Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 6 - Use of Media Headlines

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 6
Use of Media Headlines
Jacqueline Lichtenberg







And here we are at Part 6.  Remember the posts that have two skills and the word "Integration" in the title are advanced writing lessons - more a "meta" level of study, a study about a study.  We are examining in slow motion -- sometimes excruciatingly slow motion -- what happens inside a writer's mind before the flash of "inspiration" that causes the shout, "I've got an IDEA!" 

That level, before the idea surfaces, is usually where the beginner's fatal mistakes are made.  Errors made at that "before the idea" level of writing craft are un-fixable, which is the reason so many writing textbooks insist you must write a million words for the garbage can before you will turn out anything remotely publishable. 

If you want to build a fictional world -- no matter how close to this one or how "fantasy fraught" and far away from this one -- START here.

"Here" is right here in your reader's everyday reality.

Every work of fiction is a journey for the reader, up and away, out and away, far and away, to someplace or somewhen else than where they normally live.

That's both the enchantment and the value of fiction-reading -- an adventure into a point of view that is so different from normal, everyday reality that you can return to your work-a-day world and view it with new eyes.  You get the same effect from an expensive vacation!  You return to a world forever changed! 

That's what a writer provides to a reader that is worth the price of the book. 

So how do you do that?  What's the mechanism? 

It's very much like stage-magic.  Once you know the "trick" it isn't a trick anymore.

If you're "just" a reader (hey, guys, we need readers!), then you may not want to read this series of blog posts about how it's done.  On the other hand, sometimes knowing the trick enhances the effect. 

So look back over the previous 5 parts of this sequence on integrating Theme and Worldbuilding -- and you will find a lot of mentions of the use of "misnomer" as a dramatic device.

The misnomer is extremely powerful when used on "readers" (people who gravitate toward absorbing the written word as a way of having fun) because the reader is very verbally oriented in the way they conceptualize ideas.

Today, more young people are being trained to absorb concepts and ideas from images rather than the linear method of one word after another.

A picture is worth a thousand words, you know -- and nowhere is that more evident than in media such as the graphic novel.


...is 321 pages of linear text

...is about 120 pages of pictures with balloon-dialogue snippets and barely scratches the surface of the contents of the linear text of the first volume in this shapeshifter/werewolf/romance series.

And the text novel has a sequel, too --

Which is described nicely as: Mated to werewolf Charles Cornick, the son -and enforcer -of the leader of the North American werewolves, Anna Latham now knows how dangerous being a werewolf is, especially when a werewolf opposes Charles and his father is struck down. Charles's reputation makes him the prime suspect, and the penalty for the crime is execution. Now Anna and Charles must combine their talents to hunt down the real killer -or Charles will take the fall.

And it really is that good!  Patricia Briggs is an excellent writer, toying with the outer edges of human/animal sexuality. 

So the misnomer is a technique that is most powerful in text, true, but has its applications to the "story in pictures" format used in film and in graphic novels.

Now let's think about how a writer, creating a fictional world, can use Media Headlines to draw pictures in words using the misnomer.

Remember, the theme-worldbuilding integration technique is of most value where you must condense the story into fewer words.  Today's published novels tend to run long -- writers trained to be succinct are having a very hard time expanding their stories to the necessary length.  But that trend will reverse as it always does.

Being a "professional" writer means being able to fulfill whatever requests an editor (who is getting requests, even demands, from the bean counters wearing suits) might toss out.  So the same story that occurs to the writer after reading a headline can be tailored to fit whatever constraints an editor with a budget needs fitted.

By using a HEADLINE -- perhaps glimpsed in passing by a character in your story, or perhaps about one of the characters in the story -- you can evoke IMAGES in your reader's mind, even though you are working in linear text.

And when you use such images, you can reduce the number of words -- i.e. the amount of printing space -- necessary to print your book.

So here's an interesting headline from last November that evokes thoughts of industrial espionage, always a fertile ground for both worldbuilding and plotting.


The Curious Case of Samsung's Missing TVs

It's a news story about some crates packed up with TV's inside, not-yet-marketed state of the art TV's, big industrial secret technology, that arrived at a trade show without said TV inside the crates.

The article speculates that a rival company might want such a TV to reverse engineer the new technology - steal a march on Samsung.

Who knows?  Who cares?  We're writers.  This is a story-idea playground of an article filled with wondrous plot twists we could use. 

But better yet, this headline is part of the everyday world of your readers, the world they want to get away from, get far enough away from to gain perspective on.

So extract the idea of industrial espionage, and look for another setting and a Romance twist to use for your story. 

And don't forget the MISNOMER technique. 

OK, here's a headline from December 2012 that might give you an idea.


Netanyahu brushes off world condemnation of settlement plans

To your potential readers, such a news article would appear to be about the politics of the Middle East and the abysmal misbehavior of one faction (the Israeli faction that is relentlessly building houses where a faction of their opposition doesn't want houses built).

Take a closer look at how that headline is phrased and ponder how you can use it.

Did you spot the misnomer?

Unless you follow Middle East politics, you probably didn't spot this because you've only seen this one story about it, or one headline or TV news clip.

The brutal fact is that Netanyahu DID NOT BRUSH OFF anything.  He's not an arrogant person, but you'd never know that from USA news coverage.  Only arrogant people (real villains) "brush off" condemnation of their actions by oppositions that have sensible objections to the actions. 

KNOWING IT, though, knowing that Netanyahu is not arrogant, you can suddenly see the dramatic potential for a really, REALLY hot "Alien Romance" brewing in this misnomer! 

He didn't "brush off" his opposition.  A third party (media) is portraying his action as a "brush off" -- carefully choosing those exact words with their semantic loading of "only a villain would do this action" in order to portray an honorable, dignified and gentle individual as an arrogant villain spoiling to be taken down.

Consider that this headline appeared during a period when Israel was in the middle of an election fight as hotly contested as the Obama-Romney contest of 2012.

When you read the headline that says X "brushed off" Y, you instantly know who is the hero and who is the villain in that interaction. 

That's the nature of all MISNOMERS -- they reverse the positions of the admirable individual and the nefarious individual.  That's what makes the technique so insidiously powerful and so perfect for a writer to employ in a novel.

Remember, the essence of story is conflict.  What conflict is better suited to alien romance than the wrenching decision of who is the Hero and who is the Villain?

This is the core of many of the most successful Regency Romances based on the triangle.  It works in Paranormal Romance particularly well -- you have a woman who falls in love with an alien, and along comes another alien who falls in love with her.  But the two aliens are enemies (for some, very good, reasons)  Now she has to sort out which is the good guy and which is the bad guy.  And sometimes LOVE by itself makes her choose to go be with the bad guy, even knowing he's the bad guy! 

The absolutely firm, unquestioning belief that THIS is the Hero and THAT is the Villain can be planted in your reader's mind by just such a subtle trick as was used in this Netanyahu headline. 

Only those who have an independent information source know he's not a villain, and even armed with that knowledge, they will doubt Netanyahu -- because only villains 'brush off' legitimate objections.

Now, take your setting out of International Politics on this Earth -- remember the headline about disappearing TV Sets -- and put this MISNOMER technique of "brushing off" into an INTERSTELLAR INDUSTRIAL ESPIONAGE ROMANCE, and your reader will have no trouble leaping into your world, falling in love with your villain and being utterly shocked to discover the real hero is the other guy.

Think of the thousand things you don't have to explain if you use real-world elements like these, think of all those words you don't have to write so that you have room for the parts you do want to write. 

You might title it: Giving Your Alien The Brush-off  -- and see where that takes you.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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