Thursday, January 31, 2013

Time Travel Cognitive Dissonance

Last week I read SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE, by Graham Joyce. In this novel a girl taken by the fairies at age sixteen comes home twenty years later (present-day England), having aged only six months. Naturally she’s astonished by the changes that have happened in the world since her disappearance. One thing she notices in the first day or two that shocks her deeply is that there aren’t any telephone booths on the streets.

One of Spider Robinson's stories set in Callahan's Bar, "The Time Traveler," has no overt fantasy content. The title character has spent about that long in a South American prison (effectively a dungeon), completely cut off from the world, so when he's released it's as if he has skipped those decades. The first big shock he gets is being taken to meet the President—and finding himself shaking the hand of Richard Nixon.

If you’d had a Rip Van Winkle experience of sleeping for the past twenty years, or traveled in time from twenty years ago to the present, what change would you find most jarring?

I think I might be most amazed by the way we can find, buy, or do almost anything online nowadays. Remember when you had to go INSIDE THE BANK for all banking transactions, and they closed at 2 in the afternoon? Remember what an arduous scavenger hunt finding out-of-print books used to be? Or the contact information of a long-lost friend?

I LIKE the future.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 6: The Fallacy of Safety

The previous 5 parts of this Series of posts are:


Part 7 of this series of posts will appear on March 26, 2013

The essence of story is CONFLICT -- and conflict is the power-plant of the plot.

As I've defined it in previous posts about novel and film structure, story is the sequence of emotional states and lessons learned from those states experienced within the viewpoint character(s), while plot is the 'because line' or sequence of external events each occurring "because" one of the previous events occurred.

Story is about how you feel, and plot is about what you do because you feel that way.

Not every writer, or writing teacher uses those definitions -- but every commercial story writer I know has firm grasp of these two components of story, and how they interact, regardless of what labels they use to designate them. 

As I've been pointing out in this series on Theme-Plot integration, commonly held fallacies are a wondrous source of steaming hot romance stories and science fiction, fantasy, and magic based plots. 

One such plot generator of a commonly held, or wished for, fallacy is the fallacy that "safety" is real, is achievable, and even desirable.  Some would say necessary for life, especially if you're planning to raise children. 

Safety is the goal of every Main Character caught in a Horror Novel plot. 

In Horror, you stumble upon some monstrous Evil, it hits you, you hit back, struggle free, flee for your life, double-back to rescue someone, perhaps someone who's rescued you, someone you owe a favor, some total stranger you then fall in love with -- a SOMEONE who rouses emotions counter to stark-terror  -- then flee with that someone who perhaps then rescues you, and finally reach some kind of weapon to use against the Evil, turn and confront the Evil, and -- because it's Horror genre and this is the rule -- YOU MUST IMPRISON THE EVIL.  You can't destroy Evil, but you can be SAFE FOR NOW by putting it behind a barrier, a wall.  Think of a 3 year old hiding behind his mother's leg. 

The goal of Horror Genre is the payoff of FEELING SAFE (after long, drawn out, stark terror).  The more stark the terror, the more potent the feeling of safety -- people indulge in Horror Genre to achieve that RELIEF of SAFETY-AT-LAST.

The iconic film to consider here is Jurassic Park -- a love story, chase scene, horror imagery mixture worth studying.  The horror is caused by the usual "power in the hands of Evil" -- or uncontrolled or uncontrollable -- people.  And in this case, the classic bugaboo is "science." 

To understand the connection between Horror genre, Science Fiction and Fantasy, consider how Science as we know it today is a branch of Natural Philosophy, which was an attempt to make a systematic study of the how's and why's of Magic. 

Yes, it all starts with Magic - with Herb Lore, and other attempts by humans to get a handle on the Environment and all the threats to life and limb that abound in our world.  Since the first Cave Painting, humans have apparently been using our well developed brains to leverage intelligence into a method of "getting safe." 

With agriculture, medicine, well built construction, and the mastery of fire (and all subsequent forms of power sources up to electricity), we have been building a wall between ourselves and the ravages of Nature, extending our life spans and making those lives more gentle. 

Horror is an extremely popular genre because life isn't safe.  And the same can be said of Romance -- we search for (and most often do find) a Soul Mate, a PERSON who complements our skills and increases our ability to make a safe-spot in the whirling storm of ever present threats.

So while we've been applying every clever trick we can think of to gain safety from our environment (fire, famine, flood, draught, desert heat, arctic cold, disease, and hard work that breaks down the body) we've also been using that same powerful brain to figure out ways to gain safety from EACH OTHER. 

Yes, all the monstrous threats Nature throws at us pale in comparison to what we throw at each other.  We have warred with stones, clubs, axes and atom bombs, and now we war with chemicals and even diseases.  Every bit of Nature we control, we turn into a weapon against other humans who think, believe or feel differently (or who just own better crop lands or electric power sources).

The basic bond of the Soul Mate grows into the extended bonding of family, and multi-generational family structures which become tribes, villages, towns, cities, whole civilizations. 

Writing courses teach that there are three basic CONFLICTS: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Himself.

But I've never seen a writing course teach that all humanity, and every story ever told, has only one goal: SAFETY. 

Safety is certainly the goal of every Romance.  Safety is another way to say "Happily Ever After."  It's a point or situation in which there are no further threats that you can not overcome.  Everything from there on is easy.  You are SAFE.

Why do we seek safety?  And what is safety?  What ploys, dodges, plots and schemes have we invented along the way to convince ourselves we're safe?

What do we define as "safety?"  Where does that definition come from?

These questions are all philosophical in nature -- such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?  Philosophy, as I've often noted in these posts, is the source-material for Theme.

Pick a philosophical stance, state it clearly in one sentence, find an object that symbolizes it, and you have the essence of what you want to SAY with your story.

Every story, novel, poem, song, film, says something.  It is you the writer talking to your audience, and (as in a speech) taking a thesis, explaining it, demonstrating that it's true, then restating the thesis, transmitting an IDEA about life, about the environment, and maybe about the Soul.

You, the writer, as you say what you want to say, must hold the attention of your audience if they're to sit still long enough for you to get to your point.  Your point is your theme - an abstract (boring) philosophical notion. 

So you dress up that boring thought in concrete clothing - in a costume, period, in a practical object (like a lamp or a soup bowl) and you decorate your object to make it beautiful.

The object you decorate is a segment of a life, of a character's life, a segment that is recognizable to your audience and well defined in their minds already. 

Examples: Going Away To College.  Getting That First Job.  Getting That First Divorce.  Finding Mr. Right At Last.  The Death of Your Last Remaining Parent.  Inheriting The Haunted Mansion.  Having Your Child Move Back Home Bringing a Grandchild.  Marrying Off Your Grandchild. 

These are familiar life milestones even to those who haven't lived them yet.  Everyone knows people who have "gone through" a "period" like that. 

You, the writer, take a period like that, a recognizable swatch of "life" and decorate it with particulars, a character, situation, setting -- and theme!  You make a boring, utilitarian object BEAUTIFUL by making it unique.

Which brings us back to the concept of how Safety is a Fallacy a writer can exploit while at the same time delivering that emotional satisfaction of having achieved safety at the end of the novel.

The aftermath or denouement of a novel (to be classed as a Happy Ending or Upbeat Ending) has to deliver the emotional experience of SAFETY - the threat is over, gone, vanquished.  The characters can relax now, and so can the reader. 

You and I know it's an illusion, but the reader can experience it as real.

How do you create that illusion and "sell" it as real?

Let's consider where in life we experience safety.

We say, "There's safety in numbers." 

Families form groups, and tribes - towns etc.  Why?  Because we feel SAFER when surrounded by others.

However, the most formidable threat to human life on this planet is other humans.

So we band together to defend ourselves and our possessions from other humans.

Look again at the essence of the Horror film -- usually involving isolating a person (or two people) from "the others."  In diving, we always go with a buddy.  In spelunking, we always go with at least one -- more usually several -- others.  The object of the Horror Plot is a) isolate b) run from then neutralize a threat and c) REJOIN THE GROUP (or civilization, or your Combat Unit - whatever you got separated from you get to rejoin).

Why do humans feel not-safe in isolation? 

Well, note that biologically we are born "premature" compared to other animals.  Most other animals can stand or walk immediately to nurse, and are more functional in other ways.  Humans are premature because of the physiology of the over-sized head and the birth canal, so much fetal development happens in the first 6 months to a year after birth. 

So very early, there must be one other to care for us, hands-on.  To get good brain development, human babies must be handled a lot.  Later of course we rebel and take off on our own -- what mother hasn't chased their 2 year old across a parking lot? 

We are taught what to fear -- and other people usually top that list.

Familiar people are safe.  Strangers -- not safe, maybe useful, but not safe.

So in your mind, run through the stages of human development and correlate all you know against everything you've learned about how to create, handle, and resolve a PLOT CONFLICT. 

So, again, we're looking for wide-accepted fallacies to challenge in order to create a theme, a statement that leads to Happily Ever After, or at least safety.

The fallacy I'd like you to consider here is Safety Is Real. 

Does that fallacy come from our infantile experience of safety in the hands of our caregiver (mother, surrogate, father, elder sibling acting as parent - whatever hands got us through infancy)? 

Anyone who's raised a child knows that the parent's objective is to get the child to feel safe (to stop screaming and give me a moment's peace), to return to that safe place, ("Come here, Johnny!" Mom yells across the parking lot.) and not talk to strangers (but later to be socialized enough to fall in love and form a new family; what a contradiction.)  Anyone who's been a child knows that the child's objective is to take insane risks while utterly oblivious to the magnitude of the risk.

Human Parenting consists of implanting a "false sense of security" in every child. 

Since we deal with Alien Romance on this blog, I should point out that I said HUMAN PARENTING -- being very specific there.

So safety is an illusion we learn as infants to regard as real, and we crave it periodically throughout life.

Feelings of safety can be evoked by CONNECTING with another human, especially after a long period of facing dangers, risks, and horrors all alone.

The film series Home Alone comes to mind.  That is worth studying for the theme of safety and where it comes in our hierarchy of values.

Of course, we're not writing YA here, however, these are iconic classics about the process of learning what safety is (and is not.)

There are any number of pop psychology books on "leaving your comfort zone."   All of those are great resources for Thematic material you can craft around the concept of the Fallacy of Safety.

So, since we're looking to write for adults -- about adult issues -- we should look at the adult version of the experiences of the infant and the pre-adolescent. 

I have a theory (thematic material, indeed) that all International Affairs, and all theories of government, all governmental forms and the clashes between them, recapitulate the experiences of infancy and pre-adolescence (sometimes adolescence too).  I look at governmental bodies (Congress, Parliament, etc) and their antics as eerily similar to Elementary School play yard activities.

One of the things kids do, especially adolescents, is form cliques.  Countries form Alliances. 

One thing adolescents do is dress alike.  Some generations have prided themselves on each person violating some or all of the conventions of dress imposed by their parents -- in rebellion.  The net result is a school full of kids all dressed identically -- ever noticed that?  Mismatched colors, floppy baggy shapes or tight-skimpy patches that pass for clothes - it doesn't matter.  Teens adopt an identity.

In some neighborhoods, gangs abound - and what do they do?  They adopt a UNIFORM -- something everyone wears to mark them apart from others.  Often it's a scarf of a particular color or pattern, or a type of shirt.  In defense, schools adopt a School Uniform.  This just reinforces the underlying PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPT: "Safety In Numbers."

So we grow up, get a job as a Congressman and join a caucus -- or a coalition -- a GROUP OF GROUPS who all think or act in the same way.

In a previous post in this series, PART 4, Fallacies and Endorphins, I mentioned  Edward Bernays.  Refresh your memory on the idea that the father of Public Relations (i.e. publicity, advertising, spin doctoring) viewed humanity as having a natural herd instinct.

Themes derived from that idea can range from No Man Is An Island to Each Man Is An Island -- from we're all the same, to we're each unique.

All advertising is based on this assumption: humans can be herded.  You just have to hammer the individuals into uniform units (i.e. dress them all alike in school uniforms), and they'll stick together.  You know the Chinese adage that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.  That's how a governmental system based on herding humans for SAFETY has to treat individuals --- they must be made into uniform copies of each other and taught to stick together.

We all learn in school to be inconspicuous in class when we don't know the answer.

We all learn the value of "fitting in" and we do feel safer in groups.

We don't walk the dark streets at night alone, and it isn't just for safety from muggers.  We go in groups because each human is UNIQUE.

We each have a set of talents, abilities, and acquired skills that are distinctive from those of everyone else -- and no one person, alone, has ALL the skills and talents needed for a high probability of survival -- not safety or certainty, just a good chance.

So we are attracted to our opposites (Soul Mates are rarely identical, and "interests in common" don't usually insure a life-long marriage).  We look for those who don't have our skills -- but have other skills, so that among our friends and relatives (our Church Group or whatever group) we have access to all the necessary skills, talents and abilities.

That diversity of skills arises from a diversity of philosophical positions on any issue, and yet we get along best with people who agree with us about a few basic ideas.  As we change our ideas about things, we change the groups we associate with.

Political coalitions are often formed from groups that are mortal enemies -- who don't argue their differences until a resolution is reached and someone (or everyone) changes their mind. 

We discussed arguing fallacies to a plot-resolution in Part 3 of this series of posts.

Why do we form coalitions?  One good set of answers (good being those that generate plots you can write) arises from the human search for power over other humans, as discussed in Part 4, Fallacies and Endorphins.  Again I refer you to the book, You Can't Lie To Me by Janine Driver and the theory that politicians who exercise power over others (particularly with a lie) feel an addictive rush of endorphins from exercising power over other humans.

Why do humans experience pleasure in exercising power over other humans?

Would that be the case if humans really had a herd instinct as Bernays says?

As I described here above, note that the history and pre-history of all humanity has been the fight against the ravages of Nature -- but that battle pales against the backdrop of the fight of humanity against humanity (war.)

Exercising power over other humans makes humans feel SAFE -- that's what that endorphin rush does!  And it's a fallacy.  A drug induced delusion.

We wouldn't need that delusion to feel safe if we had a natural herd instinct.  Just being with, beside, or among other humans would make us feel safe.  It doesn't.

It takes particular, specific, unique humans around us to produce that feeling of "family."  That is because each of us is a puzzle piece, maybe with a fairly standard shape but a unique color or pattern -- or perhaps with a standard color and a unique jigsaw shape -- we only fit HERE, not THERE. 

Each of us has an exact place in the world, and when in that place we feel safe.  Outside that place, not so much. 

We feel powerful when we are in our place -- threatened when not.

Coalitions (political within a government, or among nations) don't bestow that "in your place" safety - not a safety in numbers, but a safety that comes from being among those whose skills and talents complement your own.  Coalitions are based on the fallacy that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and so always fall apart as soon as the external threat has been handled or neutralized (or just abated a little.) 

The members of a coalition are themselves natural enemies that can't co-exist -- that's usually the nature of a coalition. 

A family isn't a coalition so much as it is a "small business" (an economic engine).  The power of that engine is Love -- not the hate that powers Coalitions.

Each of these statements I've strewn throughout this series is itself the source of hundreds of possible themes strong enough to support a novel.  And each suggests a plot.

The plots based on the nature of a "coalition" (the "agree to disagree" formula) is obvious.  The cooperating entities dispense with the external threat, then (to the surprise, shock or horror of the others) turn on each other in a war of dominance that can turn to a war of extinction.

The plots based on "each human is unique and fits into one exact place in the world" are not quite so obvious because you don't see that many of them, especially not outside the Romance novel field.  These plots are the "find your Soul Mate" plots, "Love At First Sight" plots, and "The Stranger Who Goes Home Makes Home Strange" plots -- all the "Home For The Holidays" plots fit in that category.

We live in an era when internecine warfare is considered the natural state of the family -- almost all the TV series currently running assume some sort of embarrassment, strife, or even hatred of Parents -- going "home" is indigestion-incarnate.  Estrangement is almost synonymous with Family.

So the philosophical statement, "Humans can not be herded because each human is unique and has an exact place in the world," seems to the audience like a fallacy.  That makes it a very powerful source of Theme for a Science Fiction Romance.  The cognitive dissonance inherent in the theme is maximized by the "real" life of the reader.

