Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 9 - Use of Co-incidence in Plot

Here is a link to Part 8 of this Series and to the index to previous Theme-Plot Integration posts:



On Google+, I belong to a "Community" run by Deborah Teramis Christian for people who "write" (build) Games that people play in alternate universes, created worlds.

As you know from my long, involved discussions of worldbuilding, it is a topic that I think Romance Writers haven't approached with enough focused concentration until just recently.

As Science Fiction and Paranormal Romance blend, writers have had to pay more attention to the process of how science fiction "worlds" are created.

Until recently, only Historical Romance delved deep into the details -- such as the names of articles of clothing, the years different historical characters spent in the same city (where there might have been an illegitimate child conceived who might have affected events later).

Today, Romance writers are exploring the stars, meeting alien species, finding interesting relationships and might-have-beens.  And so the process of extrapolating our current world into the future has become of great interest to Romance writers.

I have three huge series -- huge in the size of the books, huge in the size of the sales, and huge in the importance of what they say -- to point you to as we launch into a contrast/compare and reverse-engineering exercise. 

But first, here's a beginner's work on Worldbuilding you should take a look at. 

Next we come to a 5 book series by Anne Aguirre, titled the Corine Solomon Novels:

Blue Diablo, Hell Fire, Shady Lady, Devil's Punch, and Agave Kiss are the titles.

Corine Solomon

I talked about Anne Aguirre here:



You might call the Corine Solomon novels "Urban Fantasy" -- but there is an excursion into another dimension (or two), many mysteries, and a gorgeous Love Triangle involving not-quite-human and Magically Gifted human.  The 5 novels form one long story told from a nice, tight single point of view, that of Corine Solomon.  And it is her story. 

I highly recommend all of Anne Aguirre's titles because she has a firm grip on how to structure this kind of novel, and an ability to portray the extremely "dark" without forcing you to accept a world view where there is absolutely no light. 

I particularly love Aguirre's Sirantha Jax Series.

Look over the Corine Solomon novels and if you've read them, view them as a whole, integrated "work."  Note how it is one character's "story."  Note the beginning, middle, and end "beats" of each novel -- then the overall structure of the set taken together.  Note the pacing.  Now particularly note how Aguirre replicates The Hero's Journey for Corine Solomon.  Then note how Corine has, by the end of the first quarter of each novel, four or five (sometimes 6) problems to solve.  Then note what Aguirre reveals about Corine's thinking about solving those problems. 

Note the inner dialogue Corine holds with herself about her problems.  See where she's focusing her attention, and how she defines the problems.  Each novel starts with a list of problems, and ends with those problems solved -- giving rise to more problems, true, but for the moment, a triumph.  Note how those problem-sets are constructed at the beginning to appear insoluble, and how each problem when solved brings in the tools to solve the next.

Note what Corine Solomon is thinking when she picks out a problem to tackle first.

It's always a decision made on the basis of what is RIGHT -- what's the right thing to do, or at the very least, what is the least-wrong choice.  What problem has to wait (and get worse) while this more urgent one is tackled?  And there is always the possibility that Corine will not survive to tackle the next problem on her list, but she doesn't dwell on that.  She throws all her personal resources into doing the right thing right now.  That is the essence of the Hero who goes on a Hero's Journey. 

Blake Snyder in SAVE THE CAT! has analyzed vast numbers of blockbuster films showing you how the Hero has to acquire about 6 problems as you lay pipe into the story.  Aguirre uses that structure, and it's one reason she can turn out so many novels so quickly, and all of them resonate with her readers.  She knows the structure, she knows the story she wants to tell, and she just plows on through arranging the details of her world to support that story. 

Now consider Gini Koch's Action-SF-Romance Urban Fantasy (sort of) series ALIEN.

ALIEN is much more precisely Romance, but has a lot of combat and battle scenes.  The problems that come at the Hero (Kitty-Kat) on the Hero's Journey to an HEA are more of the Enemy Aliens Attacking and Alien-Allies Need Help type.  The motivation that energizes Kitty-Kat most often is to attain and preserve a loving, peaceful and happy environment.  She takes the role of a warrior protecting her world. 

Remember, in my previous mentions of Gini's ALIEN SERIES I've pointed out that they need line-cutting.  That's a process of eliminating the words that don't say anything, don't advance the plot or explicate the theme.  Usually that's about 20% of the words in a semi-final draft.  Very often, at least for me when I do it on my own work, the manuscript doesn't get any shorter, but the end result is that all the words say something.  This is a stylistic thing.

You can see the style difference by comparing a chapter of one of the Aguirre novels with one of the Koch novels.  It's not that one is "superior" to the other, but that a professional writer should have mastery of all styles and techniques, and choose the one appropriate to the Art behind the work. 

The titles are Touched by an Alien, Alien Tango, Alien in the Family, Alien Proliferation, Alien Diplomacy, Alien vs Alien, and Alien in the House (May 2013). 

Alien Series

I talked a bit about Gini Koch's Alien Series in these posts:



Both these series focus on Romance disrupted by Action, where the Action is the obstacle to be overcome and the Relationship is the goal. 

Because this is our kind of stuff, we have a hard time seeing how it's put together so we can replicate the effect.  So to find out how to do this, we should look at something that does the same thing, but in another way -- that tells a different story from a different standpoint. 

So, 5 Corine Solomon novels, 7 ALIEN novels, and 8 STEN SERIES novels, 20 novels all together, taken as a whole, contrast/compare, and extract theme, plot, and discover how the two elements become integrated. 

First, on identifying THEME. 

I can't assert "the" theme of each of these 3 series is something specific.  I'm sure each of the writers has their own idea of what they were saying (or perhaps have no idea, just wanted to say it!  Marion Zimmer Bradley worked that way - not knowing the theme until 20 years later!).

I'm pretty sure you will find your own idea of the theme as you read these series.

My overall "take" on the Corine Solomon Novels, and the Alien Series Novels is that they are essentially Romance, and so the overall theme is Love Conquers All.  Each novel individually has a specific sub-set of that overall theme brought to the fore. 

The Sten Series is not Romance, and it's a collaboration between two exemplary writers with disparate backgrounds.  The 8 novels have one Hero, and he is definitely on a Hero's Journey.  But the series taken as a whole has a much bigger theme worked out on a much larger canvass that spreads over several galaxies. 

So the Sten Series has several points of view, each carefully related to Sten's point of view.  When we visit the events other characters are involved in, we see Sten's life from outside.  We sometimes see Sten being moved about on the chessboard of inter-galactic politics.  We find out what problems other characters face - only to understand that Sten himself hasn't defined the problem he faces in a complete way. 

While the overall theme of Corine Solomon and Alien Series novels is Happily Ever After, with the caveat that such an idealic life comes only at great price, and after stringent testing of the moral fiber of the Hero, the Sten Series might be said to have the overall theme of All Is Not As It Seems. 

It's very hard to separate these 3 series though.  Sten has a Happily Ever After thread, and the other two are definitely structured on the "Great Reveal" - the "All Is Not As It Seems" theme.

What a reader sees in each of these series depends more on the reader than on the material because these 20 novels are Art. 

While Corinne Solomon and Kitty-Kat are living their own lives, Sten is living a Destiny. 

Sten's Destiny is not at all what it seems -- and with each novel, Sten progresses to what seems to be a New Destiny earned at great price.  But all he thinks he's doing is what you and I do everyday, just survive another day, survive another threat, beat off the Bad Guys, get out of a tight spot, finesse and clever yourself into a better position. 

Sten set out to survive and mind his own business.  But he got "rescued" and cast in the role of Warrior because he has a talent for surviving and minding his own business.

But what is a Talent?  That's a profound question we've discussed previously:


Maybe writing isn't a Talent, but we often write about characters who have a Talent. 

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. 

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. 

I classify all three series as Art. 

I've held forth here on the nature of Art and how a writer uses that essential nature here:



When you start to talk about creating Art about Destiny, you are dipping into the realm of the Supernatural, the Paranormal, the Divine, the Magical, -- or God. 

Corine Solomon deals head-on with Hell, gods, demons, angels -- and what happens when the categories get confused.  She has to sort out Good from Evil, and taken her personal choice, then stick to that choice. 

Kitty-Kat tries to ignore the whole issue of Divine Intervention, of a world Created by God.  She pretty much succeeds, as she discovers more and more about how things are just not what they seem.  She gets used to being shocked when a new aspect of Reality is revealed.  But she avoids the issue of God. 

Sten would fall down laughing or kick you out an airlock if you started prattling on about a Benevolent God.  His life provides no evidence for such an interpretation of Reality.  In other words, his life exists in the kind of world you and I live in -- where there is no evidence supporting any theory of Divine Creation. 

And yet, our whole world can be viewed -- taken as a whole -- as a Work of Art. 

Here's a little lesson from the Bible about the artisans chosen by God to create the Tent in which God revealed himself to the High Priests, the Mishkan.  The blueprint for that tent was given to Moses at Mount Sinai -- you may have seen the recent History Channel series, "The Bible" and noted the extraordinary ratings it pulled. 

By all accounts, the Tent these artisans built was a spectacular Work of Art.  I can envision it as a minature replica of the entire World that God Built.  The blueprint and the people chosen to execute that blueprint very closely resembles the process of writing a novel. 




In describing the people qualified to construct the Sanctuary and its instruments, the Torah repeatedly calls them "wise-in-heart" in referring to their skill. The craftsmanship these artisans possessed was more than technical, their wisdom was a special sort -- that of the heart.

Some people are brilliant intellectually, their gifted minds master sciences, their logic and reasoning are unimpeachable. Despite these mind-gifts they may be cold, unsympathetic, unmoved by suffering. Others are kindlier, charitable, more emotional by nature, not particularly given to analysis and profound understanding. They may also be overindulgent, gullible, suspicious of or impatient with reasoning. While each sort has qualities, in extremes, or rather without tempering the initial and dominant characteristic, their deficiencies are grave.

The ideal is the wise-in-heart, proper balance between emotion and thought, feeling and reason. The qualities of learning and study, intellectual vigor, the scholar ideal, have always been glorified by our people. No matter how sincere the heart's emotions, they must be channeled, harnessed, and used. Torah inspires the heart in its search. Without Torah the most sublime emotion may degenerate into bathos or sentimental banality.

Similarly, exalted as the intellect may be, it cannot exclusively express the fullness of man. Emotional balance gives warmth and human substance to the mind's achievements. In Jewish terms it means that the true scholar, the disciple of Torah, is endowed with the emotions of love and awe of the Creator, sympathy for the lowly, affection for mankind. Such a person, the wise-in-heart, is qualified to create a Sanctuary for G-dliness wherever he goes.

------------END QUOTE-------------

Now think about Destiny, Fate, and the Happily Ever After.  Think about THEME and the world you are building for your characters, choosing and inspiring your artisans.

Think about the writing rule that the author must not stand up on the page, blow a whistle to get attention, and start shouting at the reader about all the wonderful things in the world that this story is not about. 

Reading a book is an intellectual exercise of emotional sensitivity.  The closer the balance between emotion and intellect in the novel, the greater the reader's enjoyment. 

The THEME is the intellectual part -- the PLOT is the emotional part.  The PLOT shows the THEME -- the emotions reveal the knowledge, the lesson to be learned. 

Think about THEME and we'll discuss Co-incident in Plot. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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