Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Astrology Just For Writers Part 11-The Fishtank Model of Romance

Most writers and readers don't want to know anything about Astrology, and that's fine.  There are plenty of other systems for parsing the patterns of human life.

A writer only needs one such system, but having several can give a writer the flexibility to work with vastly different audiences.  Adding Astrology to your toolbox can position you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities with unruffled aplomb.

But you don't need to become an astrologer, or even to "learn" astrology or do it.  You only need to learn to think like an astrologer, and to understand what lives look like from the point of view of someone well versed in this craft.

Here are the previous posts in this Astrology Just For Writers series that help you get the perspective we'll discuss next.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me_30.html lists posts on Astrology

And here are additional ones:

Part 10 was on August 30, 2010.

And this is Part Eleven.  The intention is to collect this series into an e-book and make it available for download on simegen.com.

The 20 posts on the Tarot Swords and Pentacles that I've done here will likewise be published along with the discussions in volumes on Wands and Cups, plus a volume on how and why to study Tarot, and when and how to shun it.

Here are two posts indexing the 20 Tarot posts available.

When using Tarot to structure a novel, never mention cards, suits, mysticism, foretelling the future, etc.  Keep your use of these tools "off the nose" and be able to say, "It just came to me."

To achieve that unruffled aplomb, that level of "Cool,"  in the face of the opportunity of a lifetime, the one thing a writer needs to learn about using Astrology in their writing is, just as with Tarot, never mention the name "Astrology" or "Natal Chart" -- or any of the planets or stars that Astrology tracks.  Never mention "influenced by" or "under a transit."  Not even "Horoscope!"

Mentioning the source is what Hollywood screenwriters call being "on the nose" -- or in the parlance of the narrative text writer, "telling" rather than "showing."

I've seen this "on the nose" error in text a lot lately, even from seasoned professional best sellers.  That happens because the editors don't catch it and send it back for rewrite.  Editors need to know this stuff just as writers do.

Lazy writers, or any writer just in a hurry or being lazy, tend to try to disguise expository lumps as dialogue or description.  When that is done, the dialogue or description comes out "on the nose."

Here are some of my entries about Expository Lumps:

And there's another on August 23rd, 2011

Also see my series on Editing.  Here's the final installment, and it has a list of the previous parts at the top.

A master craftsman writer portrays the life (and arc) of a character in a way that is familiar to the readers -- they know real people who've lived through that pattern (or died in it).  But you must not tell the reader how you found out about that pattern.  It just came to you.

There is a popular commercial running in 2011 for Progressive Insurance in which the iconic saleswoman shows a prospective buyer the "Bundling" machine.  You put your information in once, and get out two products in a box.

The buyer turns to her marveling and asks, "How did you think of that?"

She answers, "Oh, it just came to us."  Then looks over at a centaur shopping the shelves of bundles.

That line, "Oh, it just came to us."  is supposed to be a tickler, funny, amusing, memorable to the viewers.

What most viewers don't know is that it is the stock answer to that question in Hollywood.

It's so routine, and so stock, and so necessary when a producer or director asks a writer "How did you think of that?" that the "never let them see you sweat" rule kicks in automatically, and the only answer is a nonchalant shrug with, "Oh, it just came to me."  Saying essentially you have a genius that the nuts-n-bolts people who make your story real for viewers just don't have.  You are indispensable to the process, but not overly impressed with yourself.  It was an accident you thought of this ingenious solution.

This is so absolutely ingrained in the Hollywood culture that Blake Snyder ( http://blakesnyder.com ) of the Save The Cat! books insists this is the only way a writer can respond to that question.  He teaches writing, and goes out of his way to make this point.  There's skill, craft, and lots of sweat behind these ingenious solutions to production problems, but you as a seller of your skills must never let them see you sweat.

And that's true of the relationship between you and your reader as well.

You must never let the reader know how you know -- know what process you used to create the magic they adore.

It won't be magic if you do.

Think of a painter facing a well prepared blank canvass.  Most often, after settling on the subject, the painter reaches for charcoal not pigment, and maybe a ruler, and draws in a whole lot of very faint lines later to be erased.  Those lines set up the composition, the perspective, the point of view from which the subject's inner nature will be revealed.  The painter deliberately plans how the viewer's eye will sweep across the images, and what they will notice first, what next, and what will be in focus and remembered.

Yes, it's all very deliberate skill in painting.  It's learned early and practiced like a musician practices scales until the painter can have an image "just come to him" and boom, it's on the canvass and you never know what happened even if you were watching.  The Master Craftsman usually isn't conscious of "what happened" either -- he really lives the "it just came to me" moment without asking himself how that happened.

Teachers on the other hand have to unravel that "just came to me" moment and convey the individual skills to the craftsman one at a time, in boring repetitive drills.

That's what we're doing here in this blog for writers who want to figure out how better writers achieve those marvelous effects.

Today's craft point is a look at Astrology from the writer's point of view.

So let's look at the two lead characters in a Romance.  Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series of books on screenwriting, says all Romances belong to his "genre" called Buddy Love.  I recommend you read those books.

Blake Snyder On Amazon

Also, because of the encroachment of graphic novels, film, webisodes, games, and other visual media on storytelling,  today's text-narrative writers must incorporate the pacing and visual emphasis that fiction consumers have become accustomed to.

So I recommend getting Snyder's screenwriting SOFTWARE that goes with the books, and using that to lay out the structure of your novel.  I am particularly involved with that software right now because I'm a beta tester on version 3.0 and I really love the improvements.

You can find it at blakesnyder.com or Amazon.  The software is also called SAVE THE CAT!  You can also find it on professional screenwriting software sites like Final Draft.  It's integrated with Final Draft 8

So now you're looking at a blank canvass to create your characters, their arcs, and the story they must live through.

You've nailed the transit influences affecting them.  Since this is a Romance, of course Neptune is hard at their respective sensitive spots.  But other influences can fly through that long-arc Neptune transit as well.

So you need a mental model too understand what these two people are and why they act and react as they do.

And that model has to be comprehensible to your readers especially because you're not going to explain it "on the nose." 

Without learning astrology, what can you visualize that will tell you what is happening to this couple, this pair of Soul Mates, falling in love?

Visualize it like this, and see if this works for you.

A Soul incarnates at a particular moment.  Astrology captures the moment of birth in a flash-photo still shot called the Natal Chart.

That chart delineates the positions of the planets of the solar system, and the Sun and Moon, at the time of birth.  It further captures the two lines delineating the path to the horizon east and west, plus the point directly overhead at Noon - the highest point the Sun reaches on that day at that longitude and latitude.  The opposite point is directly under foot, opposite the Sun's peak of arc, midnight.  That line is called the MC, and defines the 10th House and the 4th House, the mystical purpose for taking this life vs. the foundation of the Home under the person's metaphorical feet.

The Ascendant defines the view of "reality" the person has from inside his life, and what others see when they look at him.  Opposite the Ascendant is the 7th House cusp, which delineates partnerships, significant others, spouses, and the public (when you figure what all those things have to do with each other, how they're all absolutely identical, you'll have an understanding you can use to write fiction.)

Different astrological systems of mathematics assign different ways to calculate the positions of the other 8 "House cusps" -- I favor Placidus, Tropical, and it works well enough for my purposes (creating characters).

This up/down, horizon to horizon framework delineates the support structure of this character's life.  When you put the planets, Moon and Sun, into the framework positioned relative to the  birthplace on Earth at that moment the baby draws first breath, you then have a giant clock with at least 10 "hands" moving at different paces.  You can get fancy, and delineate 20 hands to the clock.  But a writer doesn't need that.

You don't need to understand how those clock hands move as much as you need to understand that they're there, they're set with precision, there's no escaping, and everyone alive is utterly familiar with their permutations and combinations in dynamic effects.

That "setup" of life at birth is the part of astrology that lets you make your characters "the same" as Hollywood always wants, and as Manhattan publishers need and will buy.

When something has become popular (like Harry Potter) the purveyors of fiction strive to duplicate exactly what it was that sold so well..  And that's why they always want "the same but different."

Writers, however, have read a lot of books, and usually want to put their work forward as "different" and not at all the same.  "Different" feels like the essence of art, the essence of your soul. (because it is)

You can do "different" and get small readerships.  Or you can add in "the same" dimension and strike for larger readerships.  It's a choice.  Create a pen name for each career path.

But first see my entries on PEN NAMES.

The Blake Snyder Save the Cat! books and software show you how to do "the same" without infringing on your personal "different" and thus unleash your full potential as a commercial writer.

Now visualize this giant clock everyone is born inside.  Each of us live inside a clock set to a different time zone, a unique (or nearly unique -- even twins are born at different times) time zone.

This clock forms the framework of your life, the outside of your life, not the inside.

Think of this framework as the walls of a fishtank.

Fishtanks come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but they have transparency in common.  At least one wall is transparent (think of the giant aquarium at a zoo).  Most fishtanks are transparent on at least 3 sides.

The tank you live in, your natal chart, defines the size and shape of your life just like the walls of a fish tank.

You can think of it as walling you away from what's out there.  Or you can think of it as containing a benign environment uniquely suited just to you, thus protecting others from your environment.  This should be familiar to SF readers of space adventures with intelligent aquatic creatures.  Metaphor?  Maybe. 

Unlike most fish, you can see OUT, hazily.  With distortion.  You can see the reflective walls of other people's tanks, and sometimes glimpse through those walls into the life of another.

In this (admittedly limited and distorted) analogy, your Soul is the fish.

Unlike fish, you can create, shape, decorate, personalize and customize your tank.  You create your inner environment.

What your Soul is capable of creating, how nicely you can arrange things, what you can "do with the place" is limited by your talent, determination, and other resources your soul brings into this life.

You live your life within your natal chart, within your clock, by the choices your Soul makes, and the resources and wisdom it has brought with it, and what it learns from this life.

The "clock" does not say "You will meet a tall, dark, non-human, stranger and fall in unrequited love."

The clock does not say a tall dark stranger will come into your life.

The clock says it's time to meet strangers, go find one.

Whether there's a stranger there or not, and how you respond to that particular individual stranger, is a matter of the Soul, not the clock.

It's not that there's no such thing as "destiny" -- it's that "destiny" is far more complex than the Ancient Greeks ever knew.

"Destiny" is crafted from the material at hand (via the clock, the shape of the fishtank, the limits of imagination in fixing up the place inside the tank), by freewill choices, but not just your own.  Everyone has free will and makes choices which you respond to.  And others respond to your choices.  You interact (i.e. fall in Love) with others who likewise live in fishtanks of their own, tanks you can sometimes almost see into, but never enter.

In my universe paradigm, there's a third force acting to shape and reshape "destiny" for each of us and all of us collectively - God.  But the fishtank analogy holds whether there's a third outside force or not.

So here your character is inside her fishtank, and is moving stuff around trying to make the place (her life) comfortable.  (i.e. has landed a plum of a job promotion, and really sees the big bucks coming soon)

And she decides out of pride of place to clean her tank walls nice and clear and transparent so she can see and understand the world (i.e. takes a course and learns something, or proves something).

She wants love, so she makes herself more visible, her real self, or what she wants to believe is her real self.

And what happens when she cleans her tank wall is that she SEES another tank out there because it's time to meet strangers, and she can now see through her own reflection to something that is not herself.

She sees another tank wall, and reflective though it is, it seems to curve around the edges of her tank very neatly, and with the angle just so, she can SEE the Soul swimming around inside his life.  Or she thinks she does.  Part of the image is a reflection of herself, but having cleaned her tank walls, she is seeing something that is not herself.  Thrill of a lifetime. 

Wow. He's gorgeous.  Just look at those sweeping, draping fins!

The two souls can get close, nudge their tanks right up to touching, so it seems the walls have merged into one wall, and they can create new life together.  But neither can leap over into the other's tank and swim there.

The analogy kind of breaks down because Soul Mates who marry do actually merge into one.  Those two tanks bond and stick together.

But the insides are always separate, even when most of the reflection effect at the tank surfaces is eliminated by bonding the two tank walls together.

Lives are SEPARATE -- Souls merge.

We each live in our fishtanks, isolated and alone.  But we can share a Soul, mate with a Soul.

Think of this analogy.  The two tanks come together, the walls fuse so they can almost just about see into each others' tanks (there's always reflection -- what we see when we look at others is a reflection of our inner Self).  So they move into such harmony that they each redecorate their tanks to match, so you can't tell it's two rooms.

Maybe she quits her job, and he quits his (ok, today it's more likely they'll get laid off), and they start a business together -- a shop, a newspaper, a blog-for-money operation, e-Bay sales, whatever.  They change their lives to harmonize.

That's what "Happily Ever After" -- the HEA ending -- actually looks like.

We talked about the Happily Ever After concept in a 4 part series the Tuesdays in October 2011 titled Believing In Happily Ever After.

Using the fishtank analogy of lives that are set up at Birth, and Souls trapped inside those lives at least for this incarnation, you can see immediately why people today just don't credit the Happily Ever After goal as realistic.

You can never really get inside another person's life.  You can't let them inside yours.

You can't even see inside other people clearly, which leads to misunderstandings.

Consider a good marriage where, after some time, one partner wanders off to live mostly in the far end of his tank, becoming mostly invisible from the mated tank.  Left alone, she ends up living at the far end of her tank, where there's a view into someone else's tank.

No matter how close some part of your life is to another's, or how visible, there's a part of your life they can't see or share.

That's what it means to be an individual, a unique person, a sovereign person.

Since everyone has that experience, it's easy to see why most people don't believe another person would deliberately live their life only in the corner of their tank that touches the other tank.

Until you mix in the Soul Mate dimension, that delineates the unique pleasure of being near another, willingly sharing a life (redecorating) for the sheer pleasure of the meaningfulness you find in the other's company, there's no way to explain Happily Ever After to those who have no experiential model for it.

That is, there is no way to explain unless you're a writer who has mastered show don't tell, the off-the-nose techniques Blake Snyder teaches so ably.  The genre that specializes in making the unbelievable real to the reader is Science Fiction and its more recent offshoot adult Fantasy.  When you mix SF/F with Romance or just plain Love, you get PNR and SFR.

PNR writers need a firm grasp of the esoteric or occult disciplines such as Tarot and Astrology to make the rules of magic of a constructed fictional world real to their readers.

Here is where you can find my novels, and my co-author Jean Lorrah's, to see how we apply these principles.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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