Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Theme-Character Integration Part 2 - Fire Up That Love Life
Part 1 of this skill integration sequence is here:
Previously we discussed What Does She See In Him (an essential ingredient in firing up a love life)
So today we'll discuss the TV Series VAMPIRE DIARIES and the Science Fiction/Fantasy pulp classic image of the Warrior Woman in a Brass Bras which stirred public controversy (again) in June 2013 when used as the cover of a SFWA Bulletin issue (#200).
And all of this relates to choosing and targeting an audience for your Science Fiction Romance, an essential part of raising the profile and respect granted to SFR by the general public (that probably doesn't read any SFR).
Note the underlying assumption here that the general public is convinced that it is appropriate to hold fast to an opinion on a topic without researching the facts personally.
Note the title of this piece includes the word THEME -- and we've discussed theme individually and at length in combination with plotting. Theme is the underlying, barely revealed, almost never stated in so many words, philosophical ARGUMENT which generates the plot, characters, story, conflict, and most importantly the resolution of that conflict.
Any number of "endings" are possible for most Romance stories, as long as it seems the new couple will live Happily Ever After -- HEA.
The choice of which ending your story will have is not arbitrary once the beginning, the opening scene, is crafted. And new writers, beginning writers, often don't know where to start in telling the story that's popped into being with, "I've got an idea!"
As discussed at length in previous posts here on Plot, the Beginning, Middle, and End are a set, a collection, and they must match.
One way new writers become aware of stories they want to tell is by having the ENDING pop into mind all rounded and fully colored in with emotions resolved. And many failures to sell a novel happen because the writer opened the story at the ending. (the opposite is often true, too, the story may be opened way before the beginning of the story). And some failures to sell happen because the writer just kept on writing long, long after the story ends.
Choosing any one of these three points or what are termed, in SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder, "beats" of your story determines the content of the other two.
We've discussed crafting openings, and crafting middles that don't "sag" -- now let's look at starting a novel by choosing the ENDING.
The resolution of the conflict may be the first thing about your characters that you become aware of. Recognizing that it is an ENDING involves an entire orchestrated set of skills being brought to bear on your problem.
Here let's look very deeply (themes are deep, abstract philosophical ideas) at bringing together theme and character in an explosive love life (life is character).
What's in an ending? Define Ending.
Your choice of ending bespeaks the thematic statement of your novel.
In a Romance, that statement has to allow for or include -- or at least imply -- that Happily Ever After is possible in real life, even though it's rare and difficult, a heroic achievement.
We've noted previously that there is a huge audience for Romance that simply can not accept the HEA as part of their real, everyday reality. Happily For Now is the very most they see as real, and even that is ephemeral.
The very existence of the HEA is a philosophical statement of huge proportions, and it is a topic which is heated and controversial in the general readership of all novels -- especially self-published novels!
Definition of Ending
The ENDING situation of your characters is the point where the main Point of View Character, the Hero that the reader has been rooting for -- i.e. protagonist, -- understands the theme of his/her life.
This understanding can be:
a) Aha, I never knew that!
b) Aha, JUST AS I ALWAYS THOUGHT!
c) Aha, she was right all along and I was wrong.
d) Aha, I was right but it would be wrong to rub it in.
The key ingredient is the AHA part -- something has changed, and here at the ending it is perfectly clear to the protagonist what changed and what it means. The change that constitutes an ending is the dispelling of confusion, the lifting of a fog, the purifying of a philosophy, the clarity of understanding in the light of experience.
ENDING is defined as the point where the protagonist understands the theme, and so does the reader.
Targeting an audience.
The EMOTIONAL impact of that understanding of the theme that the reader gains by riding inside the protagonist's head defines the audience targeted.
For the HEA to work, the audience must experience the emotion of PLEASURE that the Starring Couple in the novel has achieved an HEA.
Readers who are living in a world they see as streaks of darkness marbling grayness have their "suspension of disbelief" broken at the HEA and they do not experience that as a pleasure.
Readers who have glimpsed flashes of light in their real life experience pleasure at the HEA.
Two different readerships, each to be targeted with different themes.
No matter how good your craft skills at characterization may be, no matter how well you lure your anti-HEA reader into living in your character's skin, if your THEME violates their beliefs, they will not experience pleasure at the character's AHA!
New writers tend to focus on arcane writerly skills such as characterization. New beta readers, and even professional editors, tend to give feedback in terms of "the character is not likeable" or not believable. And that sends the new writer on a quest to master 'characterization' when in fact the failure was in THEME.
So what do you do? Change your philosophy so you can sell novels? No, I don't think so.
What you can do is tell exactly the same story that has occurred to you (in that flash vision of The End Scene), tell it with the same protagonist and same point of view character, but move the time-frame backward or forward in that character's life to a point where a THE END situation occurs that drives the lesson into the character in a way that the targeted readership would enjoy.
In other words, you can still write about that character, but at a different point in their life.
Or you can choose a different target audience.
This blog series focuses on the audience that can accept the HEA, however leery they might be of such a radical departure from reality.
This blog is about writing Alien Romance, exotic Romance, Paranormal Romance, Futuristic Romance -- writing about things that don't actually exist.
The writer's task is to convince the reader, if only for the few hours, that these things which don't exist, which can't exist, actually do exist for these characters.
That is, to suspend disbelief long enough to make a point -- a particular type of point native to the science fiction genre.
Science Fiction is defined by 3 story parameters:
a) "What if ....?"
b) "If only ...."
c) "If This Goes On ..."
Fill in the blanks, and for this Romance Genre dealing with the imaginary future, what you fill in those dots with is HEA.
a) "What If I could live Happily Ever After?"
b) "If Only I COULD live Happily Ever After, I would ...?" (do what? believe what?)
c) "If This Goes On, we will create a world where everyone lives Happily Ever After."
Those story parameters filled in that way take ROMANCE GENRE and meld it seamlessly with SCIENCE FICTION GENRE.
The Best SFR is built out of all three statements, just as the best SF is built from all three simultaneously.
SFR is built on the premise that our emotional lives can be studied scientifically, and what we discover from that study can be used to deal with Life just as we use science to deal with our environment.
The "science" in Romance becomes the science of EMOTION. The study of emotion.
What? That's idiotic, you say?
Well, yeah, but so was the vision of a galactic civilization back in the 1930's and 1940's. Back then we had no idea if there were other planets around other stars. Then a few decades passed when accepted science told us (with mathematical clarity) that it was idiotic to think there were earth-like planets around other stars. This last few years, a single telescope has been studying a very tiny slice of ONE little galaxy, and found so many planets (large and small and earth-like too; now termed exoplanets) I can't keep track.
Look at the second image in this article:
That image shows how little we've explored and how much we've discovered.
Neuroscience has likewise been studying brains of various animals, including human cognition.
During this time-span, mostly before your primary readership was born, two major philosophies (thematic source material for stories) have been waging Armageddon over the heads of your readers, and even inside their minds all the way down to the subconscious level.
There is an old saying, "There's No Accounting For Taste" -- but I maintain that there actually is a way to account for taste if you understand not only the science of what a human being is and what world a human inhabits, but also understand that humans consist of two major parts each living in a different environment, Soul and Body.
That's the theory behind the HEA -- which depends entirely on the assumption that humans have Souls. The HEA happens when Soul Mates meet and unite in this life.
Here are index posts (updated) to my set of posts on Astrology and Tarot exploring methods of thinking about these abstractions in a way that can generate concrete story ideas.
Astrology Just For Writers:
Tarot Just For Writers:
These are not topics to "believe in" -- but to study looking for philosophies that explain how and why people develop a "taste" for this or that in art or friends.
These are the topics that answer the questions "What Does She See In Him" and vice-versa.
You can read up on all this, and learn these topics, and come up with wholly different conclusions than anyone else who has ever studied them.
That is what science fiction authors do for a living: study up on a science and come to a different conclusion than the professional scientists working in that field.
Which brings us to the SFWA controversy of June 2013.
Science Fiction Writers of America, the organization of professional science fiction writers (fair disclosure, I'm a life member), publishes a magazine called The SFWA Bulletin. Issue 200 ignited a controversy that exploded with issue 202 which was discussed in a blog post that posted several SFR novel covers and then talked disparagingly about SFR.
The cover image of the Bulletin was simply yet another Science Fiction/Fantasy cliche, the Warrior Woman complete with brass-bras style fighting gear.
The thesis that triggered eruptions on many confused topics of tangled philosophies was that Science Fiction Romance is not legitimate Science Fiction because it violates the tropes and the writers seem to ignore (or be ignorant of) classic Science Fiction ideas.
Usually, SFR is excoriated for violating science as it is now known. This time we got excoriated for not knowing imaginary science. Isn't that delightful? It must be progress.
Read here for the blog post that re-ignited (according to the writer of this blog, Stuart Sharp by accident) this old argument:
And here for opinions about that post:
And here for one of my favorite writers, Ann Aguirre, whom I've reviewed here whose book was included in that first post.
Do check out the lightening that struck Ann Aguirre -- she posted at the end of her original post, some email responses she got (hate mail) as an immediate response to her post.
Squint your eyes almost closed before looking at that hate-mail section of that post, and STUDY IT.
Here is a discussion by another author, Gini Koch one of my favorites whose ALIEN series I keep talking about here -- and who had a book cover highlighted on talking-sci-fi-romance
And here is a later post (one of several) where the author of talking-sci-fi-romance answers
Stuart Sharp comments there that at the time he posted his accidentally inflammatory post, he hadn't heard of the SFWA Bulletin cover controversy.
Here is a response from the President of SFWA (in 2013 that was still John Scalzi) (who almost gets it right, and that reveals something important you need to understand in order to craft your novel-endings where a character absorbs a theme with an AHA!)
We could spend a long time here discussing whether the offense was intentional or accidental, or whether it is due to a generational, ideological or perceptual schism. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, too many of our members have felt their contributions and their place in the industry and within the organization belittled; too many of our members see other members being treated so. If we believe that we represent and serve all our members and not just some of them, then we need to listen and address those member concerns.
That begins with recognizing the problem. And here is the problem: SFWA, through the last few issues of the Bulletin, has offended many of our own members.
As president of the organization, I apologize to those members.
Note he didn't say "If we've offended you, we apologize."
But the apology is FOR OFFENDING -- not for what was done wrong. If he admitted what was done wrong (sexism advocated as a high standard of art and behavior, but advocated "off the nose" and by assumption, by force of cultural custom) - then he would offend the other half of the members!
He's a good president, and a good politician -- and generally, a good guy. This world doesn't produce people who are very much better than this guy at being a good guy.
So we need to look at the WORLD more than at these particular individuals, and analyze why these swirling currents of philosophical disagreement are forming into a tornado right here in the Science Fiction Community.
*my opinion* Resnick and Malzberg are also good guys, great writers, very representative of the SF world in general.
So our problem solving attention has to be devoted to the context, not the individuals. This process, raising your focus from the trees to observe the forest, is an essential exercise in training your inner eye to be the eye of an artist. We need to observe the patterns, then reveal them to our readers.
That's hard, and takes a lot of exercise to make our inner-eye-muscles strong.
So one more quote from out-going SFWA President Scalzi:
5. I am aware that my apologies here will be taken any number of ways, depending on who is reading them and their opinion of events. That is the nature of an apology. Be that as it may, I believe that apologies matter, if they are sincere and they are followed up by right action. It’s what we are trying to do.
Let's focus on apology and the nature of apology just for a moment, where it comes from and why we do it, what it means, and how the definition has morphed in our culture over the last few decades.
The modern apology has appeared out of thin air in just a few decades, and the change has never been remarked on that I know of.
Read some historical novels -- novels written say, in the 1930's or 1940's, and study apologies.
Today we apologize for hurting other people's feelings, for making them feel bad, for embarrassing them, or for OFFENDING.
We express SORROW (an emotion) for triggering someone else's emotion, and that ends the matter.
"If I offended you, I'm sorry." That's not an apology. Why? (thankfully the SFWA President didn't say that!)
It's not an apology because it does not in any way indicate that the apologist has any idea what they did wrong or why it is wrong to do that. It's not a story-ending where the apologist has had an AHA moment where the theme has been driven all the way into the subconscious so the person would experience unbearable self-loathing if they should even consider doing that again. It does not indicate that the person knows why the deed was wrong.
The only thing that's wrong is the way someone else reacted, and that was an accident!
In other words, there is no reason for the apologist to change their behavior, except to avoid offending the other person again. There's no internally driven reason to change.
It's become "wrong" to offend others, but the offending behavior itself is not inherently wrong. Therefore, if you do a right thing, and it offends someone, you have to apologize for doing right!
This is a subtle point and difficult to follow but it is just one symptom of a major change in our culture (better or worse, you judge that!).
In apologizing, we are taking responsibility for the emotional reaction of others, but not for the error in our (subconsciously held) philosophy that generated the action. There has been no AHA ending.
Actions no longer have inherent, absolute, objective and measurable "rightness" or "wrongness." As a result, other people's emotional reactions to actions don't have to make sense, and do not indicate to us that we have an error in our own internal value system that must be corrected so it will not generate another action which is wrong. As far as the apologist is concerned, there is no rhyme or reason to other people's emotional reaction -- it's random, and therefore irrelevant.
Apology used to be an admission of an error in whatever it is inside us that generates our actions. Apology indicates we have corrected our error in our Value.
Without external, objective Values against which to measure ourselves, we can not possibly apologize, because you can't ever be in the wrong in your own eyes.
It's more important to avoid offending others than it is to do the right thing -- because there is no thing to do that is more "right" than any other thing to do -- because all Value Systems are equal.
But people still have emotions, and emotional lives inside themselves, as do story characters.
Think again about the SFWA Controversy. What exactly is the problem people have with Science Fiction Romance? What's "wrong" with Romance that it is so OFFENSIVE?
Perhaps it's a Story/Plot thing?
Science Fiction has been traditionally all plot, almost no story. If characters learn anything in SF, it's a scientific principle, or that some trusted principle isn't true.
But Romance is all about Story, usually with very little plot (Gini Koch's ALIEN series is an exception which could be why it got nailed in that blog post
Now we are into the THEME part of theme-character integration.
So firmly fix this frame into your mind as you read on:
Novels have both PLOT and STORY. As I've defined these terms in my previous posts on each of these skills independently, plot is the sequence of external events started at the beginning, generated by the conflict, and ending in a resolution.
Plot = External Events on a BECAUSE LINE.
Story is the sequence of emotions, issues, concerns, thoughts, and INTERNAL EVENTS that define what the external events MEAN to the POV character. (i.e. the plot events have to happen to someone for them to have meaning to the reader, so the story is what the plot is "about")
Story = Internal Events on a philosophical development line (or an emotional line).
Theme-Character Integration is about Story
That's right, we're talking story here, not plot or the usual structural elements we discuss here. We discuss plot and its structure at such tedious length because plot is the most prominent feature of Science Fiction (though not of Romance).
To drive a lesson, a moral of the story, an Ineffable Truth, into a Character's Soul at the climax of the Story, your story needs a structure as disciplined and precise as the plot's structure. Astrology provides that structure with all the precision you could ever want. (you just don't let the reader know you're using astrology).
The thesis presented in the links to Astrology and Tarot I offered above boils down to the idea that Emotion is generated by Philosophy, and Philosophy resides in the subconscious. You can't change your emotions or actions without changing your philosophy -- apology means you've changed your philosophy because you understood you were wrong.
Religion and ideas about Souls and Life After Death (such as is dealt with in ghosts and Paranormal Romance) likewise is rooted in the subconscious, entwined with our Culture. Culture resides in the subconscious -- that's why you don't know you have a culture until you run into someone from a different culture who discombobulates you.
Over the last several decades we've seen the fruits of the Women's Lib movement shifting our culture faster than a human being can adjust at that subconscious level. At the same time, the internet has changed communications, and the family has disintegrated. That shifted culture defines your potential readership, a culturally confused readership.
So we see older people who have not adjusted to these shifts, and we see older people who are actually ahead of that curve, still living in a future we haven't imagined yet. Some older people offer wisdom, others offer complaints.
Develop both types of older characters in your novel and bespeak both points of view eloquently - you'll have a best seller.
Now we reach back into pre-history to find the roots of this culture that has suddenly changed so that apology doesn't mean apology any more.
Egypt created a towering civilization, trading far and wide, dominating the Middle East and at least half of Africa, all the way to Morocco and almost to China. The Jews weren't the only population they enslaved. Conquering armies brought home slaves as booty, as wealth. The Jews already lived in Egypt, so that was a no-brainer for Egypt's politicians.
After the Jews left, Egyptian civilization fell, but passed the torch of light and learning to Persia (modern Iran mostly), thence to Babylon (Iraq, Syria parts of Turkey), whence that torch of light and learning passed to Ancient Greece (much of the geometry and math we attribute to Aristotle is actually rooted in the previous civilizations), and now we're approaching recorded history as the torch of light and learning passes to Rome.
The Rise And Fall of the Roman Empire is well documented, leaving Latin a language ingredient in every language-stew of Europe.
Burning of the Library at Alexandria, Peloponnesian Wars etc. very significant events during Rome's reign. If you haven't learned this history, go read up on it. Lots of good ebooks real cheap! Writers, especially of Romance, need to know more than is ever taught in school! None of the really important stuff is taught in school now. Most of what you learn in school isn't true anyway -- so go educate yourself.
Of course, China likewise had rises and falls, and India, too, (Indus Valley or modern Pakistan is a big player in trade and learning), so don't forget them.
But visualize for the moment, the way that science, learning, trade and innovation, pulsed over time, rising and falling alongside governments of slightly different, ever evolving governmental forms.
The people who lived in those times were just like you, except for one significant point: Culture Shock.
Culture Shock is a documented form of mental derailment that occurs when someone is isolated in a culture that is foreign to them. Read up on it if you don't know about it. Classic example is the kid sent off to boarding school who cries all night every night for months but that is a phenomenon of the modern world.
