Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Story Springboards Part 2: The TV Shows FRINGE and ROYAL PAINS

Part One of this series is a Guest Post on Art Heists by a writer who is also a  fan of the TV Series White Collar, It Takes a Thief, etc:


With all the shifts in Publishing since the big publishers all ate each other up and turned over the editorial policies to committees and bean counters, the entire structure of "Gatekeepers" has morphed into something truly different.

By "Gatekeepers" writers usually mean folks who can say "no" to an author and make it stick, keeping the author away from the author's natural audience. This can be at the Agent level, the Editorial level, the Marketing level inside the big publishers, or the Bean Counter level.

Many authors whose books finally make it into traditional publishing channels, find their next book being rejected because the computers (also a new kind of gatekeeper that grew to dominance in the 1980's with the chain bookstores) just aren't returning the numbers.

When that happens, writers often take special notice of the immense drain that pirating has had on their sales (immense). 

Writers whose books take off to become New York Times bestsellers usually don't notice that drain so soon.  They're too busy writing their next book.  Publishers, though, notice.  They just can't do anything about it, (yet).

Everything they've tried has failed, and now Amazon is picking fights with distributors over the pricing of ebooks -- mostly because of a button TAG they put on some pages where people can note that the price is too high, or DRM deters them from purchasing.

In this environment of being swept round and round the tornado of change in the fiction delivery system due to ebooks, Print on Demand (POD) and Kindle and Nook readers, writers who are burning up with something to SAY feel they are not able to "reach" their audience.

Many tools have been launched in the last couple of years, and all those tools come and go (such as self-publishing, social networking promotion campaigns, YouTube Book Trailers). 

But the question remains.  How do you "reach" the audience you are writing for? 

You'll see statistics that people are watching less TV -- less network TV, less Cable TV, canceling cable subscriptions for internet-only TV -- and here comes Apple TV.  But the networks still exist.

By all accounts, profits are being made -- OK, it's more like the airline industry if you track the stocks -- but people do acquire and absorb TV series.  They just don't slave themselves to a network broadcast schedule, and on the whole, are determined to avoid sitting through commercials.

Video fiction is "churning" under the impact of the digital revolution just as publishing is.  But people still want fiction, and they want a wider choice.

Just as publishing feels they are competing with fanfic posted free online, video-fiction purveyors feel they are competing now on an almost-even footing with the Indie Film Maker, and web-based webisodes, (even webinars compete with classroom instruction).

So what is the creator of fictional universes to do to reach the hungry audience?

What happens next, (yes, this kind of cycle is repetitive throughout history) is  called "Market Making."

To get the notion into your head, think of the publishing history of Harry Potter.  At first it couldn't get sold.  Then it went to an obscure publisher working into an obscure readership (kids) - then Scholastic here in the USA, then kids with cell phones and Facebook accounts took it viral, then it exploded as a "Market" cohered, demanding more-more-more so more books came out creating the series, then movies.  I'm sure eventually a TV Series.

Now go study Vampire Diaries (CW network - and the books), and its history. 

Here's a blog post that arose out of the copyright dispute the originator of Vampire Diaries has had with the publisher.


I dropped a comment on that blog pointing to the blog posts here in recent weeks:


I did note that your blog shows that you are young, and so my posts based on this issue are not personally about you, but about how to train to enter the writing profession, what to expect, and how to maneuver into a position where you can negotiate from strength.

Those interested should read up on the trademark and copyright history of "Superman" and other movie Icons from the early days.

Originally, actors did not get "residuals" -- they didn't get paid every time a film was shown.  Then came TV, and reruns, and actors revolved, marched in union picket lines, and won a % payment every time a film they are in is shown on TV. At that point, the number of commercials inserted in films went up (where else would they get the money to pay?)

Every new technology has smashed the creative artists that the business and marketing people use to create the product they market.  Right now, skirmish lines are being drawn again.  You've fingered one of the jig-jags in that skirmish line, the "work for hire" provision of the 1970's revamping of the copyright laws.

I believe your post shows brilliance and a huge potential as a writer.  But it also points up the sore need for people to learn about the 1970's, and how well-meaning actions of that time, rooted in an understanding of the technology shift between 1920 and 1960, are shaping the skirmish lines today.

Artists (writers, actors, animators, film makers) can't win this battle if we don't know what the core of the battle is about. 

What may happen is that, without understanding the import of the impact of the new technologies, the well meaning and morally correct actions may create an even worse problem for artists working in the world that will exist 40 years hence.

So boring as it is, the history lesson is necessary, but I'm not the one to teach that lesson! 

I'm a science fiction writer, a futurologist, and my whole focus is on that world that will exist 40 years hence, and more. 

You do not deserve to be bashed for bringing this point to the surface.  You deserve to be celebrated.

But I for one am crushed that your taste for Vampire fiction has abated, because I write Vampire stories, novels, and now I've just turned in an anthology of Vampire stories by writers of Vampire fanfic who have gone pro with original universe stories.

Of course, I also write many other sorts of novels, so maybe you'll find one you do enjoy.  House of Zeor might be a likely candidate.  Or if you like doctor novels, try Unto Zeor, Forever.

So studying these Market Making works, and contrasting and comparing with the two TV shows Fringe and Royal Pains, what do we learn?

Consider the elements I focused on in this post:


And here:

Now remember this post from my writing craft blog on constructing openings:

It's about the protagonist's goal at the opening -- and of course, how that changes by The End (i.e. how the character arcs).

In one of the comments, I pointed out how it is possible to telegraph the Protag's goal to the reader without the Protag actually knowing what his/her goal is. That is the goal that will be achieved at the ending in order to resolve the conflict, but the protagonist might have his/her conscious mind focused on a different goal, or even on avoiding the actual goal.

Now that "telegraphing" has to do with "symbols" and images and icons that we've discussed at length.


That's my post on Icons and iconic book covers and movie posters.

Icons are two things simultaneously. 

A) They are a shorthand representation of some complex, mostly subconscious, notion shared by a large group of people.

B) They are a means of planting, germinating and spreading that notion to the subconscious minds of others. 

Think about that as the answer to the conundrum of Violence on TV being the cause of violence among children (and among the adults they will become) and the counter argument that no-way can mere stories affect the behavior of sane, well balanced, well parented children (or adults). 

It's one of those chicken/egg problems.

In our current "Learn This In One Minute A Day" and "Computer Programming Made Simple" world, we default to the assumption that every question can be posed and answered as an either/or proposition (the duality view of reality, the binary view, the zero-sum-game view).

The question is formulated as "does violence on TV cause children to misbehave -- or NOT?" and then everyone rushes to take sides, without ever questioning the question itself.

Critical thinking (questioning the question is an example) is not taught in school by teachers who don't know their subjects but do have degrees in "Education" -- degrees they achieved because they didn't ever stand up in class and tell the Professor off for misleading the class into thinking that there exists such a process as "teaching."

In my personal view, there is no such thing as "teaching" -- but there is such a thing as "learning." 

Brain research has shown how "learning" changes brain synaptic pathways, the generation of brain cells and their connections, the configuration of the brain is changed which is what learning is.

But where's the research that shows how "teaching" changes the teacher's brain? 

THE KING AND I - wonderful book and film, (stageplay too) -- "by your students you'll be taught" -- sing it often.

So there's a world-view built on the idea that it's possible to "teach" without learning -- i.e. that imparting knowledge and skills is a one-way process.

More, that imparting knowledge and skills is a process that can be achieved on purpose, by training and skills in imparting knowledge etc.

In my personal world view that's nonsense.  In my personal worldview knowledge and skills can be acquired.  An environment rich in knowledge and skills may surround a person who is not (at a particular moment) being acquisitive, and that person will not acquire anything.  When they turn acquisitive, they may acquire all kinds of things the "teacher" or "parent" had no clue they were imparting! 

So as I see it, you can't deliberately, on purpose, make a person acquire a particular notion.  People, even little ones, will take away from a situation the lesson that they, themselves, select -- regardless of what the teacher wants them to learn.

That is, kids are perverse and stubborn for the most part. 

So how is it that notions get transmitted generation to generation?  Where does culture come from and where does it reside within us?

I work on the model that culture resides in the subconscious which speaks the language of symbols.

By symbols we transmit notions.

Symbols in wide usage become Icons.

Icons that link a multitude of subconscious minds, giving them a "language" in common, create "markets."  People who've found meaning in an Icon want to learn more about it.

"The Vampire" has become such an Icon today, and now The Zombie is cycling into that iconic role, and other "supernatural" and "mythological" creatures are being cycled into that niche. 

Now look at the two TV Series, FRINGE and ROYAL PAINS.

FRINGE is about the structure of time, and the parameters of the Universes, collisions between Universes, the displacement of characters between universes, and how the human brain can be altered to facilitate Universe-travel. 

FRINGE is a very complex, abstract, piece of "worldbuilding" -- and it actually has a "real science" base -- a "what if...?" question based on current suspicions about stars, galaxies, time, space, and sub-atomic particles. 

The character of Peter has become iconic -- with the machine he gets spread-eagled into and transmitted across Universes.  It's a Crucified position. 

Who is "Peter"?  He died in one universe, and his genius father then went to another universe where he was deathly ill and rescued him, brought him back to "our" universe where he'd invented a cure.  Our character Peter grew up in our universe, only to discover he'd been kidnapped before he was old enough to remember.  He tried to get back to his own universe, had problems (several seasons of TV shows worth of problems) and has been displaced into yet another universe. 

In this built world of multiple universes, there are Time Cops of a sort, bald guys who flicker through Situations trying to straighten out the timeline.  They tried to get rid of the individuals who were messing up the timeline.  They tried to get rid of Peter - and he popped up in a lake in this third universe. 

It's all very abstract, very confusing, and the "science" seems more ridiculous than the Star Trek science seemed in the 1960's.  But guess what?  Mundanes, people who don't particularly enjoy science fiction, watch and like this show.

It's a story about people, and about two Soul Mates with a cross-universe affinity.  It's got a "mad scientist" stereotype with a twist, and with a heart who simply loves his son.  For love, he will bend the universes into pretzels -- at least he will until he realizes the harm he's causing.  Then he tries to fix it.

Now we're down to the thematic level with FRINGE.  When you get to the level of people, what they do, what happens, and WHAT THEY LEARN FROM THE RESULTS OF THEIR ACTIONS, you are at the level of theme.

And that's where you encode the lessons learned into icons that communicate, generate markets, and proliferate imitations of a type of story.

FRINGE is a science based science fiction universe with a science fiction theme -- actions have consequences, choices have consequences, and even mad scientists are highly moral about taking responsibility for the results of their actions, especially actions based on knowledge they have that others do not have.

As with most science fiction, the TV series FRINGE just barely acknowledges the possibility there could be Divine fingers stirring up lives and events.  If it's hinted at, it's more spooky than the science. 

ROYAL PAINS is a totally mundane TV series about a doctor (Hank), a very creative Emergency Room physician with an ethical streak a mile wide who gets himself fired from a top tier job at a hospital because he put the immediate emergency of a poor patient ahead of an (apparently) less urgent medical issue of a very rich donor to the hospital. 

That happened in the premier, and the TV Series Royal Pains is about this doctor's adventures when, on vacation in the Hamptons after getting fired, he solves a medical problem on the fly for a very rich person.

Hank goes into "Concierge" medicine, being on contract to the rich and famous who vacation in the Hamptons and ritzy surroundings.  The "Royal Pains" of the title are the complaints of the rich and privileged, the very kind of people who, in the TV Series Leverage which we've discussed ...


... are the ones who cause all the problems which the hero's group of barely reformed criminals must solve for the ordinary people who are the victims of the rich and famous.

In Royal Pains, most of the rich and famous, or rich and very not-famous-on-purpose (I mean that's really rich), turn out to be very nice people who don't deserve ill health, who do a lot of charity and public service, and are open to learning a lesson or two from Hank.

Hank "models" (without teaching) ways of solving problems and of getting along with people, of paying attention and taking people seriously even if they happen to be rich.  Hank models respect for other human beings, regardless of what they appear to be on the surface. 

We live in a world which is, right now, very conscious of the very different ways people live at different income levels.  Hank completely lacks that consciousness.

He had a high paying job in a wealthy city.  The next week he was impoverished, and on vacation only because he'd bought tickets already.

The next he was living in a mansion's cottage posher than anywhere he or his family could ever afford to live. 

And he barely notices. 

If he were a Magician, you would have to say he is living "On The Law Of Abundance."

He doesn't think about or worry about money or where it comes from.  He focuses entirely on doing the right thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing. 

Of course he has a brother who is an accountant who takes over the practical part of his life and creates the business known as Hankmed. 

So where's the "Icon" -- it's "Concierge Medicine" -- and that business model is the modern doctor's equivalent of  the writer's bizmod of the  "self-published."  He doesn't take insurance.  His customers pay cash and never notice the expense.  Or he treats people free because they're living hand-to-mouth.

Just as with the TV Series Leverage, the icon is the business model.  But with the TV Series Royal Pains, we see a business model based on serving the rich and famous and thus imparting a notion to those who are receptive to it that their privileges are not due to their personal superiority.  In the TV Series Leverage, the business model is based on the assumption that all the wealthy are irrevocably convinced of their inherent personal superiority, and the Team's mission is to disabuse them of that notion forcibly.

In the TV Series Fringe, we see an iconic Mad Scientist -- who has a sense of morality and an open hearted love for his son, who becomes an Icon.

In the TV Series Royal Pains we see a new icon, a Concierge Doctor who is part "McGiver" -- who has a sense of walking the world unthreatened, without fear, and with love for all.

Strip off the decorative details of either of these shows' Icons - each show with a nice, solid Market - and use the Icon as your springboard into a story in an original universe aimed at a Market that's already been Made.

Just be sure that your philosophical (i.e. thematic) statement is encoded in an Iconic Image that is understood by the target market.  That can take some market-testing, but don't use people who know you personally. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

No comments:

Post a Comment