A plot that addresses that theme might be formed from a Main Character buying an expensive item (a TV set, iPad, Green Energy House) that was ADVERTISED (Bernays; herding humans) enticingly, being disappointed with the performance of the product, fighting the company for a refund or redress of injuries, maybe taking it to Legal Aid services, (meeting a Soul Mate of a Lawyer - imagine that!) and powering it through all the way to the Supreme Court -- years and years and many children later, ending up as the Spouse of a Supreme Court Justice (you never hear about them in the news, do you?)  Becoming a Supreme Court Justice means you're "safe" -- because nobody can fire you and you make enough to support your family well.

Of course, then there's always the sequel where the Supreme Court Justice resigns and runs for President. 

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stranger Than Fiction

There’s great excitement here in Maryland because the Baltimore Ravens are headed for the Superbowl. John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, is the brother of Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers coach (their father was also a football coach). Their teams will clash at the Superbowl in New Orleans.

You couldn’t make up this scenario. It’s too much of a melodramatic coincidence. It’s believable enough that both brothers would choose coaching as a career, given their family history. But to end up leading rival teams in the biggest game of the year? What editor would allow that to happen in a novel?

Of course, farfetched coincidences do happen in real life. (As I read somewhere just recently, that’s why we have the word “coincidence.”) When I started dating my husband, he lived on a street with the same name as a surname in my close family. Who would put that in a book?

Most people know about the list of similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy, two assassinated Presidents elected 100 years apart, including the especially striking fact that both had vice presidents named Johnson. In a novel, that phenomenon couldn’t be pure chance; it would have to carry some occult significance (as some people believe it actually does).

Ever notice that in novels two major characters hardly ever have the same first name? In fact, writing instruction manuals advise against it, for obvious reasons. Yet in everyday life it’s not at all unusual for two or more people in the same group, such as a classroom or office, to have the same name. In our office we once had three women named Betty working there at the same time. Another time, we had four Joans. (One of them agreed to be called by her last name to mitigate the confusion.)

It’s often been said that just because something really happened doesn’t mean a writer can credibly fit it into a story. Fiction, unlike life, has to make sense. As Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 5 - A Great Steampunk Example

We did weeks of Theme-Worldbuilding discussions ranging all over how philosophy shapes our real world, and how whatever philosophical issues (themes) are driving your customer's real world have to be incorporated in the foundation of your fictional world in an "off the nose" way.  And this is the 5th in the Theme-Plot Integration series. 

Theme-Worldbuilding-Plot -- it all has to end up being "of one  piece, a single unified whole when you get done writing.

That is, the issues have to be there, but a direct and forthright discussion of the day's hot topics just isn't amusing when you have to live amid a morass.  You read fiction to get a birds-eye-view of your life, not to relive it! 

Getting that mix right is an artform, a performing artform.

Here are the previous 5 parts of this series:

Now, in November I posted a report on Chicon7 -- the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in September 2012.

At that convention, I was touring the Dealer's Room and happened to be drawn into a discussion with a fellow who was minding a table -- upon which was the following novel:

As a reviewer, I became interested, and I really liked the pitch for this novel.  It just sounded so very promising that I accepted a review copy.  I'm glad I did.

The Thunderbolt Affair is a "steampunk" novel with a twist -- the technology is more SF than Fantasy, and the History is alternate universe but with a strong logic behind it.  Both the History and the Science "work" in this novel's "worldbuilding."  This sets it apart from other things published under the Steampunk genre label. 

As with all good Steampunk, you get more out of it the more "real" history you know.  Steampunk and other alternate history exercises are a playground for historians as galactic science fiction is a playground for inventive scientists.

So all in all The Thunderbolt Affair is a very worthwhile read, a lot of fun, and a pleasure to return to when you have to put it aside. 

Here's the official back cover copy that so intrigued me, copied from Amazon:
“What you will be working on is underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English.”

The British Empire is in danger of collapse and teeters on the brink of war with the Kaiser Reich. Spies and saboteurs play at deadly games in the British shipyards as each side seeks naval superiority.
Ian Rollins is collateral damage in their shadow war. The “accident” and his grievous injuries are about to bring his naval career to an ignominious end. But with the aid of a former Pinkerton detective, a clandestine agent for the Admiralty, a brace of Serbian savants, and one, mostly sober valet, he might survive. If he can master the skills necessary to command the world’s first fully operational combat submarine, the HMS Holland Ram, and protect the secrets of the Thunderbolt.

Historical Note. The Fenian Ram, fictionalized for this novel, does exist and is currently on display at the Paterson Museum in Paterson, NJ.
-----------END QUOTE------------

I don't just rave about novels I discuss in this blog.  I dissect them and look for ways they could be improved.  I look for reasons why a book went to a small publisher rather than a larger house, or vice-versa.  I look for things that enlarge the potential market and things that restrict it to a smaller market.  I look for characteristics of the piece that identifies who will enjoy it -- and who won't. 

I started to read The Thunderbolt Affair -- mostly just because I was given a copy.  I kept on reading because I got caught up in -- ok, yes, I admit it -- the love story. 

I'm a sucker for a good Romance, and the glaring anachronism in this novel of portraying a female mechanic against this Steampunk background just tickles me no end.  Or she may be a technologist -- an implementor who MAKES things, rather than a theorist or researcher who nails the basic science, or an inventor who comes up with new applications of basic science.  She fabricates models and prototypes, and by the way, improves the design as she goes.  A man who loves that woman, loves me! 

I always enjoy the SF novels featuring inventors who just cobble together stuff and get it to work, -- um, sort of work anyway.  Then they improve it.  I love the thinking behind "improving" inventions -- even though I think the worst swearword in the English language today is "Upgrade." 

But then I loved The Thunderbolt Affair for the rich detail of inventing crazy stuff out of nothing much.  I am also a sucker for stories of the improbable accomplished by clever people, sometimes from cleverness, sometimes by accident, sometimes by sheer cussed determination. 

Reading The Thunderbolt Affair was, though, more like reading a great fanfic than like reading a Mass Market Paperback.  I could easily see the structural problems, and even see how the editor should have fixed those problems, but because it was a roaring good story, I didn't care.

Toward the 3/4 point, I realized I had to point you at this novel because it's a vivid example of how to limit your possible readership to a very small group.  You can get this in ebook - and it is worth the ebook price.

The author admits editors told him he had too much technical detail about the things they build (these things include a couple of submarines and some artificial mechanical limbs, even a mechanical eye that eventually should be able to let the wearer "see"). 

The point of the novel, the thing that drove the writer to complete the project, was his love of Steampunk technology, and he wanted to show off what can be done with the basic capabilities and materials of the 1800's and a lot of imagination. 

But beta readers and editors prompted him to trim, cut, condense the technical explanations -- which he said he did.  I think he did, from the way the tech stuff reads.  It's expository lump after expository lump.

But his editors gave bad advice. 

Now, if you're serious about learning to do what I've been describing in this blog since 2006 when I started posting here every Tuesday, go get a copy of The Thunderbolt Affair, read it and take notes, figure out what went wrong inside this writer's mind, and then come back here and finish reading this post.


OK, now that you've read the novel, and probably some of the reader commentary on Amazon, let's think about what the editor of this novel should have said.

When you are handed a manuscript that has "too much" of something (say for example, too many sex scenes in a Romance -- which is, believe it or not, possible!), do you tell the writer to cut some of those scenes? 

When you are handed a manuscript that has expository lumps, do you tell the writer to trim, reduce, condense or break up the expository lumps?  Is that the cure for expository lumps (and sex scenes are usually expository lumps technically speaking). 

Think about The Thunderbolt Affair -- consider what the full blown technical dissertations on the machinery and ship building must have been like, and why the author wrote them out in full.

I'm betting (though I don't know for a fact) that this kind of expository lump over-kill happens for the same reason that 'too many sex scenes' happens --- it's INTERESTING.

The author is fascinated, interested, engaged, enamored, transported, and somehow fulfilled by these scenes and just massages them over and over and over because it feels good to the author.  The assumption is that if it feels good to the author, it will feel good to ALL READERS.

Nope.  Not the way entertainment works. 

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught an old quotation, so old and oft quoted you have to consider it an adage:  "The book the writer wrote is not the book the reader reads." 

Readers make up their own characters, emotions, even background images, room decorations, clothing, etc. -- they "see" the main characters in their minds, and it doesn't look the way the writer sees it!

How can you convince yourself of this?  Find a graphic artist, show your manuscript and ask the artist (without further input from you) to draw the scene. 

You won't recognize it! 

When you do get anything even a little bit recognizable, it's because you talked to the artist, watched them draw and pointed out changes as they went. 

Here are three examples from my own work:

All 3 of these novels (plus 9 more in the Sime~Gen Universe) are now available in e-book, paper, and 2 in audiobook with 4 more in production at

Now here's the ONE cover that all the inveterate fans of Sime~Gen agree is most representative of the series. 

This is the omnibus edition (in hardcover and paper) containing House of Zeor, Ambrov Keon, and Zelerod's Doom.

It's also available as a poster from the artist who is the incredibly famous (justifiably so) Todd Lockwood.

In the poster print, there's no overprinting -- the title and author names, just the gorgeous art.

I got to talk to the artist for a long time, to explain what this character looks like -- and it's close, seriously close, and very much as the fans see it, and the way all the visual artists see it, but not what I see. Still, it's so gorgeous!

In the course of working with the professional editors for these novels, and interacting with the growing fandom surrounding them, I learned much of what I'm showing you how to do here.

Here's the trick that's so important to master. 

When the editor or beta reader tells you there's too much of something, and the cure for that is to CUT THAT SOMETHING -- to reduce the amount of words devoted to it -- that may not be the way to fix the problem the editor or beta reader is having with your material.

Readers, even professional editors, don't necessarily know what's bothering them, though they can point to WHERE it bothered them.

The business of being a professional writer is the business of reverse engineering reader responses to find the cause the reader does not know is there.

Some people learn to do this by having the process explained to them.  Others need concrete examples.  And others have to have it DONE TO their own work by other hands.  Marion Zimmer Bradley did this kind of thing to my own prose -- just took my words and re-did them so they'd work right in a scene. 

Bradley was a talented writer.  I don't think she really knew how she'd learned to do what she did -- she may have been born with this talent.  But I learned from her rewriting of my prose.

So, what do I notice first about The Thunderbolt Affair?

At the half-way point, I looked up and said to myself, "There are three novels here, loosely packed between two covers.  Shaken not stirred.  They just aren't blended properly, but I don't know why."

By the 3/4 point, I realized the author apparently had no clue he had fallen off the conflict line.  Which he had, but by the time I got to the end, I realized where the issue really was.  Theme-Worldbuilding integration, the subject of this series.

Now this is an advanced series.  We've been at this writing craft discussion for 6 years or so, and only if you've been digging back into those posts, or have been following for 6 years, do you see instantly what I mean by "falling off the conflict line" or what I call "the because line." 

However, even if you've mastered your conflict line and how to stay on that because-line, you probably won't know how to "fix" this novel we're discussing.

It's got three distinct because-lines --- and virtually no theme of enough moment to support three plot-lines.

So fixing this because-line issue won't fix this novel and make it salable to the huge market for Steampunk in general, or for Romantic Steampunk! 

Here's what I see after finishing the novel.

We have a sub-strata of the technical because-line -- the British navy stole a submarine, reverse engineered, improved on the design using an outside consultant (Tesla by the way is justly famous in our real world), and built a larger submarine that it then used to avert a war by displaying what a threat that ship could be. 

On top of that (very solid and interesting) foundation, we have a Love Story (main Navy character falls for female mechanic-genius).  Nothing much ever comes of that infatuation on any because line. 

And, disconnected from everything, just puttering along in counterpoint, we have a saboteur and an espionage threat (complete with kidnapping the girl but nothing ever comes of that) and ultimately the theft of the big ship, but NOTHING COMES OF THAT THEFT because the Hero gets the ship back through heroic efforts which are well foreshadowed.

These three separate novels have a few laborious cross-linkages, some "because" connections, but nothing strong enough to drive the three plots together. 

The real author-love is lavished on the technology (which I adore!) and the rest is tossed in on top of that just to make a book -- the whole thing just doesn't crystallize as a single unified entity, a NOVEL.  It's 2 novels and a non-fiction book.

Why?  This author worked so hard, he tried so hard, he's so proud of his work, why doesn't it make a novel?

The three main elements are not INTEGRATED -- they haven't become one thing. 

We know whose story it is, the Captain of the submarine.  We see his career unfold as he becomes the Captain and trains a crew in this new technology.  He falls in love and gets his girl, his promotions, and saves his country while he's at it.  Any writer would be proud of that story! 

The worldbuilding is as sound as it could possibly be -- Steampunk has lacked this dimension of technological plausibility, so what is preventing this thing from solidifying?

You might conclude, from the "because-line" problem, that the novel won't crystallize because while the story is solidly constructed, the plot is not of the same caliber. 

I think that's true.  The plot is not as strong as the story, but why is that?

We have a dynamite action-scene opening with the theft of the little submarine.  Then we follow the little submarine as it is worked on by an outside consultant-genius, concurrently with building another larger submarine.  We have the Captain losing a hand and an eye, and the technologist consultants concurrently working on an artificial limb of the Captain's design.  And we have sporadic attacks by "someone" for "some purpose." 

There's nothing lacking for plot material, so how could it have failed to crystalize?

Go back over those three PLOTs carefully. 

1) Stolen technology improved and employed by a government using foreign national to do improvements.

2) Hero falls in love with fascinating genius-woman mechanic and wins her heart

3) Foreign government spies infiltrate and attempt to steal technology and fail because of Hero and genius-woman

What THEME do these 3 plots have in common? 

If you've got 3 plots, you need 4 themes, but they must be RELATED IN A VERY SPECIFIC STRUCTURAL MANNER.

You need a master theme, and 3 sub-themes or versions of that theme, all leading to a single STATEMENT at the end of the Master Theme in a moment the reader will experience as a REVELATION, boosting the reader to a new level of understanding of "Life, The Universe, And Everything."

The Thunderbolt Affair lacks this commonality of structure created by THEME.

It is as if the author had this IDEA -- "write a steampunk that could actually have happened" -- and then said, well I need a love affair and the Hero has to get his girl, and there's no action after the opening on the theft of the submarine so I'll toss in some spies.  Well, how should this thing end?  The Hero has to do something GRAND (it is steampunk after all; he's got to have some punk in him, break some rules?)  So the author cooked up the spies and a grand plot to steal the submarine again so the hero could save the country from a war.

It's very common to see this kind of thing done by new writers.  Here's "my book" but it's not good enough yet, so "grab this from this other book and throw it in," then grab something else from some other book and toss that in just to keep the plot moving.  And the parts just do not go together because they did not arise organically from a single, central, theme.

Very talented writers do this "theme integration" thing that we've been discussing at such length by innate instinct, never consciously considering theme at all.  Others (like me) have to sort out the threads of ideas, and focus and re-focus on the particular theme I really want to talk about.

So what's the theme in The Thunderbolt Affair?  Don't steal because it'll always come to naught?  Or maybe "If you really need to win, steal first and often?"  Or "Hire the best genius inventor around?"  Or "Genius inventors are all very fine, but you'll lose crown and country if you don't have a daring-do-Hero on tap?" 

Frankly, after reading this book closely, I have no clue what the theme is or what the author wanted it to be.  It says contradictory things all at once, and ends up saying nothing. 

Why do the 3 plots not crystallize, forming a single articulated work of art?  Why is the theme (which I believe the author knows, but doesn't know he hasn't stated) so invisible?

This book has 3 plots -- and not 1 conflict.

The STORY is that of the Captain who succeeds in a) getting a promotion to the new Submariner Service b) getting the girl and c) saving crown and country.  BUT WHO IS TRYING TO PREVENT HIM FROM DOING ANY OF THAT? 

No preventing force, no plot.  There's a great story and no CONFLICT -- without conflict there's no plot.

The author tried to disguise the lack of conflict by tossing in 2 extra plots that shouldn't be there, but those 2 extra plots (whichever 2 of the 3 are the extras) won't mix in properly because they explicate different themes destroying the "composition" of this book.

I can't tell which plots are "extra" because all 3 have equal weight.  In a well constructed work of art, one element dominates all others, each of the other elements supports and explicates the details of the main one, illuminating it from all angles.  The subordinate elements must have lesser "weight" (fewer words) than the unifying and dominating element.

Yes, the spies are trying to prevent launch of the new submarine, and/or to steal it or the new technology (their goal is never made clear), but that's not preventing our Hero the Captain from attaining his goal -- which goal is never made clear.  The Captain doesn't know he has a goal regarding the woman he falls for until way into the book, and nobody is trying to thwart him from "getting the girl."  When she is kidnapped, it's by the spies who want her for her expertise, not to thwart The Captain. 

And so it goes throughout the entire book -- every place there should be a conflict, there is a complication substituted for it.  That's why the thing wanders into loving description of technology during which all progress on all the story lines just stops.  There's no development of an urgent necessity to know how the technology works, and the technology is presented in indigestible lumps of exposition.  Cutting that down won't help.  It would be fascinating reading if we needed to know it -- if there were any suspense causing us to barrel through those explanations determined not to miss the essential clue to the mystery and not let The Hero solve the mystery before The Reader! 

You will find this thematic structure I've been describing above in every great novel that's lasted for generations -- though the older ones are much harder to discern because this structural trick was just being invented when they were propagated.  Reading from Ancient Greece onwards through the Middle Ages, you can see how the rules of this structure were developed stepwise. 

Here are some previous posts with links to other previous posts to study if you haven't followed this.  Also you may, in the course of analyzing The Thunderbolt Affair, discover that you have found an even better way to get your novel to "crystallize" -- to create a unified matrix of artistic statements that move your reader to the core.  If you do, be sure to teach your method.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tax forms for professional writers

At the moment, I am filling out and mailing my 1099-MISC forms, and I'd like to remind my creative friends that the laws are evolving, and that any business who/which pays another individual or business more than $600 in the course of the year must send them a 1099-MISC.

Check out the IRS at

This is the cover for the package that I purchased at Staples.
One can download free forms from the IRS site, but not all forms are scannable, and some people are obliged to e-file or pay a fine, so my view is, when in doubt, send the paper.

The pack of forms sold by Staples contains 24 forms (which come with a total of 5 copies that carbon-copy the data you enter on the first page. The also include 3 1096 Transmittal forms for the filer (me).

At first, I wondered whether I really needed a pack of 24 forms. Last year, I was only required to send a 1099-MISC to my intellectual property attorney.... who didn't want it because she is with a corporation and their tax compliance is unquestionable. Some attorneys' fees are reportable.

This year, I have to send the forms to my webmaster (who also may not need it); the radio station that I pay for air time for my shows; the same IP attorney; anyone with whom I have spent more than $600 on advertising; ditto for e-book prep; ditto for foreign translations of my works. The very nice IRS agent with whom I spoke --because reading IRS instructions online makes me hyperventilate-- advised me that I might even need to send a form to my dentist, if I considered that my dental work was necessary to my ability to perform as a talk show host or to promote my books on visual media. (I am not sure that I will claim that deduction, but I may send the 1099-MISC to be on the safe side.

As you may see, you basically have to fill in your own name and address in Box 1.
Then your own EIN, TIN, or social security number if you file your business as a Schedule C.
Beside that, your victim's TIN, EIN, or SS#
Then, your victim's name. (I wrote Webmaster's name here).
In the next two boxes, your victim's address.

Box #7 (Non-employee compensation) is where you enter the amount (in excess of $600) that you paid. This is the total for the year and does not have to be broken down.

$50 a month will trigger your need to send this form, but you don't have to do it (as far as I know) for Staples, Comcast, RWA.....Payments to a corporation do not have to be reported.
Fortunately, I only pay $30 a month to MUSO for pirate fighting, so do not have to send them a 1099-MISC.

Repeat on the duplicate form below the first. Be careful not to cut the first page in half.
Mail the third and fourth pages to your victim to arrive before January 31st. Be sure to file your Copy A of Form 1099-MISC with the 1096 by February 28th.

For more detailed, more formal information, visit the IRS

I am not a tax expert. Please take my advice as encouragement to research for yourself what is the right thing to do for your circumstances.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Doonesbury on Writer's Block

Do you all read the “Doonesbury” comic? If so, you saw last week’s sequence of strips about writer’s block. If not, start here and read them Monday through Saturday:


In case you’re not familiar with the current storylines, Jeff has a fantasy alter ego called the Red Rascal, a Zorro-like masked rider who fights for freedom in Afghanistan. Against all expectation, the book he’s written in his Rascal persona becomes a bestseller. Unfortunately, like many a nouveau-rich celebrity, Jeff squanders his income from the “memoir” as well his lavish advance for the sequel. When he asks to move back in with his parents, they agree on condition that he fulfill his contract for the second book. Part of the agreement, as his mother explains to his slacker buddy, mandates that he spend “three solid hours” writing every morning.

Almost any writer will laugh in recognition, if somewhat uneasily, at Jeff’s predicament. How often does our “process” involve staring vacantly into space (or sleeping on a plot problem)? Or do we sometimes tell ourselves that to evade facing the blank screen? I can uncomfortably identify with the dread of seeing my words just hang there “lifelessly” in all their flatness. And with the recent farewell to my day job, I’m trying to embrace the discipline of committing myself to fixed hours of concentrated writing (for me it’s a minimum of two hours or 1000 words, whichever comes first). Only too rarely does an inspired phrase (comparable to the genius of “a freakin’ Hemingwad”) spontaneously leap from my brain.

The same plotline continues Monday and Tuesday of this week. I especially like Monday’s dialogue. Jeff asks his father, a journalist, “What do you do when you have nothing to say?” Answer: “I say it anyway. . . . Four times a day.”

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Career Management for Writers in a Changing World

Last week we took a detour from Theme-Plot integration into Business Model discussions.

In November 2012 I went to a benefit concert where Theodore Bikel sang folksongs in many languages (all but one of which I know a bit of). As you probably know by now, I'm a big Theodore Bikel fan, and will rave about him below, but this is more about planning and executing a long, targeted and lucrative career in the arts. So first lets take a long look at a writer's career you should study. Here's a writer I have followed for about twenty years less than I've followed Theodore Bikel, and about whom I know a lot less. He's Allan Cole:

a very friendly guy, comfortable and voluble in the "new media" world -- blogging, Facebook, twitter, etc. I've run into him almost everywhere, and just take his presence forgranted because he's always around, saying something to think about or to relay to others who've been talking about it.

Just look at his picture.  Isn't that a guy you'd be glad to sit and listen to for a while?  Well, if you're planning a  career as a writer -- or even any kind of creative endeavor in any medium yet to be invented -- you would do well to pay attention to Allan Cole.

Here are some clues for how to start -- and don't grit your teeth.  Sometimes studying can be fun! 

Here's his IMDB page --

IMDB is the movie database with all the credits listed so you can see who did what -- or look up a PERSON who works on movies and see what movies or TV shows they've done.  All that with only a free account, and you can find great movies and TV shows and click through to buy with Amazon just like that!  With a paid account, there's lots more information for professionals. 

Here's Allan Cole's public bio from IMDB. 

Allan Cole is a best-selling author, screenwriter and former prize-winning newsman who brings a
rich background in travel and personal experience to his imaginative work. Raised in Europe and the Far East, Cole attended thirty-two schools and visited or lived in as many countries. He recalls hearing The Tempest for the first time as a child sitting on an ancient fortress wall in Cyprus - the island Shakespeare may have had in mind when he wrote the play. Rejecting invitations to become a CIA operative like his father, Cole became an award-winning investigative reporter and editor who dealt with everything from landmark murder cases to thieving government officials. Since that time he's concentrated on books and film. His novels include the landmark science fiction series, "Sten," the highly-praised fantasy trilogy, "Tales Of The Timuras," and the Vietnam war classic, "A Reckoning For Kings." Allan has sold more than a hundred television dramas, ranging from "Quincy" and "The Rockford Files" to "Walker, Texas Ranger." He lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with his wife, Kathryn.
-----------END QUOTE -----------

The "Sten" series novels mentioned in that bio (terrific reading!)

Here's #1 -- follow the link to find the others.

have been published then reprinted interntionally with huge sales numbers, and recently been republished in USA editions in ebook, paper, and audiobook from (fabulous reader!).  It's no wonder.  They're great reading or listening, but they have another dimension to them.

As I've been telling you on this blog, the knack of selling text-stories in today's market CHANGED.  The big sales now go to novels structured like screenplays -- and/or with scenes structured like screenplays -- and/or with characters formulated like TV characters.

I've been unable to tell you when that shift happened.  It wasn't abrupt, and it wasn't bally-hooed about in the media, and it wasn't noted in books on writing craft.  It just sneaked up on us.

Now I know when it happened.  I ran into one of Allen Cole's blogs, I don't remember where, perhaps on twitter, a couple years ago.  This one is about his adventures as a screenwriter in Hollywood.   -- titled MY HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES

As of Jan. 2013,  carries installments of a biographical laugh-a-minute life story episode in Allan Cole's life titled THE BLUE MEANIE (also set in Los Angeles, but prior to the Misadventures).  It's about the time when Allan worked as a journalist and managed apartment buildings.

Who could resist such a title?   It's about "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!" 

You will note Allan Cole had many successes in selling screenplays.  But what about the failures and the embarrassments and the just plain disasters wound up in the origin of those successes?  Most writers won't tell on themselves.  Allan Cole tells on himself, and makes you double over in laughter while he's at it. 

When you're done reading these blogs (a bunch are collected into an ebook for easy reading, find the link on the blog page at the top), you will have a new perspective on what it means "career in writing." 

And don't think this pertains just to Hollywood.  The same stuff goes on in print publishing.  It's the nature of big business to treat "talent" or "content providers" as the least important cogs in the wheels. 

Now remember, we're looking at a biography that stretches into the past in order to construct a game-plan for a life and  career that stretches into the future.

Look at the history of the STEN series.  It started in the early 1980's, a bit after Sime~Gen which began in 1969 -- from material developed decades before that. 

Note this blog:
-- where Allan gave us a wonderful series of posts during the election cycle titled HOW THE ETERNAL EMPEROR STEALS ELECTIONS -- the "Eternal Emperor" of note is one of the main characters in the STEN series who definitely belongs on the USA NETWORK CHARACTERS WELCOME series.  In fact, several of the characters from STEN, including Sten himself, belong on USA as stars of their own series! 

Here's a quote from Allan Cole on Facebook pointing us to parts of his autobiography:

Allan Cole I've written two parts of it:

Lucky In Cyprus - and

Tales Of The Blue Meanie -
I've got two more I'm writing (not counting the MisAdventures) Lucky In Okinawa and The Game Warden's Sons
-----------END QUOTE------------

Now think hard about this "changing world" that I've been talking about in posts like those about the crumbling business model for writers, the whole social media evolution and self-publishing, then Indie ebook-only publishers, now web-series TV. 

What I call "the fiction delivery system" is shifting hard, as hard in the coming decades as in the century after Guttenberg's movable type concept hit the world.


Guttenberg worked on his gadget in the mid-1400's -- 500 years later, a similar distribution channel opening created "Hollywood" -- i.e. flicks, film, movies.  Stories in pictures that MOVE.

But distribution was clumsy -- people had to go to special places to see these "flicks."

OK, but by 1950 Television was deploying those moving-image stories into people's living rooms.

There was a market for such pictured-fiction, they knew, from the hoards that frequented movie houses --- and from the immense success of radio fiction that developed concurrently. 

It's all about how much it costs to put the story into the consumer's hands.  Remember that when creating your career plans.  COST vs. PRICE

It costs such-and-so to create the product and move it to the consumer, but what will the consumer pay?  How much do they want it, and how much free cash flow do they have to spend on stuff they just want?

Now consider your age as you launch your writing career.  How many years will you be at this business?  Of course, there's always the chance you'll strike it rich and retire early, but really, is that what you (a born storyteller) want?  To not-write new stories?

Look now at the career arc of Theodore Bikel. 

He is a great writer, true, but he's an actor, a singer, raconteur and many other kinds of performer.

Here he is on IMDB

Here is his website:

And here is the photo from that website:  

And that's exactly how he looks today, so I didn't take any photos of him during his performance that I just went to see.

If he looks familiar -- or sounds familiar (you can get all his recordings as MP3 on Amazon ) it might be because he played Worf's human father on Star Trek. 

Here is the little auditorium at the benefit, and the tiny stage with really spiffy, ultra-modern sound equipment and excellent lighting -- all the technical trappings you could hope for anywhere.  I got there early.  Eventually, the place filled up. 

Many of the shows he was in happened so long ago they aren't on IMDB.  There is one film, in particular, I'd love to have titled Fraulein that Theo was in, and on one of his albums which is a recording at a live concert, he tells the story of how he was hired to play a Russian, and asked if he knew any Russian songs.  So he said, "A few." (actually it's more than a few, but that's how you talk in Hollywood.)  And they asked him to bring in a few and perform for them.  So he did, and they loved the songs -- but said they couldn't use them because of copyright.  All the songs were very old folk songs, but that's how they talk in Hollywood.  So they said they'd have a genuine old Russian folksong composed for him to sing.  He sang it in this film, it says on the recording of the concert.  The song is, I think, titled Nichevo. 

I have searched for this movie many times -- but as I was writing this blog entry, I poked around Amazon some more, and found this listed as available for STREAMING (to my Kindle Fire, or my TV, or probably even my phone if I could figure out how to do that).  So I got it. 

Here's the details from that movie on Amazon's page:

 Product Details
Synopsis: A Nazi's fiancee helps an escaped U.S. soldier, then meets him in postwar Berlin.
Starring: Dana Wynter, Mel Ferrer
Supporting actors: Dolores Michaels, Margaret Hayes, Theodore Bikel, Luis Van Rooten, Helmut Dantine, Herbert Berghof, James Edwards, Ivan Triesault, Blandine Ebinger, Jack Kruschen, Dorothy Arnold, John Banner, Edith Clair, Peter Coe, Gabriel Curtiz, Don Diamond, Ed Erwin, Fred Essler, Gerry Gaylor, Alex Goudavich
Directed by: Henry Koster
Genre: Romance, War, Drama
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Release year: 1958
Studio: 20th Century Fox
ASIN: B0025X6072 (Rental) and B0025X7W5G (Purchase)
Rights & Requirements
Rental rights: 24 hour viewing period Details
Purchase rights: Stream instantly and download to 2 locations. Details
Format: Amazon Instant Video (streaming online video and digital download)

1958 -- can you believe that?  I found a movie from 1958 mentioned on a record from I suppose the 1960's -- that I haven't seen -- with Theodore Bikel in it. 


This is a perfect example of what I'm pointing out to you here as an element to consider carefully as you manage your career as a writer, a "content provider."  1958 -- about 500 years after Guttenberg.  Think about that.  Think very carefully about the implications for our future -- "if this goes on ..."

Here's where to see the movie for yourself -- NOTE HOW YOUNG HE LOOKS compared to the picture from his website which is how he looks now.  Imagine your life "then" and "now."  And remember he was born in 1924.  He's going on 90.  What will your "backlist" look like when you're going on 90? 

Many of the shows he was in happened so long ago they aren't on IMDB.  There is one film, in particular, I'd love to have titled Frauline that starred Theo, but it doesn't turn up in google search -- it's very old.

Here's Theo's autobiography (told you he's a writer!)

I was sure I'd seen it on Kindle, but the only one I can find now is the paper edition.  *sigh* We really need an ebook edition.

I have the first edition which I got him to autograph long ago. 

Here's a quote from Kirkus Reviews:


"A compelling life, taking Bikel from pre–World War II Eastern Europe to an acting career in Israel; emigration to England after the war, training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and initial success in British theater and film; a leap to the Broadway stage and stardom in The Sound of Music; productive years as a Hollywood character actor; a new career as a folksinger in the late1950s; then several decades of activism, as president of Actors’ Equity and a prominent figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements."—Kirkus Reviews
---------------END QUOTE---------------

If you're planning a career -- not just "I want to get my book published," but "I want to make a living as a writer," you need to read dozens of such biographies before planning your life.

But this one is particularly interesting when compared to Allan Cole's life. 

Theo was born in 1924, barely escaped annihilation in the war, spent time learning acting in England and lived in Israel before it was "Israel" officially (again), and in Paris where he learned Russian gypsy songs.

Look at both of these careers as the relentless application of the need to communicate, regardless of the technological means at hand.  Each time, during these chronicled decades, these documented decades of history, that technology or life-circumstance changed, each man grabbed hold of what was available and poured "message" into the "speaking tube" between himself and his audience.

Allan Cole tells of how he just fell into screenwriting while trying to launch a novel career, and considers himself a novelist who sometimes writes for screen. 

I didn't know this when I started writing this post, but trading comments with Allan Cole on his Facebook Group, I mentioned Theo Bikel and here's what Allan Cole said:

Allan Cole Theodore Bikel! Fabulous actor, and dedicated supporter of worthy causes. First time I saw him was when he played one of the Nazi officers who captured Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen. Talk about being totally opposite the character you're playing. Now, that's acting. Followed him closely his entire career.
---------END QUOTE--------

In case you don't know the film, here it is, and you can rent it on Amazon for $2.99 to watch streaming instantly (see, that's what I mean by a changing world - some of the really oldest material is still available.  Plan your career accordingly.  Don't put out anything you're going to be ashamed of later. 

Read about Theo, and you'll always find an acoustical guitar around in his life somewhere.  He still plays acoustic guitar (and very well, too!).  When he had no work as an actor, he was singing at parties -- not even getting paid to do it -- way into the wee hours.  Today his voice is as deep, resonant and strong as ever. 

There's an energy inside these people that just pours out, and like water, finds a channel somewhere. 

Is that you?

Is that what you're like?  Is what you do who you are? 

Then check out the arc of technology into the future, such as we can see it today.

If civilization holds together long enough, we will see over the next few decades how technology will change our civilization at its roots, just as the printing press did. 

The way we communicate, and with whom we communicate, has changed.  All this "social networking" stuff is more like the moving type concept added to the printing press concept.  It's a furbish added on top of the internet, a refinement.

And there will be more such innovations, just as there came newspapers, magazines, color printing, paperback novels, the Ace Doubles novels, radio drama, TV drama.

And here we are, with these people whose lives are all about communicating, who are now "accessible" on the web -- and look at that concert venue!  I've been to many concerts, but that was the closest I've been to a stage. 

Oh, there was one unforgettable experience I had in Las Vegas one time I was passing through and spent some time at Circus Circus -- just happened to luck into sitting almost right under the net looking up at a flying act, dust from the net falling into my eyes.  NEVER been so close (and these guys were the world-famous sort who perform for Ringling).  Circus has been one of my primary hobbies for a long time, so it was a glamorous moment, yes, but instructive in so many other ways. 

So yes, life delivers a few of these moments when you can "make contact" with a performer.

But consider being the performer.

Writing is a performing art.  What does it take to keep performing regardless of the twists and turns  of the technology of your delivery channel?  Do you have that? 

You see, the trick is to know that you don't "change yourself" -- or your art or your product -- to fit changing times.  You draw upon the raw material you collected growing up, and shape that material to fit the currently available channels for output. 

In the 1950's, when television was new, singers took their record hits from record-store sales and radio, and performed them on TV.  Elvis Presley was a "discovery" on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (a variety show, recycling stage performances to TV.

Performers had to adapt to "the small screen."  Red Skelton is another name you should look up for a media-evolution spanning career study. 

I saw in the popularity of a weekly half-hour show called The Hit Parade the earliest origins of, believe it or not, videogaming.

The Hit Parade was just the biggest selling recorded singers/songs of the week -- and that was pre-vinyl when records were breakable.  The show actually spanned the transition to the 45RPM (those little records with the big holes.) 

It was "The Lucky Strike Hit Parade" -- it had only one sponsor, the cigarette brand Lucky Strike.  Despite loving the show, I never became a smoker.

What did I see in that televised show of singers standing at a mike on a stage just singing songs you heard on the radio?  I saw THE MUSIC VIDEO -- and then they invented the music video!

But when I saw Music Videos take off as an artform, I saw videogames -- interactiving games.

When I saw interactive videogames take off, I saw all kinds of things that are only now becoming part of our lives (such as actual pilot training done by simulator, and drone planes used for various purposes controlled remotely).  I wasn't the only one to project these developments.  SF writers poured out more visions of futures than will ever happen.

Speaking of changing media, here's another item I found posted on Allan Cole's facebook Group.
Allan Cole
Curtains for cursive? Typing replaces handwriting in schools
Keyboards continue their slow march to domination, overthrowing pens and pencils in schools across the nation. Read this article by Amanda Kooser on CNET.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
I've heard so many talking about this. I'm going to put this in that January blog post where I'm recommending writing students study the careers of Allan Cole and Theo Bikel. It's about anticipating media changes in the future. The new 007 movie, which I haven't seen, is reputed to have little in the way of imaginative, astonishing gadgetry we've never thought of before - but good chase scenes. Life in the arts is all about CHANGE -- I'm expecting videogames and music video artforms to converge soon.
---------END QUOTE -------------- 

I still think the music-video and video-game artforms (think about smartphones!) are on a collision course and will be the foundation of new artforms designed for new distribution technology that will carry the stories of the future.  The evolution will follow something similar to what we've seen in the graphic novel (which is one of the most exciting things happening!)

And remember it's all about COST vs. PRICE.  Business model.  That's the key to a long career.

Now, remember when you were 10 years old?  15?  What was life like then? 

Think about what life will be 60 years later.

Consider the shortening intervals between culture-shifting innovations in communications and travel technology.  500 years from Guttenberg to 1955 -- overlapping in there radio, TV, and computers, -- Star Trek and the internet overlapping development -- the web coming from European origin then overlapping, setting fire to inventions, and now web radio from around the world, and Web TV.

We've seen more real change in how we live in the last 50 years than in the previous 500.

Where will we be 50 years from now?  Consider 2012 saw the first real evidence that there really is such a thing as the "Higgs Boson" -- the "God Particle" that is the medium or origin of gravity, and thus possibly the key to interstellar travel.

Will we find the "particle" responsible for "time?" 

How could that change how you entertain your customers? 

What basic skills that I've been pointing you toward will you need 50 years from now?  How many of these story-structure skills will be useful to you then?  How much effort should you put into developing those skills?

Think about Theodore Bikel's voice training in England -- read his autobiography!   He tells "stories" in song.  That's what folksongs are -- little vignettes, stories encapsulated for transmission through the generations.  The Bible is a SONG -- ever heard it sung?  It's a SONG!!!  Look how long that's lasted.  The acoustic guitar -- that's a descendent of the lyre that King David (who wrote most of the songs sung in The Temple now available as the Book of Psalms, part of the Bible in many printings.)  Songs have structure.

Think about Allan Cole's experiences in the military.  Martial arts is often called poetry in motion.

Novels and feature films tell stories with a structure -- derived from life itself. 

What have you got that's similar to what these men with long, variegated careers had when they started? 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Character Simulator in Our Brains

Here’s a new Cory Doctorow column that really grabbed me. It’s about the creation of characters and why the good ones seem real to readers (and even to the writers who invent them):

Where Characters Come From

Doctorow suggests that all our brains contain “a little built-in simulator in which we run miniature copies of all the people in our lives.” These mental “copies” allow us to predict the behavior of others and thereby interact with them effectively. For people we’ve just met, the “avatar” in our mind is like a “crude stick figure” incorporating stereotyped impressions, just enough to get by in the standard situations where we’re likely to encounter that person. The better we get to know someone, the more depth the mental copy acquires and the better we can predict the real person’s behavior. “The simulator also contains dead people”—so we can imagine the reactions of loved ones who are no longer physically present in our lives. From that point, it’s a short step to spawning individuals who never existed in the physical world at all. “You and your simulator collaborate to create your imaginary people.”

Read the article for Doctorow’s concept of how character creation sets up a “feedback loop” that results in characters coming “to life” for the writer. Ideally, they come to life for readers, too, to the extent of evoking the same physiological responses caused by real-life fear, sadness, and excitement. These imaginary people may even continue to live in the reader’s mind after the end of the book. Hence the fanfic impulse, which Doctorow thinks is not a bad thing: “If fanfic is a sign that your characters were successfully transplanted from your head to someone else’s, you’d be nuts to want to undo that. . . . If you don’t want your people to live in other peoples’ heads, you shouldn’t set out to put them there.”

It’s nice to know I’m not crazy because I have such intense emotional responses to women, men, children, and other creatures made entirely of ink or pixels.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Business Model of Writers In A Changing World

I've been inserting posts in this blog about the Writer's Business Model for years.  Here's one of many:

The thesis I learned from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock decades ago is now a constantly growing reality for writers -- as a writer you are self-employed and a "small business."  Well, micro-business.  But a business none-the-less.

So I've also done posts on Marketing -- about which I really know nothing and have no education in that field.  But I keep running into people with marketing expertise and learning from them.

I just had a writing student self-publish an item and come back to me bewildered about why 3 readers commented in public that they were disappointed, couldn't relate to the main character.

The writer felt the book was terrible.  I counter-argued that the marketing was terrible -- the particular readers who thought from the blurb that they'd like the book did not like it because they couldn't relate to the main character.  If the marketing targeted readers who could relate to that character, the readers would not be wailing out their disappointment.  That's really how it works.  Markets are divided by what kinds of characters they can relate to.

The same plot told from a different character's point of view could grab that audience. 

There are rules for picking a protagonist, and I've detailed them in prior posts.  But self-publishing is all about business model -- and the choice of protagonist is all about business model.

The business of writing is, however, still in massive flux.  The audiences are changing faster than publishing can keep up. 

Here is another take on the theories I'm kicking around, looking for how this all will settle out. 

I've been blogging for some time about the WRITER'S BUSINESS MODEL constructed on shifting sands.

Only new, small, startup, Indie with no baggage, NIMBLE companies can do the kind of things required by the new audiences.  As a new writer, or an older writer going Indie, you have a chance  nobody before you has had.

One important point to remember: release on many platforms  not just Amazon or B&N or Smashwords (which reaches a lot) -- reach for wide availability, and plan to add platforms and outlets as the appear (remembering they will disappear, too). 

I blogged on the state of TV fiction, noting the increasing # of commercials and the disappearance even of REPEATS -- how there are vast stretches on hundreds of channels (I did a lot of flipping and channel surfing)  -- showing the shrinking market for TV fiction while netflix, hulu, Amazon and others are grabbing "content" to stream.

The title is WHERE IS EVERYBODY? because I saw a huge lacuna in the TV broadcast fiction flow.   People who schedule TV and sell commercial time (I've known some) know when there's audience and when not!  I don't.  But I know they put stuff in front of eyeballs, and if they can't find eyeballs they don't put the stuff there.

I argued in that post that my observations showed a massive shift in habits of the viewing public.

I've done a series of blog posts starting in December 2012 focusing on the origin, development, and effect of PR into modern "Marketing" (i.e. commercial advertising) with lots more to say about that, and how an Indie writer can exploit that trend.  I've learned a lot from examining this current election cycle.

THEME-PLOT INTEGRATION is the series title for those.  There will be a few more in that series later.

Here's PART 4 with links to prior parts.

I thought I was the only one to see what I was seeing in bits and pieces I could glean from TV and online ads about the election.

But one of the foremost media personalities with a track record in POLLING has (in disgust because he was oh-so-wrong) spat out the exact observation I (without the expensive input sources he has) made!

Here's his article on it (note the disgust he evidences - the confused distress in the semantics).

Billions spent on TV ads literally made no difference in people's political opinions.

What's astonishing to me is that I knew this before the billions went to TV ads, and he (who has all the info I don't have) didn't know it.  Can that be true?  Really?  I seriously doubt it.  He ran an internet campaign to collect millions to spend on political ads and spent it.  Many other organizations did the same.  It wasn't unpaid volunteer work.  People got paid to write and produce those ads, to market-test them, to track the statistics, oh a lot of people made a living from those millions that had nothing to do with educating voters. 

Note in this discussion that nobody spends money like that on ads selling books.  Even a blockbuster movie doesn't get ad-blitz coverage like that.  Fiction isn't profitable to advertise -- that's the only firm conclusion I know of.  The few book commercials I've seen have been sparsely distributed.  Today book trailers go up on YouTube and get distributed via social networks -- not TV.  Cost-effectiveness is the reason. 

Ad resistance is heartening to me because I see how TV ads have manipulated people into self-destructive behavior, and it seems while I wasn't paying attention, the trend has reversed.

It's dismaying because all the other evidence I have indicates people are just as amenable to self-destructive behavior as ever because they can't see fallacies in other people's reasoning because (many people in education have told me) of the lack of elementary school training in basic reasoning. 

As I've pointed out in my series on Theme-Plot Integration, a writer who can identify and define a popular fallacy can sell a lot of fiction using that insight.  Critical thinking is now a marketable commodity.  Think about that! 

Note that the fallacies I'm pointing out in the Theme-Plot integration series that writers can use are not about "fact-checking" (though that's a fertile field to plow).  The facts behind a fallacy may or may not be solid -- it's the conclusion that's fallacious.

I see in the gaming community a glimmer of light. 

Here is a group that is training mind-and-hand to not fall for specious tricks for the benefit of the tricker to the detriment of the trickee. 

Some of my most popular blog entries here are

and this one with over 1500 views:

Those are about TV shows which focus on armoring viewers against con artist's tricks (i.e. advertising). 

The fragmentation of audiences into different media (which left that silent hole in TV Fiction as I surveyed it during a period between "seasons" ) could be the counter to the whole thing of controlling the world by creating herd behavior. is a beacon of real hope here, as is the whole social media trend.  Indie self-publishing ebook industry is coming along.  Amazon is making FEATURE FILMS!!!

People want to do what they want to do when and where they want to do it with whatever they happen to have at hand, and no back-sass.  

People just won't deal with barriers like DRM.

However it may seem to outsiders, this behavior is not capriciousness or whim, it's the drive to a self-chosen goal.

What audiences have at hand these days is a smartphone.  Various tablets likewise.  There are platform wars going on by those whose business model requires proprietary control of their product.  People just won't STAND FOR THAT.

So create your business model to cater to those who WON'T STAND FOR THAT.

Provide them a product that delivers the pleasure hit of a world where "I DON'T HAVE TO STAND FOR THAT!"  And a life-model that shows how to stand independently within a bonded cooperative partnership -- where the partnership doesn't have to stand for that!

The success of C. J. Cherryh's FOREIGNER series is real evidence that I'm onto something here.

If you haven't been reading that, get #1 and work through it in numerical order.  It's a series of trilogies, all about the same Main (POV) Character, telling his personal STORY -- but as he becomes a mover and shaker in a giant, multicultural environment.  C. J. Cherryh is one of the best writers working today -- and this particular series is lightly laced with alien romance -- which you just don't see unless you know it's there.  Sex is "go to black" and use your imagination.  But the Relationship, the intimate personal relationship between human and alien is what drives the plot. 

The aliens live in a world where "herd" creatures evolved to human levels (maybe beyond), but their "herd" instincts are different from anything on earth --- yet somewhat similar. 

The human "herd" works the opposite of earth's animal herd -- we don't follow a leader.  We all make individual decisions and if others make the same decision (usually for different reasons) -- we all SEEM TO RUN IN THE SAME DIRECTION -- but that's not what's happening. 

Working with that in this changing world where what appeared to be a human herd (as detailed in the Theme-Plot Integration posts on fallacy spotting) can reach a very wide audience among those who JUST WON'T STAND FOR THAT (whatever 'that' may be in your novel).  And toss in an alien civilization trying to puzzle out humans, and you can really confuse the aliens, getting a lot of mileage out of one thematic premise.  C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner universe is a grand example.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg