Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 10 - Use of Co-incidence in Plot

We've been discussing a contrast/compare among 3 novel series, 20 novels in all.  This post is about these books, and contains spoilers as well as opinion and a suggested "take-away" from this study.

Here is a link to Part 8 where we launched into this 20-book comparison, and Part 9 with links to them all, and the index to previous parts:



Remember, posts with "Integration" in the title put together the craft skills we've discussed singly in previous posts.

Also remember, most of this "work" is done subconsciously.  A writer telling a story wouldn't be consciously aware of doing any of this.  Those who do it as a "Talent" and get goshwows for their adroit use of these skills probably learned them just by reading eclectically, not necessarily thinking about what they were reading. 

Here's where we discussed Talent in writers:

Inborn, innate "Talent" is often signified in a natal chart by a quincunx or quindecile between outer and inner planets (fame is totally different).  We observe the results of Talent from outside the person by noting how "easily" they pick up certain skills (the child prodigy on the piano). 

Theory is that this ease of learning happens because the actual hard-slogging up the learning curve was done in a previous life, and the Soul selected that ability to be brought into this life.

Theory is that any "person" has a Soul with many-many Talents, and this person you are dealing with "now" has only a smattering of the Talents he/she has stored in their Soul.  Some of what a person has now is relevant to what they're doing in this life -- some not at all relevant. 

We "observe" the shapes of lives from the outside by reading biographies -- from the "inside" by reading autobiographies (at least the ones actually written by the person named), and by watching the people around us for the patterns we saw reading those books.

That's why a writer's best work is usually not done in their teens or twenties.  It takes many years to read enough and observe enough people to perceive the patterns scattered deeds and events create.

As you read the rest of this series of Theme-Plot Integration posts, think about an ant crawling  up one of those huge, hanging tapestries you've seen in museums, the kind women used to make to hang in drafty castles. 

You sit on a bench ten feet away or more, and gaze upon the picture with all the different, entwined figures cavorting in different settings.  You see a lot of different scenes from one side of the tapestry to another.  Then you think about the scenes and you see an entire story of a Historical Event (such as a war) or perhaps the mythological gods and goddesses whose stories carried the philosophy of that Age.

But what does that ant see?  The ant doesn't have a human eye, or a human brain.  The ant may pick up strands from the colored threads, not discerning the color differences, just that the strand supports its little feet. 

If the ant were an Artist, it would infer the pattern and run back to the next and try to explain that pattern to other ants. 

We are ants trying to discern the pattern of our lives.  (yes, I know the answer is 42.) 

That underlying PATTERN is what Art reveals.  That pattern is what writers study.

A writer will go to the mall and people-watch, just as actors do.  Just sit and watch people juggle packages and kids and scramble from store to store -- think about "who" those people are and where they are inside one of those PATTERNS.

Finding a pattern in random dots is what artists do for a hobby.  For a living, artists SHOW YOU the pattern they see. 

The most commercial story-form today is the Novel.  It has developed over more than a century and diversified at various periods into a variety of genres. 

The commercial Novel is a very specific type of Work - it is a story with very specific shapes.  Academics like the word "trope" to describe such shapes.  Those who burn with a desire to shatter the art world as they see it often refer to a trope as a "formula." 

The worse opprobrium cast upon the most highly commercial fiction is the term "formulaic."

Once a formula or trope has become well enough known to a consuming market to be identified as "formulaic,"  that particular shape is on its way out of the commercial fiction arena. 

Since we live our everyday lives amidst a turbulent sea of unrelated, even random, dots of information, Events, and tasks, we love to relax with a nice, predictable STORY we can trust to deliver as expected.

But since we live amidst those random dots, and can't see what patterns Artists see  amidst the random, we just plain don't believe fiction that we can see "through" -- that we can see a pattern in, that we can see the formula behind.

So writers spend a lot of time disguising the bare bones behind their stories, the "plot."

Just as Hollywood producers want "the same but different" so also editors want "the same but different" because viewers/readers want "the same but different."

Fiction consumers want that predictable formula, but they don't want to be able to SEE it. 

If your reader can see the bones, the formula, the PLOT, the story is not plausible.  But if your reader can find no bones, no formula, no PLOT, the story is not plausible.

In other words, there has to BE a plot, and it must be something resembling the "plots" that subsume the everyday reality of the consumer's world, but your plot has to be as invisible as the plot of your reader's real life is.

How do you make a plot, a pattern you've striven to discern in reality for years and years, into something invisible underlying your story?

You cloak your Plot in the flesh of Theme.

Just as no two human beings look identical, but all have bones, no two stories look identical but they all have a plot.

The essence of all those plots is conflict.

All novel type stories are the story of a conflict that is resolved.

And the same is true of a series of novels (or a TV Series).  Here is a conflict.  Here's how it got resolved.  Here's the resolution. 

That's the bones, the plot, the part which, if it somehow sticks out of flesh that's too lean, will disappoint or disgust readers who need the mixed-mashup of random dots that they see in real life around them. 

So let's look at the three novel series we're studying.

In Part 9 we ended up with theme sketches:

Corine Solomon is in love with a guy whose Talent is "Luck."  That has a whole backstory having to do with his parentage, but the point is that Talent and Luck (co-incidence) drives the plot of all 5 of the Corine Solomon novels.

(Alien Series) Kitty-Kat has a Talent for organizing other Talents, for leading a group of talented warriors while Luck sweeps her through personal combat, chase scenes and armed combat.  She remembers what's worked before and uses it to good effect again.  But her real Talent is for asking Question -- yes, capital Q questions, such as Kirk's "What does God need a spaceship for?"  Those are the obvious questions nobody else ever thinks of because people rely on assumptions they haven't tested when trying to solve a problem.

Sten has a Talent for surviving.  He learns the Art of War, but it isn't inherent in him.  He finally grows up enough that all he wants is to stay out of combat situations.  But he's living a Destiny, so the harder he tries to avoid combat, the worse the combat gets.  His Talent doesn't help him get out of his Destiny, which he can't even see coming -- any more than you can see a tornado coming until it's too late.

Perhaps the overall theme of the Sten Series is that forging the path to your destiny must inevitably affect, deflect, or inflect the paths of others toward their destinies. 

--------end quote--------

The Corine Solomon novels by Ann Aguirre are action/romance with paranormal dimensions added.  They are essentially Romance, with a main character (Corine) who starts out striving for independence and loving being independent -- but galled by the boyfriend she is separated from.

The PLOT is basically, an Independent Woman perfectly satisfied with being independent, pursuant to her own code of Honor, helps those who help her.  In so doing, she rescues her boyfriend from (literally) beyond Death and marries him. 

They separated basically over his Luck -- terrible trouble would strike, followed by harrowing, heart-stopping adventure, narrow misses, and escape.  It was a life-pattern she couldn't stand and he couldn't stand inflicting on her.  She, too, has a paranormal talent - she can touch an object and read it's history.  She applies that Talent to earn a living in antiques.  But then she gets mixed up in (by "sheer co-incidence") Mexican gangland wars, and the harder she tries the worse it gets (by ever more improbable co-incidences).  Co-incidence, happenstance, and luck drive the problems into her path.  She solves those problems by repeated applications of "doing the right thing regardless of the odds" and (by co-incidence) Wins (temporarily.) 

Corine is a problem-solver by nature, and views each of the disasters that befalls her as a problem to be solved.  At the end of the final book,  Agave Kiss, she rescues her boyfriend/lover from beyond Death (he's a half-breed son of a god, so when he dies his father tries to make him into a working god).  This is an application of the plot-bones of mythical stories -- they always work in fiction.  And in the process she gives up her original Talent, so now she can't read objects.  He proposes in a romantic setting smacking of the opening sequences. 

In the final Corine Solomon novel, the author Ann Aguirre (on twitter https://twitter.com/MsAnnAguirre  )  mentions that she didn't think her editor had confidence in her ability to bring the series to the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending required for the "trope" or formula, but here it is and it is an HEA.  Yes, indeed it is exactly that.  Corine Solomon got what she wanted (even needed) even though she didn't know in the beginning of the series that this was what she had to have. 

Because of the paranormal dimensions involved in the worldbuilding, the Corine Solomon Novels are a good example of how to use co-incidence in plotting and produce something other-worldly that resembles our everyday lives. 

The ALIEN SERIES by Gini Koch is a bit more than a Romance. 

The 7th Alien Series novel comes out this month, May 2013, and Gini says on twitter (  http://twitter.com/GiniKoch ) she has contracts through book 11 with plans for more beyond that.  So it's hard to sum up right now, but let's try.

It doesn't END with the marriage to an Alien, but goes on to challenge that marriage, beget a child, and change the world that child will grow up within (with the infant's Talents helping). 

In that, it resembles the Sten Series more closely than it does the Corine Solomon series.  The two series are about an existing "order of things" that is challenged by introduction of a New Element, with the resulting instability resolved by a Hero (Kitty Kat or Sten) who "does the right thing regardless" just as Corine Solomon does. 

The setting for the Alien Series is Earth plus one other Planetary System inhabited by Aliens, and a backdrop of a galaxy out there somewhere (filled with threats). 

The Plot of the Alien Series might be stated as "Woman who thinks she's an ordinary human who doesn't believe in co-incidence just by co-incidence walks into a battle between Aliens resident on Earth and Aliens inimical to the well-being of Earth, and completely by "accident" wins the battle and the undying love of one of the Aliens resident on Earth.  She keeps on doing the right thing, which includes fixing up the world to be hospitable for her child." 

Kitty Kat's Talent for asking the obscurely obvious Questions is a result of her disbelief in co-incidence.  She keeps trying to connect the dots of her life into a Pattern, absolutely sure there is a pattern there somewhere.  And she keeps finding those patterns where nobody else can find them.  She acts on the pattern she sees, and "co-incidence" and "luck" pursue her.

A theme can be discerned by connecting those bits of co-incidence.  Let's look at the Sten Series.  There are 8 novels extant, and on the fanfiction blog-post (once a year, on Empire Day) Allan Cole has posted a possible opening chapter for Book 9. 


STEN starts with a young boy, child of indentured servants (slaves really) on a high-tech manufacturing Space Station.  He sees the life his parents live (and die in) and where the kids of other parents likewise indentured live, and every cell in his body says NO! 

Sten defects, fights the system, grows to maturity as a "rat in the walls" of the Station, fighting every step of the way.  Eventually, the station is invaded by representatives of The Eternal Emperor, and Sten "is rescued" because of his fighting prowess -- and sheerest, dumbest, purebred and insane LUCK.  Absolute co-incidence changes his life as he participates (using his hard-won skills as a wall-rat) in the combat between the Station owner and the Emperor's Representative (very similar to the kickoff Event of the Alien Novels). 

The writing rule is that you can use CO-INCIDENCE to kick off a plot, to start a story, -- happenstance and accident (i.e. Uranus transits) often change our life-direction so it's plausible that trouble comes via co-incidence, because that's generally how it seems to us in our "reality."

But from a writer's point of view, it isn't random dots.  Co-incidences and accidents "happen" because of some inherent, intrinsic, basic, unknown-to-ourselves, trait we hold within our innermost psyche.  It is our Soul ramming through into external Reality, that "creates a stirring in The Force" -- that moves the currents of Time And Space -- that somehow effects the random Events like a magnet attracting filings, and brings "things" into our lives that disrupt existing patterns.

Consider the axiom: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. 

That is a pithy saying, an adage, a bit of Wisdom of the Ages (has a basis in Kabbalah, as the Light of Good attracts the klippot for a perfectly Good reason), and it's more than irony or pessimism. 

Somehow, the sum total of all our generations observing "life" has distilled this bit of wit from random Events.  No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

There is a relationship between what you DO and what HAPPENS TO YOU, but it is not cause/effect.  There's no way to game the system, or bribe G-d. 

You could say (theme is a philosophy) that no bad deed goes unrewarded. 

There are tons of self-help books about Why Good Things Happen To Bad People, or vice-versa.

It's not "cause/effect" which is the basis of all Science, but it's not Random either. 

There is a pattern -- some call it "poetic justice."  What goes around comes around.  As you sow; so shall  you reap. 

There's a reason the ancients developed the idea of "The Music of the Spheres."  The universe we live in can be described by mathematics, and so can music.  Poetry and music thrum within us all, so when we see a plot "come full circle" as songs and poems do, finishing what was started on the same "note" -- we feel satisfied, vindicated, safe in our comprehension of our reality. 

Ancient Greek and Roman fiction is filled with tales of Destiny, Fate, mighty Heroes fighting with their gods (mostly losing in the end).  Those civilizations were based on "you can't win" but our civilization is based on David and Goliath, and "The Bigger They Are The Harder They Fall."  We champion the Little Guy, and the Little Guy wins -- that's poetic justice to us.

Sten is a Little Guy who at first gives his innocent loyalty to The Eternal Emperor, finally gets to meet the Emperor in person and see him as a rather ordinary seeming Being, smart but not infallible. 

In the typical Uranus transit, we assert ourselves, our most true-to-self core identity comes roaring out into the world with massive amounts of built up energy behind it.  (here's an index to posts on Astrology Just For Writers)


So Sten's desire for freedom comes exploding out of him when the oppressive Establishment that basically consumed his parents, is under attack by a larger, unseen and not-understood by him, authority.  Using all the skills and tools he's developed over years, he gets himself caught up in a CONFLICT between the Emperor and one of the Emperor's (apparently) Loyal Subjects -- between the Emperor and the corruption that the Emperor's governing style allows to suppurate. 

That corruption (the indentured servitude thing) has shaped Sten's personality, drive, ambition and view of reality, as well as his Values.  He has a lot to learn, but what he learned before his rescue is what eventually generates his ultimate response to the Emperor's behavior. 

Having been rescued, he willingly gives his loyalty to The Emperor (well, The Empire), and becomes a soldier, then a member of an Elite Service.  He climbs the ladder to high command and even to Ambassador speaking for the Emperor -- but by that time, it's a very changed Emperor. 

Sten grew up rejecting the oppressive regime of a slaver, and now discovers -- very slowly over the millennia, the Eternal Emperor has slowly been deteriorating.  The current reincarnation of the Emperor is not the man Sten first met -- this one is insane, a mad dictator worse than the slaver who killed Sten's parents.

This Empire sprawls over so many galaxies, is peopled by so many Beings, that the picture Sten must find amidst the random dots is very blurry.  Remember that ant crawling on the tapestry we mentioned above?  That's Sten -- trying to understand The Empire, and what has happened to The Eternal Emperor -- and why it's all gone bad.

Sten's path from wall-rat to Emperor's Nemesis appears, point by point, assignment by assignment, to be a Random Walk -- a path of co-incidence, chance, and luck.

And in so appearing, that path states the overall theme of the Sten Series.

What is that theme?  Well, I don't know and I doubt even the authors Chris Bunch and Allan Cole, actually know for sure.  I think though, that Allan Cole has a very good idea of what it is saying.

As I see Sten's Path -- it says that we all bear the seeds of our destruction within us.  We scatter those seeds and sometimes it takes so long for our seeds to germinate, grow, and bear fruit that comes hunting us that we don't recognize our destruction when it comes back at us.  But it comes from within.

That is not a theme unique to The Sten Series; rather it is a technique all great writers use to replicate in fiction the pattern of life we observe from our eyes, (as the ant on the tapestry.)

The deep subconscious conflicts within your main character generate the Plot Events outside that character, the Events that cause him Joy and Sorrow, Elation and Grief. 

The antagonist, the Nemesis, of a character is the reflection of the character's deepest unconscious.

Sten's unconscious was "programmed" because of his origin as a slave's child, to need to destroy Authority. 

He fought to free himself of oppression (mid-series he "retires" to an idyllic world he has earned enough to buy, and nearly goes crazy because there's no oppression to fight any more), and gave himself to a bigger, more elaborately disguised by random-dots oppressor, the Eternal Emperor.

All along the path, Sten fought to free others of oppression, to serve freedom, to make the Empire a better place, and so his skills (gained as a wall-rat) generated miraculous wins that catapulted him on a meteoric rise to the Emperor's good graces.

But the velocity of that rise (the sheer Uranus/Aquarius Power for Freedom), made him an Individual (Uranus) to the Emperor -- and that velocity itself could only be seen as a threat to the Emperor who had lost his own sense of Individuality, his own sense of uniqueness (Uranus). 

Uranus rules accidents.  And individuality.  And Aquarius -- The Age of Aquarius. 

And this is where the themes of the Corine Solomon novels, the Alien novels, and the Sten novels resonate harmoniously, different instruments in the same orchestra playing the same symphony.  Art. 

Corine Solomon is Fantasy, the Alien novels blend Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Sten is just Science Fiction.  Yet they're all made of the same thematic stuff.

We might term that stuff Co-incidence, or Luck, or Destiny. 

The heroic plot is crafted from the thematic substance of how the Individual projects the Self onto the substance of reality, crafts the world in which he lives.

The exterior World you build around your character to cradle them and display them (as a jeweler displays a diamond on black velvet) is molded from the subconscious of your character.

Whether that truly reflects how our real world works, how life works, or not, is irrelevant to the Art underlying story-craft.  It is how we SEE the lives people around us live.

We see people get their comeuppance -- oh, not right away, to be sure, but get it they do.

But we don't see what happens to ourselves as our own comeuppance.  At least, not the first few times it happens. 

Maturity might be defined as the ability to see how you deserve what happens to you, so that when something you don't deserve happens to you, you know for sure that you didn't deserve it.

In that clarity of knowing the difference between what he deserves and does not deserve, in his maturity, Sten decides he must take down the Eternal Emperor.  This Destiny has chosen him. 

And so Sten turns and stops running from the bald fact that the Emperor is now no different from the owner of the slave-factory space station where he grew up.  And Sten takes him down. 

The Sten Series is not a Romance with an inevitable and obvious Happily Ever After.  It's not about finding a Soul Mate -- it's about first finding the Freedom (Uranus) from tyranny (Saturn) that will allow Sten to be able to notice and identify his Soul Mate. 

The Corine Solomon Series, the Alien Series, and the Sten Series all have that one Plot element in common, Co-incidence that is NOT REALLY CO-INCIDENTAL.

The co-incidences and luck that beset the Main Character arises from the Main Character's own character, mostly subconscious. 

Their world arranges itself to challenge them to grow and mature into someone who can surmount one final challenge and achieve an objective. 

Originally a Hero was a half-god/half-human Being who could do things normal humans can't (Hercules), but who shared human foibles, faults and were subject to the whims of the gods.  They usually fought the gods and their destiny.

Today a Hero is a human who comes to do something he/she couldn't do before - who matures into a more powerful Being by meeting challenges to their weakest spots.

Very often they die during this process.  But sometimes they survive maimed, with new challenges to overcome. 

These 20 novels are stories of how a Hero matures.  The theme they share is that of co-incidence arising apparently in response to a Hero's actions/feelings/movement.  The plots are crafted from how the Hero creates co-incidences-to-order without having a clue that they're doing that.

These 20 novels are extremely hard to analyze for a distinction between Theme and Plot because the themes and the plots are fully integrated.  Only the author can know, and usually it's better that they don't know. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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