Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Story Springboards Part 4 - The Art of Interesting Episodes by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Story Springboards Part 4
The Art of Interesting Episodes
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is the index of previous posts relevant to this discussion:

In Part 3 of this series,
we started sketching out the issues and topics relevant to constructing an Episodic Plot.

We noted that most books on how to write fiction end up with the famous writer just saying that a new writer simply has to write an "interesting story" and it will sell.  That is what most famous writers have done to get famous, and it is good advice.

Problem is -- how do you write something "interesting?"  What do you do with all the story ideas boiling around in your head to form them into an "interesting" story?

That brought us to the problem of what exactly the word "interesting" actually means.

A tweet from twitter attributed the property "interesting" to thoughts, which set us off on an investigation of the properties of language and its use for communication.

What exactly does "interesting" mean?

One person means one thing by a word, another means a different thing -- but they both think they mean the same thing by that word.

I Love You is one of those marvelous examples.  Men mean one thing during sex, women hear another totally different thing in those words.  Later, comparing notes, furious arguments and searing emotions erupt.

Words are incendiary weapons.  Very possibly words are "weapons of mass destruction" instead of "weapons of mass instruction." 

To a writer, "words" are the, single, most interesting subject in creation! 

So to ponder what "interesting" is all about, what it really means, let's look at what most people would consider to be the opposite of interesting.


Miscommunication, which we discussed in Part 3, over various concepts of TIME in various cultures has been the cause of culture-wars throughout history.  Miscommunication between the sexes involving the simple little phrase "I love you," (which is more precise in Greek, but still very slippery), has caused wars and the rise and fall of huge corporations.

Miscommunication between the generations likewise causes massive friction, and shapes personalities during childhood. 

As the twig is bent; so grows the tree.   What your love-life will shape up to be might be discernible in childhood via the issue of, "Mommy, I'm bored." -- (or put another way, how you learn to move from 'bored' to 'interested.') 

Miscommunication causes the "I'm bored," conversation between child and adult to go nowhere. 

The child is convinced that "interesting" is a property of THINGS, and boredom would be gone if only Mommy would supply an interesting toy, or game. 

Mommy, having survived boredom, probably knows that "interesting" is a property of the person who is interested, not of the thing they are interested in.

The Happily Ever After (HEA = never bored?) ending is a full resolution of the conflict while the HFN (Happily for Now = I found an interesting Event/Person) ending is a partial resolution -- leading to SEQUELS when boredom sets in again and the search for another interesting object is launched.

"I love you" can be all about sustaining an "interest" in you.  Many happily married couples cite a fascination with the "surprising" (i.e. Uranus/Aquarius) nature of the relationship. 

SIDENOTE: Tom Baker, who played DOCTOR WHO for many years, was a multiple Aquarius and played the Doctor in that "footloose" interested in all humans, never attached to anyone for long, mode of the Aquarius male. 

The core essence of the Art of Episodic Plotting (which reached a level of perfection with Baker's DOCTOR) is simply the concept "interesting."

Spock made the single word "Interesting" a household metaphor. 

INTERESTING is something children just don't understand.  It happens to them sporadically, is totally delightful, turns on something inside that they adore, makes the wriggle with pleasure, and they don't know why that happens. 

A child has no mastery of how to direct their own attention or hold attention on a subject long enough to penetrate to the core concept.

Part of the definition of "child" is the state of being "non-sexual" or "pre-sexual."  A child lacks a direct awareness of sexuality.  But it is there, within them, anyway, and something at the periphery of that zone of awareness is stirred when "interest" is "aroused."   

You know how easily a child is distracted from whatever they are doing or however they are feeling.  The older the child, the harder they are to distract.

One underlying problem today is how adults have not developed attention spans longer than say, a 14 year old's.  Beyond the natural lengthening of attention span by age, it takes training and discipline to stick to a task long enough to finish it. 

How many would-be writers have a multitude of unfinished works?  How many rejections happen because a work is turned in 3 or 4 drafts too soon -- for lack of that attention-span discipline to finish it?

That kind of discipline of attention comes only with maturity (in astrology represented by Saturn.)  The age of 7 is pivotal, and interestingly enough that year is the year that Saturn makes its first square with its own place. The opposition (1st peak of success) comes at age 14. 

That attention span deficit is why you can "distract" a child under the age of 7 from a tantrum or "Mommy buy me this" or any other problematic behavior.

Which brings us to why we discussed the linguistic and cultural aspects of TIME as a component of "interesting" last week.  

The condition of childhood is a SHORT view of TIME (time is also represented by Saturn) -- the adult condition requires lengthening that TIME-SPAN or attention-span.  For the mature adult, "now" is a much longer span of time than it is for a child. 

But attention span does not lengthen naturally, or simply by the passage of time.  It is just like musculature -- it changes and matures only by usage, by exercise, by effort. 

That's another reason the HEA or "Happily Ever After" ending seems implausible to many.  "Ever After" is a long time to be "interested" in anything, let alone a person.  Those who remain mystified by their roving "interest" and are subject to spans of "boredom" will not be able to relate to being interested in someone for the rest of their lives.  Those who have mastered their internal "interest" needle can much more easily imagine a person who is captivating for a lifetime. 

The trick of lengthening attention span (so you can hold a job and/or a Relationship) is to learn all about the intricate notions of "interesting" so that external influences can't "distract" you.

That lesson is also the trick behind writers finishing a writing project -- something as long as a book takes months, sometimes years, to finish.  Most of the hours spent toiling on a book are spent on repetitive, "boring" tasks.  Thus the writer who intends to make a living from the craft must master their own attention mechanism -- master it to a degree not expected of the audience.

To do that, the writer who works consciously (rather than from innate Talent) can benefit from understanding the abstract depths of the word "interesting."

What is the origin of interest, what is the effect, what is the use, why does it exist, how does it work?

How many parents know the following exchange by heart?

"I'm bored!"

"You have a closet full of toys. Here, play with this one."

"I don't want to."

"Try this one"

"It's too boring." 

"Well, I can't help you."

A while later, "Mommy, I have nothing to do!"

"So do your homework."

"No. It's boring." 

And on and on. 

Many writers will be able to recognize in that exchange the same pattern that underlies the phenomenon that has become known as "Writer's Block." 

Being "bored" by your own thoughts is not a property of the thoughts any more than a child being bored by their toys is a property of the toys. (ask a toy-manufacturer; watch focus-group tests of toys!)

No parent has ever won this fight about boring toys (or homework) unless the parent has matured enough to have spotted the misnomer issue with "interesting" that we discussed in Part 3. 

The misnomer issue is all about language, about words and definitions, where they come from, how they evolve, and how we come to agreement on what words mean. 

Words exist at the intersection of Art and Magic, but we use them for Science.

The concept of where "interesting" originates can be applied to Writer's Block as well. 

Maturation is the process of sorting out what originates inside of you (e.g. who you are, finding yourself, etc.) from what originates outside. 

Maturation is the process of becoming an individual distinct from your parents, and even from your environment, becoming independent and self-sufficient.  Watch time-lapse photos of a fetus developing, and consider that process continues throughout the entire lifetime. 

The child is "bored" because the child is not "self-sufficient." 

Very often the writer is "blocked" because their own material "bores" them, just as the child's own toys bore the child.  (classic cure parents learn is to save a new toy for those rainy-day-I'm-bored moments, using the Uranus method of igniting "interest" via novelty.  This tactic may benefit the parent more than it does the child, but that's a topic for a YA novel.) 

The immature can substitute novelty for interest. 

You can be immature at age 50! ... in fact, there is always some part of you that is immature. 

So we're closing in on the core element that defines what is, or is not, "interesting," and thus what a writer must do to turn out an "interesting story." 

"Interesting" is partially about something you didn't know before.

The tweet  cited in Part 3 indicates that happiness comes from having interesting thoughts -- and that can be interpreted as being "self-sufficient." 

Many children learn to entertain themselves by telling themselves stories they make up (most who eventually sell novels start off like that!).   

Reading stories written by people who are more mature than you are can inspire you to make the effort to distinguish yourself, to become the individual you are born to be, to realize the unique potential that is you. 

But while we are, each of us, unique, we are also composed of the same array of variables that compose everyone else.

We discussed this from the writer's point of view in the series on Astrology and Tarot. 

You'll find those posts listed in Part 3's index to Art and Craft of Story and Plot Arcs summary of previous discussions.  (see the top of this post)

We are unique by virtue of having our common variables filled with differing values, thus making each of us a unique pattern composed of components we have in common. 

That's why "astrology" works -- everyone has the ten variables astrology studies, but they are arranged differently and each Soul uses each of these variables with different degrees of mastery. 

Everyone has a Sun Sign -- so we all understand on a non-verbal level "what" the Sun Sign provides to people (e.g. energy). 

Captain Kirk was acted by an Aries (so was Spock) and portrayed an Aries - an explorer charging ahead of the pack, not a "Leader" (Leo) who made policy.  Kirk was not comfortable in the Admiral's role (Leo) and wanted his ship back -- for a reason.  Gene Roddenberry was a Leo and ran the set like a Leo male.

1/12th of us have the same Sun Sign (and usually don't get along with those of the same sun sign.)  We recognize that commonality and resonate to it.

And so on around the zodiac -- then variations modify each of us when "Houses" are considered.  And the Soul wearing that natal chart is the wild-card that changes everything. 

So while we are self-sufficient individuals, we are also part of various groupings, (1st House of Self, always opposite 7th House of Group) and we do not see a contradiction in this. 

Thus, when we read a book on writing craft that says all you need to do to sell your writing is to tell an "interesting story," we do not see a contradiction in that instruction.  We grow up considering "interesting" a property external to Self, a property of the object of interest.  We grow up as audience, not performer.

We resonate to that instruction because we have, at some time, been interested in something.

We have read a lot of books that we found "boring."

We all want to write "interesting" books.

Surely the essential ingredient that distinguishes an interesting book from a boring book is a property of the book.

Books that don't sell well fail in the marketplace because they are intrinsically boring, right?

But then how can it be that those books, when self-published, have a small cadre of enthusiastic fans?

They say, "There's no accounting for taste."  Really?

Some will also say that the people who adore one type of book (say, for example the Romance Novel?) just aren't as well educated as normal people.

All of these paths of reasoning are based on the idea that the quality called "interesting" is a property of the object which has captivated interest (book, movie, TV show, game, whatever) and not a quality of the specific person who has become "interested."

A writer has to look at it differently.

A writer is out-putting the object in which other people will be "interested."

That is a drastic Point Of View shift, from audience to performer (writing is a performing art.)

Ponder that curious property of language noted above: one distinguishing characteristic of children who will grow up to be professional writers is interest in the meaning of words.

Words and their meaning are not intrinsically interesting.  If they were, everyone would be "a writer."  Everyone would read the dictionary for fun! 

No!  "Interesting" is a property of the person who is interested -- not the object that they are interested in.

In writing an "interesting story," the writer is not the person who is to be interested (writing itself is often lonely and boring).  The audience, the reader, is the one whose interest is to be ignited.

The reader's interest is inside that reader -- not inside the story. 

The writer does NOT write "an interesting story."  That's how it seems to the reader -- but that is not how the process seems to the writer. 

The discovery some writers make only after selling novels and seeing them marketed, listening to fans raving and others giving it 1-star on Amazon, bloggers tearing it apart and sounding as if they never read it, is very simple.

Marion Zimmer Bradley always quoted, "The book the writer wrote is not the book the reader reads."

What does that mean?

The book the reader reads is either "interesting" or "boring" depending on the READER, not on the book.

MZB also held that anyone who can learn to write a literate English sentence can sell their writing - fiction and/or non-fiction. 

Another mentor of mine was Andre Norton (the YA author).  I was in her house one time, and she gave me a tour of her book shelves.  She had a vast collection of rare books on anthropology, archeology, pre-history, etc. etc. and could tell you what she'd learned from each of them.

Just listening to her talk about those precious books ignited a ferocious desire to read them -- not because the books had the quality "interesting" but because she was interested in them.  If you picked one up and tried to plow through it, you would be bored to tears. 

Those books engaged Norton, though.  *yes, I know Norton was a pen name.*

Good teachers are like that.  They not only know their subjects inside-out and upside-down, but they just plain and purely love the subject (whatever it is at the moment).

I was "turned on to" DOCTOR WHO in just that way.  A friend visiting me who was a fan of my novels spent several hours on my back porch enthusing over THE DOCTOR in his various incarnations.  I had to get my hands on the videotapes.  I was not disappointed! 

"Interesting" is a property of a PERSON -- not of a THING. 

My friend who turned me on to The Doctor resonated to that material because of a property of her (which I shared). 

If you (the writer) are interested in what you are writing, many of your readers will "catch" that interest from you. 

Yes, "interesting" is contagious.

You don't write "an interesting book" -- you kindle the interest of others, not by the thoughts you think but by your sizzling-hot love of those thoughts.

"Interesting" happens when reading a book because of the CONTACT (like a lit match touching a candle wick) of your inner "flame" with the reader's inert wick.  It is not "the book" which is interesting.  It is YOU.

"Interesting" is a force, an electricity, a power, that you (your personality) conducts like a copper wire conducts electricity -- just like the human Soul conducts Love.  It's pure energy -- not a property of you, or the book you write, or any physical object, and not of the thought.  "Interesting" is a force - perhaps The Force - which you conduct into reality just as you conduct Love into reality. 

And the part of YOU that ignites the reader is usually some part that you are completely unaware exists, unaware that it is conducting a charge.  (springboard = potential energy; interesting = kinetic energy)

More: the part of the reader that is kindled is a part the reader is unaware exists.

It is the lack of awareness of those energies that causes the riveting of attention we term "interest." 

Interest is riveted just as when a person touches a "live wire" and electricity stiffens the person's body.

Just watch the practiced mom on the rainy day when the kid goes "I am bored."  She takes out a toy, (or maybe an adult book) and enthuses about it.  First thing you know, the kid is interested.  The kid has no idea WHY the kid is interested -- but the Mom has studied that kid carefully and chosen from an array of available toys that "speak" to that part of the kid that is not yet developed.  When the Mom 'closes the contact' (throws the switch inside the kid), interest happens. 

The process of personal growth -- of "going where no man has gone before" -- is what we term "interesting."  Traveling there takes energy -- that energy flows through the contact with external reality and into the person creating the potential for change, the tantalizing promise of change.

A Romance happens (Neptune - the blurring, unreality-effect of the zodiac) when two people meet and each finds within the other something that they don't know is inside themselves.

That same definition applies to frenemies, and to "Moby Dick" obsession-style Arch Enemies (Moriarty) (Darth Vader). 

Recognition of Self inside Other leading to an expansion of the definition of Self is another way of defining "interesting."  It happens when energy flows from one person to another. 

Expanding (Jupiter) is part of Maturation (Saturn), which explains why the deliberate mental gymnastic exercises necessary to expand attention-span leads to self-mastery which leads to finding absolutely everything "interesting" by becoming large enough (Jupiter) to touch things, and strong enough (Saturn) to control the in-rushing energy. 

So spend some time walking around your life looking for manifestations of that definition of "interesting" as an energy akin to Love.  We'll be using it to construct "episodic stories" and structuring "climaxes." 

We'll drill down into Springboards a bit more in the Dec. 10, 2013 post, Theme-Character Integration Part 5 - Fame and Glory - When You're Rich They Think You Really Know. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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