, a risk beyond the ostensible reward.

So even in multiple point of view novels, you must create that likeable character trait.  What's "likeable" varies with target readership.

But one thing is always the same. 

The outcome of The Game is the important thing to the reader.

How The Game comes out will defy or validate the reader's sense of Reality, of Truth, Justice And The American Way, of Good vs. Evil, or whatever The Game is about.

The Game is always The Game Of Life.

And it is the reader's life at stake, not the writer's.

Hence the writer must learn to walk a mile in the reader's moccasins, must learn to espouse with vigor and sincere enthusiasm whatever philosophy the reader holds most dear but has no clue is inside them.

When the writer brings a subconscious value held dear by the reader to the surface, or just barely under the surface, at the end of the novel, the reader CRIES or LAUGHS or responds in a part of their being they didn't know was there.  In a way, the reader loses virginity in this process.  And the reader will always remember that book. 

That is the payload the writer lives to deliver.  It is the essence of the artform.  Punch.  Impact. Revelation.

So in the outcome of The Game the reader has been viewing from the 50-yard line, the reader will come to understand the theme of your novel.

But the reader's understanding of your theme will not be your understanding of it.

If you have "the good guys" win, the reader could conclude not, "justice prevails" but "might makes right."  Or possibly the reader won't "buy" the ending, and will feel it's "contrived" because they were rooting for the bad guys.

You can't make a reader understand life the way you do because their reality isn't yours.

But using verisimilitude, you can allow the reader to experience a reality that is not their own, even if it isn't yours either.

The more point of view characters you use, the more likely it is the reader will not even be aware of your theme.

But if you, as writer, are not very clear on why each element is emphasized in the novel just this amount, not more or less, then the reader won't feel verisimilitude or reality -- they will feel confused.

CLUE 6   Steal From The Best

One mistake many new writers make is to attempt to create or innovate a brand new, never before used, plot structure in order to be seen by publishers a "original" and thus get promoted big time.

But if you study some first-published works of very famous writers, you will find (and this is not an easy study) that their first novels, or breakout novels, all shared one characteristic.

They used an old, tried and true, done to death, plot structure.

They say there aren't any new plots.  Maybe not, but there are new plot structures popping up all the time -- just not as first sales by unknown writers.

Occasionally you'll see one that seems to be a first sale, but digging a little you'll find that writer has a professional track record under a different name. 

You might want to read my post on pen-names:
It has a link to part one.

If you have Microsoft Office, you may have found on the Microsoft website where they sell or give away "templates" for their more complicated programs.

You need such a template to attempt the leap from single POV to multiple POV novel structure.  It's what I used to structure MOLT BROTHER.

But they don't give away templates for novels.  The closest thing I've found is Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet, referenced so many times in the posts listed in Part 2 of this series.

Using a familiar Template for your multiple point of view novel gives you a leg up with inducing suspension of disbelief in your readers.

Snyder uses the 3-act screenplay template.

There is a 4-act screenplay structure favored by many.

The classic 100,000 word novel structure is 4-act.

But you can't really do more than 2 or possibly 3 points of view in 100,000 words of novel.

For real multiple point of view, a whole football game, you need 150,000 to 175,000 words, and few publishers would take a chance on a new writer at that expensive length, at least not if they hadn't won some prestigious awards in the same category with short stories.

So pick a word length you think you can sell, and figure how many points of view you'll need to cover your theme.  If there are too many points of view for the length you can sell, divide the work into a series of novels.

Today you can sell novel series provided the first novel stands alone well enough that it works if the second novel is not published because sales on the first didn't justify it.

I would suggest finishing, completely polishing, 3 novels in a series before presenting them to a publisher if you have no previous sales.

Now, find four or five novels in the general genre or subject area of your material, aimed at your market, that are all of the same length as what you think you can sell.  Choose novels which really twang your heartstrings just the way you want to reach your readers.  Be sure you choose novels that you find unutterably fascinating, re-readable, and moving.  Choose the best of the best of what you have read that represent the reason you want to write this story.  Eventually, your marketing materials will be based on these choices.  Editors will pitch your novel to their sales staff as "just like" or "appealing to lovers of" those 5 novel choices. 

By the time you get done with the following exercise, you may be bored to tears with those novels.

Study those novels for structure. 

Count how many pages between internal-climaxes (I don't mean sex scenes).

Count the length of the scenes (750 words is a great meter per narrative scene).

Count the points of view.  You want to choose novels that have the same number of points of view that you will be using.

Find the story and the plot-thread for each point of view.

Find the Beginning, Middle, End, and quarter-points for each story.

Find which story starts first and ends last.

Find which starts second and find where it ends.  And so on, until you've charted the emotional ups and downs, climaxes and suspense-lines of each of the points of view in all your samples.

Find the "ball" -- and name the Game -- in each novel.  What is the objective of the game?  Who's playing?  What are the stakes?  What is the meaning of it all? 

Read reviews, especially by other readers such as you find on, to find what other readers found interesting or boring in these novels.

If I've guessed right, you will find the novel structure behind each of your choices is the same.

Yes, very likely, if you loved each of these chosen novels all that much, you will very likely find that all (or at least most) conform to the same structure.

Why is that?  Because what makes us love novels is not the characters but the structure.

Every single reader believes to the tips of their toenails that what they love is the character in this or that TV show or novel.

It isn't.  What evokes that fascination is the structure that displays the character.

It's like putting a classy, sparkling diamond on a glittery white background under flourescent lights, or putting that same diamond on clean, rich black velvet with one single, tiny spotlight of sunlight spectrum.  Do you love the sight of the diamond or the setting?  Unless you're a gem-buff, it's the setting that sparks the emotion.  That setting in the gem world is the same as the structure in the novel world.  The structure is the part the consumer, the buyer, never notices.  But the professional will fuss over it endlessly. 

Or as caterers will tell you, how delicious food is said to taste depends entirely on presentation not ingredients.  Ingredients count, of course, but presentation can ruin marvelous ingredients. 

Why is this presentation, or novel structure, really the heart-grabber?

Because that structure (like the football game and its rules) provides the element of verisimilitude.

The novel's structure reflects or echos our perception of reality.

In order to deal with reality, we cut it down to size by wearing philosophical "blinders" - like a racehorse wears so the horse won't spook at movement to the side or get flying mud in their eyes.

We try to understand reality.

We impose our own philosophical structure on our personal reality, just so we can deal.

Likewise, in entertainment or art, in the perception of beauty or deliciousness, or sexiness, we respond most strongly to that which fits into the structure we use to understand our reality.

Fiction seems realistic, and thus more satisfying, when its structure mimics our own perception of reality.

That structure of novel and our reality contains within its bones our most cherished, subconscious assumptions about reality, our values, our notion of what is right and what is wrong, of good and evil and whether such a thing actually exists.  The most fundamental axioms and postulates of our personal philosophy (you can't trust men/women; Big Business is the Enemy of the People), are encoded into that structure.

In my series on Astrology Just For Writers on this blog, I think I've explained how Saturn is structure -- it is referred to by some of the most prominent Astrologers as the Illusion that Reality is Real.

That's what I'm talking about here.  The structure of our fiction contains the skeleton that supports our cherished (and necessary for sanity, just as a racehorse's blinders are necessary for the horse's sanity) illusion that our reality is real.

Some people go to fiction for a challenge to that illusion, for a glimpse outside their daily blinders.

Others go to fiction for a validation of that illusion they need so much.

The same reader might have either or both purposes in mind when choosing a given novel to read.  Whatever your reader's purpose, thwart it at your own peril. 

Romance actually caters well to both purposes.

A writer's journey to craft mastery requires the cautious, gentle, shedding of those blinders, at least the cultural ones.

The first step on that journey is choosing the 5 novels that have impacted you the hardest and analyzing them for all these traits I've listed, and more that I've touched on in other posts.

But most especially analyze for the structure that validates your personal reality via theme.

The only place for theme in fiction (except for maybe one line of dialogue at the end, or possibly one line at the beginning, and rarely should that line be "on the nose.") - the only place for theme is inside the bone marrow of that skeleton of structure.

So find 5 novels, analyze them for their structure, and then extract that structure to be your TEMPLATE for this type of novel (chosen by number of POV characters).

If you work at it, you'll end up with several such templates, each for a different type of novel aimed at a different readership, different kinds of publishers, different number of points of view.

This same trick works for non-fiction too.  Structure is everything in fiction and non-fiction. 

Extract successful templates, shake off the clinging details, delete anything specific to other writer's styles, and use that template for your own fiction or non-fiction.

For MOLT BROTHER I used a template of converging plot-lines.

I took two main characters connected by a single huge Project (in this case an interstellar archeological pursuit of evidence of a forerunner civilization in the galaxy).  The two characters' lives were connected by secondary characters who were running the dig.

The weak spot in this novel is that the reader can't see clearly enough, right off the bat, what the connection between the two groups of characters will be.  You don't see the convergence of the plot lines until too deep into the novel. 

But the novel developes velocity as the two main POV characters are on a collision course, and finally meet.

Then both main characters and their secondary characters are furiously involved in the same big stakes game.

are about individual characters and their present lives, but what they are doing, why they do it, and what happens because they do it are all the result of karmic forces they let loose thousands of years ago, converging forces.  One of those forces is the invisible, unknown to exist, arch-enemy orchestrating dire events off stage - the evil puppet master. 

It's an enormously complex piece of worldbuilding with a deceptively simple reader-interface. 

The Converging Plot Lines structure is classic, but it's difficult to do. 

MOLT BROTHER has enough technical flaws in the facade to allow writers to deconstruct it and learn the template for their own use.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Bridge, An Earthquake, And A Cast Of Thousands

I like to mix things up in multiples of three, and the ingredients must come from different sources. "Eye of newt and toe of frog..." doesn't work so well, unless one is working through the To-Do list for a quest saga.

For those who like to write the alien romance version of "Towering Inferno" or any other disaster movie, how about the current situation of deteriorating infrastructure as seen this month with the closing of the Sherman-Minton bridge between Indiana and Kentucky, which has turned a fifteen minute commute into a twice daily, two-hour exercise in frustration?

Who would you put on the other, still-sound but congested bridge? 
President Obama? 
An elderly prima in labor?
A politician rather fond of enlivening traffic jams by sexting at the wheel?
A fugitive of some sort? 
A couple of truckers... maybe one big rig ought to be the mobile, broadcasting home of an Assange of the airwaves, or a rushed conservative broadcaster.
A school bus....

I wonder, would a motorcade get through? Are there any circumstances under which a Presidential motorcade cannot take priority over traffic on a bridge? I suppose, if traffic is already log-jammed and the motorcade wasn't expected.

Now to up the ante. The October issue of DISCOVER has an article by Amy Barth about projections that there could be a killer quake in the Central United States. Apparently, in 2006 FEMA commissioned a study of what would happen if there were a 7.7 magnitude quake in the Mississipi Valley around the New Madrid seismic zone. The study was cut short in 2009 owing to new funding priorities under a new FEMA administration.

So, yes, one definitely must have someone from --or dear to-- the current administration on the bridge, if only for the thusness of it all.

It is not inconceivable that an earthquake between Little Rock, Arkansas, and Evansville, Indiana, could shock Louisville, Kentucky. It looks as if the same river (Ohio) runs through, marking the Indiana/Kentucky border. So, there is already disruption and congestion because everyone is on two bridges, instead of three. The projection is that 15 major bridges would fail, if there were a major earthquake, over 7 million people would be displaced.

The third element would have to be alien. Should one put a shy and reticent merman in the mighty river? Or a Troll! Why shouldn't there be Bridge Trolls in Kentucky? Possibly, it would be more credible if the Assange-type were a Time Lord (in a really big Tardis)?

On that note, I will sign off.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Derivative Works: Where Is the Line?

Speaking of making unlikable characters sympathetic, there’s a good example in Sharyn McCrumb’s THE DEVIL AMONGST THE LAWYERS, which I’m rereading. This novel concerns a Depression-era murder case in the mountains of Virginia and focuses on several of the out-of-town reporters covering the trial. One of them, from a wealthy Philadelphia family, comes across as an aloof, condescending snob. Yet by showing through introspection and flashbacks how this man has been scarred by traumatic events in his past, the author brings us to sympathize with him by recognizing that his persona serves as a shield against further pain.

This week, though, I started thinking about fanfic and other derivative works when I read a notorious ten-year-old work, THE WIND DONE GONE. Here’s a draft of the mini-review of it that will appear in my October newsletter:

THE WIND DONE GONE, by Alice Randall. You may remember that this 2001 novel raised a lot of controversy because of the lawsuit against it by Margaret Mitchell's estate. A court ruled that its publication was legal on the principle that parodies don't constitute copyright infringement. Well, this story isn't a "parody" of GONE WITH THE WIND any more than THE WIDE SARGASSO SEA is a parody of JANE EYRE. THE WIND DONE GONE is a spinoff, most of which occurs after the end of Mitchell's novel, with Rhett already having left Scarlett. The narrator, Cynara, Rhett's mulatto mistress, fills in details about the other characters' earlier lives in brief flashbacks and, later, moments of revelation when she learns facts previously hidden from her. The narrative is not satirical but quite serious. The only feature that might be considered parody is Cynara's habit of giving nicknames to Mitchell's characters, as well as the plantation itself (she refers to Tara as either "the Cotton Farm" or "Tata"). Rhett gets off easily, being identified simply as "R." for most of the novel (but later as "Debt Chauffeur"). For example, Scarlett, Cynara's half sister, is Other; Scarlett's parents are Planter and Lady; Belle Watling is Beauty; Bonnie is Precious; Melanie is Mealy Mouth; Ashley is Dreamy Gentleman. Prissy's pseudonym as Miss Priss stays closest to the original, and Mammy is still Mammy. This technique ensures that the story never explicitly duplicates the contents of GONE WITH THE WIND, making Randall's novel all the more obviously a transformative rather than merely derivative work. Cynara, the daughter of Gerald O'Hara and Mammy, was sold away in her teens and eventually ended up in Belle Watling's brothel. Working as a maid, not a prostitute, she met Rhett Butler and became his mistress about a year before he met Scarlett. In fact, it was at Cynara's instigation that Rhett first became aware of Scarlett. Cynara's memoir's knife-sharp reflections on the events of GONE WITH THE WIND give the black perspective on the story with a different slant, revealing that the way Mitchell tells the family's history is not necessarily what really happened. Births and deaths play out differently from the way Mitchell tells them. Mammy and Pork (called "Garlic" by Cynara) steer the course of life at Tara behind the scenes. Ancestral secrets are revealed to the reader, though not usually to the oblivious white characters. As was notoriously mentioned when the book first came out, Ashley is gay—well, not exactly. Bisexual, maybe, and that facet of his character receives only a few brief mentions. Given his willingness to accept a sexless marriage with Melanie after the birth of Beau, it's not unbelievable to read that Ashley at one point in his early life had a liaison with a male slave. I started reading the novel to decode its rewriting of GONE WITH THE WIND, but I gradually became interested in Cynara herself as a strong, complex character. Her love-hate relationship with her Mammy and Scarlett unfolds little by little. She accompanies Rhett to Washington at the height of Reconstruction, when educated black men occupied the seats of power, and becomes involved with a black Congressman. Through her viewpoint, Reconstruction represents a brave new world, in contrast to Mitchell's portrayal of those years as nothing but brutal oppression against the South. This embryonic utopia soon falls apart, of course, and Cynara's Congressman loses the next election. Her first-person diary is framed by a prologue explaining how it came to be published and an epilogue summarizing the rest of her life.

On the basis of the content described above, I consider THE WIND DONE GONE a sort of rebuttal to GONE WITH THE WIND, in dialogue with its famed predecessor. Although it relies on the reader’s knowledge of the source novel, it’s a strong, original story in its own right. In my opinion, it’s neither parody nor plagiarism. Plagiarism and copyright infringement, of course, aren’t the same thing (although the former is usually the latter, too, but not always). Plagiarism means reproducing someone else’s work and claiming it as one’s own. A novel that changed all the names in DRACULA but nothing else in the text and tried to sell the result with a new author’s name on it would be plagiarism but not copyright infringement, since DRACULA is now in the public domain. Fanfic is a delicate area because, although fan writers don’t claim ownership of the original author’s characters and setting, if they use these without the creator’s permission they are legally violating copyright. Most copyright holders tacitly ignore fanfic, to the benefit of readers in my opinion. I’ve read fanfic based on TV shows that I think has deeper characterization and storytelling than the source material.

THE WIND DONE GONE falls into a different category because it was published commercially. However, I think it’s transformative enough to escape the charge of copyright violation, and a judge obviously agreed.

In the era of the rise of the novel in the eighteenth century, standards for such things seem to have been looser. Henry Fielding’s first two books were fanfic—or maybe anti-fanfic—of Samuel Richardson’s PAMELA. The first, SHAMELA, is an outright parody of Richardson’s sentimental romance. Fielding’s JOSEPH ANDREWS, rather than a direct imitation, is a sequel or spinoff, starring the na├»ve younger brother Fielding invents for Pamela. If PAMELA and Fielding’s two derivative works were written nowadays, though, he would not be able to get away with commercial publication of either one.

Where do you think the line falls?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Verisimilitude VS Reality-Part 2: Master Theme Structure, The Camera, Nesting Plots and Stories

Part 1 of this series can be found here:

And now we're going to tackle an advanced topic, integrating two whole sets of writing techniques into a more complex composition.  I'll highlight 3 major clues this week, and three more next week, a lot to digest.

But first, review these previous posts that we'll build on here.  They contain the components of integrating multiple point of view with story structure. 

Related posts:
(that you can't do in a Movie)

Oddly enough that last one has the structural trick of multiple Points Of View explained in the best way I've managed, but I've been asked to revisit the topic of integrating multiple-point-of-view stories with Plot Structure.

Last week I told you about my first attempt at the 2-POV plot structure.
So this week's focus on multiple point of view and plot structure will make a good lead-in to a much deeper exploration of THEME and how to work with it, because that's the core of the integration technique.  Theme  holds a story and plot together.  Theme is what makes it possible to switch points of view without losing the reader's interest.

Integrating Point of View with Plot is a juggling act, for sure, and an advanced craft technique newly published writers may need to master swiftly after their first sale, both because long series require it, and because editors are seeing sales statistics that make them lean hard on writers to do it, even though the editor doesn't know how to teach it.

I can't honestly say I've mastered it myself.

My first attempt was my novel Molt Brother, newly available in a very wide variety of e-book formats. 

Now here's the thing.  The readership at the time Molt Brother was first published in Mass Market (I'm assuming you've read it because I've discussed it here before) was not conditioned to reading SF novels with a plot structured for two different points of view.  Worse than that, actually using both a male and female point of view, or a human and non-human point of view, was just not done in the action genres.  Yet I did both male/female and human/non-human in the same novel. 

So Molt  Brother was both an experimental piece and my first attempt at this structure.

Molt Brother has recently been picked up for audiobook, and you will find it on, iTunes, and Amazon in audiobook.  I'm hoping the direct sequel, City of a Million Legends will be out in audiobook soon. 

I tried Molt Brother out on a Historical writer I admire, Carol Buchanan, and she has praised it several times on twitter.  I told you a little about that last week.  See the link above. 

From the readers at the time of first publication, I got a lot of blowback about how readers really couldn't tolerate one of the point of view characters, an alien female named Arshel.  More recent readers don't seem to be having the same problem (others maybe, but not the same ones). 

Arshel was a character pretty much invented by my editor and the dual point of view was required, not something I had originally intended for telling this interstellar archeology story.

So I can sympathize with the new writer, recently breaking into publishing, who is now wrestling with this problem.

The lesson is basically, don't try to do too many new techniques in one novel.  Master them one at a time, but keep adding techniques.

You don't "master" a "technique" by paying close attention and concentrating, rewriting until you get the manuscript "right." 

The object of these doing writing lessons is not to  produce one perfect novel.  The object is to master the process of producing novels so you don't have to think about craft and can fully concentrate on your art. 

You master a technique by doing 5 or 10 manuscripts with it, until you can do it without knowing you've done it.  When you can write it while minding the kids and talking on the phone, timing dinner in the oven, and jotting down notes for your next novel, then you've "mastered" the technique. 

But first you do have to do it on purpose, one tiny step, one line and one paragraph, one bit of dialogue at a time, rewriting and rewriting one manuscript until it's the best you can do.  Then do another story, then another, work against distractions and against the clock. 

The hallmark of professional mastery in any field, particularly a performing art like writing, is that you meet your deadlines.  "The Show Must Go On" is the main adage of the writer.  Get the manuscript out of your hands, go on to the next.  

So let's break this down into components that can be added one at a time to the writer's toolbox.

CLUE 1   Master Theme Structure

From my post:

I was delighted when a student writer asked me (and then reminded me) to explain the structure of very long novels, with emphasis on how to structure a novel for 3 viewpoint characters, even if they're all protagonists.

It's really very simple to do, but infernally difficult to explain.

In order to understand how to craft such a long novel that doesn't sag in the middle or peter out at the end, you have to have a firm grasp of the basics of structure that I've discussed previously.

Protagonist, antagonist, conflict, beginning, middle, end, and THEME.

And the most important structural component in a long piece is THEME.

A short story (under 7,500 words) can have one theme, and only ONE. It must be something very clear, starkly simple, mostly concrete -- something you can say in 3 to 10 words. "Life is Just A Bowl Of Cherries" -- "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" -- a bumper sticker.

A novelette (to 17,500 words) can have a DOMINANT THEME and 1 SUB-THEME (and only one).

A novella (17,500 to 40,000) can have a DOMINANT THEME and 2 SUB-THEMES (only 2).

A NOVEL (40,000 words and up) (up to any length) can (but doesn't have to have) a DOMINANT THEME and UP TO 3 SUB-THEMES and no more than 3.

I did not make this up. I learned it in the Famous Writer's Course (a correspondence course on how to write fiction which I completed in the 1970's).

I've been a professional reviewer since the 1980's and a paid reviewer for The Monthly Aspectarian since 1993. I've read a lot of books in addition to the books I read just because I want to. I have NEVER seen this above paradigm of thematic relationships successfully violated.

If you want to see how it works in practice, read the early draft of my Sime~Gen Novel, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER which is titled SIME SURGEON and posted for free reading at Then read UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER (which had a HC edition and a paperback edition so you might find a copy somewhere).

The difference is the thematic structure paradigm strictly enforced, rigidly applied -- because my editor at Doubleday insisted or no publication. Her favorite mantra "It isn't clear" -- comes from how she searches for that thematic structure and the inner relationships between the sub-themes. But she, like most writers, does that subconsciously.
----------END QUOTE------------

You can find all the Sime~Gen novels here:  (that's an Amazon "store" with links to paper and ebook editions)

Look on the right, find Jacqueline Lichtenberg, click, and find Molt Brother, City of a Million Legends, the Dushau Trilogy, and other books including 2 short story collections by me.  Many of Jean Lorrah's novels are there too.

So, the first CLUE is to master THEME STRUCTURE.   And to understand the use of the Master Theme, or the main theme.  We'll have to discuss that in later posts, slicing and dicing philosophy, psychology, religion and other really discomforting topics.  To be able to extract the most Romance Writing Craft clues out of those future posts, you will need to foster a clinical distance from your own personal belief system and subconscious assumptions about reality. 

Most writers have probably been fostering that clinical distance from about age 5 already, simply because writers, like actors, just adore studying people --- other people with different points of view.

So now --

CLUE 2   The Camera

I don't think I've used this Camera analogy before, but again, as with the thematic structure clue, I didn't make it up.  I learned it.

And it isn't something that the e-book revolution will change, destroy, wipe-out or even modify.

That's because this is how the basic human brain is hard-wired.

In "Reality" from the title of this piece, humans (the majority of your readership will be human, probably) view their lives, and the world through one, single, narrow point of view with "blinders" (like race horses) on the sides of their philophical vision to narrow and concentrate their vision of reality.

It's disturbing to glimpse what's outside those blinders.

Your personal philosophy is probably outside the blinders of the majority of your intended readership.

People used to publish books because they were "important" -- because they would "disturb" readers -- because they said something most readers hadn't thought of.  That was before publishing was thrust onto a "profit or die" platform, when readers were only the highly educated, vastly intelligent 5% of humanity looking for new ideas.

Today, that 5% is gravitating toward the ebook and indie-publishing market, and everyone else is buying from Barnes&Noble, often on Nook but really just looking for "the same but different" as Hollywood puts it.  You can be successful with strange, different things in the indie market that won't fly in Mass Market.

That shift is maybe half done, and there could be a sea change before you finish your latest novel, so stay in touch with what's succeeding and what is not.

So if you're aiming at Mass Market (or an "opens everywhere" screenplay, not an indie screenplay) you must create verisimilitude -- the illusion of reality.

To do that, you have to have a good grasp of what your readership sees as reality, then you must frame your information feed (oh, do read those posts listed above) to cast the illusion of reality around your characters and their world.

Lately, many Action-Fantasy and Fantasy-Romance novels are being publishing using First Person narrative because it is easy for a writer who can't handle point of view to cast that illusion of reality if the narrative is all about "I did this, I thought this, I wanted that, I changed my mind" -- it's a cheap trick, and not literarily valid all the time, but it works and it's very easy to do.

The success of the First Person narrative in today's market may reflect our modern young culture's obsession with Self.  It often seems as if in our reality, we are very concerned about "I think about others all the time," or "I can't let the helpless starve," or whatever idealistic value is in focus.  It's about how I practice this value in my life. 

So First Person narratives have verisimilitude for those who, in reality, think inside their own minds "I - I - I"

So if you choose a Third Person narrative, or Omniscient Narrator, you have to work harder at verisimilitude.

What exactly do you do in your mind to create verisimilitude in a Third Person narrative?

Here's how I learned it.

You set a video camera on the shoulder of your character and show the reader what it records.

The camera is not inside the character's head.  You can discuss his "I" narrative only by inference. 

The camera analogy automatically sets those "blinders" around the edges of the character's peripheral vision -- this works wonders for writing Mystery or Mystery-Romance. 

The writer will be tempted to talk about (in those dreaded expository lumps) all the things going on that the writer knows about (must know about) but that the character doesn't know about, doesn't see, isn't aware of.  The CAMERA POINT OF VIEW will prevent the writer from spilling the beans to the reader, or make it easy for the editor to slash out the expository paragraphs and send the manuscript back for rewrite.

What the character does not (yet) know is the single, easiest, way to create a "suspense line" right alongside the "because line" that I've discussed in those posts listed above.

When the character finds out what was happening outside their camera angle, outside their blinders, the reader will experience the emotional shock right along with the character -- so you have created empathy and character identification in your reader, all by leaving out the exposition.

Now, using the Camera On the Shoulder, you can insert a character's thoughts on ocasion when the "beats" (oh, do read the posts listed above) require the information be fed to the reader.  You do that by setting the character's thoughts in a different "grammatical voice" and using a different verb tense than in the narrative.  And you set those "worded thoughts" in italics, not for emphasis but because they are not spoken.  So you don't use quotes on worded thoughts. 

The character's inner-story is revealed, only one sparse hint at a time, in those worded thoughts.   Be very VERY careful to get the verb tense right because that's what carries the emotional impact, the shift from third to first person brings a loud shout of immediacy and personal contact.  A lot of Mass Market novels today are too loosely edited and very often the italics are omitted or the verb tense and person of the pronouns aren't changed properly in the worded thought.  For good examples, see Marion Zimmer Bradley's novels.  Studying her work for the source of the effects she creates is where I learned the worded-thought technique.

CLUE 3   Nesting Plots and Stories

In a very long novel with multiple points of view, you need to have a complete story for each character, but only one plot for all the characters.

No two writers do this breakdown in the same sequence, and any given writer will do this exact breakdown in different ways for different projects.  How it's accomplished is never the same twice.  But every really great novel or film with wide readerships/ viewerships displays the exact same results as I'm about to describe.

As you outline before writing, during writing, and after finishing the first draft, look for and impose this structure on the work, ruthlessly.  After the structure is in place, go back and polish up the "art" that was your original intent.

1) MAIN THEME - nail a single main philosophical theme that dominates the work

2) MAIN CHARACTER - the main theme is the lesson the main character learns.  Don't let the supporting players overshadow or upstage the main character.  Count the main character's pages of "face-time" and dialogue lines just like an actor's agent would.  The FIRST CHARACTER intro'd on page 1 is the MAIN CHARACTER, and his/her conflict resolves on the LAST PAGE.  This is the envelope surrounding all the internal commentary.

3) 1st SUPPORTING PLAYER  -- that character's complete story explicates the 1st sub-dominant theme, and the lesson of that sub-dominant (fraction of the main theme) theme is the lesson driven home to the supporting player at the single climax of the novel.  The 1st supporting player is intro'd second, and his/her sub-plot conflict resolves just before the Main Character's story resolves.  The 1st supporting character's plot-conflict resolution CAUSES the Main Character's conflict to resolve.

4) 2nd SUPPORTING PLAYER - exactly the same as 1st Supporting Player except this one is intro'd third, has a plot conflict that resolves before the 1st Supporting Player's conflict resolves, and CAUSES the 1st Supporting Player's conflict to resolve. 

See the pattern?  NESTED STORIES, one inside the other like Russian dolls.

That's enough to chew on for a while, especially if you re-read the posts linked at the top of this entry.

I'll give you 3 more CLUES next week.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Patterns Of Injustice

Many truly gripping novels involve extreme injustice, usually visited upon the hero or heroine, or someone in their immediate family. The dilemma for some of us who write alien romances is how to find inspiration that is fresh and powerful, without dipping a toe --or even an arm and a leg-- into the territory of horror.

A possible resource is to anthropomorphize. Take for instance the modern example of "give a dog a bad name and hang him for it" as seen in modern American perceptions of Pit Bulls.

Do you know that there are condominium associations whose bylaws ban the possession of Pit Bulls simply because they are "Pit Bulls"?

If you on the list of potential or past donors to Alley Cat Rescue
you might have received a letter last month stating (of starving and abandoned cats) "Our animal shelters should be duty bound to help animals, but instead say: 'Don't feed them. They will go away.' I say: 'To where?' Have they ever worked in alleys to see what happens to the cats humans ignore?"

There is another example of injustice that could be adapted to an alien-abduction-gone-wrong premise.

And, here is an example of what our own, human kids suffer if they are unfortunate enough to be born with allergies that inconvenience the rest of society.

This is true stuff. People on international airplanes would obviously rather cause the potential death of a peanut allergic kid than forgo the tiny bag of peanuts to which they are entitled. One wonders why airlines still serve free peanut snacks at all.

On another note, it's September. Before we know it, NaNoWriMo time will be here. Will you be ready?

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Real People as Characters

I've just finished reading "A Time to Cast Away Stones," by Tim Powers, a novella sequel to his innovative epic vampire novel THE STRESS OF HER REGARD, featuring an ancient silicon-based species of near-godlike predators. The novel and the story use the Romantic poets (mainly Byron, Keats, and Shelley) and some of their real-life associates as protagonists. Earlier, Kathryn Ptacek wrote a novel about the major Romantic poets being victimized by a different kind of vampire, the sexually predatory lamia. Thinking of these works and many other cases where writers create excellent stories with historical figures as protagonists, I'm reminded of a guest-of-honor luncheon speech I heard a couple of years ago at a conference. The author giving the talk voiced his aversion to any fiction using a real person, no matter how long dead, as a major character. If I understood him correctly, he viewed this practice as a form of exploitation.

This author would definitely object to recent horror novels starring Abraham Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth (Tudor) as vampire slayers. (To my surprise, I found both of those books fairly convincing and respectful of their historical models.) But taking the principle to the rigorous lengths his lunch speech implied, he would also disapprove of all fictionalized biographies, e.g., Barbara Hambly's sympathetic treatment of Mary Todd Lincoln in the novel THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE, or any speculative retelling of historical events from the viewpoints of the main participants, such as Sharyn McCrumb's THE BALLAD OF TOM DOOLEY, forthcoming in a few days. In my opinion, the universe of fiction would be poorer without this kind of book. What about THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY and other biographical novels by Irving Stone? Has Michelangelo been dead long enough to be exempt from the prohibition? Taken to the ultimate extreme, the principle would rule out fiction on the lives of ancient figures such as Saint Paul or Julius Caesar. It would even apply to Shakespeare's history plays, which I strongly doubt the speaker had in mind.

The issue becomes more problematic when considering fiction about people who've died within living memory. Novels with H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien as heroes in completely invented storylines have been published in recent years. Needless to say, some critics have objected that these fictionalizations over-simplify or even caricature their subjects. Elvis Presley transformed into a vampire appears, though not as a major character and not explicitly named, in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I've read a horror story with Elvis, near the end of his life, as the protagonist. Stephen King's forthcoming novel about the Kennedy assassination will include Lee Harvey Oswald, inevitably, as a central character.

Is any dead celebrity or historical figure fair game for fictionalization? Or do creative ethics require a writer to abstain from using a real-world person as a character (at least, onstage rather than as part of the historical background) until everyone who could remember him or her personally has died?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 06, 2011 AudioBook Adventure

See below for news on Sime~Gen in audiobook edition.

A couple months ago, Wildside Press put my novel Molt Brother

Molt Brother (Lifewave)

and the Sime~Gen novels into's program for audiobooks which are distributed on, on iTunes and on amazon, and I don't know where else.

A couple weeks later, a reader was assigned, and a couple weeks after that Wildside sent me an MP3 of the first few pages of the novel.

The accompanying note just said the editor had reservations about the accent the reader used during the opening.

I recently upgraded my ebook reader to an iPod Touch 4, and was easily able to listen to the MP3 on it that evening.

When I listened to it, I knew what the problem was.

But at the same time, I was suddenly extremely pleased with myself, I'd venture to say insufferably pleased.  Molt Brother is one terrific book.  It got a new review on amazon from Carol Buchanan, a writer I met on twitter who is not an SF reader at all, and she said,

------Carol Buchanan----------

I don't read science fiction. Or fantasy. And I hate snakes. I don't believe in reincarnation, or karma. Yet I think _Molt Brother_ is a work of high imaginative quality. Translation: It's a great read.
....While wholeheartedly recommending _Molt Brother_ to anyone who reads English, and I'll be happy to read anything else by Ms. Lichtenberg, I have to admit I still hate snakes.
---------END QUOTE-------

I so wanted the audiobook version to live up to that review! 

I introduced you to Carol Buchanan here:

And you heard from her here in a later post with writing craft advice:

She's a great writer, and you really should read GOLD UNDER ICE.

So back to my problem with the audio opening of MOLT BROTHER.

The opening works very well on paper, but read aloud with an "alien" (i.e. non-human) accent that kinda sounds like the sort-of reptilian amphibian species -- there's a brick wall between the listener and the story.  There's no reason for a listener browsing book samples to waste time trying to understand that opening.

I offered 2 solutions and asked if the editor had a third.

I said we could ask the reader to re-do the opening scene, which is just 3 non-humans having an argument.  Later in the recording, the accent used for the non-humans becomes better, clearer and more practiced, so a re-recording will probably be more intelligible for the opening. 

Or I could write another opening to put a frame around the scene before the aliens start having at each other.  This would give listeners a chance to hear the great dramatic reading Voice and realize the audiobook is worth its price before hitting the accent. 

I had particularly suggested the aliens speak differently from the humans because their mouths are shaped differently -- and because a listener can't see a whole page of text in front of them and know who's talking to whom and what species they are at a glance.  You hear one word at a time, so to know who's talking, you need a suggestion of verbal style.  After a few pages, she got it just right, so I think this will work very well.

The editor at Wildside emailed right back and said BOTH solutions. 

When I suggested that I'd write something, I had no idea what to write.  It had been many years since I'd read the novel or worked with that material.  And having just heard the opening read so nicely (this reader is really good!), I didn't want to touch a word of it.  I feel that MOLT BROTHER and its direct sequel CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS showcase my "Voice."  

We discussed "Voice" a little in the last two weeks.

So how could I frame that opening in that same "Voice" -- I didn't know, so I just started typing.

In my mind, I was thinking of the opening sequence to the old film.

And I just typed.  In a very few words (for me) I achieved my objective, so I attached it to an email and wrote the editor:
Attached is what might be the opening "voice over" for a panoramic
opening of a film -- as the titles roll, we start with STARS, focusing
on a blue planet, close on an island with a big excavated
archeological site, swoop to a nearby house, cut to the interior pond
room and Arshel's confrontation with her parents.  (I'm thinking of
the opening of the film ISLAND IN THE SUN - 1957)

So here's what I wrote to go before the opening dialogue: 
Way off the beaten track of the Galaxy, a space ship full of humans crashed on a verdant water world occupied by the Kren.  The humans crafted an alliance with the Kren natives which functioned well until the galactic civilization rediscovered them.

Generations later, the Kren and human natives have begun to integrate on a deeply personal level – in some parts of their world.

Arshel Holtethor, a young Kren female, does not live in such an integrated place.  She has grown up on an island where human archeologists are excavating a city that is hundreds of millions of years old.  Enamored by that project and by a human boy of her generation also working on the excavation, Arshel dares too much, then must confess her situation to her parents. 

It is not going well….


He wrote back with a couple tweaks I've included above I think, and I said fine, and he wrote back that he'd sent it to the reader.

At this writing, I haven't heard the re-recording of MOLT BROTHER with my new opening. 

If you get a chance to hear it, let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I ran into an old friend on Twitter, @MichaelSpence , and we got to talking about Sime~Gen, which he thought he should re-read now it's out in ebook edition.

So I mentioned that Wildside was looking for a reader, and since he's spent the last few years doing voice acting, he went and applied to Wildside for the job of reading House of Zeor.

A few weeks later, I got the audition recording of the opening of House of Zeor that Michael Spence had made, and before I could get together with Jean Lorrah to discuss that, Wildside sent a different audition for House of Zeor -- so we suddenly had a choice.

Jean Lorrah and I agreed, and later two more of our staffers also agreed, Michael Spence was the one for the job.

The other reader had used software that allows for background sound effects and for filters to change the reader's voice when "doing" other characters.  All very nifty, and actually very well done by this reader, but none of us liked the overall effect.  That is so strange, but totally unanimous, a conclusion we all arrived at independently.

Just last week I was told that Spence had turned in the first chapter done with better technicals on the audio, but I haven't gotten a copy yet.

Meanwhile, upon my return from Coppercon (held over Labor Day weekend this year) where I was on several panels with Gini Koch (whose novels I've discussed here ...
) I found the final-final proof of the 12th Sime~Gen volume in my inbox.  So the new novel, The Farris Channel, will indeed be out in e-book and paper editions soon.

 Meanwhile, if you download from, iTunes, or Amazon, the audiobook editions of either of these novels, do please let us know your reaction - drop a note on this blog if you like.  There will be more opportunities to make choices like this.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg