Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Theme-Character Integration Part 1: What Does She See In Him

Theme-Character Integration
Part 1
What Does She See In Him
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here's the foundation post for this advanced investigation of Relationship in Romance.


There are two essential parts to what one person "sees in" another person: A) What is really there and B) What the viewer is capable of discerning.

There is a classic Biblical story of Moses and Aaron arguing which is resolved by the Sages with the explanation that Moses and Aaron were brothers, yes, but very different as individuals.

Remember Moses was the one sent to Pharaoh to demand "Let My People Go" and Aaron (after fighting a delaying action by participating in making the Golden Calf) was appointed High Priest and inaugurated into serving in the Tabernacle.

Moses was the Teacher -- who repeated what G-d told him to say, then wrote it down.  Aaron was the Doer -- who took the offered animals, grain, spices etc to the Alter and offered them.

Side note here on CAPABLE OF DISCERNING: one huge problem most people have with The Bible comes from deriving conclusions from the semantic loading behind English word translations. 

A huge case in point is the word "Sacrifice" -- to us it means inflicting a deprivation upon one's self, giving away something of value for nothing in return, giving UP, suffering pain for the sake of something or someone else.  Many people are capable of discerning "Love" only in terms of what "you are willing to sacrifice for me." 

People see "marriage" as a "sacrifice" of "freedom."  Is it?  Or is it a net gain? 

Knowing the semantic loading of words is part of the job of the professional writer, and when crafting a Romance story, the writer has to craft the dialogue and its interpretation in the light of these shifting semantic loads, the emotional implications of a simple WORD can mislead someone about the character of a person.  This is why "deeds speak louder than words" -- or in writer-parlance, Plot speaks louder than Narrative or Exposition.

So back to The Bible (you all know what an impact the History Channel presentation of The Bible made around Easter, 2013) -- one of the most misleading translations of Biblical terminology is the term "Sacrifice." 

The Hebrew term is Korban -- and that has nothing to do with GIVING UP anything.  Note the instructions for most of the "offerings" in the Temple include who gets to EAT THE ANIMALS that have been offered, and where and when they must (not may, must) be eaten. 

Nobody is giving up anything when bringing an offering to the Temple, so the word "Sacrifice" is massively misleading.  The one who brings the offering ends up with a net gain, a connection to the Divine. 

The term Korban means essentially a binding, a tie, a connection.  And the purpose of the action of bringing an offering is to create or reinforce a TIE to God, a connection between the deepest psyche of the bringer and the pervasive Unconditional Love of God.

What do you see in God?

What does God see in you? 

That's the TIE we're talking about here where we investigate what one Character can "see" in another Character, and how that causes them to act and react to various utterances, to dialogue (which I remind you is not real speech recorded, but a method of moving PLOT FORWARD.)

So why do we have this argument between Moses and Aaron recorded in the Torah and re-read incessantly every year for all time?  What is that about and why is it relevant to writing Romance? 

What that argument is about, and what you can learn from it as a writer (after all the Bible has lasted a while and still sells pretty well, as we see from the success on the History Channel which was repeated immediately in re-runs on other channels) is the Nature of Character.

What is "a human" -- are we all alike?  How can there be ROMANCE or sexuality (the essence of sexuality is Mystery, you know) -- how can there be ROMANCE if we're all identical? 

What does "Soul Mate" mean?  What does "Mate" mean?  A "Mate" is an opposite -- or at the very least has something you don't have which enables you when added to you.

A "Mate" is a complementary element, a completion of a whole. 

A Soul Mate completes your Soul.

For that Relationship to form, a Character has to be an individual who is capable of "seeing" something that they don't have but need inside the other Character. 

So from the argument between Moses and Aaron we learn how even brothers are distinct and different individuals.

What exactly is that distinction in this case?  The Sages maintain that Moses served G-d via Truth.  Moses saw the world of Truth behind the illusion we ordinarily think is real.  Moses saw the Reality behind our daily illusion, the Truth of Reality, and transmitted that vision via his service as a teacher, an intellectual service, a service via words.  He transmitted the words of G-d just as he was given them. 

Aaron on the other hand was very different.  Aaron saw the "illusion" of reality as we see it, as we live in it, the seeming that we perceive as solid, and sought to resolve the conflict between (there's that word, again, CONFLICT which is the essence of STORY) the Illusion and the Truth.

Aaron served G-d through action, in the Biblical case, he served by being the one to act at the Altar.

So Aaron served by acting to resolve the conflict between what appears to be real and what Moses saw as actually real.

Doesn't that sound like the "Battle of the Sexes" -- "Oh we're lost. We have to stop and ask directions."  "Oh, we're lost.  Let's go around that corner and see if that's the right way."

"You talk too much."  "You never talk to me!" 

Is "life" (i.e. THEME of your story) about Truth, about what is actually really there?  Or is it about how you feel, what you feel is there? 

Note that in many decisive instances in life, where your Characters make decisions, there is the core conflict between Fact and Opinion -- between Truth and Illusion.

Resolving that conflict is what Romance Stories do for, with and by your Reader.

Will your characters act on Opinion or on Fact?  Either one alone is pretty ineffectual (that's a thematic statement).  In a Romance, each member of the forming Couple "sees in the other" the missing element (Fact or Opinion) and when the Couple coalesces and implements a course of action rooted in Fact/Opinion Conflict Resolved, their connection to functioning Reality works smoothly and their cooperative actions produce solid results leading to Happily Ever After.

Understand that archetype illustrated by the different personalities of Moses and Aaron (and their respective spouses and children), each with a unique way, functioning as a unit, and you can amp up your "Steam" element in your Romance Novels.

Now let's take an example.  I have many, many examples in my reading history, but here's a series I've been raving about in my reviews, The Dresden Files, all about Harry Dresden, by Jim Butcher.  I've discussed this series at some length in this blog:


Now we come to COLD DAYS by Jim Butcher, 14th in the Dresden files.  These are long novels in a long series, and tightly plotted, tightly written.

There's a couple of great Love Stories in this series, too.  After 14 novels, it is beginning to look like Harry Dresden has found a Mate. 

Reading outside Romance Genre can teach you all about "what she sees in him" (and vice versa).

The genre usually called "Action" -- whether it's in space or running across a stack of alternate dimensions where Magic is Real -- is perfect for studying "What She Sees In Him."

Why?  Because the Action genre is usually formulated around One Hero (can be female), a single character, who is what I might term a Free Radical.

In the pre-mated state, this Hero Character bounces around from adventure to adventure, hacking away at life, the universe and everything, most making a complete hash out of the art of living life.

For another long series of long novels that is really fun to read, but illustrates this Free Radical character (whose story is OVER once he finally mates) see my discussions of Allan Cole's STEN SERIES:





And for more on THEME


Do an in depth contrast/compare between these two series and you can learn a lot about "what she sees in him" and how to depict that guy who attracts "her."

Sten and Dresden are two very different characters, as different as Moses and Aaron, and like those two, they make a set. 

Jim Butcher has mastered the full integration of THEME into PLOT and CHARACTER.  His writing is so seamless that you will have a hard time factoring out the component elements.  But it is worth the effort as a learning exercise.

Harry Dresden is a Professional Wizard.  When we first meet him, he's floundering his way haplessly through trying to make a place for himself in a world where he just doesn't fit in.

ACCIDENT plays a plot-role in the Dresden novels as it does in STEN, correctly used to generate plot. 

When we first meet Harry, he has a girl but has lost her -- he's not quite sure how permanent that will be, but there's a lot of angst festering there.

By the end of the 14th book, another "possible" Soul Mate has appeared, been deemed both impossible and improbable, and then suddenly re-defined into a whole different emotional situation. 

That entire problem -- finding a Mate -- is completely peripheral for Harry.  He is just not paying attention to HIS OWN NEEDS, WANTS AND DESIRES.  He is wholly focused on solving the problems that are a) threatening his very existence b) threatening people he loves c) threatening people who have hired him d) threatening people who don't know he exists and don't care but whom he feels responsible for.

Jim Butcher has mastered the principle of screenwriting (Dresden was briefly a TV Series) in which you hurl your character into a Situation with 6 problems to solve or die trying.  The plot can consist of the problems solving each other or the character solving them one at a time.  As in gaming (and war), the solving of problems costs, so the Hero usually takes damage.

Now we come to this THEME-CHARACTER integration technique. 

What she sees in him will not be what he sees in himself. (and vice versa).

These ACTION HERO genre novels from a male POV don't usually reveal or dwell on what the Hero sees in himself. 

Anita Blake (female action-hero by Laurell K. Hamilton) is a good contrast.  The first books in that series have Anita articulately explaining her traits and attributes in which she takes pride.  The series as a whole  chronicles the disintegration of that personality in which she so prided herself, and then a gradual rebuilding of a new personality.  Many readers who loved the early books despise the later ones. 

In STEN and HARRY DRESDEN we have heroes who have no clue who they are and couldn't really care less.  Their self-awareness and introspection (i.e. the usual male blind-spot) is totally lacking, but it is completely, starkly, clearly apparent "who" each of these characters is by their ACTIONS.

They don't think, rarely FEEL unless clubbed over the head, and yet shout their Identities loudly into the world with every action. 

As they work with their external realities, they grow, change, and become stronger characters, more integrated, harder to derail, disrupt or corrupt. 

Sten becomes the owner of the greatest power in his universe, and gives it away to everyone.

We haven't seen what Dresden will "become" yet, but we have seen him "do the right thing" over and over, each one harder than the last to choose to do, and each one costing him more personally than the last one cost.  That's the same as the Anita Blake story, except for one essential ingredient.  Harry Dresden pays the price and pays the price -- and emerges from it all with more to give, more strength, more and greater dedication to doing the right thing.

Dresden does not start out with a high opinion of himself (as Anita Blake does), and his opinion of himself does not increase a whole lot through all his triumphs.  But he only suffers moping, depression, and misery for brief times before pulling himself together.  It isn't just that the next challenge smashes into his world before he's gotten good and depressed.  He does get a shower, a change of clothes, a good meal and sometimes a happy interlude between challenges. 

The key to Dresden is that he isn't aware that his triumphs and successes are making him a "stronger" character -- less vulnerable to corruption and disintegration. 

But he is growing as a person, and there is a woman who is seeing that growth, seeing the strength, seeing the Values he upholds that he doesn't even really know that he has.

There is a "dark" side to Dresden and his story.  There are demons, possession, a serious temptation to use Black Magic, and the actual use of the Black Magic that actually does "corrupt" and grind away at Dresden's character.  There are those who have a low opinion of him because of his inherent connection to the Dark. 

You should read all three of these series and make up your own mind -- most likely you'll have a different take on it than I do, and very probably I'll have a different take on it all in a year or two.  But for the moment, think of it this way:  Sten is more like Moses, searching for the Truth behind the illusion since he is no Moses.  Sten is trying to find the Truth that Moses sees, and when he thinks he's found it, it acts on that Truth.  Dresden is no Aaron, but he is trying to find a way to make Peace among all the criss-crossing forces he sees in his world, and from time to time is rewarded with a period of some balance.  Anita Blake acts on the assumption that the Illusion is the Truth. 

THEME: there is a natural human tendency to strive to become a "better" person; whatever "better" might mean to you. 

CHARACTER: a Hero who tackles and surmounts problems becoming more like his/her own Ideal Person.

ROMANCE: a Character who loves (has an affinity for) that which she admires, sees in a Man the striving toward a personal ideal that she admires, sees his willingness to pay the price of improvement, and the achieving of at least part of that goal.  She finds in herself the need to help that Man -- and ultimately to propagate those values and ideals.

Imagine Sten or Dresden living in your world, fighting the battles and problems that people in your world face every day, applying the character traits these two have to those problems.  Would you want that man in your life? 

Remember these Hero-type folks don't cultivate an articulate awareness of Ideals, don't see themselves as striving, don't bother to feel their own emotions and strive to perfect that emotional life, to get to where they don't have to experience emotional pain.  To discover what these folks are made of, a woman has to examine and analyze their actions. 

That may be the basis for a man opening the door for a woman -- men act; women feel flattered, attended, cared for. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. Marriage as "sacrifice" -- very good example: Where love is, what looks like "sacrifice" and "giving up something" from the outside doesn't feel that way at all to the person inside the relationship. To someone outside, it may appear that the person who married young has "sacrificed" the freedom of the single life and the thrill of dating lots of people. To the happily married person, giving up those alternatives doesn't feel like "sacrifice" at all, because the fulfilling experience of a loving marriage means that the alternatives have no appeal.