Culture didn't CHANGE within the life-span of a person, and people passed on their craft and trade skills to their children unchanged from when they got them from their parents and grandparents. Maybe they acquired one or two minor innovations, but the fundamentals of life and livelihood didn't change.
There was continuity. A parent knew what a child had to master to be successful in life.
That was true up until maybe 1920 or so.
Cars, telegraph, radio -- the printing press took about 2-300 years to sink in and generate what we think of as industry and technology, the information explosion.
Now, assuming you know a couple thousand years of human history at least by trends and major turns, think about it as seen from high above, from an elevated perspective, as if you're looking down on Time the way we look at a map of the world.
Onto those swirling forces and tides of human events, we're going to project or superimpose another pattern.
Grasp this one point, and you will understand the SFWA controversy (and the concept of the Modern Apology) in a whole new light, and it won't disturb you. It will excite you and trigger an explosion of creativity, and put real fire into your Love Story. (Fire is Wands/ Love is Cups)
See the last 2,000 (or 5,000) years of human history as a War of Philosophies.
Let's call them Phil-1 and Phil-2.
The Founding of the USA can be seen as a crescendo Battle of Philosophies to put the sinking of the Spanish Armada to shame -- eclipsing The Trojan War, making the two World Wars seem like peace.
As I view the matter, I see the USA (and many other countries) as having two Natal Charts, one governing one population with one philosophy, and the other natal chart governing the other population with the other philosophy.
Phil-2 won that epic Battle at the Founding of the USA over Phil-1.
Defeated, Phil-1 retreated, regrouped and infiltrated and undermined Phil-2's brave new world. And now it's on top (again; has been on top a number of times).
Phil-1 has been the world's dominant philosophy since the time of Noah. Remember the story of Noah (and the Rainbow - don't forget Rainbow). Noah was the most righteous man of his generation, but he wasn't much we'd admire. He did have the guts to go against society (that mocked him) and build the Arc. Vindicated, he landed the Arc, and planted a vineyard, made wine and got so blotto his sons had to walk backward to cover his nakedness.
Noah's philosophy, expressed by that priority of getting drunk as soon as possible, might be stated as Phil-1, Emotion Rules Life.
As we know now from modern science, most all emotion can be accounted for by neurons firing, by life's tendency to flee pain and seek pleasure. Emotion is a thing of the physical body.
Remember, STORY = EMOTION
Phil-2 comes into the picture of Western Civilization with Abraham being called by God to Walk In His Ways. Abraham's priority (the story goes) was to Walk In His Ways. The story that's been preserved about Abraham is that after offering the Covenant to all the other Nations of Earth, God came to Abraham and said "Come Walk In My Ways and .." and before God finished the sentence, Abraham was out the door WALKING, asking only which way?
All the other Nations, so the story goes, listened to the "...and I'll make of you a great nation." part and asked what they'd have to DO to get the REWARD -- they worked the risk/reward equation like shrewd businessmen, but God wouldn't bargain. Abraham was not interested in any of that -- he just wanted to DO God's Will. (Plot = Do)
After some 80 years of life, having inherited his father's idol making shop in what passed for a city in those days, Abraham knew the little statues he sold were "empty" and curiosity gnawed at him about the REAL DEAL -- so when God came to him and offered Ways to Walk In, that was it for him.
Abraham is all about PLOT, all about DOING. Remember, Abraham is the character who circumcised himself, a deed that elevates the Mind over Emotion. The body seeks to avoid pain. The mind has other ideas. Abraham was of the mind.
Remember, PLOT = ACTION
At Mount Sinai, after leaving Egypt, God gives the 10 Commandments and the Nation answers WE WILL DO and WE WILL LEARN -- DOING FIRST just like Abraham.
And then comes the whole Covenant, the Torah, the teaching. The Torah is taught by Moses (a man about whom no story of drunkenness is recorded; a man very different from Noah). And if you've read that teaching, you know it is ever so very intellectual. There's lots of juicy scandal, misdeeds and sexuality, (lots of hot sex stuff in there, and it's very different from what the History Channel movie depicted). But it's all about how to BEHAVE, what to DO and how to DO IT.
The prescriptions for misdeeds all involve doing something, but the misdeeds targeted by these remedies all involve doing something motivated solely by emotion, placing emotion above rational thought, the urges of the body above those of the mind.
The emphasis is on keeping "apart" from the Nations. What is being separated from what?
At danger of over-simplifying, let's call it Phil-2 is being separated out of and walled away from Phil-1, thus creating a counter-culture minority embedded in the whole of humanity. Humanity is descended from Noah and operating on the supremacy of Emotion over Mind, just like Noah. Abraham likewise is descended from Noah, but turns down a different path.
It doesn't matter what religion you practice (or don't practice), and it doesn't matter whether you think the events depicted in the Bible ever happened or not.
From our over-view of time, looking down on the history of the world, superimposing onto what we know of history this view of history as a War Of Two Philosophies, you can see where the first one is the majority, and always has been, and where in Time a counter-current was injected.
How that injection happened, and who did it, you can decide for yourself. To understand the SFWA Controversy, you need only be able to See this Battle of Two Philosophies as very ancient, and very much the issue of our day mostly because it's ancient.
Today, the two philosophies have inter-mingled and gotten mixed into one another, as the the Bible says must not happen.
Like two galaxies colliding and inter-mingling their stars, then pulling apart again, leaving new stars, composite stars, and hungry black holes behind, the two philosophies are pulling apart again, each taking with it parts of the other. What a mess. What an opportunity for stories! Talk about the War of the Worlds!
You might be thinking that there aren't enough Jews in the world to matter, so who cares? And that's true, except for one little problem.
Christianity and Islam are daughter philosophies of Judaism, thus composed mostly of Phil-2.
I'm not sure if all together the adherents of Christianity and Islam constitute a numerical majority over Hinduism et. al., but after all these centuries of missionary zeal, all the rest of the world has been infused with some of the "stars" from the Phil-2 galaxy.
Which brings us to Vampire Diaries (the TV show).
The object of these writing lessons is to show you what the world looks like from the eyes of a writer.
Writers don't watch TV the same way that viewers do.
So in June, as I watched the season finale of VAMPIRE DIARIES, I saw within it this Phil-1 vs Phil-2 vision of the target audience (basically I'd say 14-30 yr olds for this show, but I love it!) exemplified loud and clear.
I'd also been watching Season 5 of Gray's Anatomy on Amazon Streaming video. Really great without commercials.
Both these shows have a lot of plot, both are very well written (i.e. the plot and the story are integrated by solid and clear thematic statements).
Vampire Diaries uses some wild variants on the Vampire mythos, but here's one element that is a great example of Worldbuilding, using show-don't-tell to make an abstract point.
Vampires can turn their emotions off. And on again.
When they turn their emotions OFF, Vampires become the Evil Scourge of traditional vampire myth, and have no compunctions about murdering humans, care only about self-gratification, and have little or no regard for other Vampires (thus very little Romance potential).
When they turn their emotions ON, Vampires become just ordinary people, with their old human personality showing through, with whatever sense of respect for human life that they had during their own lives. They're just very long lived, very durable, human beings, as bad or as good as humans usually are.
THEME: Absence of Emotion Is Definition of Evil.
Or put another way, the theme of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is that the only thing that makes humans Good (however good any given human can be) is EMOTION. All goodness is emotion.
That is a clean, bright, definitive show-don't-tell of Phil-1, the oldest philosophy, Noah.
Here's another example. On Gray's Anatomy and on Vampire Diaries, couples are changing partners all over the place, trying out sex with this and that one, getting all deep and introspective over the question of whether they love this one or that one more (which you can determine only by whether the sex is better). It's so important to find out who you love because you absolutely must do what your emotions lead you to want to do.
I Love You is a statement regarded as a surrender to an inevitability. I can't help who I love. It's just a mystery. And if I love someone, I must be with him -- regardless of all other considerations. And I can't help it. Good common sense and solid reasoning have nothing to do with it. "Forbidden" has nothing to do with it (such as if you fall in love with a cousin, or an under-age kid, you must have sex with them regardless).
The Theme says, "We are victims of emotion." Both those TV Series (ultra-popular TV Series) depict that philosophy -- how you feel determines what you must do, and doing anything else is unhealthy.
Emotion dominates, emotion leads, action must follow emotion. Thought is not allowed to enter into it, at all. That is a clear statement of the core of Phil-1, Noah.
Now, go back over the Tarot posts, where I lay out the "Worlds" of Kaballah according to one (of several) schools of thought. Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles. Idea, Emotion, Deeds, Results. (Fire is Tarot Suit of Wands/ Love is Tarot Suit of Cups)
That is the sequence I explained in those Tarot posts, but there is another sequence taught by a different school of Kaballah. Idea, Deeds, Emotion, Results. And I think that's a closer depiction of the Phil-2 explained in the Torah. There are good arguments on each side, and that's what makes for a great novel!
In either case, Idea (thought, intellect, mind) leads, emotion comes in between, results come last.
Phil-2 from the Torah commands that men put a blue thread in the fringe of their garment to see it and REMEMBER (mind) the Commandments and NOT FOLLOW YOUR HEART that you yearn to follow, not follow emotion, but REMEMBER what you've promised to do and do it.
Judaism also encompasses the concept of the Tzadik, the truly righteous man, who has completely harmonized Mind and Heart, thought and emotion flowing smoothly into deed and result -- so smoothly it seems like Magic. Remember any technology that's advanced enough will seem like magic. With Astrology and Tarot you are looking at a technology just that advanced.
Which brings us back to the SFWA Controversy and whether it is actually about sexism, or not.
Phil-1 says if you feel something, if you want to do something, you must do it.
Phil-1 says people are best off, healthiest, when they understand that they are just smart animals with an animal body. Male animals are attracted by female beauty, and when that happens it is the male's duty to the species to attack the female. (in many species, females don't put up with that)
Phil-1 says males can't help (you are helpless before your emotions and the body rules) being aroused by feminine beauty, and when that happens, it's unhealthy and morally wrong to resist your emotions.
Phil-2 says put a blue thread on your garment, and gaze upon it and THINK FIRST. Remember your promises, keep your word of honor. Blue, oddly enough, is considered the "cool" color, emotionally low-key.
Phil-2 says humans have a Soul breathed into the flesh by God, and the Soul is infinite (most of it resides "above" and only part inhabits the body). The human Soul is the Fire of God's Love. Because of that Soul, humans have Free Will and may choose their course of action. The Soul rules the body and its emotions, not the other way around, but since you have Free Will, you can allow the body to rule the Soul, you can allow emotion to rule action. It is your choice.
Phil-2 says women are closer to God. It's pointed out in the Torah and the Mishna any number of times that when the People as a whole sinned, the women did not participate. So therefore, many of the remedies for the propensity to allow Emotion to rule action, are not incumbent on women (such as the blue thread). (Honest! Lots of maligning rumors have been promulgated about Judaism, many of which are believed by Jews who thereupon find Judaism revolting. The idea that Judaism is sexist is one of those lies. I didn't make that up.)
Phil-1, the older philosophy of Noah, subjugates women because men can't help attacking them.
Phil-2, the newer philosophy of Abraham, elevates women because men can control their bodies.
OK, that's way oversimplified, but we're looking for a way to extract a simple framework from what passes for "reality" and use it for what publishing considers "fiction."
The counter-arguments abound. There's the whole issue of Biblical Commandments that treat women as chattle (a man buying a wife, making contracts for women who are living in their father's house or married, testing the woman for adultery but not the man). Each of those could make the basis for worldbuiding an entire alien culture. And of course, these Commandments were directed specifically at Jews. Everybody else is responsible only for the 7 Noachide Laws:
THE 7 LAWS
Acknowledge that there is only one G-d who is Infinite and Supreme above all things. Do not replace that Supreme Being with finite idols, be it yourself, or other beings. This command includes such acts as prayer, study and meditation.
Respect the Creator. As frustrated and angry as you may be, do not vent it by cursing your Maker.
Respect human life. Every human being is an entire world. To save a life is to save that entire world. To destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. To help others live is a corollary of this principle.
Respect the institution of marriage. Marriage is a most Divine act. The marriage of a man and a woman is a reflection of the oneness of G-d and His creation. Disloyalty in marriage is an assault on that oneness.
Respect the rights and property of others. Be honest in all your business dealings. By relying on G-d rather than on our own conniving, we express our trust in Him as the Provider of Life.
Respect G-d's creatures. At first, Man was forbidden to consume meat. After the Great Flood, he was permitted - but with a warning: Do not cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.
Maintain justice. Justice is G-d's business, but we are given the charge to lay down necessary laws and enforce them whenever we can. When we right the wrongs of society, we are acting as partners in the act of sustaining the creation.
So Noah was never expected or tasked with putting thought or intellect above emotion, not directly, but it seems to me it's the easiest way to accomplish those 7 goals. Since when do humans elect to do things the easiest way?
Look around at this world today, and you see both of these philosophical attitudes expressed in a tangled up, mixed up, confused mess, without regard for ostensible religion, creed, color, or culture.
In fact, you probably think my summary of Phil-1 and Phil-2 with regard to women is nonsense because of the criss-crossing and conflicting assumptions in your subconscious. Take this idea I'm presenting here and go around observing the world with writer's eyes for a while and see if you can tease apart some of these tangles and find the two warring philosophies (regardless of what you call them).
Humans are capable of absolutely, solemnly and really believing two mutually exclusive things at once. So Phil-1 and Phil-2 can both be held in the same human mind at the same time.
The resulting tangle of motives and deeds produces a similar tangle of mixed results that are very confusing to analyze.
Which brings us back to the confused fulminating about the SFWA Bulletin cover being sexist, and comments on the objections just adding fuel to the fire leading to disparaging comments about SFR.
SFWA is supposed to be home to those who train to think "outside the box" and to "go where no man has gone before."
Science is the fearless and systematic examination of all ideas, and the organizing of the results of experiments into a reliable and repeatable body of knowledge. These are the people who are supposed to be the best trained imagineers in the world.
And they are very confused, which accurately reflects the confusion in this society as a whole (which accurate reflection makes a professional writer, professional.)
If you've ever written a melee battle, or just watched a movie with a good melee depicted, you understand what happens when two huge armies interpenetrate, just as when two galaxies collide.
The sequence of events (plot) gets lost in confusion, and all there is left is the story -- the subjective impressions and personal meaning to the individual fighting for life, for mere survival.
That's what we are living inside -- the interpenetration of the army of Phil-1 with the army of Phil-2, formations dissolved, one-on-one combat to the death, and the battlefield is inside our subconscious minds where the story of our life happens where we can not see it. But we smell the smoke.
Myth depicts this as Armageddon, or the final battle of the gods.
Judaism sees it as the prelude to the arrival of the Messiah. (Maybe some Islam sects do, too).
Christianity sees it as Good vs. Evil.
I see it as the collision of two galaxy sized philosophies.
Or maybe more accurately, the MATING of two philosophies -- fired, violent, messy, sweaty, grunting, and utterly ferocious.
So take this multi-thousand year perspective of a battle between philosophies, one extracted from the older, larger other, and see if that vision yields a new perspective on today's headlines. Then take that new perspective and generate your screenplay or novel and see if there's a fired up love life in there.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Did they just find Camelot?
"Archaeologists working at the site of a planned housing development in Britain have unearthed a mysterious medieval mansion that, according to historical records of the time period, never existed."
Color me fanciful, but the mention (and sight) of a tile showing a white knight on horseback with his lance, and a mention of Glastonbury, and the fact that this mansion appears never to have had its existence recorded leads me to wonder whether this was Camelot.
I am sure others have wondered, in fact, a belated glance through the Comments shows that many have wondered, and many have been rebuffed by the buffs.
Persons more scholarly than I believe that Camelot ought to be in Wales, rather than Somerset, and that Camelot would have been a few hundred years older than this site.
All the same, this is grist for the fiction mill. A paranormal story could be written with a similar premise, and an excavation closer to Glamorgan.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
After thinking about Aldiss’s THE DARK LIGHT YEARS last week and the “Beauty and the Beast” archetype earlier, I remembered a comment I read many years ago about nonhuman heroes in paranormal romance. The writer declared that some kinds of creatures simply couldn’t make viable paranormal heroes. She mentioned scales and tentacles as two elements that would disqualify a monster or alien from romantic hero status. Scales? What about mermaids? As for tentacles, we have the Sime-Gen series as a counter-example. And I’ve written a few Lovecraftian heroes-with-tentacles stories, such as my rather silly short erotic e-book “Weird Wedding Guest”:Weird Wedding Guest
So many of the “monsters” of fairy tales and fantasy literature are far from repulsive. The dialogue of “Beauty and the Beast,” in almost every version, stresses the Beast’s “ugliness.” I’ve never seen a visual representation (picture book or video) that makes him look ugly. Any monster based on a lion, wolf, or other “charismatic megafauna” may come across as terrifying but, to most contemporary Western readers and viewers, not ugly—more like fascinating or awe-inspiring. What about non-mammals? Having written an erotic romance with a dragon shapeshifter, I don’t have much trouble imagining a glamorous were-serpent. In fact, Lamia, in Keats' poem about her myth, fits that description. Zeus took the form of a swan to ravish Leda. Mercedes Lackey includes a human-griffin love story in one of her novels, complete with feathers.
Are there any types of animals or aliens that would, in fact, impress most people as so repulsive they couldn’t become objects of attraction? The Utod of THE DARK LIGHT YEARS, who live in pools of their own waste, would probably fall into that category. Anything covered in slime would, too. In general, any creature whose body texture or odor disgusts the average person would be rejected as a romantic hero. These kinds of traits, especially smell, strike us at a visceral level that’s very hard to override by reason or will. Has any SF or fantasy author taken up the challenge of writing a relationship between such an alien and a human protagonist—if not as lovers, at least as friends?
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Theme-Plot Integration Part 12 - Tom Clancy Action-Romance Formula
---------Just a quick commercial first ----
Learn about weaponry to be included in the story-driven, cross platform, science fiction RPG Ambrov-X, taking my Sime~Gen Universe ahead into the Space Age. Click this link to see an image.
You can sign up for the Newsletter on that page, or just "Like" the Facebook page:
News is posted on Facebook every week, and there will be more news in September.
Meanwhile, it's very instructive to watch how a project like this game (which incorporates many aspects of film writing) is created. I expect it will have nuances of Action-Romance, but keep in mind, as one of the authors of the novels (with Jean Lorrah), I have little to do with the real work. Others are playing in my universe -- eerie feeling!
Previous entries in the Theme-Plot Integration series:
So I re-watched the famous Harrison Ford movie based on the Tom Clancy novel, PATRIOT GAMES.
That's free to Amazon Prime customers, so go watch it.
There's a principle in skills acquisition as old as the Hippocratic Oath: "See One; Do One; Teach One" -- but works the other way around, too, Teach, Do, then SEE!!!
When you've attempted to teach something, then after that DONE it again yourself, suddenly you SEE things you'd never seen before, or had seen but not understood exactly.
Here's what I learned from an old movie.
There is a whole NOVEL tucked up between the scenes of a Movie!
And in fact, that's actually how life works. There are lots and lots of things going on between the things that happen, and when you assemble all the details of your life, you can find a pattern.
There's research that shows that people see patterns where there are none -- that randomized dots are assembled into patterns by the human brain just because we are pattern seekers. We are emotionally invested in, and predisposed by survival lessons, to seek meaning in things, even where there is no meaning.
In other words, we impose meaningfulness on randomness because we prefer meaning.
With that clue in mind, a writer can arrange the PLOT EVENTS of a story (or more likely re-arrange them, during a heavy re-writing session) into a PATTERN that will convey a different meaning to each reader/viewer.
Or think of it this way. We use fiction to project our inner preferences for meaning (theme = meaning; the moral of the story) onto what seem to be events in a "real" life.
Tom Clancy novels sold like crazy and all got made into top drawer, big budget, feature films because he found a way to arrange the events in his stories that allowed the books to be made into films, and even more people saw the films than read the books.
His method is an old, tried and true, tread-worn method that even you can learn and use, and if you do use it, you will eventually be stunned by seeing it in other people's works.
It works for readers and viewers because it does replicate real life. See my posts on Astrology, especially the ones involving PLUTO TRANSITS. Pluto transits are drama, and the events of Patriot Games are arranged to replicate Pluto transits.
METHOD: "rising action" is the technical name for this pattern. Each bit of "Action/Violence" is bigger, louder, more personal or intimate than the last, all the way to the Resolution/Climax action.
In Patriot Games, it starts with Witnessing a drive-by assassination attempt.
Then the principle action/hero (Harrison Ford, who else?) takes a hand in preventing the assassination. But this first violent event is a Co-incidence.
(see the correct use of co-incidence discussion
The loving couple with one child on vacation in London just HAPPENS to be on ground-zero of an attempted royal family assassination by the IRA.
You can kick off a plot with a co-incidence, but you can't resolve it with a co-incidence.
So this first meeting of the two elements that will conflict to generate the plot is a co-incidence.
However, the THEME is revealed as we discover why this co-incidence is somehow providential or karmic. Paul Ryan (Ford's character) is a teacher now, but he was a CIA analyst. He retired, and is glad to be shut of the CIA. He's happy and wants to get on with living a normal life.
But, as he says later, he just got MAD, angry -- field operatives aren't supposed to do that. Bad form. But he got mad, and dove into a situation he didn't comprehend. He tackled one of the assassins, grabbed his gun and shot another assassin dead. One got away in a getaway car driven by a long-haired redheaded woman. The police rushing into the scene seeing Paul Ryan with a gun in his hand and a guy dead make the obvious assumption.
The royals in the car (there was also a bomb that blew up one car) obviously come down on Ryan's side of the story.
At the trial, we find out that Ryan is getting a Knighthood out of his rescue. And we find out that the guy who got put away in jail is the brother of the guy he killed. These are tough-guys. Ryan knows he's not shut of them.
But he takes his family home, and goes on with his teaching life until, on TV, he sees that the guy who got put away in jail has escaped from a transport (we see first hand the tough-guys breaking the brother out of the transport Van and executing the escort - flames and blood.)
FOREBODING -- but SKIP.
Going home from work, the IRA guys attack him, but he gets away after a fist fight. He twigs to the danger his wife and child must be in, and frantically drives across town to catch up to them.
BUT - Paul Ryan is caught in traffic when a plume of smoke goes up in front of him. HE KNOWS -- but he's at a distance from that action, after his minor, personal skirmish. We saw the violence -- he didn't.
SKIP - wife and child in hospital -- skipping through most of the worry-scenes that most writers would make a novel out of.
OK, that's the last straw. He goes back to his CIA job as an analyst working on catching these guys.
He twigs to the red-headed getaway driver woman being the key to catching these people.
STATE OF THE ART (at that time) gadgets and orbital photos let him launch a commando attack on a LIBYA training camp (Syria is mentioned - you should watch this movie and remember those years).
They get all but one of the bad guys.
The Royals that Ryan saved get invited to his house for a party celebrating his daughter getting out of the hospital. HIGH POINT emotionally, all's good. (Clancy signature for the turn into Act 3)
There's a rat in the house, and an attack from outside takes out all the security guards accompanying the royals while a murder happens inside the house.
Paul Ryan's MONSTER IN THE HOUSE climax (see the SAVE THE CAT! books for the genre "Monster In The House") -- it's the hair-raising personal-space invasion element -- note how this movie goes from the distance of something happening to someone else that the hero voluntarily involves himself in all the way to his own house being invaded. Clancy's formula is to start at a distance and approach the personal.
But this isn't horror. Ryan is an action/hero protecting those he LOVES.
The romance is happening outside the action here -- he was "courting" his wife in London, there's a scene where she tells him she's pregnant just before the attack that puts her in the hospital but she doesn't lose the baby, she hated the CIA gig and won't stay with him if he goes back, he goes back, NOW when the bastards invade her house she tells her husband/lover who has wooed her back into love that he should do anything he has to to get those bastards, and he does exactly that.
In the best action-romance the romance is the action. Here they are separate but entwined, which is a Clancy formula. The Romance is the sub-plot that adds emotional dimension and makes the bad guys misdeeds "personal" bringing out the heroism.
So the final action sequence is all about sneaking around a dark coastal mansion-sized house on a "dark and stormy night" -- climbing up into the attic and out a window and down sloping roofs, running for your life from a monster in the house.
Meanwhile, the royal is trapped in the cellar and fighting more bad guys.
Paul Ryan fakes a getaway in one of the two (nice white against the dark waves) boats brought by the assault-group's, and the bad guys chase him as he drives the boat out alone, his family "safe" on shore.
The bad guys Group is after the royal, to kidnap and hold for ransom, but the brother of the guy Ryan killed is after Ryan. After a fight, Ryan kills the bad guy.
Remember we looked at dramatic use for Poetic Justice here:
In the hand-to-hand fight on one boat (which is on fire), the bad guy attacks Ryan with a zig-zag bladed boat implement, probably an anchor. Ryan knocks it out of his hands. They fight all over the burning boat, in the lightening lit rain, racing over the waves with nobody at the helm. Then without Ryan's actually seeming to plan it, he finally hits the bad guy and the bad guy falls on the points of the anchor and is impaled -- hoist on his own petard -- poetic justice.
Meanwhile, the boat runs aground and the rescue helicopter (sent when the security guys with the royals didn't check in) spots the boat which runs aground.
House full of police and security, with Ryan, wife and kid wrapped in a blanket -- safe. Bad guys all gone.
Actually, that's a great place to start a Romance since he's got to woo and win his wife all over again. She has to come to trust that he won't do this again -- next time coincidence makes him mad.
Watch that movie again, and note the CUTS -- and what you assume is happening between scene.
On a screenwriting Group on Facebook, I was in a discussion of methods a writer uses to CUT A SCENE -- scenes should be about 3 pages max.
This movie is a great example of how to cut scenes to size. SKIP!!! Let what happens between be implied, imagined.
Remember, above I mentioned that research on how humans project patterns onto random fields of dots?
The action-scenes in this movie are 'dots' - the SKIPS spaces between. They aren't random or intended to be random. If you're following the story, you know what happens between a car crash and the pacing the waiting room floor in the hospital scene. But you know all that because you expect there to be a pattern to these events, and you know the template of that pattern (ambulance, police, etc).
But none of that "stuff" is actually there on the screen. It's the pattern you are imagining and imposing on the dots. Likewise, the pattern of dots I've shown you here, from distant and impersonal 'action' to up-close-monster-in-the-house-very-personal 'action' -- an ordered sequence -- is imagined.
Look at the movie and see what pattern you see in those dots. But be especially aware of the spaces between the dots. There are whole novels tucked up in there.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
We're talking dangers degrees of deference, and exaggerated awe of a higher ranking officer... which happens to be a theme that interested me in my God Princes Of Tigron series where the god-Prince Tarrant-Arragon was aware that cowed Star Forces officers were a liability on the Bridge of a war-star. This is one reason that he took a shine to the human, Grievous who shot off his mouth first and worried about the social graces later.
I am reading "OUTLIERS" by Malcolm Gladwell... and I think you should read it, too. The chapter on "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes" is fascinating to me. Basically, the theory is that Korean pilots used to crash more than pilots of other countries because of their strict social structure (high Power Distance Index), the complexity of their language, and their respect for authority... including abrupt air traffic controllers.
Apparently, all planes are safer if the less senior officer is flying the plane and the more senior pilot is watching everything and talking to the air traffic controllers. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if there is ice on the wings, or the fuel is running out, or there's a storm up ahead, there is no time for parsing gentle hints such as "the weather radar has helped us" and translating that into "we're about to hit a mountain!"
Just as many How To Write Romance tip sheets suggest that before a hero and heroine can have plausible, loving sex, there has to be a progression of touches in five if not seven progressively more intimate places, so there is a theory that no catastrophic airplane accident is the result of one problem.
Usually, there is a critical mass of at least three preconditions: a minor technical malfunction either of one system of a plane or of an airport system; bad weather; a tired pilot. If these three conditions exist, the pilot needs perfect cooperation and communication with everyone in the cockpit and on the ground. He needs to be able to ask clearly for the exact help he requires, and to get it.
I had not heard about "mitigated speech" before, but apparently there are 6 ways to warn a pilot that he is about to fly into a thunderstorm.
1. Command. Example, "Turn thirty degrees right."
2. Crew Obligation Statement. Example, "I think we need to deviate right about now."
3. Crew Suggestion. Example, "Let's go around the weather."
4. Query. Example, "Which direction would you like to deviate?"
5. Preference. Example, "I think it would be wise to turn left or right."
6. Hint. Example, "That return at twenty-five miles looks mean."
This is quoted from Outliers, which quotes from a study done by Ute Fischer and Judith Orasanu, "Error-Challenging Strategies: Their Role In Preventing And Correcting Errors."
There are three sample chapters free on the Gladwell website including the chapter that explains what an Outlier is http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/outliers_excerpt1.html
also why some perfectly pleasant neighbors suddenly lash out (especially if they are Kentuckians, or have Scots ancestry) http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/outliers_excerpt2.html
If you want to read the chapter to which I refer here, "The Ethnic Theory Of Plane Crashes", you will have to obtain the book. Barnes and Noble has a used copy for $1.99 or you can rent it for 60 days for $8.37.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Aliens Inside Us
If you have access to the latest issue of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION (July-August), be sure to read this issue’s Science article by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty, “Aliens Inside You.” It discusses our relationship with the microbes that inhabit our bodies. Microorganisms living inside us outnumber our own cells ten to one. The average person’s intestinal bacteria alone weigh about three pounds in the aggregate. Fortunately, most of them are harmless or beneficial. It’s well known that taking antibiotics sometimes leads to yeast infection because the drug kills off the bacteria that protect against yeast. Recent research suggests that H. pylori, the bacterium that causes ulcers (but only in 15% of the people who harbor it), helps to keep the immune system healthy, guarding against conditions such as allergies and asthma. And there’s an intestinal bug called C. difficile that can attack people whose benign gut bacteria have been wiped out by antibiotics. An experimental cure has been devised that works on some patients—a fecal transplant. Yep, just what it says.
The value of intestinal bacteria reminds me of a novel by Brian Aldiss, THE DARK LIGHT YEARS, in which human space explorers meet aliens called the Utod, who resist all attempts to communicate and are therefore regarded as mere animals. Disgusting ones, at that, because they wallow in their own feces. Misguided human observers try to force the Utod captives to exist in sterile conditions, unaware that the aliens' health depends on the symbiotic creatures living in their excrement. Here’s a review of the novel:The Dark Light Years
Murphy and Doherty suggest we might think of the inhabitants of our personal interior ecosystem as our “secret pets.”
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Theme-Plot Integration Part 11 - Correct Use of Cliche in Plot
My novel series, Sime~Gen, is in development as a story-driven, cross-platform, science fiction RPG video game. From what I've seen so far, the developing company, Loreful, has avoided many of the standard cliche elements, and incorporated a couple in a way that makes Sime~Gen readers smile.
It will be hard for you to FIND the cliche elements in this video game. It's not actually Romance Genre in form, but it is Relationship Driven on a personal character-to-character basis, and on the basis of whole civilizations meeting (human and non-human) and forming Relationships (diplomatic and otherwise).
Watch how Sime~Gen takes the leap into the space age, goes where no human of any larity has gone before, and makes friends and influences people (not all of which are human) by joining the mailing list at
Or "liking" the page on Facebook at
--------- end commercial interruption ------
Previous entries in the Theme-Plot Integration series:
So today we'll discuss the Star Trek movie that had its debut in May, 2013, the week before Labor Day Weekend when the really-big blockbusters of the summer hit.
This film is an easy way to come to understand the power of the cliche when properly used because Star Trek itself first created the cliches, and now uses them. This film also draws on cliches made famous by other films in related genres (super-hero, fantasy).
I'm assuming that by now everyone who wants to see this film has seen it, so spoilers are included here.
And today is an appropriate day to ponder this film since it's title is INTO DARKNESS, and this is Tisha B'Av. Tisha means 9, and Av is a month in the Jewish calendar. This day marks the anniversary of a whole, long list of very "dark" moments in Jewish History. This is a day of settling up accounts, and if you owe a penalty in any area, today is the day it will be exacted.
And essentially, that's what this film is about, settling up accounts.
I'm going to assume you know Star Trek well enough not to need to have it explained.
Khan, the gene-altered human who considered himself the epitome of perfection (because someone designed him to be that and he believed them, with considerable evidence to support that conclusion), loses a battle with Kirk and Spock (and Uhura, keep your eye on this new Uhura!).
J. J. Abrams and his BAD ROBOT production company has "perfect pitch" when it comes to the rhythm and tone of movie structure. Star Trek: Into Darkness follows Save The Cat! very nicely, but it does many other things well, too.
I puzzled over the title INTO DARKNESS -- (I really hate the title. I don't find going into Darkness particularly amusing, bemusing or interesting. I like Romance. I want to EMERGE FROM Darkness.)
Here on IMDB is a list of the official "tag lines" (writing advice from me is create your tagline first, then write the story from that).
Beyond the darkness, lies greatness.
In our darkest hour, when our leaders have fallen, a hero will rise.
They have one chance to save us all
Earth will fall
I like "beyond the darkness, lies greatness" -- beyond is good. Into, not.
So leaders falling - the plot of the movie does have that. The "one chance to save us all" is typical action-comic formula, which has been considered (erroneously in my opinion) as the core of Science Fiction.
And that formula is fully reticulated throughout this film, with elegance and flourishes.
Star Trek: Into Darkness opens on a bright, colorful, interesting chase scene of the TV Series cliche "Beam Me Up Scotty" scenes where Kirk is running for his life. This opening scene reprises a good many of those difficult, time-sensitive beam-ups. Of course, the new transporter effect is showcased nicely. And Kirk is showcased as our Hero who will Rise.
Note the environment of the chase scene just delicately hints of the planet in the film Avatar.
We see the cliche scene of the SPACE SHIP (the Enterprise) lying doggo on the bottom of this planet's ocean. Not only have we seen starships submerged before, but this symbolically hints at the TV Series scene where Starfleet "observers" are hidden by a holo-projection field in a kind of "duck blind" -- and the whole issue of the Prime Directive is thus VISUALLY raised and defined. So there are two cliches in the same visual image.
That single cliche of the submerged starship bespeaks volumes, silently -- no dialogue, no tedious philosophy. Remember, the title of this piece is Theme-Plot Integration, and that image of the Enterprise on the bottom of the ocean of an alien planet of "primitives" -- THAT is theme-plot integration.
An image that says it all, fully integrated with the action-plot. That kind of integration is what writers do for a living. It is an example of the epitome of the writing craft. And the whole reason it works as such an "integration" technique is that the starship-on-the-ocean-bottom is a cliche!
This is a nice lead-in to the cliche reprise of the Enterprise rising up out of that ocean. And later still, we see the Enterprise rising up through CLOUDS (a visual reprise of the ocean emergence). Visually, these RISES of the symbol of our HERO, symbolize the tagline "a hero will rise" which is itself a cliche at least as old as King Arthur. Note the tie-together visual images.
Meanwhile, Spock, in order to complete the mission, descends inside an erupting volcano with a device -- it's kind of obvious what the device is supposed to accomplish.
By the time the cliche sequence of Spock almost dying as he tries to get into position inside the volcano is over, we have much more information -- THEME information -- that we have absorbed visually, with almost no dialogue "explaining" any of it.
We learn that this alternate-universe Kirk shares our old Kirk's attitude toward rules. Well, we knew that from the first film, but this Kirk is a little bit older and now Captain of the Enterprise. His mission is to save this planet from a fatal volcanic eruption. This reprises the loss of Vulcan in the previous film without any dialogue about that -- the issue gets one line from Spock, so quick that if you miss it, you probably will never notice.
So our new Kirk treats the Prime Directive just the way our old Kirk did. And by violating the prime directive (Enterprise rising out of the ocean; primitives making a drawing of that in the sand), Kirk saves a civilization. Why does Kirk violate the Prime Directive? To save Spock's life.
PLOT -- Kirk saves Spock by violating the rules.
DIALOGUE: what would Spock have done if Kirk were at the bottom of that volcano? Spock would have let Kirk die.
PLOT: later as the plot unfolds, Spock DOES let Kirk die.
Cliche: They stage the scene where Kirk dies to be a reminder of the scene (in a previous film) where Spock goes into a radiation hot-zone and saves the day by hitting a reset button. Here Kirk goes into a radiation hot-zone and restarts the power as the Enterprise is falling from orbit. And they replay the scene of the two of them separated by a transparent barrier as Kirk dies of radiation.
Spock's death scene (in the previous Universe) is so penetrating, so dramatic, so perfect, that it all by itself has become a cliche! And here Abrams replays that scene, but reversed. And in the same movie, Abrams revives Kirk -- we didn't have to wait for another installment this time.
Again, we're doing Theme-Plot integration. The EVENTS (plot) bespeak the MEANING (theme) without a word being said.
"What happens" reveals the meaning of "Life The Universe And Everything."
So how does Kirk's life get saved?
A series of EVENTS and DECISIONS (deeds) (i.e. PLOT EVENTS or BEATS) are concatenated into a Batman/Spiderman cliche fight scene climax. And it's all perfectly logical, even if you miss most of the dialogue.
As a result (because-line is plot, remember?) of violating the Prime Directive (character; Kirk is a rule-breaker), The Admiral takes the Enterprise away from Kirk. The new Captain (who is the Captain Kirk replaced) appoints Kirk First Officer, and takes him to a meeting to discuss launching a man-hunt for the perpetrator of a terrorist explosion.
Now do you see why I keep rubbing your nose in CURRENT EVENTS that don't seem to have anything to do with writing Romance or Science Fiction?
Take a notepad, and watch STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS again, noting every single one of the points "ripped from the headlines." You'll need several pages, especially if you've followed the Senate and Congressional Hearings on Benghazi, IRS, AP/Media intimidation. Even though this film was written and made a year or two before all these 'scandals' broke, any science fiction writer would have known they were going to break -- maybe not when, but that this stuff was going on.
You'll find all of those issues in Star Trek: Into Darkness, just as you'll find them in Gini Koch's (grand) Science Fiction Romance Novel ALIEN IN THE HOUSE (which I just finished reading; keep reading her series).
"ript from the headlines" is the reason you get best sellers, blockbuster films, and even non-fiction extravaganzas. What sells is THEME. Theme is the essence of the conversation your readers are having with each other, that you are participating in with your comment -- which is your novel.
Conversations work only if all parties are engaged and listening to each other. The Headlines are what your readers are listening to. You'll find what they think about those headlines on blogs, and in other novels and movies in your field. What you have to say in that conversation is the theme of your novel. As in any cocktail party conversation, you must wait your turn to speak (write, and get that novel of yours published). TIMING your utterance is an art, but also perhaps an act of God.
I suspect Abrams and Star Trek just got lucky with the timing of this statement in Star Trek: Into Darkness. It's been many years in the making, but it hit at just the point in time where the national conversation was all about the Honor and Integrity, the motives and goals of the Leadership.
Star Trek: Into Darkness starts with Kirk getting demoted to First Officer for saving Spock's life by violating the Prime Directive. (I can't think of a more cliched cliche!)
Is Kirk the "Leader" who "falls" -- if you'd seen the tagline before the movie, you might jump to that conclusion.
But Kirk is not the one in that meeting who falls for the simplistic solution to the problem of a "terrorist attack" -- launch an all-out man-hunt. He suspects that first explosion was only a distraction (how much distraction are you seeing in the Headlines?). And when the walls of the meeting hall full of Leaders start to rumble, he thinks about how rigidly Star Fleet "follows the rules" which makes them utterly predictable, and he thinks about the caliber of the terrorist, (something our Headlines seem to miss), and he knows he's sitting inside the next TARGET BULLS-EYE.
Note how few words it takes to convey Kirk's thinking in that scene, because of the utterly cliche'd images we've just seen in the opening chase scene, and in the first scene where we see what Khan is up to.
Also note how this film uses LONDON. Note the current reboot of Dr. Who, and its success.
So Kirk survives this next attack (note the number of minutes into the 120 minute film the second action-scene hits) because a few seconds in advance, he RISES from his chair.
Remember the tagline - a hero will rise.
Unless you know Trek, you still don't know who that hero is.
So the new Captain of the Enterprise dies, Kirk gets the Enterprise back and (despite Spock having ratted him out to the Admiralty and gotten him demoted) chooses Spock for his First Officer.
And don't forget Uhura. Is this going to be a problem? "No, Captain." "Undetermined." Note the use of dialogue, and pure silence, to develop the ROMANCE. Less is more. That is the hottest romance in film today!
So Kirk is given orders to take 72 torpedoes aboard, super-weapons, and go take out the Terrorist, whose whereabouts has been determined technologically. (HEADLINES: Big Brother Is Watching You -- all those cell phone taps, logs, and tracking a Fox Reporter's use of watch-fob pass into secured buildings). And if he follows orders, it makes the inevitable all-out-war with the Klingons of this alternate Universe come much closer and become more inevitable.
Spock argues with Kirk about wisdom of unleashing those torpedoes. Even this new Spock does not see killing to be a solution to a problem, though the Admiral seems to favor it.
When you outline your new novel, stay on POINT with the HEADLINES. Don't stray off topic, but get ahead of that topic. "How's your Klingon?" "Rusty, but good." What alien language is it that we don't speak?
Scotty -- oh, this is great screenwriting -- SCOTTY refuses to take the Enterprise out with those torpedoes aboard because he can't determine if they'll interfere with his engines. He RESIGNS his commission, and Kirk accepts his resignation. This is a cliche scene that gets a twist. Instead of caving in to the threat, Kirk accepts Scotty's resignation. He's not calling a bluff. He's not determined to start a war. He's determined to 'get' the terrorist who killed his friend, the previous Captain of the Enterprise. It's become personal -- but that is not stated in on-the-nose dialogue.
This resignation scene is dialogue dense, but illustrates the conflict which is the core of the plot. And it's all about theme-plot integration -- what do you DO because of what you BELIEVE or 'HOLD TO BE TRUE.' Theme is about the hierarchy of ideals behind our decisions. This scene is all about what to do and why to do it. The scene is about following orders -- or refusing to -- about bending the rules, or NOT!!! Who is on which side of that argument? Watch that film again, and remember this is "into darkness" and "beyond darkness lies greatness."
So Scotty (and his marvelous little-alien-friend we met in the previous film who has no dialogue at all, but we know is a dynamite engineer) takes his friend off to a (dark) "dive" to get drunk over losing his position, and leaving Kirk and his friends in a very dangerous situation. This is Scotty's darkness, his darkest moment. Is he the Hero who will Rise?
The Enterprise warps off (I saw this in 3D and loved the warp-effect), and the engines fail. Of course.
So the Enterprise is sitting in space, pointing torpedoes at the Klingon planet which, if they blast it, will trigger a war. Kirk has been ordered to KILL, and he wants to.
Spock opposes the orders to fire torpedoes.
Kirk chooses (PLOT IS CHOICES) and decides not to fire, but to go down there himself and get Khan, capture him alive to question. How many "torpedoes" (higher tech than our enemies have) have we fired into the territory of other governments and KILLED the very people we should be questioning?
THEME: Kirk accepts danger to his own life for the sake of upholding his own ideals. This is a PLOT EVENT that bespeaks the THEME of the underlying value system. But you're left to figure out exactly what that value system really is for yourself. Kirk is an action-hero; he neither knows nor wants to know what his motives are. He just DOES THINGS.
So Kirk captures Khan, gets Khan to surrender, but doesn't know why Khan surrenders when Kirk says how many torpedoes he has.
After Khan surrenders, Kirk beats up on him -- doesn't seem to do any damage to Khan who doesn't hit back.
Which of them has the higher standard of Honor?
So back on the Enterprise, Kirk finds out Khan's crew are in suspended animation -- in the torpedoes, and would have died had he fired them. McCoy experiments with Khan's blood by injecting it into a dead tribble. It's not emphasized why he did that or where he got the tribble from. But because that bit just hangs there in mid-scene, you remember that tribble.
Spock calls New Vulcan (note I'm not listing these events in the order they appear on the screen; think about that). Spock talks to our-Spock who's alive on New Vulcan, who has pledged not to VIOLATE THE PRIME DIRECTIVE and tell folks in this universe about what happened in his universe. Then our-Spock tells new-Spock about Khan and how the Enterprise beat him. Much wiser about what they've facing now, Spock adjusts his application of logic to the situation.
And Kirk finds out about the Admiral who gave the orders to fire the torpedoes and start a war with the Klingons. He finds out Khan has been the Admiral's adviser. (this is an info-dump; this is very, very well done, but it's exposition that had to be filled in. It is done as a big "reveal" and it works.)
Kirk calls Scotty and apologizes, gives Scotty a mission. Scotty ends up on a ship in Earth orbit.
Note that I'm skipping the hot-stuff love affair with Uhura scenes. We might discuss why in the future, so figure that one out.
So Kirk is on his way back to Earth with Khan, torpedoes and all, and a BIG SHIP appears and starts hammering the Enterprise. (big space battle cliche scene -- very well done!) Scotty is on that ship, doing his best. (it's huge, so we get a lot of action-scene running around)
We have another scene where Kirk flings his life in the balance, going over to the Big Ship.
The end result of all the life-risking, harrowing high-tech hacking etc, is that Little Enterprise sends The Admiral, Khan and the Big Ship into Earth atmosphere, crashing into London. Epic damage. They figure Khan could survive even that, though.
Note the crashing of an Enterprise-shaped ship into London echoes the Enterprise coming down into San Francisco Bay. There is a huge amount of information coded into images. Juxtapose those images to decode that information.
Star Trek itself created the original images -- and all the reruns etc. and fanzine stories have made those original images into cliches which, when used here, illuminate the theme without a word spoken. That is theme-plot integration.
Another reason I hammer at THEME so much is that (contrary to popular belief) theme is the strong-suit of Romance genre novels. The Spock/Uhura Romance being set up here is just such a novel in the making. Note how Uhura handles Klingon language. What do you suppose her Vulcan is like by now? Not a hint in this movie.
So back to Into Darkness. Tattered and shattered, Little Enterprise is also in a death-dive. This is where Kirk willingly enters the radiation-chamber to restart the power so Enterprise won't crash.
And here we have Kirk's death scene echoing Spock's death scene in the other Universe.
And indeed Khan survived the crash of the big ship. Spock beams down to catch him, and we have a Spiderman/Batman/Star Wars or superhero generic chase scene CLICHE, with them jumping from floating car to floating car-top in urban canyons. And Spock is unleashing full Vulcan strength against the perfected human Khan, and not exactly winning.
Meanwhile, the dead tribble McCoy injected with Khan's blood comes alive, and McCoy secures Kirk's body.
Uhura (remember, I said to remember her!) beams down beside Spock, rescues Spock by shooting Khan on stun (which doesn't hurt him much) and screaming at Spock that they need Khan alive. Khan better not fall to his death. Much fighting and rescuing later, they secure Khan, and use his blood to revive Kirk.
Khan killed some people, then killed someone Kirk respected and admired. Kirk was sent to kill Khan. Kirk spared Khan's life, and Khan tried his best to kill Kirk and everyone that mattered to Kirk. Kirk GAVE HIS LIFE to save everyone that mattered to him. Khan's blood restores Kirk's life.
There's a mythic-Hero motif there, beyond the Jesus resurrection angle. King Arthur is supposed to "rise" when ENGLAND (remember, we just destroyed most of London) needs him.
Beyond the darkness, lies greatness.
In our darkest hour, when our leaders have fallen, a hero will rise.
Was The Darkness lurking (remember the Trek episode about Jack the Ripper?) inside The Admiral who wanted war with the Klingons? Is that Admiral the Leader who falls? Is Kirk the hero who will Rise?
Is the new Star Trek about Kirk vs. The Federation Government?
What will be the next headline Abrams "rips" a story from?
Did anyone except me love this film, and see real hope for a whole new Trek franchise?
A lot of people didn't like INTO DARKNESS -- no great nude scenes, no nude sex scenes, not enough blood sprayed on the walls.
Here's the first weekend's boxoffice results and commentary on demographics:
J.J. Abrams' space epic sequel took in $84 million over the five-day opening that began Wednesday with special Imax screenings. With the film's production budget at $190 million, producers Paramount, Skydance Productions and Abrams' Bad Robot Productions were looking for more. Its $70.5 million three-day total was less than the $75 million that "Star Trek" debuted to four years ago, and that film didn't have the benefit of 3D or Imax surcharges.
Also read: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Can't Hit Warp Speed at Box Office
Only 25 percent of those who went to see "Into Darkness" were under 25 years of age. That's considerably less than the 35 percent that the previous film attracted, and it's far more older-skewing than the first-weekend audiences for Disney's "Iron Man 3," which was 45 percent under 25, 27 percent families and 21 percent teens.
"It didn't grab the attention of young moviegoers, and you're not going to get your movie over $100 million with just older folks," Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. "It's tough to figure, because with Abrams doing it, it's really not your father's 'Star Trek.' But it needs to find that young audience in a hurry."
And there's the rub.
The young audience that "Star Trek" will try to connect with its second weekend is the same demographic that "The Hangover III," which Warner Bros. opens Thursday, is targeting. And it's the same one that Universal's "Fast & Furious 6," which opens Friday, is going after. Fox's animated family film "Epic" opens this weekend, too, and "Iron Man 3" isn't going anywhere.
Also read: 'The Hangover III' vs. 'Fast & Furious 6' and 4 More of Summer's Biggest Box-Office Smackdowns
"For 'Into Darkness,' this will be a make or break weekend," Bock said.
That's certainly true domestically. "Into Darkness" won't match the $255 million total run up by Abrams' 2009 reboot and it may struggle to hit $200 million, analysts say.
"I do think we're going to find that young crowd, mainly because it's such a good movie," Paramount's head of distribution Don Harris told TheWrap.
Critics like it (87 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences gave it an "A" CinemaScore.
Star Trek: Into Darkness did debut as #1 on its first weekend, but did not meet expectations.
Will young people like it? Will they even bother to see it when they have new action-action films?
The veteran Star Trek fans do like it.
Twitter conversation with another writer went like this:
LizStrangeVamp: Who else saw Star Trek Into Darkness and loved it? I am officially a Cumber-bitch now. 9:24am, May 21 from Web
JLichtenberg: @lizstrangevamp I did see ST:ID, prepping to write a review, saw this box-office analysis: http://t.co/ouORUbLyht will collect more info 9:29am, May 21 from HootSuite
LizStrangeVamp: @JLichtenberg Hmm. Did you enjoy it?? Thought they did a great job in saluting long-time fans and making accessable to newbies. 9:31am, May 21 from Web
JLichtenberg: @lizstrangevamp Yes, enjoyed ST:ID in 3D, noted the tech advances didn't get showcased at expense of STORY. Reboot is WORKING 9:34am, May 21 from HootSuite
LizStrangeVamp: @JLichtenberg Totally agree. Casting couldn't be better, writing solid, top notch special effects AND an ass-kicking Spock scene. Brillant. 9:36am, May 21 from Web
So I asked if I could quote and she said yes. Find out more about Liz here; http://www.lizstrange.com/
I also got a comment from my co-author Jean Lorrah, ( http://jeanlorrah.com )author of some of the Star Trek novels.
I saw the 2D version (yeah, I stole time for that on Saturday, as otherwise I wouldn't see it till it came on pay TV)--lots of good things about it, but a couple of things I don't like. They've made Spock too emotional too soon--now he simply has a stoic philosophy that may clash with American values, but not human ones, and he blew even that in this film. And of course there was NO suspense about the ending--the audience was told loud and clear how they would save the day. Also, catching the villain was not necessary when they had his followers. He could have escaped to be Kirk and Spock's Moriarty.
I like the alternate universe aspect, with people we know turning up in new roles, but over all they are playing the biggest hands far too soon. And they need to bring in new people and new plots for the main guest roles.
Zachary Quinto does a wonderful job of capturing "our" Spock in certain moments, particularly double takes. He is the saving grace of the new series--lots of actors could play Kirk, but they had to find one who could embody Spock in a way that would at least sometimes play true to the old fans.
The consensus I've seen on Google+ is pretty positive.
Of course I hang with Trekfen and our favorite game is FINDING FAULT WITH TREK.
It's what we do, day and night, any time any where. We can pick this film apart easily. It's got lots of flaws. By me, one of the biggest flaws is the title. Maybe the next one will be called Into Light?
But I see 2 great things in it:
a) Star Trek: Into Darkness used the 3-D technology the way TV Trek used phasers and transporters -- it's just there, it works. The film doesn't shove story, character, and plot aside to razzle-dazzle you with pop-out surprises. And that makes the whole thing seem more realistic, not less, in 3-D.
b) It has a truly despicable villain, there is REAL darkness afoot, but Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Uhura -- their characters grow in Honor, spiritual strength, and common sense rule-following as well as rule-breaking. They don't become villains to conquer villains.
Could anyone ask more of a 21st century film?
Well, yes, they could have done more with Spock/Uhura, but if they had what would fans write/dream about? Oh, that is one hot romance! And it's WORKING.