Thursday, September 27, 2012

Love Notes

My Lovecraftian erotic romance novella "Song from the Abyss" is now available in print in LOVE NOTES, a trade paperback anthology with three other authors:

Love Notes

Alyce, the heroine of "Song from the Abyss," inherits a house that belonged to her eccentric aunt. It turns out the house contains a portal to another dimension. By playing a CD of eerie music, Alyce accidentally opens the portal and summons back to our world her boyfriend who vanished when they were both eighteen. H. P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" partly inspired the hero, who's not entirely human—and has tentacles.

Earlier, I wrote a more obvious spinoff from "The Dunwich Horror" in a humorous erotic novella, "Tentacles of Love," which asks the question, suppose Wilbur Whateley had been just a nice half-human, half-eldritch-abomination guy who only wanted to find someone to love?

Tentacles of Love

This story is also available in a print anthology, EVEN NAUGHTIER NUPTIALS:

Even Naughtier Nuptials

As would be obvious from these stories and my Amber Quill Press novels FROM THE DARK PLACES (horror with Christian elements) and WINDWALKER'S MATE (paranormal romance), I'm a big fan of Lovecraft's tropes—ancient family secrets, forbidden tomes, and mind-shattering invaders from other dimensions—but not at all in sympathy with his worldview.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 4

Part 1 in this series on Theme-Worldbuilding integration (doing both at once to reduce word-count and increase "pacing" without losing style and atmosphere) is:

Part 2 in this series was posted September 11, 2012:

Part 3 in this series was posted Sept. 18, 2012:

Here is a post listing previous posts on Worldbuilding:

Here is a partial list of posts on this blog about the use of THEME in structuring a novel or screenplay:

Again we're in midst of Holiday scheduling here, so I'm not writing this today, but long before "now."  But you may be reading this years later.  Isn't the web wonderful?   

"Last week" we looked at the Romance novels involving children -- young divorcee or widow with children falls in love.  Second time around jitters.  It's a dynamite plot angle.

Statistics show that the children of single parents don't do as well in school or in life as children raised by two parents.  I doubt they've diced up those statistics to discover how badly children of parents who are trapped  in a bad marriage do in school or in life.

Harmony between parents is, I believe, one of those essential ingredients in raising kids to be sensitive, caring, marriageable people -- people who can sustain a pair-bonding situation.

That kind of harmony between parents generally comes from Soul Mating, but not always.  Sometimes Soul Mates just know how to fight in a marriage, but fight "fair."  This can transmit to children the ability to express feelings, especially pain and dissatisfaction, learning to experience themselves without seeing others as the 'cause' of all their miseries (just some.)  Absent such an environment, children can absorb it by reading good Romances about family life. 

So another essential ingredient in raising kids to do well in life is DISCORD between the parents!

How can that be?  Because children don't do as you say, they do as you do.  As children, we absorbed both the image of joy between parents AND the image of how to handle discord, disagreements, compromising, displaced fury and rage bottled up on the job and brought home to be dumped on the spouse.

The stages and steps of emotional maturity that bring us to be able to take advantage of meeting a Soul Mate are rooted in how the parents behave to, at, and with each other.

Last week, we discussed the YouTube video that went viral in June about a group of Middle School kids reviling a school bus monitor. 

Here's a story about it -- I believe the video itself may have been pulled offline: 

You don't want to watch that video anyway. 

In the news stories referring to the video, the incident was referred to as "bullying."

I don't think that's what it was.  I did see the video. 

To have a bullying incident, the bully-er has to be superior to the bully-ee.  Bullying is an abuse of power -- of being bigger, stronger, having more authority, or options to bring punishment down on someone's head, or blackmail, or get someone fired -- the bully has to have the ability to do harm to the bullyee.

Bullying can be just "crowding" -- a group of kids move in close, touching another kid, trying to provoke a violent response so the bully-ee gets in trouble with the school admin.

It can be passive aggressive, but it's always cowardly by definition. 

We live in a society where the trend is toward valuing safety over heroism, and as a result people who have not grown up modeling themselves on heroic behavior of parents toward dangers respond to threats to their safety by retreating, propitiating, and eventually cowering. 

It doesn't take real danger to draw forth that response, just the threat of danger.  Such a "threat of danger" is what bullying is and the goal is to evoke that cowardly response, the knuckling under, go-along-to-get-along response or the ineffectual lashing out at the irritant.  If there were no probability that a cowardly response could be evoked, there would be almost no bullying behavior because there would be no enticing goal to achieve by bullying. 

In the school bus case, the only element of "bullying" present that I could see was the power of numbers.  There were a lot of kids involved, verbally trashing one adult, attempting to provoke a violent response (such a violent response is the mark of the coward) -- which would have gotten her fired from a job she really needed.

She was the adult in the room, and didn't lash out at them.

Note that martial arts training focuses on controlling the power you gain from learning moves.  Watch The Karate Kid movie series carefully.  That is the training in heroism that erases cowardly traits.  The school bus monitor had mastered those principles, whether she had the physical "moves" or not.  It's a character trait. 

But she didn't handle the whole issue very well, either.  She wasn't able to assert authority of her own, or the authority of the school admin, or the authority of the parents of these children.

Now, that's all I saw.  For why any of this is important or relevant to Theme-Worldbuilding Integration in the Romance Novel, read the previous parts of this series, and the Theme series and the Worldbuilding Series.  This stuff is subtle -- it takes a Wizard!  But this bullying transaction illustrates the issues at the core of a true Romance -- because there is an interface between sexuality and power.  Those bullies on that school bus were adolescents.  Think about that. 

Recall, last week, I pointed out at the end of the piece that the fact this video provoked a project to collect  money for the school bus monitor, and that the amount collected became huge (and the bus monitor just recently acquired control of most of that amount), indicates where you can find a market for a novel based on a theme extracted from the news reports of this incident. 

This is all about targeting your reader, finding what's going on in their real world, reducing that real world to a THEME, then using that theme as a filter to generate a character with that problem. 

You should also use the theme also to filter out extraneous detail and build a world to cradle and present that character (just as a diamond merchant puts her diamonds on black velvet and subtly aims a light from the side, so they sparkle best.)

You want your diamonds, your characters to sparkle enough to catch the eye of the target reader, the people who did or would have donated money to the fund for that school bus monitor.  Those donors hearts went out to that monitor.  They wanted to make a statement repudiating the behavior of those children, and presumably of their parents for raising wild animals instead of people (failing to inculcate heroism in their children; heroes are never bullies).  They wanted to alleviate that woman's pain because they could feel it inside themselves.  THAT is an audience, and therefore a market for emotion-based fiction. 

Against the black velvet background of a schoolbus full of bullies, the monitor's character sparkled and attracted the eye and ignited hearts.  That's what you want your characters to do for your audience.

A question to consider is: "What has gone wrong in our society to produce such children?"

Or conversely, perhaps you don't think those children did anything so seriously horrible as to indicate something wrong with the entire underpinning of society?  Perhaps you can defend them.  That would be PERFECT for one of the Point of View characters in a novel.  Readers on all sides of the question would be steamed up.  Think about readers who are or were bullies -- how would they react to your main character falling in love with a bully? 

To make a novel rather than a short story, you need to argue all sides of this issue.

To do that, you have to reduce the issue to something very precise and clear. 

All of this has to do with analyzing that "BUT" we ended off with in Part 3 of this series.

There is an audience which believes the kids behaved poorly on that bus.  They collected a lot of money for the victim, an outpouring of sympathy and a statement, "We don't belong to a society where people ever WOULD behave the way those children behaved."

That collection of such a huge amount (hundreds of thousands of dollars) disowns those children. 

We do not stand with those children.  We do not condone their behavior.  Don't count us among them.

A bifurcation of society!!  Whoopee!  Fodder for DRAMA - high keyed, Pluto driven drama.

"It takes a village to raise children."  Absolutely, it does.  And there's a well-heeled village that just threw those children out to the wolves.

I see two sides in this "BUT" --

A) US/THEM -- we reject those children
B) MY GOD/ YOUR GOD -- money is my god and it solves all problems your god can't touch

The "guilt" of being the parent generation can be expiated by giving MONEY. Giving MONEY solves all problems, but most especially solves the problem of feeling GUILTY.  How many Romances have foundered on the issue of subconscious or repressed guilt? 

That monetary response might be inadequate.  The Romance Novel that reveals how and why it's inadequate may blow the whole Romance genre out of its ghetto.

Don't forget what we discussed about "misnomers" --

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Theme-Worldbuilding Integraton Part 2: The Use of Misnomers

--- where we discussed how "video-game" is used as a tag, a shorthand, a label for "violence."  It shouldn't be.  As of now, there are some video-games which incorporate reward for players who solve problems with adversaries and lose points for the use of violence.  There will be more video-games driven by Relationship stories. 

As with "Fast Food" there is nothing essentially wrong with "video" or "game" or "video-game." 

A video-game is a medium for delivering a story, entertainment.  It's the prevailing content that has gone bad.  As with "fast food" being a label for grease and sugar, "video-game" has become a label for "only savagery survives." 

There's an underlying cultural reason for this.  It's a long, involved, very philosophical and very boring, a multifaceted issue.

The writer's job is to reduce that tangled mess to something, quick, sweet, enjoyable, and memorable. 

Let me show you my thinking on this issue.

Remember, again, the purpose here is to show you HOW a writer thinks, not what you should or should not think.  Catch the drift of this process, then use it on your own material.  A writer doesn't see what everyone else sees when observing an incident such as the school bus bullying incident. 

Non-writers see that incident on the school bus, dismiss the complexity of the situation by slapping the label "bullying" on it, then to expiate a subconscious sense of guilt, to distance  behavior from that situation, to repudiate it, or for other reasons, they give MONEY.

A writer, chasing the roiling issues of "Poetic Justice" in the Soul-Mate rooted Romance, has to view it all through the question:  "What archetype is behind this behavior?"

Here are some of the posts on Poetic Justice:

Strip this bus incident back to the raw basics, and you see PROPITIATION OF A GOD.  That's the basic archetype revealed (there are a lot of them in the incident; this is one Romance writers can easily use.)

The children's behavior resembles the behavior of the Ancient Greek gods torturing a human,  for fun, just because they can.  They knew they could get away with it because of the laws saying the bus monitor couldn't spank them, in any way, physical or metaphorical.  They also grew up in a world where it was reasonable to expect retreat before the use of force or to expect more force to ellicit an ineffectual lashing out with force which would cause the victim more harm than it would cause the bullies. 

Just like the Ancient Greek gods, the children had more power than they had maturity to handle.  (read Gini Koch's Alien series!)  These bullies have the godly power of YouTube. 

I have often said here and in my review column that the Ancient Greek gods exhibited the behavior of children raised in a dysfunctional family.  And that's what I see in those children.  I don't see the children themselves,  but I see the parents.  I didn't see news stories about the parents failure as parents -- but I saw a lot decrying the mysterious epidemic of bullying among children.  Very mysterious.

There's plenty of discussion of the failure of schools to prevent the buillies from bullying -- not one word about inculcating heroism in "victims."  Have you ever seen a hero bullied?  Or a coward?  Contrast/compare and there is your novel (or video-game) theme and the world in which that theme produces diamond characters.  How many effective ways do you know for dealing with the attack of a bully?  Did you learn them from seeing your parents "model" them? 

Consider that if you leave the parents out of the mystery of where the bullying epidemic is coming from, you'll never solve it. 

But it would be politically incorrect to hold parents responsible for not-doing what the Law of the Land prohibits them from doing -- owning their children to the point of being held responsible for the damage their children do, even before they've done any damage.  Today children have "legal rights" that preempt the rights a parent needs in order to parent well.  State-raised children are the signature of the Communist regimes, yet we're now headed toward that in the USA, and those children once grown will become your market.  

The parents' hands are tied, just like the bus monitor's hands are tied. (or teachers' hands)  It's not just the threat of being accused of child abuse that ties parents' hands, though.  It is that they have no clue how to parent!  You can't learn it by reading books or taking classes.  You learn it by having been parented.

You've seen the experiments on monkeys.  A baby monkey taken from its mother and raised in a cage will abuse and kill its offspring, not parent the offspring. 

The propitiation element I see is harder to discern because it's removed several steps away from the actual bus incident.

How can you say that the huge amount of money that poured into the fund for the school bus monitor was propitiation paid to the misbehaving children on the bus?

There's deep psychology and sociology behind this long chain of connecting links. 

Think about it, and we'll discuss it next week, but first you must come to your own conclusions.  Remember the objective here is to master a thinking process peculiar to writers -- not to solve some specific real world problem.  Just as dialogue is not speech, but the illusion of speech, so also a fictional world, character or relationship is not a real world, character or relationship but the illusion of them.  We are doing an exercise here designed to train your subconscious to create illusions. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Invaders from the Stars

Did any of you watch the summer TV series FALLING SKIES, about a resistance group in the aftermath of an alien invasion? I don’t think we’ve been told yet exactly why the aliens wanted to conquer Earth. They enslave human children by means of “harnesses” that provide mind control. Again, I don’t think the ETs’ motive for bothering with native captives has been made clear, although maybe more secrets will be revealed next season.

Many stories of alien invasion have problems in this area. The classic prototype, H. G. Wells’s WAR OF THE WORLDS, postulates that Mars, a dying planet, no longer has enough water to support its population, so they try to take over the nearest habitable world. Reasonable enough. Most invading aliens, however, come from outside the solar system. It’s hard to come up with a plausible reason why entities who can cross interstellar space would need anything Earth can supply. Don’t they have the technology to manufacture what they need? Or, if it’s raw materials they’re after, a galaxy full of uninhabited planets to choose from?

A lovely story by Zenna Henderson has the aliens invading Earth for salt because they’re sterile without salt in their diet. The character interaction is wonderful, but the premise doesn’t hold up under close examination. Sodium chloride couldn’t be so uncommon in the galaxy, and anyway, couldn’t a culture capable of traveling between stars synthesize such a simple compound? The same argument holds for just about any material resource, unless the author comes up with a substance so rare it can’t easily be found anywhere but here. Slaves? If the conquerors can invent FTL spaceships, surely they have advanced robotic technology, more efficient and reliable than live workers.

“Mars needs women”? Maybe, like the insectoid ETs in Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” they require host creatures in whose bodies they lay their eggs. But why travel such a vast distance to find a new host species? (In Butler’s story, a small human colony has settled on the alien planet, not vice versa.) They want to eat us or drink our blood? The problem of biological incompatibility arises. Do they live on life energy, so any sapient prey would do? Still, again we have to ask why they’d make an interstellar voyage for that purpose. One way to get around these difficulties might be to make your aliens a band of refugees who settle on Earth and plunder it for whatever they need because they have nowhere else to go.

Another plausible standby is the “strategic location” premise. Earth sits at an interstellar crossroads. Or maybe there’s a wormhole portal hovering nearby that the aliens want to exploit. Worst plight for us, we might find ourselves in disputed territory fought over by two galactic empires that regard us as primitives whose welfare doesn’t matter.

I prefer to imagine aliens coming here for more limited, less hostile purposes. Trade or tourism, maybe. Our “primitive” artifacts might attract collectors of odd curios. Eco-tourism? Visiting a planet with tracts of what look to them like "unspoiled nature"?

“To Serve Man” was an entertaining TV episode, but I doubt it represents the typical motivation of a space-traveling culture.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 3: Children in Romance Novels

Part 1 in this series is:

Part 2 in this series was posted September 11, 2012:

Here is a post listing previous posts on Worldbuilding:

Here is a partial list of posts on this blog about the use of THEME in structuring a novel or screenplay:
Note that I'm not writing this piece today as it is a Holiday, so I'm offline.  But I've noticed most of the readers of these blogs come along days and weeks later, so let's just plow ahead with this very difficult coordinating of two huge writing techniques, Theme and Worldbuilding.

This is especially focused on Romance, most especially PNR or Science Fiction Romance, even contemporary Urban Fantasy novels.

I've been reading a number of Romance novels lately that involve the "second time around" process, a divorced woman with children falling in love -- once burned: twice wary, a story the Romance genre didn't want to touch for decades is now popular.  And there's always the widow story which is very traditional, especially the Young Widow in Victorian times.  You can Steam Punk that story very easily.

But if you open up the time-line, you can tackle whole new vistas in Romance.  Well, not so new, as Robert A. Heinlein wrote about families in space ships, asteroid mining families in junk-ships, generation ships going for the stars and raising kids who didn't value what the parents did, kids raised on Martian colonies, on the Moon.  He had a lot of kids in his novels.

So kids aren't a new encumbrance to the adventure-hero story.

They are relatively new in the Romance genre,  and there's still a lot of territory to be explored in the Fantasy Romance area - particularly PNR.

Don't miss Gini Koch's "Alien" series that I pointed you to in a previous post:

She has a new one out in 2012 -- read them in order.  She's taken a fairly ordinary office worker woman into an Urban Fantasy world where she falls in love with an Alien and now has a kid by the Alien. 

She's got to teach that kid (who has "powers") to be a good person.

How do you do that?  What kind of Romance theme goes with worldbuilding raising Superman? 

In real life, we all have our successes and failures with transmitting values to kids.  If you include your neighbors and maybe your twitter friends too, you know many moments of soaring joy when a kid does something showing they "get it" -- that suddenly this selfish little bundle of demands finally understands there are other people with wants and needs in his/her world.  If you're lucky, that may happen at about 3 or 4 years of age. 

But you also have seen many real world examples of utter failure.  For example, that recent YouTube video of a school bus monitor being deliberately maltreated by 12 yr olds just to make a YouTube Video of her reactions -- the utter cruelty of telling her that she's so ugly and nasty that she couldn't possibly have any family because anyone related to her would commit suicide!  While in her reality, she did have a relative who had committed suicide.  The devastation of that moment in her emotional life is incalculable.  The kids thought it was funny.

I keep saying "Love Conquers All" is not just a silly fantasy - it's real in real life, and it's the way to go.  Love and Joy are the fuel for our deeds that gives them magical wings, that amplifies the effect of what we do.  That's from a concrete observation of real world events.  It's actual, not a fantasy.  But there can be a lot of different explanations for this observed fact, explanations that "work" well for a lot of people. 

Personally, I prefer the explanation rooted in the postulate that God is real, actually exists, actually stirs up human affairs and takes a very personal interest in each individual, that the Universe is created every moment from God's Love, and because of that, when we Love our actions are super-effective in interacting with that created Reality.

The Universe is solidified Love.  When we perceive that fact, and ignite our Joy with that fact, everything we do has astonishingly powerful effects far beyond the reach of an individual person.  Our thoughts, words and deeds echo from the walls at the ends of time when they are powered by Joy ignited by Love -- which is why Happily Ever After is the only possible outcome of Life.  It's just that getting the hang of how to do that is very hard.  It can take quite a few incarnations to get it right!  But we'll be at this and at this until we get it right.  That's one theme thread woven through everything I write. 

That's my philosophy, but it's only one of many worth exploring.  If my take on Life is true, it doesn't invalidate any of the other explanations for the observed fact that Love works while Hate does not work.

Hate ignited in those young people, rewarded by the society they live in (videogames, YouTube, and a toxic school environment), led them to an egregious act of hatred by simple, logical steps -- "oh, it's harmless; just kids cutting up." 

"Video-game" is one of those misnomers we investigated in a prior posts in this series.

I'm sure those children couldn't imagine that anyone would object to what they were doing  to that school bus monitor -- at least nobody under 20 years old would object!  After all, it was harmless, right?  Just joking.  Just for fun.  Fat, ugly, old people should be put in their proper place in the scheme of things, especially fat-ugly-old people who are there to discipline you into sitting still and being quiet so the school bus driver doesn't crash the bus.  Like toilet-papering teacher's houses, egregious vandalism of property or person is FUN, and well-sanctioned by our society, at least by the young, slender, pretty people?  

Keep your eye on the ball here.  We're talking Theme-Worldbuilding INTEGRATION, not "ain't it awful" gossip.

What if these kids were as powerful as the kid Gini Koch's heroine is raising? 

Apparently our whole society is not as depraved as the kids we're raising. 

Someone started a fund and suddenly they had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for the benefit of this woman.  People voted on those kids' actions by tossing a few coins in a hat.  The response made TV news headlines, and that's an encouraging thing in this world.  The adults of this world do not approve of the behavior of the children we are raising.

That stark RIFT between the generations has never (in my memory, or the memories I heard about from my forebears ) been more dramatic.  Oh, boy is this an opportunity to found a new Best Seller Genre! 

See some of my blog entries on Pluto and drama:

Studying this incident can give you a target to pin on your reader's heart, something to aim at when you winnow out the themes rattling around in your head. 

There's at least one major, and far-reaching theme buried in this incident.  By the time any Romance novel based on it can appear in print, the video and incident will be long forgotten, and the thematic substance will seem fresh and original.  So this is the kind of incident worth studying for thematic opportunities. 

Considering the amount of money that was raised, and how fast it came in from thousands of donors online, you have a readership that's wide enough, that's got money, and that wants to hear your story, to experience the SOLUTION to this problem with our kids.

That solution, in my estimation, is LOVE -- but the problem is how to apply it.

There is of course one sad thing about that response to this school bus monitor's angst -- we'll just collect some money so she can have a vacation from all that.  The people who started the collection had no idea it would be a retirement fund magnitude of cash collected.  And I've no idea of the tax status of such donations, but I'm sure the harassed woman won't get it all.

The sad thing here is the popular response is "give money and forget it -- giving money fixes it."  And we do that often -- most of our big social problems get that response.

It's a good one, and definitely transmits LOVE as it should, is very powerful and to me very heartening -- but!!! 

And the but will be left for next week.  See if you can work out for yourself where the dramatic opportunity is inside that BUT.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Censoring the N-Word

Last week I watched a video of a college class about the N-word in literature. (The lecture title uses that euphemism.) The professor focused on UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and HUCKLEBERRY FINN, especially the latter. Have you heard about the new edition of HUCKLEBERRY FINN one publisher is producing, in which the N-word has been deleted and replaced? You’ll never guess what word is being inserted in its place—“slave”! Even granting the wisdom of this self-censorship (more about that below), “slave” is a misguided, clunky choice. It’s not a synonym for the offensive word and, in fact, would be inaccurate through most of the novel, because at the end we learn runaway slave Jim has actually been freed already without his knowledge. There are respectable synonyms this misguided publisher could substitute, such as “colored” or “Negro” to reflect polite language at the time of the story, or “black” if the editors thought the other two terms sounded too outdated. Leaving aside the fact that the action does take place in the distant past, which is kind of the point of reading the fiction of a previous century.

Whom does the publisher think it’s protecting with this change? Children? As one of the students in the class mentioned, Mark Twain himself said he didn’t intend the book to be read by children. (In that case, why did he market it as a sequel to TOM SAWYER, definitely a boys’ novel? Oh, well.) I agree with what seemed to be the consensus of the class, that anyone mature enough to read HUCKLEBERRY FINN should recognize the N-word as part of the dialect of the era. That’s especially important because this novel was one of the first written in dialect rather than formal English, a technique that subjected Twain to criticism in his own time. While at some points in the story the N-word comes across as derogatory, often it’s simply the way Huck Finn talks. He’s an abused, impoverished boy who doesn’t know any better. The word contributes to his characterization.

More important, substituting a less offensive word would soften and sanitize a situation that is MEANT to give offense. The story highlights the evils and absurdities of slavery in both major and minor ways. For instance, there’s a casual throwaway sentence early in the book that explains how a man’s son and his dog would be named (John Smith, Rover Smith) as opposed to the way his slave would be spoken of (Smith’s Jim). In naming conventions, the dog has a higher status than the slave. Deleting the N-word would misrepresent the pre-Civil-War culture Twain wants to reveal.

Interestingly, as some comments on the video noted, nowadays the word has become so taboo in polite conversation that many people hear it only in the context of gangsta rap. Rather than finding the N-word shockingly offensive, some younger readers might need an explanation of how derogatory it was in its historical context. For those readers it’s analogous, although harsher, to the way we no longer understand the shock George Bernard Shaw expected his audience to feel when Liza Doolittle said “bloody” in public. All these facets of language and culture comprise part of what teaching a work of literature from a past century is supposed to accomplish. Why adulterate the book’s teachable moments? What’s the point of offering readers a classic novel if they don’t receive what the author created?

It's been said that the past is a different country. Literature of earlier periods helps us imaginatively enter those alien worlds. In my opinion, altering older literature to conform to our view of the world defeats the purpose of reading it.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Theme-Worldbuilding Integraton Part 2: The Use of Misnomers

This Part 2 of Theme-Worldbuilding Integration is about the weaponized misnomer, a writing technique derived from your reader's everyday world.  

Last week we began to discuss integrating two of the moving parts, the basic components of story, the theme and the worldbuilding.

I should repeat here that even urban fantasy or contemporary romance stories need "worldbuilding" -- because the "real world" setting you are using is actually a construct, a "setting" -- like the cardboard "flats" of a play or the false building fronts of a Western set.  They have to "look real" -- but in reality, they aren't real.  That's part of the charm. 

You as a writer are creating the illusion of reality, not reality itself.  So you must build that illusion carefully.

Last week we briefly enumerated the two separate principles, theme and worldbuilding, and illustrated what it means to combine them.

-------QUOTE FROM PART 1----------------
How do you integrate Theme and Worldbuilding?

The World details you bring into high relief to showcase your characters to your readers are the details that sift through the filter of your theme.
--------END QUOTE---------------------------

You can later write another story or novel in that same World, using a different Theme, and present a totally different aspect or angle on that World.  All of the details of a World you have built do not belong in every story set in that World.  Theme is the grid through which you sift your whole World to find the pieces that belong in a given story.  Writing several stories or novels in the same World using different Themes creates a binding uniformity among the stories, luring and even compelling readers to search for more.  

This "Integration" procedure works even if you don't invent a World whole-cloth, but use our "real" world as your World.  Each Theme sifts out different details to portray that world.  Everything else is left out. 

The detail we'll focus on here is the use of the weaponized misnomer in the portrayal of a Culture. 

At the intersection of Theme and Worldbuilding lies the story construct called Culture.

The culture of your characters, especially if they are alien, has to be defined both in terms of your reader's culture (writing for Americans is different than writing for British) and in terms of your characters' culture(s).

One tool for creating that kind of dual definition is the use of language.

One thing the cultures on earth have in common is the way language is used to manipulate the thoughts and emotions, in fact the beliefs, of other users of that language.

The "misnomer" is one example of language used as a weapon.

If a misnomer is dunned into a population long enough, widely enough, its inherent inappropriateness becomes forgotten, and then it becomes a weapon to mold the thinking of the population and the word itself becomes re-defined.

One mainstay of traditional Romance novels that leaps to mind in this regard is the oxymoron "arranged marriage."

If it's "arranged" (i.e. the reasons for the marriage have nothing to do with the souls and characters of the two involved) -- then it can't be a "marriage" (i.e. a mingling of two Souls into One, yet still separate and distinct individuals.)

There are also arrangers of marriages who function on the Soul level, Match Makers who search out pairs who will, once they meet, "click" together like two magnets joining.  There are a few novels about such feats of magic which result in the strongest marriages, true love of Soul Mates, and many more novels about how failure in that function produces disastrous unions.  Disaster is inherently more dramatic -- isn't it? 

Many more stories exist in reality of the Match Maker's fine art of bringing two souls together who are in fact destined for each other.  The true Match Maker's gift is to short-cut through the random hunting for a mate, and bring two people together while they're still young enough to have a large family and prosper as well.

The Match Maker does not "arrange" marriages, but tries repeatedly until that "click" occurs between two people.  

On average, the "arranged marriage" is usually no marriage at all, and thus the term is an example of what I'm calling here a misnomer.

We use misnomers both as a shortcut so we can refer to complicated topics with a single syllable or two, and as weapons of derision or dismissal.  Portraying that technique in dialogue gives a writer the chance to depict the culture of the characters. 

Consider the political terms "Liberal" and "Conservative" -- usually those who employ these terms know what they are referring to (a philosophy, a theme).

Both terms are misnomers.  "Liberals" don't have a focus on liberating you from themselves.  They are also called "Progressives" but never say toward what they are progressing!  I've always suspected it's because they don't know, but I found out what they are progressing toward by researching Thomas Paine.  Until I found out what that goal is, I thought I could use the label Progressive.  

Here's a Canadian blog entry that gives a quick rundown on just how much of a misnomer both "Liberal" and "Progressive" are, and what the underlying philosophy really is, where it came from and why.  None of those details matter to you as a writer, but you should read this to see how this theme-worldbuilding integration process works.

And "Conservatives" don't preserve anything at all, least of all the Constitution.  It's just as much of a misnomer as "Liberal,"  and is used in about the same way.

I'm all about change and the future, and neither Label applies to me!  I'm all about cleaning up our technology's effluents.  No creature can survive in its own excrement.  I'm all about one-world government because I expect "people" of some kind from all those planets we've been discovering lately to arrive and need dealing with. 

But the one-world government I want to see would be arrived at as all the other countries in the world ditch the parliamentary system which is wide-open to dictatorship and/or mob-rule, and adopt the US Constitution, become Territories of the USA for a few generations until they learn how to function under such a strange government, then apply for statehood in the USA -- eventually in a few hundred years we'd Progress toward the United World of Earth with a government that could make treaties with aliens.  I doubt you'll find my politics represented anywhere today.  That could be why readers find my Alien cultures so very - um - Alien.

We're discovering planets so fast now, it's a race against time to be able to deal with Them!

That's an article about the ongoing attempt to make "First Contact" with whoever is out there.  Like the scattering of "announcements" about progress in the chase of the Higgs Boson, the ongoing announcements about planets and probability of other civilizations within our reach, since it "never happens" it's possible to get so tired of this stuff that you will eventually miss the real announcement, or not see it coming in time to revise your current novel into a lasting classic before it's published. Note that now we have a definite announcement about the Higgs Boson, and also very definite results on planets around other stars, our model of reality is changing. 

And,  I'm all about Universal Healthcare, too, but with no government component involved.  We need a cheap and efficient system, and government has never yet made anything cheap or efficient!  A good Science Fiction premise would be the invention of a government system that did produce cheap and efficient services.  

Also on the subject of Culture, I'm all for solving the problem of income inequality!  It irks me no end that in this day and age we still have people who are poverty-stricken life-long -- that is our living shame, a monument to our lack of morality.  It's also stupid beyond belief. 

So I think about poverty as a social problem, and take it very seriously.  It's something we must solve because if those aliens arrive before we do solve it, we will be at a massive disadvantage.  "A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste" -- we can't afford to have poor people who aren't poor just for a little while during their twenties between leaving home and establishing their own career.  Letting people get trapped in poverty is a mistake we can't afford.   

But I look at the solution that our culture's government offers, and it is "income redistribution" (another misnomer -- study these misnomers carefully because it's a doozie!  Misnomers are the key to theme-worldbuilding integration, so study how they're used in our reality.)

The US tax system now takes "income" or "profits" from the wealthy business owners or corporation coffers to give it to the "poor" with the objective of evening out the distribution of "wealth" so we're all "in the middle."  I've watched that all my life, and studied history for an instance where it worked.  I want it to work.  It should work.  It makes no sense that it doesn't work.  BUT it hasn't worked yet.

The idea is if you give poor people money, they will then have more money.  Somehow that's a fallacy.  It's up to fiction writers, especially Romance writers who deal with family stress, strife and struggle, with dreams and aspirations, to dig out that fallacy and resolve it.

I suspect the misnomer will play a part in those stories, and I suspect there are at least a hundred novel themes buried in that fallacy.  The misnomer is how a culture sells fallacies to its members.

Once the writer masters the coining of misnomers, Alien cultures in which Human- Alien Romance can flourish will be easy to create.

To do that, study the real world through the sifter of Theme.  Look at the real world from all these different belief angles.  That's how you generate characters who are distinct from each other -- they have different philosophies and so their lives have different themes, and therefore each sees the world as a mosaic composed of different pieces than other characters see.  Then your characters will argue with all the other characters about what's true, and what's not true, creating a multitude of misnomers along the way. 

It may not be accurate to say that a culture has a language.  It may be more accurate to say that language creates culture.  When you change the definitions of words as in a misnomer, you generate a whole new culture if many people rely on that misnomer to communicate about an issue. 

So back to income redistribution.  Is it "income" that is being "redistributed?"  Or is that phrase a misnomer upon which an entire culture (the culture of your reader) is built? 

Corporations set the prices of goods and services to include taxes.  You've heard it said that Corporations don't pay taxes, customers do, and that's true.  If you've ever tried to market a product (self-publishing your own novel, for example), you know the first thing you must decide is how much to charge.  The mistake most amateurs make is not including all the expenses in the price of the product, PLUS enough left over to live on, which has to include medical and pension, doesn't it?  And many of those you're selling to are dirt poor.  Yes, today even the very poorest people read books. 

So the net result is that the poor PAY the corporations (when you self-publish you are essentially a corporation) for goods and services using the very coin that they got from the corporation, via the government, which had to hire huge numbers of lawyers and accountants to move that money from the corporation to the poor with government accountability.  Each time a dollar makes that circuit, it loses a few pennies in purchasing power.  This is stupid beyond belief, as I said above.  The poor are paying lawyers and accountants for nothing.  The poor can't afford that. 

It's like the amount of electricity generated at a hydroelectric dam has to be generated at hundreds of times the amount needed so that when it arrives at your home, there's enough left for you to use.

Every foot of transmission wire soaks up some of the electricity and dissipates it as heat.  Just imagine those Aliens arriving at Earth, taking a look at our electrical grids and laughing their heads off because they have room temperature superconductors that can transmit electricity without losing any to heat. 

I suspect the term "Income redistribution" is a misnomer because it hasn't worked anywhere to even out the distribution of wealth.  The more assiduously it's practiced, the greater the disparity between rich and poor.  You can research that historically.  I haven't found a single place where it works to even things out.

So very probably, you can't "redistribute" "income"  -- it's a misnomer.  The term makes you believe in the underlying assumption that what's "logical" is true.  That's a prime characteristic of the misnomer. 

It just sounds so reasonable and obvious.  That echo of reasonableness is the sound of the weaponizing of a misnomer -- study it carefully, learn to spot it in our culture, it is a massively effective writing technique for creating verisimilitude, especially in a Romance.  You can use this technique to make people who flat don't believe there can ever be a Happily Ever After ending actually buy into your well-built world. 

In the hands of a skilled writer, the weaponized misnomer can convince the most hide-bound skeptic that the HEA ending is possible in real life. 

To use this technique, you define a problem then name a solution in the tone of voice indicating it's the only possible solution even though the solution is irrelevant to the problem. 

What would addressing the problem of Income Inequality actually look like?

Instead of making some people poorer so that others could be made wealthier, a real solution to Income Inequality would enable the low-wage earner to earn  as much as a top executive or capital allocator.

Think about earning.  EARN does not mean to be given or awarded, but to create real wealth that didn't exist before his earning of it.  Most of the usages in today's American English are misnomers.  Watch for them. 

EARN - what does that really mean?  It means make money - literally MAKE what money symbolizes, which is wealth.  We call it "making money" because paying work actually creates wealth that didn't exist before.  Our economic system is so complicated that the idea of work creating wealth is hard to grasp. 

READ Clan of the Cave Bear

This is not only a pretty good book, but it walks you through the definition of wealth without misnomers. 

You are alone in the world, and have nothing but the bare human skin on your back.  You have to MAKE a flint knife.  That flint knife is wealth, which today we'd symbolize as money.  Money is not something the Fed or the Treasury prints.  What they print is the symbol of all the wealth that millions of workers have created, not the wealth itself.  The misnomer trick is evident in the way that is so confused in our thinking.  That confusion defines our culture.  Create an Alien Romance culture on another planet with a similar confusion and you will have a novel with verisimilitude.

So study Clan of the Cave Bear closely for the raw definition of earn, of wealth. 

You use the flint knife you made to kill something, to cut some firewood, to strike a spark and light a fire, to eat, to make a garment out of the pelt of the thing you killed, to make a lean-to for shelter in the cold night.

The knife, the pelt, the shelter are now your WEALTH, materialization of your actions which took months and months of blood, sweat and tears -- very literally, blood, risk of life, shivering nights of raging fevered illnesses, broken bones, bare survival.  And the product of that suffering is a hut, a stone fire-circle, some wood laid by, a pelt to wear, a couple of flint tools.  No money needed to symbolize that. 

There are people out there who have less, who didn't know how or where to make a flint knife, and they'll kill you to take your pelt and your shelter -- and probably not know how to use the knife to make more wealth.

With time, hard-hard work, over months, you created a little home out of your shelter, each tool that makes more tools acquired at risk of life and limb.  But life gets easier, and you're wealthy and thus a target for those who have less and don't want to do the work you've done, take the risks you've taken.  So now you need to defend what you own.  It was so hard to acquire that you know you can't do it again.  You'll die to defend what you have because your life depends on having it to get through the next winter.  That's what a corporation is -- it will fight to the death to make it through the next recession/winter. 

That's economics stripped to the basics, and within that model you can see our technological world.  Our world still works like that.  It's just bigger.  Maybe more savage because the links between people who are members of such large "families" or "teams" are more tenuous.  In the Cave, the family or tribe was all you had against the cold night.  You knew each individual, and where you stood in the culture.  In our culture, you don't even know the names of your boss's boss's boss.  Why bother?  It'll only be someone else tomorrow, and besides they work in Zurich.  

Income Inequality rests upon not knowing where to find flint or how to make a knife, and other tools, out of that raw material.  KNOWING -- education, creativity, inventing new knowledge nobody had before (fire, the wheel, agriculture), stumbling on new knowledge and resources -- it's all about KNOWING.

You can not "redistribute" "income" -- it's a misnomer.  It's impossible.  The inequality problem is real, just as "global warming" (possibly another misnomer) is real.  Even though some science now reported out about climate change has been falsified and the warming trend has not materialized in a way our paltry instruments and records can measure yet, the portrait of the effect such a trend could have is accurate.  With the climate, we know there's a world-cycle, so it's not a question of WHETHER it'll warm or cool, but of WHEN.  And we can't actually answer that question, yet.  The thing is, by the time we can answer it, it will probably be way too late to alter human activity to offset any contribution we may have made.

But if "global warming" and "income redistribution" are weaponized misnomers, who's using the weapon upon whom to accomplish what?  At least a dozen novels lie within that thematic question.  Read the news, and think about it like a writer not a voter, and see if you come up with different answers than you've ever had before.

If we don't solve the inequality problem, it will kill this civilization either from within or when our main competitors discover Earth and try to take it because we haven't managed it well and they think they can do better (as England did with India?)  Or as with Clan of the Cave Bear, perhaps our wealth will become a target we have to defend from the Aliens. 

Maybe you can't make some people richer by making other people poorer, and come out with everyone equal in the middle no matter if you use government or corporations or religion or some other cultural construct to take the flint tools from the tool maker and give them to those who don't know how to make flint tools.

Maybe the solution is to study how those people who figured out how to create wealth (chip flint, make fire, move heavy things on rollers) did it, then fix things so poor people can do that, too, so that net-net the total wealth of all humankind increases to where we can deal with the Aliens as equals.

The ideal model, to me, is not "everybody in the middle" with no rich and no poor, but that everyone spends some time poor, doesn't like it, and creates new wealth so that the net-worth of Earth goes up and UP -- not stalls at even-steven.  I think globally, and I'm species-survival oriented.  Many people who say they think globally actually use "globally" as a weaponized misnomer. 

But that's personal -- don't pay attention to WHAT I think my current "ideal" is.  Just watch HOW I think and learn to do that using your own ideal models and original goals.  You shouldn't spend your life thinking like me, but you should have that option available when you need it - a tool in your writer's toolbox.  Create a character who thinks like me, and you will create marvelous conflicts. 

To integrate Theme and Worldbuilding, focus on the art of the misnomer used as a weapon, and how when that weapon is aimed at me, I just step aside and whack the weapon out of my attacker's hand.  I don't let my mind be trapped by their misnomers.  That's because of the training of a science fiction writer that I started on when I was in 7th grade.  As a writer, you must develop a weapons grade vocabulary.

Here's how to do that.  They want me to think "income redistribution" solves "poverty" but I see the misnomer and re-think the issue.  You need a character who does that kind of thinking, and one who does not know how, or thinks the other character has trust issues or is a conspiracy theorist. 

I'm not talking about either Liberal or Conservative philosophy here, just about the way we arrive at these terms we bandy about.  Your Aliens won't be believable if they have either "Liberal" or "Conservative" views.  They would be recycled humans, and your novel would garner great derision for being "thin."  You must invent a pair of new philosophies, sell it with misnomers, then play out the conflict. 

REPLICATE that misnomer method of arriving at a term, then let your characters bandy it about, and you'll have verisimilitude in a philosophical conflict that can support a series of novels and one seriously hot romance.

Here's another example from our real world.

Fast Food

That term is one of my most worn out hobbyhorses!  I think I've written about it in this blog before. 

It has come to mean "unhealthy" -- as if SPEED meant bad.  As if convenience were a sin or a crime against humanity. 

Fast Food is the healthiest food on earth! 

Just think -- you have an apple tree in your back yard.  You get hungry.  You dash outside, grab an apple, dust it off on your shirt-tail, and chomp down.  WOW, delicious, fast, and healthy.  That tree is wealth.  Somebody bred the seeds, grew the sapling, planted, grafted, pruned, to get those delicious apples.  Some years the flowers get stripped by a storm, and no apples.  That tree is wealth, pure and simple, and it's fast food indeed.  Fast food is expensive. 

There's nothing unhealthy about speed and convenience.  Think of Clan of the Cave Bear again -- once you've laid in supplies, smoked your fish catch, it sits there until you reach out, grab it and eat it.

You put in all that work, and NOW very quickly, when you want it, you have it.  That food is your wealth, your security through the winter, and it cost you irreplaceable time, strength, health.  You converted sweat into equity. 

Fast Food does not have to be junk, it's just that junk food is popular and profitable to sell.

To fix the flaw in the fast food market, change what's popular. 

To start that ball rolling, address the core of the misnomer.  Remember misnomers generate culture.  Don't call "fast" and "convenient" wrong or undesirable. 

Create a healthy food that is irresistibly delicious, cheap to make and distribute, has reliable consistency (a Big Mac is a Big Mac all over the world), and served grab-n-go.  You'll make a huge fortune fast because everyone would prefer healthy food provided they didn't have to give up anything they love about a Big Mac and Fries. 

Yeah, it's hard, about as hard as knowing where to go to to find flint and how to chip out a knife, an ax, and other handy tools.  It's hard like knowing how to make a shelter that won't fall down.  Remember the movie ENEMY MINE?

The two space pilots trying to make a shelter that'll stand up - priceless!


That's another weaponized misnomer that has generated a whole My Culture vs. Your Culture conflagration.  Our culture is about to fall to pieces because of that weaponized misnomer.

Think about it using the process I demonstrated above.  The more people you have, the "bigger" your government needs to be to govern them all.  The more efficient you can make your government, the smaller you can make it and still have all the services you need (Border Patrol, Police, Passport Office, Prisons).

If your Passport Office is too small, or understaffed, or hasn't the technology to move at today's pace, individuals who have to go abroad to do business (create some flint knives and bring them back) won't be able to get a Passport in time to get there in time to clinch the deal.  

Big Government isn't "wrong."  Small Government isn't "Evil."  You need government to be the RIGHT size, not big or small, but precisely correct.

Government doesn't make money, it costs money.   If it's too big, it costs too much and does nothing.  If it's too small, it doesn't cost as much but does nothing right.

Like the speed with which food is available has nothing to do with the nutritional content, the size of government has nothing to do with its proper functioning.

Weaponized misnomers generate cultural conflicts to keep people busy while others sneak under the radar and pull off scams they'd never get away with otherwise.  That is an infinitely flexible plot device.  It never becomes a cliche.  Use it often and wisely.

Knowing how to cure a hide, how to cook what you kill so its parasites won't kill you, knowing something others don't know -- that's wealth.

You can't "redistribute" that ability to innovate, to think of something nobody else ever thought of, to find the answers in spite of the obstacles.  If you take away the benefit of having done that original thinking, you take away the incentive to others to duplicate that feat.  If it won't let you survive better, why travel weeks to the flint deposit and struggle through making a knife and arrowheads etc?  Why not just steal some? 

That's not a rhetorical question; it's a suggestion for a theme and a world to go around it.  Answer the question: why go make some flint tools?  Why should some other kid try to make better flint tools at a different deposit?

Stealing flint tools someone else made doesn't increase the number of flint tools in the world, just as government taxes can't increase the amount of wealth there is to make the poor not so poor.  Misnomers are the weapon that some use to make others believe impossible things are real.  Some of the best users of weaponized misnomers are writers of fantasy, SF, and yes, Romance. 

So when building your world, create a misnomer that will be obvious to the readers, but completely missed by the characters (the exact way we completely miss the ones in our world), and show how the characters discover the weaponizing of language and choose counter moves.

Teens weaponize language constantly.  It's the main occupation of teens!  Adults don't stop, just because they grew up.  Find more weaponized phrases in your world, then replicate that in your fictional world.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Authors.... You Don't Need To Pay Someone To Get Pirated

This week, my pirate-hunting eye was drawn to a post titled "Authors: Piracy Is Not Your Enemy."

In my opinion, authors do not need to pay any self-styled promotions company (that "loves helping people use technology to change the world"), if they believe that piracy is good for business. Authors could perfectly well do a giveaway on Amazon, or on Goodreads, or on Scribd or on a myriad (which may not be an exaggeration!) other sites that are only to happy to copy and distribute "free"content for commercial benefit for themselves (not for the authors).

Out of fairness, I should concede that this (IMHO) misguided advice was offered in 2009. Nevertheless, it remains "up" and no retraction has been published. Thus, one must assume that "Author Media" (Snort) still has an EFF/DOJ view of the relative value of authors' copyright vs the virtues of using expendable content to promote new tech.

Interestingly, Author Media people tout the benefits to authors of copyright infringement, but appear to wish to protect their own copyrights on the content of their blog. "Feel free to link up to any of the Author Media blog articles! We just ask that you cite your sources. :)"

Linking to an online article would equate to linking to chapter excerpts on an author's website (good); not to snagging entire works of fiction, and distributing those copyrighted works for profit with the permission of the copyright owner, and without compensation to the copyright owner.

CJ Cherryh is not the only notable author to comment recently on the effects of ebook piracy on authors. She has been quoted as estimating that piracy reduces any author's backlist royalties by up to 90%, and that that 90% can be compared to a large bite out of an author's retirement income.

Would you like your pension cut by 90%?

Authors' income is being cut, legally and illegally all over America.

Legally: I saw one analysis of the "settlement" approved by Judge Denise Cote where authors and booksellers are being punished (allegedly) because the DOJ contends that a few CEOs (who don't have the cojones or the cash to defend themselves) conspired together at a meeting. Allegedly. Since when are innocent bystanders penalized when an unproven crime is alleged to have been committed?

I also thoroughly appreciated Bob Kohn's 5-page cartoon summary of the reasons why the DOJ is out of order.

Why is it that an acronym confers the impression that something or someone is trustworthy and infallible?

In closing: EPIC (the Electronically Published group) has some fine resources for non-members on its site. Among them:

Position On Copyright


Sample DMCA notice

In my opinion, any DMCA notice should also contain a statement to the effect that the information (including all live links to pirated content) are for the benefit of the recipient only for the purpose of removing the infringing links, and no information contained in the DMCA notice may be disseminated, published or otherwise shared with third parties.

Unfortunately, Google and others are in the habit of publishing private DMCA notices, thus subjecting authors to obloquy and real harm, and also thus providing live links (that Google knows are illegal) to copyrighted material.

So, include a privacy statement.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Growing Our Own

Does anybody else here have tomato plants? This year, for the first time in I can’t remember when, my husband’s tomato plants are behaving very oddly. The cherry and “grape” varieties are bearing plenty of fruit. The full-size tomatoes, though, have produced hardly any. Most years, we have trouble keeping up with the harvest, and we get several meals (spaghetti sauce, chili, etc.) out of our few plants. The bell pepper plant has done hardly anything this year, too. Must have something to do with the hot weather earlier in the season. Some people on e-mail lists where I’ve brought up the question report similar results in other parts of the country.

The lovely gardening song “Inch by Inch, Row by Row” has a line that goes, “I feel the need to grow my own, for the time is close at hand.” Since LORD OF MOUNTAINS by S. M. Stirling, latest in his “Dies the Fire” (aka Emberverse) series has just been released, and post-apocalyptic motifs have become a hot topic in movies and TV shows (HUNGER GAMES, FALLING SKIES, a forthcoming new series called REVOLUTION, etc.), I started thinking about what dire straits we’d find ourselves in if we had to depend on our food-growing skills to survive. Between the erratic tomatoes and the dwarf plum tree in the back yard that has its fruit riddled with sawfly larvae every summer, we’d starve in a hurry. True, my husband owns a gun or two, but he hasn’t practiced his marksmanship lately, so we couldn’t count on a steady diet of rabbits and deer from the county park that borders our street. Not to mention the fact that we’d be competing against all our neighbors for those meat sources. Our city has recently passed an ordinance allowing residents to raise egg-laying hens in their yards, but we don’t have chickens nor do any of our neighbors. So, once the canned goods have been eaten up, we’re doomed.

Recently there was a discussion on the Stirling list about how well we’d survive in the event of the Change as imagined in his series, when all advanced technology ceases to work. A lot depends on where you live. If you happen to be in the middle of a metropolitan area on the fateful day, only extreme luck as well as skill could save you. I’m afraid our family doesn’t possess enough of those survival skills to outweigh the hazards of our location near Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

Do you have the abilities and material resources to survive the collapse of civilization? Another question: Why is this currently such a hot topic in the entertainment media?

I must admit (Robert Heinlein would heap scorn on me for this attitude) I enjoy our technological civilization too much to have any desire to scrabble for bare survival in its ruins.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 1

Last week I gave you a list of previous posts involving THEME.

Here is a list of links to some of my posts on Worldbuilding

And after I compiled that list, I did another Worldbuilding series.  This one, Part 7, posted here August 14, 2012 has links to previous ones in that series:

So in these writing craft posts, I've been breaking the mental processes of a professional commercial fiction writer down into individuals bits that a person who has nothing more than ambition can study, practice, encompass, and master.

In the posts with INTEGRATION in the title -- I'm tackling walking-and-chewing-gum exercises where you combine these individual skills two or more at a time.

Remember writing is a performing art, just like any stagecraft, and the only way to practice is one skill at a time, then two at a time, then three at a time, over and over until you can do it smoothly.

The new writer's objective is not to produce one salable piece any more than a new acting student's objective is to play Captain Ahab in the remake of Moby Dick in 3-d at the first acting class.

The objective is to learn to write, not to turn out a perfect piece, and not to rewrite and rewrite a flawed piece trying to fix it so you can sell it.  Ideas are cheap and plentiful.  Throw out the one you started with, and start from scratch with a new theme and a new world that can be integrated into that theme.   

As Alma Hill taught me, writing is a performing art.  I keep repeating that because you must not forget it. 

Here our objective is to parse out, slice and dice a single craft skill and practice it over and over until you can do the moves without thinking.  This process produces that famous "million words for the garbage can."  It's a pianists scales and a ballet dancer's "positions."  You don't do this stuff "on stage" -- but what you do on stage will never be worth an audience paying for if you refrain from doing these exercises. 

So since we've been looking at theme and at worldbuilding somewhat separately, now we're going to combine these two skills, integrate them, do them both at the same time.

ONE MORE THING as Colombo was wont to say:  plant this firmly in your mind and never forget it.  The objective here is not to get you to think WHAT I think -- the objective is to get you to think HOW I think.  It is the process of creating strange places with strange sounding names, and even stranger characters to fall in love with.  But above all, it is a process not a thought. 

Where Do You Find A Theme?

You can't just make up some crazy theme from some twisted philosophy you read about somewhere and expect it to work up into a splendid Alien Romance story.  You need to know all that weird stuff, true, but it won't work in a novel unless your target reader is already engaged in something related to the weird stuff. 

So first, you search out a theme that your target readership is worried about, worrying at, immersed in, or best of all has never questioned. 

You find those themes by looking around you in your own real world.  Usually the best material comes flying out of the TV screen during commercials, or during some story the news has gotten stuck on because it's become popular.

The TV news channels pay thousands of dollars a month for survey companies to figure out audience share, and to monitor as people click through a channel or click away to see what topics people are interested in.

They use focus groups, and all kinds of fancy statistical measuring devices, and they pay big bucks for them, all to find out what's popular -- and you can have all that at your writerly fingertips for FREE if you just open your eyes and ears and reverse engineer what comes off your TV screen.  Read newspapers, and online news sites and scan blog comments, too. 

Watch TV News, commercials, and cruise through some TV shows, just flip through and watch a few scenes out of context -- take notes and you'll have all the material you need to find a theme for your next Romance story -- alien and otherwise.

After you've found a subject that's got a huge audience tied into philosophical knots, then you apply what you've learned of weird philosophies, dissect and divide the subject into opposing philosophies, then figure out characters who would espouse those opposing philosophies.

Practice this process repeatedly, maybe hundreds of times, to program your subconscious mind to think like this (true, some people are just born doing this, some have to train for it, just like piano playing).  Just do it as a pianist does scales, over and over, mindlessly. 

Eventually, characters will just POP into your mind all fired up over their personal philosophical boondoggles, and you can toss them into a world and let them fight it out until Love Conquers All.  The "fight it out" part is the plot.  The melding of two opposing philosophies into Love is the story.  Plot and Story must become integrated to be a readable novel.  If you use characters who POP into your head before you've done this kind of practice, the end product will very likely be unpublishable and un-fixable because the flaw lies at the theme-worldbuilding interface.  It's easier and more economical to take a new idea and write something new. 

To integrate Plot and Story, use worldbuilding the surroundings to show-don't-tell how a philosophical vice clamping down on a couple, forces them closer and closer together as they resist. 

PRINCIPLE: What is most like you, psychologically, is what repels you most until you learn to love yourself by loving the Other.  (that's a philosophy)  This principle is the core plot-driver of many Romances because it's true in real life.  Just don't assume your reader understands that principle.

Where Do You Find A World?

As with finding a theme, you find the world you must build by looking around yourself.

Your readers live in the same world you do -- only it doesn't look the same to them as to you.

Each individual has a different perspective, just as each character you invent looks at the world you put around them from a unique, personal point of view.

For example: If you put two characters in a dark room lit by a neon sign across the street, flickering regularly, one will SEE threat/danger/sleaze and the other will SEE home/comfort/familiarity.  The threatened one will see the gun on the bedside table gleaming in the red light that highlights the tattered, stained chenille bedspread, the anti-thief bars on the window.  The other will see the fuzzy slippers under the bed, the little coffee pot primed for the next morning, the Kindle peeking from under the pillow lit with a music video. 

Both characters are looking at the same room, but living in different worlds.

The writer builds the character's world from INSIDE the character.

This gives a story a verisimilitude it could have no other way -- because we, in our everyday reality, build our own worlds in exactly that way.

Our mood and expectations etch each detail we notice in high relief.  We selectively notice details that underscore our mood and validate our personal philosophy.  Glass half-full/ Half-empty is a case in point.

You find your character's world in your own world which you share with your reader.  That helps the reader step into the world of the novel. 

How do you integrate Theme and Worldbuilding?

The details of the World you bring into high relief to showcase your characters are the details that sift through the filter of your theme:  do you see the gun on the table or the fuzzy slippers under the bed?

The only details you include in a story are the specific ones which state and illustrate your theme.

Everything else may be there, (and in a science fiction or fantasy work, must be there) but is not mentioned.

The details that are not mentioned are the ones that speak loudest about the world you have built.

You, as writer, must know all those unmentioned details.  They can not be random.  All the working parts of the world you build must go together, creating a picture more coherent than our real world.

Your world must make sense to your readers even when it does not make sense to your characters.

In our real world, our normal lives very often make no sense.  We struggle and flounder amidst uncertainty, shocks, surprises, and calamities.  We're so busy surviving, we can't see the pattern and often forget our objectives and act counter to our best interests.

We harbor conflicting philosophies learned from different teachers, and follow leaders who sell us on a piece of a philosophy that sounds good, but in truth that leader has no clue where they are going, or why! 

People read novels to get away from that kind of confusion, to find a world where things make sense.

And readers remember novels where the world in the novel not only makes sense in and of itself, but makes sense of the reader's real world, too.

The secret of casting that illusion of a sensible world for your reader is in the way you handle theme, and the way you generate your created "world" from the internal conflict of the point-of-view character then filter out details leaving only the details that form a clear, clean pattern the reader can understand better than the character does.

Does the character see the slippers or the gun first?  Choose that first image by using the theme.  Is the theme "home is where the heart is" -- or is the theme "poverty breeds violence" -- choose the theme, and the choice of worldbuilding image becomes inescapable. 

A character with an internal conflict about poverty and violence sees the gun first, maybe never notices the slippers.

A character with an internal conflict about yearning for the comfort and safety of home, however simple, will see the slippers first, and the gun will be marginally incidental. 

In Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 2: The Use of Misnomers  we'll look at the artistic use of confusion to create verisimilitude.  Clarity vs. Confusion makes for artistic contrast. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg