Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Magic

I’ve been reading LIBRIOMANCER, by Jim C. Hines (who was one of the author special guests at MarsCon). In this novel’s version of our world, magic exists, unknown to the mundane population. Libriomancy, the kind of magic performed by the narrator, consists of the power to pull objects out of books as concrete items that function in the real world. The magic works with either fiction or nonfiction, so objects can be conjured from historical as well as imaginary settings. Characters seem fond of producing ray guns and other science-fictional weapons, but I find it more interesting when the narrator conjures such things as the shrinking and enlarging potion and cake from ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Peter Pan’s fairy dust, or Lucy’s healing cordial from the Narnia series. With this power, you’d think a libriomancer could do almost anything just by extracting objects from fantasy and science fiction settings. But the gift has restrictions, of course. A book serves as the physical portal between its setting and our world. Any object pulled through it has to be smaller than the book’s dimensions or at least capable of being folded that small. Also, the potential magic in a book depends on the emotional involvement, in a sense the belief, of its audience. Therefore, thousands of copies of the identical book must be in print and read before its story can be drawn upon by a libriomancer. That’s why it would do no good for somebody who wanted a time machine or a flying car to print up a twenty-foot-tall replica of the relevant novel. And some books have been magically “locked” because of the dangers inherent in some of their artifacts, such as the Bible and LORD OF THE RINGS. As for the objects withdrawn from books, normally the magician returns them to their source as soon as possible. Exceptions do happen. The narrator has a pet fire-spider, which he can’t restore to its book because it would burn the pages in the process. His girlfriend, a dryad, can’t have transferred directly from her novel into our world because of her size—but the acorn from which her original tree sprouted was brought into this world and accidentally allowed to remain and grow. About thirty species of vampires exist in this world as a result of different authors’ concepts of vampirism running amok; apparently a person who incautiously reaches into a book can be bitten and transformed by a vampire lurking therein.

I’m not clear whether a magician can take the same object from the same book more than once without returning it to its place first; various scenes offer hints, so maybe I’m just not interpreting them properly. Nor has the story mentioned whether more than one person can use different copies of the same book at the same time. The narrator does indicate that a particular copy of a book can be almost literally “burned out” by too frequent use. He also tells us that if a libriomancer overdoes the magic, voices from the books start to creep into his head. Extreme overuse of the power can lead to possession by fictional characters.

Regardless of the restrictions, I think this would be a fun power to have. I wouldn’t mind having a love potion, for example, not for unethical mind control but for sharing between already mated lovers just for fun. A tribble would fit through the boundaries of a book and would make a delightful pet if one took care not to overfeed it. I’ve read stories that include magical desserts with all the taste but none of the calorie-dense substance of the real thing, a treat I would definitely enjoy. To me, such uses of the magic would be more interesting than the production of futuristic weapons, which amount to nothing but bigger, badder versions of items we already have. It’s safer, too, to stick to modest desires. Imagine if somebody evoked Aladdin’s wishing lamp and it fell into the wrong hands. (According to the narrator, that wouldn’t work anyway, because the transition from fiction to reality would drive the genie insane.) Magical ambitions to make major changes in the world or even one’s own life seldom end well.

Still more attractive to me, though, would be the power to get inside books, as the children in one of Edward Eager’s novels do; for instance, they visit the setting of LITTLE WOMEN and go ice skating with Meg and Jo. I’d rather take a vacation in Narnia or the Shire than bring hazardous magical artifacts into my home environment. Or I could meet one of the romantic “good guy vampires” I love reading about. Of course, one would have to be careful while choosing scenes to jump into and have a foolproof way of getting out whenever danger looms. The heroes of the classic fantasy novel THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER get into plenty of trouble in the worlds of Norse mythology and Spenser's FAERIE QUEENE. There’s a short story called “I Shall Not Leave England Now” with an enchanted cabinet that allows anyone to enter the scene on the page to which a book in the cabinet is left open. A careless user leaps into Stoker’s DRACULA and lands in the wrong scene, the night when Dracula comes ashore in Whitby. Upon emerging from the book, the character has been bitten and transformed into a vampire.

In short, as we’re often told in the TV series ONCE UPON A TIME, magic always comes with a price. Or so it usually works in an effective story.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Index to Story Springboards Series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to Story Springboards Series
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Here is an index to the Story Springboards posts.

It starts with a guest post about Art Heists, and moves on into how to create the quality called "interesting" -- which is the vital core of the "episodic novel" or TV Series.

We will have much more to discuss about episodic structures. 

There is a very fine line between frustration and intrigue.  Episodic structures are prone to becoming boring (note how TV Series rarely last more than a few seasons because they get repetitive).  "Interesting" is a learn-able technique -- but learning it can be boring!

Wars make a good framework for episodic structures.  Episodes can be a few pages long, or the length of War And Peace.  But a string of episodes does not make a novel, but a novel can house a number of episodes that illuminate the theme of the novel.

It is well worth the time and effort to learn to construct an interesting episode and to distinguish that from a genuine Short Story.  The difference is structural, but not minor.

With the right Springboard, the Short Story, the Episode and the Novel can blend into an "interesting" tapestry.  Each, however, requires a separate skill-set.

Here is the list of entries in Story Springboards:
(The TV Shows Fringe and Royal Pains)
(The Art of Episodic Plotting)
(The Art of Interesting Episodes)  (Explaining the popularity of zombies).
(Earning a Sobriquet).
(The Knack of Hooking Readers)

And I expect to add to this line of development. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Last weekend we attended MarsCon in Williamsburg, Virginia, for the first time. I’ve hesitated to go in the past because of the date, when travel can be hazardous. We picked a good year for it, luckily; the weather for the drive down and back was as nice as could possibly be expected for the middle of January. Having lived in Williamsburg for almost four years as married college students in the late 1960s and early 70s, we always enjoy revisiting the town and don’t do it often enough. To my surprise, all but one of the historic tavern restaurants are closed in January! Oddly, we’d never before eaten at the one remaining open, Shields, which didn't disappoint in any way.

MarsCon, which had a fairy tale theme this year, turned out to be a bit bigger than our November con, Darkover, with a larger dealers’ room. MarsCon attendees seem to be heavily into hall costuming, and this con has a substantial costume contest. Winners consisted of a little girl dressed as a “My Little Pony” character, a group presentation of “Coal Black and the Seven Deadly Sins,” and a couple beautifully dressed as Sarah and the goblin king from LABYRINTH. Musical performers included a duo called Blibbering Humdingers, who sang a lot of Harry Potter filk as well as a cool and funny piece about famous captains (Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Sparrow, et al) from film and fiction. A Celtic duo, Picti, performed after the masquerade on Saturday night. From what I could understand of the male vocalist’s lyrics, I think I would have liked the songs very much if they’d been intelligible to me. (I know it’s not “just me,” because I’ve heard many other soloists and groups whose articulation comes across as perfectly clear.) Also, the amplification was too loud for me, and the flashy light show accompanying their concert was almost painful to look at directly. So I left early, but my husband stayed and enjoyed it. He also attended a comedy improv show on Friday night, which he said was very good.

This con includes a science track. My husband watched a lecture, with slides, about space transportation. I would have liked to hear the talk on Mars exploration, but it conflicted with a panel I didn’t want to miss. There were also several sessions on costuming, a full children’s activity track and, of course, video rooms. I attended panels on fairy tale films and literature as well as one on Disney—“Evil Empire” or not? That one kept veering disappointingly off topic, with heated exchanges in which audience and panelists practically shouted over each other at some moments. I’d expected detailed discussions of specific Disney characters and films, which the panel never got around to. One area of consensus seemed to be that it’s not wrong in itself for the Disney animated movies to change the plots and characters of fairy tales, since many variants of the traditional tales have always existed, and theirs can be seen as simply other versions. What’s objectionable is that the Disney “corporate juggernaut” dominates popular culture to such an extent that children grow up believing the Mouse’s version is the only or “real” one. The topic of Disney heroines, which I expected to occupy a lot of the hour, never got more than a sentence or two of attention. Most of the discussion centered on one subject, Disney’s “sugar-coating” of the tales and whether children should be shielded from the more violent details from Grimm, et al, that the animated films omit (such as Cinderella’s stepsisters’ eyes getting pecked out by birds). There was much argument about happy endings versus a more “realistic” picture of life—not really relevant to the panel topic, because most of Disney’s happy endings come directly from the originals. The only fairy tale they altered in that respect was “The Little Mermaid.” (They also gave THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME a happy ending, but otherwise they couldn’t have produced it for children at all.) It isn’t so much that Disney’s adaptations “sugar-coat” their source material as that they simplify it. Snow White’s witch-queen stepmother tricks her only once instead of three times with the apple as the climax of the triad. Hera becomes the mother of Hercules rather than an adulterous god’s wife out to destroy a bastard child. (Well, okay, that counts as sugar-coating.) Hades becomes a Satan analog rather than merely ruler of the realm of death. In HUNCHBACK, the villain is actually worse than in Hugo’s novel, where Frollo has good intentions at the beginning, and Hugo’s charming but amoral Phoebus becomes a hero in the cartoon movie. The prince’s prospective bride in the animated LITTLE MERMAID, rather than an ordinary romantic rival as in Andersen’s story, has to be the malevolent sea-witch in disguise. Disney’s overall tendency seems to involve making plots and characters more “black and white” than in the source materials.

I sat in on a round table discussion of Tolkien and the Hobbit movies. I’ve never run into a session like that before. Instead of a panel, all attendees got an equal chance to speak. We sat in a circle, with a moderator to get the conversation going, and went around in turn introducing ourselves and our opinion of the movies. Then discussion became general, with many intelligent comments and a consistently cordial tone despite disagreements. I would like to have participated in the “Game of Thrones” round table that followed, but we had to eat lunch. The perennial quandary of cons—they always offer more appealing events than one person can take in. I want a time-turner!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Story Springboards Part 7 - The Knack of Hooking Readers by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Story Springboards Part 7
The Knack of Hooking Readers
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is part 6 of Story Springboards with links to previous parts and related posts:

Next week I'll post an index of the Story Springboards series which will be added to in the future.

---From intro to Part 3----------
of Story Springboards --

This post series on Story Springboards explores the essence of what "interesting" means from the point of view of a writer and how to use that knowledge to sell fiction, especially Science Fiction, and double especially Science Fiction Romance.

All the books on how to write stories tell you (without showing) that to sell fiction, all you have to do is write an "interesting" story.

No instruction is more frustrating than that simple sentence "just write an interesting story."  So let's delve a little deeper than writing teachers usually do.

"What is interesting and how do you write it?"

And what has that to do with the Art of Episodic Plotting?
---------------end quote-------

So the instruction is "just write an interesting story" --- but books on writing never ask "interesting to whom?"

The key bit of information left out of writing craft textbooks and especially "Creative Writing" courses is that there is a huge chasm between what "interests" you and what your reader will find "interesting" about the story.

Study this image carefully.  This is a "show don't tell" of the technique we're focusing on here.

You can just barely see the ridges of the screw-threads, but focus on them.  They tell the tale.

A second bit of information missing -- perhaps because teaching it would give the teacher's competition an "edge" over the teacher? -- is that the reader that must be HOOKED FIRST is not the end-user who buys the book off the shelf, off Amazon, Kobo, or wherever e-books are sold.

The reader who must be hooked FIRST is the editor/publisher.  Second is that publisher's market department.  Third is reviewers.  Fourth is maybe the reader.

The order of the hooks you create and implant in your FIRST PAGE is set by the market you are hitting for. 

Now, if you write to self-publish, the first hook has to be directly to your reader.  Intuitively, you think that is easier -- but given the failure-rate of self-published novels, I'd suspect there's a knack to it as obscure as the other hook-structures.

It is, however, all learn-able stuff and the learning thereof is actually FUN to the type of person who is inherently "a writer" -- and crazy-making boring to end-user readers who just want to be entertained.

Consider how your perspective on a TV Series changes when you visit the "Lot" and see that the town you thought was New York is actually a tunnel of plywood flats propped up behind by slats of wood.  The buildings (or space ships or whatever) you thought were "real" just aren't and never were.  It is an illusion you fell for.  You were tricked.

You never look at any TV show again the same way.

Well, it's the same for most of the techniques we talk about on this blog on Tuesdays.  Once you know the trick of it, novels just don't affect you the same way.

One of the components of the "Story Springboard" is the HOOK -- writing textbooks identify only the "narrative hook" and ignore all the rest of the intricacies of the "hook techniques."  Writing texts tell you to "write a million words for the garbage can" as if it would help to practice your mistakes until they are ingrained.

Anyone who trains young children in athletics or martial arts, or even driving a car or playing a musical instrument will tell you that HOW YOU START is the key to how well you will master the skills.  It is critical to thread the trainee into the procedures just as you thread a cap on a bottle and then twist, seating it just so.

If you put the cap on tilted, the threads cross and twisting makes a mess that's very hard to undo.

Likewise with training to write.  How you START learning to write is critical.  If you start correctly, all the rest just comes easily and presto you're selling fiction.  If you start off-kilter, you have to undo everything you've learned and start over, sometimes again and again.  And sometimes the process "strips the threads" and it takes years for the damage to heal.

So learning to construct a sequenced set of hooks can be easy, natural, effortless, and people say, "Oh, she's so Talented!"  Or it can be all hard and twisted and confusing, and people say, "Get a real job."

So before you start "spinning your yarn" (or twisting the cap on your story), spend however much effort it takes you to drill and drill until you can bring that story-cap down level, square on top of the "bottle" that will hold your story.

So why do I say the "hook" or the beginning of the story is the CAP?  Isn't the CAP the last thing you do, the ENDING of the story?

As we've discussed in various story-structure series on this blog, the ending is the beginning. 

In fact, almost any problem you have with structure later on, the climax points, the middle-event definition, or getting the last scene to be the actual END climax, finding the final word of the tale, any problem can be traced to an error in the opening page.

Yeah, "error."  It's a mistake, because every story, every tale, has an exact and precise OPENING or BEGINNING -- a point at which the audience can find entry into the entire story -- the character's nature and the problem confronting the character, the setting that hurls the problem at the character, the moral dilemma that must be sorted out, the Relationships that provide the solution which is a new problem, etc.

There is a point at which a character's life is "open" enough to allow onlookers to "enter" that life and walk in that character's moccasins.  It is just like the open point at the top of a screw-top bottle's thread -- it is AT a certain spot in the character's life in time and in place (character's age and the setting).

Finding that point is a process that blends Art and Craft.  Once found, that point then becomes known and familiar to the writer -- and the problem changes from "find the hook" to "build the hook into a springboard."

The Art component of the Hook requires knowing your end-user, your reader who will pay money for your novel.

The Craft component of the Hook requires knowing your MARKET - which is the publisher (or producer) who will pay you for your manuscript or your screenplay long before any reader has been offered your product.

So visualize a fish hook -- a beautiful curve with really wicked barbs sticking out in every which direction.  That's what we have to build the springboard of the story around.

Think VELCRO.  (or a zipper).

Velcro has the property that most resembles STORY.  It's a better analogy than a fish hook, but it is similar.  A fish hook is designed to hook-and-hold a specific, particular fish, and requires a specific bait to attract that fish and induce it to bite at the hook.  The bait also HIDES THE BARBS.

Velcro likewise has that design element -- but is even more narrow in its usefulness.

Velcro sticks to it's MATE material, the OPPOSITE curlicue material.  A fish hook will stick to almost anything. 

So a fish hook might be a better analogy for a story aimed at a large market -- a TV Series or Feature Film, something very expensive to produce that must earn millions within the first few days needs a fish hook that will stick to anybody. 

Velcro is more like genre fiction, Romance, Cozy Mystery, Paranormal Romance -- it only sticks to those who are made from the opposite material.

And there you have the inner secret of INTERESTING (as previous parts of this series have discussed), and the core energy-source of Springboards.  Opposites.  Bring two opposites together, and BANG something happens.

When things "happen" -- that is interesting.  CHANGE of SITUATION is interesting.  The whiff of a change in the air is interesting. 

Here's a quote from the end of Part 3 of this STORY SPRINGBOARDS series:

When concepts of TIME and EXISTENCE are configured differently, everything in the culture that uses those concepts becomes configured differently.  The differences cause the most trouble when the participants yelling across the cultural gap are unaware there is a gap.

This kind of miscommunication is the ESSENCE OF CONFLICT. 

Resolution of conflict is one essential ingredient in climaxes. 

Anticipating a climax is the essence of "Interesting." 
----------end quote-------------

Miscommunication that the reader sees but the characters do not provides the ANTICIPATION (foreshadowing) of change of situation (action).

When one character "finds out" (but perhaps the other hasn't yet found out), the situation changes.

It's that change of situation that is the very essence of "interesting" -- and it is most powerful before it happens, not during or after the Event.  Interest is about "what will happen next."  So when the reader finds out what happens next, that bit of "interesting" is gone -- so the writer must keep planting these foreshadowing hints that "Wait! There's more!" as the pitch-man announces. 

These interlaced and overlapping lines of CHANGE OF SITUATION form the fabric that must be created to support an episodic plot structure -- such as we discussed in Part 3 of Springboards.

"Write an interesting story" -- means, learn that the writer is the opposite of the reader, and the writer's brain works in the opposite direction from that of the reader.

Think again of threading a screw top onto a bottle.  The thread on the top screws in the opposite direction from the thread on the bottom. 

"Interesting" happens when the thread of the TOP interlocks with the thread on the BOTTOM -- and TURNS (i.e. change happens). 

As you TWIST the top onto the bottom (or the bottom onto the top) there is anticipation of "what happens next" -- the knowledge that eventually, you hit the end of the screw thread and the top and bottom are mated securely.  But when you BEGIN this process, the top and the bottom are not connected (yet) -- change hasn't started (yet) -- there is POTENTIAL ENERGY.

That potential energy is your springboard.

Will the top come down level enough to engage the thread on the bottom?

Will the threads engage?

Will the top turn level enough to twist into a secure mating?  Will it turn enough times to get there?  The suspense is killing me.

"What will happen next?" is the question that writing textbooks tell you to answer.

But they rarely mention how to construct WHAT WILL HAPPEN FIRST.

It is "What Happens First" that is both the barbs on your hook that capture editors, publishers, publicists, and readers -- and the springboard that flings the reader into the story on the shoulders of the characters.

Real life doesn't have a "What Happens First" -- there is always something that happened before.

Take the Bible as an example.  The first 5 books of the Bible are a simple autobiography -- the story of the life of Moses written by God but transcribed by Moses himself.  God sets out to tell the story of ONE MAN'S LIFE, and He says, "In The Beginning" and starts with the creation of existence.  And ends with Moses death (a real tear-jerker because Moses for all his service to God, doesn't get to the Promised Land.)

Even God couldn't figure out what happened FIRST in the story of Moses, so He started with the beginning of Creation.

Generally speaking, modern novels don't go quite that far back.  Normally, we don't even start with the birth of the main character.

The story we tell STARTS where the two elements that will conflict to generate the plot first come into contact, and ENDS with the RESOLUTION of that one conflict.

In the case of the Bible, the conflict started by Moses confronting Pharaoh is still going on.  The conflict started by God choosing Abraham is still going on.  We have a suspense building flash-forward via Prophecy, but the details are still happening.

So when we tell a story, we cut out a smaller piece of canvass, and lay down perspective lines that give us a close-up view of the threads of one character's life that will (or will not) interlock with another character's life, and screw down into place (or strip the threads and seat crooked.)

So the top and bottom screw threads represent the pair of characters who will conflict to generate the plot (Hero and Villain, or Male and Female lovers-to-be, or Buddy Cops, or Detective and Quarry, etc), but they also represent the writer and reader.

Writer and reader have to MESH in just that way -- like opposites, jousting with each other like Detective and Quarry, or flirting like lovers, or Teacher and Student, or Parent and Child, or whatever combination your genre prefers.

Writer and reader are two halves of a whole.

That's why we learn early in life to memorize the byline of an author who tickles our imagination just right, then find all the rest of their books.  Writers have a 'voice' and if a writer's 'voice' soothes a reader's nerves the way a certain singer's voice does, the reader will collect that writer's novels.

You don't get this effect with TV or Movies because what you see on the screen is the product of many, many voices -- and a whole orchestra of instruments behind (camera crew, casting directors, etc).  So being a fan of a film and TV production is more like being a fan of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir than of a particular singer in the choir.

With novels, yes, there is a whole production crew, and very often the "voice" of the editors and others at a publishing company show through into the finished product, but the "voice" of the byline writer dominates the reader's experience making novels a much more personal interaction.

So the "Knack of Hooking Readers" -- even first-readers such a slush-pile readers, agents, editors, etc -- lies in training yourself to recognize OPENINGS.

Yes, it's called a story-opening (a stage-play term), an "opening scene," because just like with the screwtop, there is that little open spot where the top and bottom screws "mate" -- an opening spot where the screw threads can MESH.

The first drill, before you even begin to search your mind and heart for a story to write, is to watch the people around you, listen to their lives as they chatter to each other about having the car break down on the freeway, taking the kid to the doctor before racing to get to work on time, stopping to pick up dinner at the supermarket only to find the market's salad bar closed for suspicion of salmonella (eek!), and whatever other adventures ensue.

Listen to real lives unfold.  Think about "making friends" (making friends with new people at a new job requires finding one of those "open" spots to thread yourself into their lives).  Read a lot of biographies and autobiographies (comparing biographies and autobiography of the same person is a good learning experience).  Try to find biographies of people who aren't particularly "famous" because that's where you'll find "real" lives just like your reader's lives.

Here's one biography I recommend which is edited by Allan Cole (the screenwriter) from tapes of stories told by his Uncle.  It is a collection of first person anecdotes, not a novel or novelized biography.  It is very different, and very much to the point of the subject of Hooks and Springboards.  It is in paper, e-book and audiobook and you can find them all here:

Now, make a habit of recounting your day when you get home at night.  It helps if you live with someone who will listen, but if not make a diary entry -- verbalize the sequence of events of your day as if telling them to someone.

Notice how you tend to tell the story out of chronological order, starting in the middle with the interesting thing -- the thing that interests YOU most -- then backtracking to what caused it.

One error beginning writers make is starting in the wrong place, choosing the wrong opening event, or laying out the whole tapestry of what WILL cause something to "happen" before saying what did happen.

Remember, "interesting" means CHANGE OF SITUATION.  Action = Rate Of Change Of Situation (not one character beating another over the head with a broadsword). 

A hook without any barbs on it to capture interest is created by detailing the SITUATION before an EVENT changes that situation.

Three paragraphs detailing a situation is way too much prelude to change.

The most complex set of barbs on your hook can be created by putting the CHANGE of the situation in the very first 10 words, the first line of the story.  Then sketching (not detailing) the Situation that the change altered. 

By creating your opening in that order, you present your reader with an entire tapestry (a velcro surface) of questions.

If you've chosen the EVENT and your wording of how you present that EVENT to match the genre you are aiming for, then some of your hooks on your Velcro will engage the slush-pile reader, some will engage an agent, some will engage an editor, and some will send that editor bouncing to the marketing department crying, EUREKA! 

Each hook in your side of the Velcro strip of that opening paragraph will mate with one of the "eyes" on the target strip. 

Note that the first thing that you learn about your Character or the Situation that has remained unchanging around them for years of their life is not the first thing you present to your readers when you tell the story.

To you, the writer, the first thing you learn about the Character (which comes in a multi-dimentional burst of I HAVE AN IDEA!) is what is INTERESTING to you, the writer.

That first thing is NOT the thing that is interesting to the reader.

To "write an interesting story" is the opposite (look again at the screw threads) of the process of reading an interesting story.

The process of becoming interested in a story is the opposite of the process of interesting someone in a story.

Think about the most boring person you've ever met.

When that person tells you about something that happened, or discusses something you told them that happened to you, your eyes close.  Why?  Is it because they don't know what they are talking about?  Not likely.  Most likely is the way they use DETAIL.

Your mind has already leaped over to the next thing after the thing that comes next -- way beyond --- and the boring person is wading through minutia you already grasped.

Boring usually happens not when things are SLOW (suspense, creeping horror etc is very interesting, and very slow) -- but when details are presented in the wrong order, in the wrong place.  Boring also happens when you TELL someone what they already know, or think they know (even if they don't.)

It's not speed that makes things interesting.

"Interesting" is all about change that portends more change.  "Interesting" is all about QUESTIONS -- questions the reader poses to herself, not the questions the writer articulates.

"Interesting" is all about what is NOT SAID -- rather than what is said.

Inference, innuendo, off-the-nose dialogue, all are techniques that raise questions without specifying what the question is exactly.

"Interesting" is all about "The Socratic Method."

 Here's a quick reprise in case you've forgotten:

The discourse is between writer and reader. 

The reader is actually the curious questioner -- the initiator of the dialogue -- not the writer.

The reader is riffling through a whole lot of books (on a shelf or in a Kindle) asking, "What am I in the mood for tonight?"  Or perhaps, "Is there an interesting Romance on my Kindle?"

Many readers (especially slush pile readers and editors) come to the stack of reading matter in a state of being bored.  They don't want to read anything - but it's their job to read.  And it's just boring for all the reasons any job gets boring.  So the question the potential reader is asking is, "What would break through this boredom?" 

The writer's job is to SURPRISE that bored reader. 

And that surprise has to be about 3 or 4 words long.  Maybe only one word.

Surprise always breaks boredom.  The Unexpected is key. 

What a given group of readers "expect" depends on the group and why they are a group.

What surprises one group, shocks and repels another.  Shock-repel can be as interesting as surprise, but the Romance field generally doesn't host shock-repel openings (middles maybe, not usually ends).

The opening (there's that word again - look at the open spots in the mated screw threads and ponder this) words of your manuscript have to break into that boredom with a SURPRISE.

When the idea for a story bursts into your consciousness, it is almost always a SURPRISE wrapped in DELIGHT and it energizes you, making you reach for something to jot down that idea, or capture the rapid-fire dialogue that just rushed to mind.

Those first jotted words can be the actual opening of your novel, but that is likely to happen only if you've trained and trained, sweated and strained, to bend a hook into a springboard.

More than likely the first explosion of IDEA will be from the middle or end of a novel -- or maybe something that never makes it into the actual novel. 

The actual opening of the novel based on that IDEA has to create for the reader that same SENSATION of "I've Got An IDEA!" 

The writer must encapsulate the experience of HAVING an IDEA for the reader.

That's where the Socratic Method comes in. 

The objective of the writer is to get the reader to have the idea, rather than just telling the reader what your idea is.

If you go back to thinking about that Most Boring Person You Know again, you may discover the essence of the quality "boring."  Other people's IDEAS are boring.  YOUR OWN IDEAS are INTERESTING.

"Just Write An Interesting Story" means "Let Your Reader Have All The Ideas."

Your ideas are boring to your reader.  Their own ideas are interesting to them. 

Readers are most entertained by having their own ideas erupt into their own consciousness. 

Being a reader rather than a writer means being cozy with the concept that the IDEAS are IN THE NOVEL.  That the writer is "Talented" -- that the book is interesting. 

The writer is not talented.  The book is not interesting. 

The READER is the interesting component in this transaction.

If you, the writer, are not interested in the Reader, the transaction won't work.

Note in the explanation of Socratic Method the technique involves stating a thesis that is to be refuted.

It's a thesis that begs to be refuted.

One common human trait is the urgent need to CORRECT someone who's wrong about something. 

To create a story-opening, find a moment where your main character is involved in a changing Situation -- find a moment of change where your character is convinced of an INCORRECT THESIS -- or one that your reader (because of the genre) will know is wrong and will want to correct.

"Love Conquers All" is one such thesis.

"Now that's a baby so ugly only a mother could love him."  An opening line of dialogue like that triggers the Romance reader's impulse to read the next line because that thesis just has to be refuted. 

And that makes the observation of the "ugly baby" a SPRINGBOARD.;

Note the simple two words "ugly baby" state a theme, arouse a need to REFUTE, and open a whole plethora of possible EVENT PATHWAYS leading to or away from various conflicts. 

Can love conquer the ugliness of a baby?  Is there such a thing as an ugly baby?  What would be the effect on a person who was regarded as ugly as a baby?  Could their personality ever come out right? 

Maybe this novel is about a photographer who does photo-journalism, but as a hobby collects baby pictures of really ugly babies (human and otherwise), with the idea of selling them as a book some day.  What if he takes his collection to an editor just hired by the magazine he works for (probably an online publication) to try to sell it.  Would she have a high opinion of this man -- even if she were attracted to him?  Maybe he was an ugly baby and his personality is warped by that -- or maybe, he only thinks he is.

Are you getting the SPRINGBOARD concept now?  The spring (potential energy) is wound up inside the THEME.

In this Story Springboards series we've also discussed the Episodic Structure.

Take the Ugly Baby hook, and create a TV Series out of it, using episodic structure.

The photographer would do as a main character, getting sent to exotic parts of the world on news stories, finding all sorts of babies to take pictures of for his project, having harrowing adventures getting his stories in on time, acquiring and losing various Reporters (photographers generally work with reporters who write the text of the stories) along the way.  A Reporter might last him a season or two, but the Editor back at home-base is always the same, and his main love interest (however much he hates that).

Now, take the same Ugly Baby hook and create a NOVEL OUT OF IT.

Photographer on dangerous assignment -- gets shot at, or has a burning building fall on him and loses his eyesight, which Event causes him to develop his Relationship with his Editor (or Nurse-cliche, Physical Therapist cliche, whatever), he gets his eyesight back, and has the choice of picking up his photography career, or maybe settling down to get married and run a studio and take wedding and baby pictures for a living.

Same Hook, same Springboard, two different story-structures, each of which can work with a plethora of thematic statements about Ugly Babies, fate, destiny, and perception, or possibly (for science fiction) eugenics.

Hot stuff wound up inside two innocent words that spark questions when juxtaposed.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When Is A Library Not A Library?

That's not a joke, and there is no punch line.

The definition* (at the end of this post) might need to be changed, in view of current use, and the popularity of ebooks. Perhaps as Congress reviews copyright, they should also review the meaning of a library, because the term is used differently on Scribd, on EBay, on Nakido, on various pirate sites, on eBookFling, and now on Entitle.

It seems that anyone who owns access to the internet is entitled to "have" a "library" of ebooks, which they are "entitled" to "own" and "lend". Ah. "ownership" is another term/concept that will have to be re-defined for the digital age, because there are a lot of powerful interests on the internet who would like an author to sell non-exclusive copyright to an ebook for as little as $ 0.99 but certainly for no more than $ 9.99.

"Lending" is another term that has been re-defined by the internet, because not all libraries require a patron or subscriber to return that which was loaned.

Take Entitle, for instance.
Quoting: "We know you love to read. But for avid readers, buying books gets expensive. Entitle, a new eBook subscription service, gives you access to 100,000+ top eBooks – up to 65% off. With Entitle, you will enjoy:

•    Any two books, including best sellers and new releases, for only $14.99

•    Huge price savings over traditional eBook stores

•    A fantastic selection of over 100,000 books
•    Ownership of your books (Entitle is not a rental service)"

How's that? One pays $14.99 a month, and for that good and valuable consideration, one acquires "ownership" of two ebooks.

How is that not a sale? What is the legal meaning of "ownership" when acquired in this fashion?  What is the effect on the author's copyright?

Moreover, if it is possible to acquire ownership of two best sellers for $14.99 (when each best seller is --or could potentially be-- advertised on Amazon for close to $20 each), how does that affect the Big Five book settlements with the DOJ, and also Amazon contracts that oblige publishers to allow Amazon to sell that book at the lowest possible price offered anywhere.... even on the publishers' own websites?

Here's a video of a Bloomberg report on Entitle for those who are curious.

Entitle very probably purchased eBookFling. (If my inference is mistaken, it is because Entitle recently emailed me using an eBookFling email account.)  I've been watching eBookFling because I found their abuse of authors' generosity offensive, personally.

Many authors give away ebooks on Amazon to increase their visibility and ranking. Some offer permafree novels, which are always on special (free) offer. Some offer an ebook free for a day, or up to five days before the book goes back on sale at the regular price. Their premise is that readers who download the freebie will read it, perhaps review it, hopefully enjoy it so much that they purchase other works by the same author.

Sites such as Lendlink, Lendle, eBookFling and others exploited this premise, and set up commercial business models based on "traffic" for their own benefit, and also brokering "lending" between strangers who wanted to avoid paying for books.

EBookFling used to send out emails titled something like: "Steal today's Kindle book...."
Their exhortations included "Even if it's not your cup of tea, you can add it to your eBookFling library and fling it to all those fools who missed out on today's opportunity."

In my opinion, free ebooks were being used explicitly for bartering transactions. The original downloader did not have to read the ebook, they downloaded it for the valuable, tradeable benefit of being able to "lend" it in exchange for something that they really did want to read, and did not want to pay for.

Quoting: "With 14-day lending now available on tens of thousands of Nook and Kindle books, eBookFling makes it possible for readers across America to borrow and share their ebooks. Lend an ebook, earn a credit, and borrow any other for free! It's 100% safe with the book returned in 14 days guaranteed. Here's how it works:"

Amazon forums hosted a discussion of eBookFling.

Is it true that you can only loan out a kindle ebook ONCE? So if I lent out, say Devil in Winter, to someone for 2 weeks after it was returned to my account I could never lend it out again?"

"No, you may loan out more than once. You just can't loan it to someone else while it's on loaned."

I kept that revelation, because I thought that Amazon only allowed any ebook to be lent once..... and later

" is a great site for loaning books - Kindle and Nook. You list your tradeable books, "fling" when requested (from individuals as well as the company) and the rules are pretty much the same as Amazon. It's lots easier than typing your lists. And yes, you can loan more than once (but not at the same time it's loaned out.) I have no part in this website - just happened upon it. It works for me. Unfortunately I've loaned more than I've received, but I am building up credits..... "

The discussion has been removed, possibly because someone posted this kind offer along with a list of desirable, in copyright Romance novels: " I don't have a Kindle but I can e-mail these books to anyone who's interested. Just post your email address and what books you want. Most of them are formatted in ePub so I downloaded Stanza for free on my iPad to make them readable."

EBookFling were Amazon affiliates, and for a time, Amazon paid affiliates simply for directing persons who wished to download a free book to their site. (" is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

This stopped. Presumably, that's why EBookFling was sold. It will be interesting to see whether Entitle lives up to its ambition to be "the netflix of ebooks", and whether authors receive full and fair accounting and full royalties for the transactions on the Entitle site that result in "ownership" of ebooks.

It seems to me, though, that every time an ebook is sold or licensed or loaned at a discount, the discount is subsidized by the author without the author's knowledge or consent.

noun: library; plural noun: libraries
  1. 1.
    a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow, or refer to.
    "a school library"
    • a collection of books and periodicals held in a library.
      "the Institute houses an outstanding library of 35,000 volumes on the fine arts"
    • a collection of films, recorded music, genetic material, etc., organized systematically and kept for research or borrowing.
      "a record library"
    • a series of books, recordings, etc., issued by the same company and similar in appearance.
    • a room in a private house where books are kept.
    • Computing
      a collection of programs and software packages made generally available, often loaded and stored on disk for immediate use.
      noun: software library; plural noun: software libraries

      All the best,
      Rowena Cherry


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Morality of Intelligent Predators

Recently I’ve been involved in an extended correspondence on moral issues in THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, by Suzy McKee Charnas. Weyland, the vampire in this novel, is a naturally evolved, nonhuman creature rather than a supernatural revenant. He has never been human, although he looks like a man. Thousands of years old, he’s the only one of his kind. If other members of his species ever existed, he doesn’t remember them. In the central section of the five-part novel, he has to go through therapy as a condition of maintaining the career essential to his present identity, which he doesn’t want to abandon yet. His psychologist, Floria, learns his true nature. He admits he regularly preys on oblivious, unwilling victims and has killed people in the past (though he avoids killing whenever possible). She has firsthand knowledge that he has severely beaten another patient of hers (who was shadowing Weyland and could have eventually exposed his secret). Yet, as my correspondent emphasized in the context of this knowledge, Floria doesn’t turn him in to the authorities. Instead, she gives him all her records of their sessions and allows him to leave town unhindered. The question that arises: Does Weyland’s unique status as the only member of a nonhuman, sapient species justify exempting him from the penalties an ordinary man would deserve for such crimes?

Weyland regards himself as superior to us. We consider our species superior to the “lower” animals, but we also believe we have ethical obligations to them. Still, most people think it’s moral to put the needs of human beings above those of other animals in some circumstances. Most of us eat meat, for example. And while we protect endangered predators such as wolves, we consider it justifiable to kill them if they pose a direct danger to people. So consider a vampire species made up of creatures like Weyland. Suppose they can’t survive without human blood. (Charnas includes this condition in her vampire’s biology; animal blood doesn’t nourish him.) Would these vampires be justified in taking blood from us at will because they need it to survive and they’re our natural superiors (stronger, longer-lived, etc.)? Could they legitimately claim they hold the same position relative to us as we do relative to “lower” animals?

Or would our self-aware intelligence entitle us to be treated as moral equals even if we’re inferior to these vampires in some respects?

In Jacqueline’s Sime-Gen series, the physiology of Channels includes a biological need for sexual release at certain intervals. If they don’t get this need fulfilled, they can die. The “Channel’s exemption” (if I understand it correctly) excuses them from the ordinary rules of sexual behavior in this kind of crisis, because the functions only they can perform make their well-being vital to the welfare of the whole society. Do their special gifts legitimately entitle them to special treatment in this respect?

I’ve read fiction and commentaries thereon in which the writers seem to seriously maintain that a “higher” species would have the right to use us in any way their needs require. In other words, human morality doesn’t apply to nonhuman intelligent creatures. I have strong reservations about this position. Taken to the logical extreme, it would mean the aliens in “To Serve Man” would have a right to eat us.

At one point in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Gandalf says something like, “Good and evil are not one thing among elves and another thing among men and dwarves.” I think this principle also applies to aliens and nonhuman “monsters” (vampires, werewolves, etc.). Superior strength, intelligence, and other natural gifts don’t give one species the right to ignore the rights of another sapient species, just as we don’t believe people of greater intelligence or talent should have higher rights than their “inferiors” in our own society. My impression from Jacqueline’s fiction is that Channels seldom lack willing sexual partners, since their high status in Sime-Gen society makes them desirable mates. Our hypothetical vampire species, if stored blood from blood banks wouldn’t nourish them adequately, could pay for live donations or probably, given the allure of the vampire in contemporary fiction, find an abundant supply of volunteers who’d give blood for the thrill of it. To make those arrangements, of course, they would have to reveal themselves to the public or at least to a segment of the human population. Surely inter-species ethics would justify expecting them to take this degree of risk to avoid harming innocents.

Still, as a lifelong fan of vampires and other “monsters,” I can’t suppress the feeling that charismatic predators who are endangered—or, as in the case of Weyland in THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY and Miriam in Strieber’s THE HUNGER, unique—“deserve” special treatment, irrational as that feeling may be.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 8 - Use of Statistics by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 8
Use of Statistics
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is Part 7 of this series on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration, titled Another Use of Media.

That post has a link to Part 6 which contains links to previous parts.  Here we will build on those posts. 

Part 7 is about a Fortune Magazine article about "The One Percent" of our population (a statistics based argument).  I found that article in a magazine in a doctor's waiting room, which led to a conversation with a young woman who plays videogames. 

Statistically, women videogame players are a minority, but in the 40% range.

Marketers use statistics like this to shape the creation and packaging of products (like novels, for example) and to "Target an Audience" with advertising.  We've discussed targeting audiences at some length and will no doubt return to that topic:

Back in November 2013, a story broke in the Washington Post that caught my eye.

And here is a set of graphs about employment trends statistically broken down:

It was a report, which called into question the accuracy of statistics released by a government agency -- a statistic which large numbers of people may have used to decide whether Barak Obama had done a good enough job rescuing the economy to deserve re-election. Later push-back pointed out how these numbers are produced by being passed from hand to hand across agencies, and that the career civil service employees really do take getting accurate figures together seriously.  This would be very hard to disrupt.  So the question becomes why did the Washington Post print that story in the midst of the Obamacare website disaster and not sooner? 

Dancing a political candidate through a "campaign" is all about packaging a product and targeting the market for that product (ignoring the 1% because they don't count, majority rules so the 1% are powerless.)

Marketers call this packaging and targeting "messaging."  You have to use the right keywords to get your message to "resonate" -- e.g. to get retweeted, or repeated as fact, even if what you're saying is not fact. 

For example: "Reverse mortgages are safe and effective" is the message, but the fine print says that you will own your house only until the last owner leaves.  That means if you are 92, get thrown into a nursing home against your will for 6 months, you thereupon have no home to go back to if you should violate statistics and survive incarceration in a nursing home.  ROMANCE NOVEL: Gal's grandmother incarcerated, loses home, gets well, has no place to live unless Gal throws her live-in-Guy out.  Now what?

Political Strategists determine what "messaging" keywords to use via statistics generated from "Focus Groups."  All of this is a use of the power of Science to manipulate people using knowledge of what those people do not know -- ignorance is bliss, and blissful people don't rebel. 

Remember this post is about Theme-Worldbuilding Integration and that idea, that "blissful people don't rebel" is an example of a theme cast as worldbuilding, fully integrated. 

A government statistical release is a "package."  It is "Messaging" packaged to be believed, because who would distrust a "non-political" department of government staffed by Civil Service employees who of course have no political opinions of their own.

If you hire a publicist who hates Romance to publicize your book, would you trust their "messaging" about your book to your audience? 

That's not a rhetorical question: it is what publishers do by assigning novels to their publicity department, staffed by people hired by their Human Resources department folks whose degrees are not in Romance Writing.  Such publicists are very likely well schooled in statistics and Public Relations courses abound in their C.V.

If you haven't studied the formulae used to generate statistics such as the Labor Department or Census Department release, studied the vast array of "assumptions" taken as "fact" when generating the numbers, and exactly which direction to reason from the numbers, you may come to incorrect conclusions.

At some point, we must discuss that 1% from Part 7 of this series on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration again because that 1% statistic is at the heart of this culture's entire sense of "right vs. wrong" and who can and should do what to fix it.  That is a massive theme and a huge conflict we can use to great advantage in galactic Romance, and it is salient to the development of Paranormal Romance novels because the concept of "Right vs. Wrong" bespeaks the mystical view of the universe.

For example, speaking of that 1%, I have just read a wondrous Romance novel, Girl of My Dreams by Morgan Mandel:

Girl of My Dreams is about a TV show where 25 women vie for the favor of a male Billionaire.  It's a contest and the prize is potential marriage to a Billionaire (1%-er)who happens to be quite a hunk, too.  This is a novel worth studying in conjunction with Part 7 of this series on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration. 

So back to the boring concept of Statistics and what a Romance writer can do with it.

People use statistics as an accurate picture of the entire world around them because statistics produce accurate predictions -- such as the outcome of an election via exit polls --  and if their own experience is at variance with the picture, they assume "It's just me."

For example, if the candidate you voted for doesn't win, you assume "everybody" voted for the other candidate.  Statistics don't lie.  You are the 1% on that issue.  You are the oddball.  You don't count. 

That is a CONFLICT, an Internal Conflict,  -- the exact type of CONFLICT that is at the heart of every story, and especially at the heart of a good Romance because it's all about self-perception vs. your perception of others and what that conflict implies about whether you should change yourself -- or change others. 

That conflict is HUMAN vs. NATURE -- where in this instance what passes for "Nature" isn't grass and trees, storms and earthquakes, but "society."  "NATURE" is the general environment that we never notice - the air we breathe, water we drink, people creating the traffic jam we have to penetrate to get to work on time.

Road engineering is done not just from physics (to calculate degree of embankment on curves) but commuter volume statistics which is as political as employment statistics.

There's a Hollywood adage that explains why low-budget pictures don't get made. 

"You can't steal a million dollars from a million dollar movie budget." 

It's a principle you can use to understand the political component of building commuter roads based on employment statistics and "expectations."  We set, using statistics, a certain percentage of every large-budget project to shrug off as a loss due to "waste, fraud and abuse."  There's a percentage of "we can't account for it" and "miscelaneous" in every budget.  The larger the budget, the larger the absolute value of that number.

That principle is one way writers can implant a statistical theme into their Worldbuilding.

If your Lead Male is an engineer building a road or a website, his job depends on the size of the budget of that project, and his management of that budget to disallow "waste, fraud and abuse" in excess of a certain percentage -- a percentage set by political considerations, but excused by statistics.

If your theme is "Honesty is the Best Policy" then your Lead Female becomes the woman who is, maybe the Auditor for that project or for some agency -- or maybe for a political candidate's campaign looking for dirt on the incumbents who launched your Lead Male's project.

Do you see now why STATISTICS is a matter of Ultimate Concern to Romance Writers?

If your Lead Male accepts that his bosses "know" the correct percentage to allow for "waste, fraud and abuse" (and maybe wants his own cut of that percentage), and your Female Lead is convinced the correct percentage for "waste, fraud and abuse" is zero, you have a Hot Conflict. 

Which one will prove their idea is correct?  What would the other take as proof their own idea is wrong?  Is it Evil to compromise on a Principle?  Is this percentage a Principle -- or a political whitewash?  Ultimately, what do you let the hottest lover you have ever had in your life get away with, just to keep them in your bed?   

Our perception of our environment is shaped by whatever information flows through our conscious and subconscious awareness (today: the internet news stream does a lot of the shaping.)

I've noted in this blog on writing craft that a savvy writer has to monitor headlines for the context in which their readers actually live, and use what the reader already "knows" whether it's true or not, but craft the ART behind the story that's being written in such a way as to reveal something new. 

If the artist thinks the audience believes incorrectly, and writes a story only to correct the audience's misconceptions - the work will fail as a story. 

If the artist understands what the audience believes, and understands many other points of view from the inside, then the artist can depict the contrast between these various beliefs as CONFLICT. 

When each character speaks sincerely and convincingly from a unique point of view, the conflict among the characters leaves the audience with a question.  The audience members are each free to decide what the answer is, or ought to be.

That clear, convincing presentation of opposite sides of an argument (say about the project management's ability to eliminate "waste, fraud and abuse" entirely) will make the novel or story "resonate" -- i.e. get tweeted and retweeted about. 

The audience won't come out of reading the story with the same opinion as the writer, but they will memorize that writer's byline or subscribe to their releases on Amazon.

See last week's post, Reviews Part 4, for more on following a byline:

Capturing of a reader's attention to the point where the reader memorizes and follows a byline is what the Artist does art for.

Art is done by rearranging the bits and pieces a reader already takes for granted, or does not realize that they know in order to show the reader a new picture that is interesting.

Here is a post in the series on what makes a story "interesting."

There is a rampant assumption loose in the world today that can be used to magnificent advantage by a fiction-artist.

That assumption, which is taught by and supported by the National Curriculum called "Common Core" (a product of the Bill Gates Foundation and Microsoft who definitely do know better), is that statistics can and should be applied BACKWARDS.

What does that mean?  Statistics is a mathematical gadget that manipulates numbers derived from observing specific attributes distributed across a "population."

The "population" sliced and diced by statisticians may or may not share other characteristics.

Statistics have proven such accurate predictors of the behavior of large populations of otherwise dissimilar individuals (people, yes, but this would apply to non-humans as well) that people use those numbers to create their opinions.

And a growing number of young adults are using statistics reports "backwards."

Using statistics forwards means collecting data on individuals and predicting how large numbers of individuals will move together in the same direction.

For example: how many iPads will Apple sell in the next six months?  How many people will upgrade from a Samsung to an iPad (and think it's an UPgrade?).

Those are questions statistics can answer accurately.

Will you upgrade from a Samsung or Kindle to an iPad and think it an UPgrade?

Statistics can't answer that.  It would be using statistics "backwards" to predict your behavior based on the behavior of a majority, or even a significant minority of people "just like you."

But your friend you go to lunch with at work might use released statistics to make a confident assumption about your future behavior.  That lunch conversation can become the core of a novel's conflict by Integrating that THEME (working statistics backwards) into the WORLDBUILDING (contemporary Romance).

For example, the lunch-friend is a Guy your Gal really wants to go out with on a real Date.  He makes this swaggering, sweeping prediction about her trashing her Kindle for an iPad.  She scoffs.  She wants him.  She buys an iPad and flashes it around the office.  He approves and crows his triumphant I TOLD YOU SO.  She pretends he's right.  He invites her out.  At work the next day, he overhears her scorning her iPad to a girlfriend, but praising him as a fabulous Date.

That's a THEME-Worldbuilding integrated CONFLICT. 

It is also a Story Springboard, not the whole story.  It's up to you to finish the story. 

Here is Part 6 of Story Springboards with links to previous parts:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Stories and Realism

Cory Doctorow’s column in this month’s LOCUS, titled “Cheap Writing Tricks,” begins with some observations about plot:

Cheap Writing Tricks

He contrasts the randomness of events in real life with the “tidiness and orderliness” of stories. A plot is what you get, as he puts it, when you “draw a line around a set of circumstances” and designate those events as part of a single story with a beginning, middle, end, and climax. Although the “line” that marks the boundaries of a story is “completely arbitrary,” yet “a story that lacks this arbitrariness feels arbitrary.” We don’t get pleasure from reading about a miscellaneous succession of things happening with no apparent point, even though “reality” seems to work that way.

Doctorow’s comments remind me of a well-known line from classical literary philosophy, Aristotle’s principle that a writer should choose a plausible impossibility over an implausible possibility. When I brought up this quote during an oral exam in graduate school, one of the professors asked something like, “What if Oedipus had dropped dead of a heart attack in the middle of OEDIPUS REX?” Clearly, such an incident would make an unsatisfactory tragedy, even though random, sudden death happens all the time in our mundane existence. But we want a larger-than-life figure such as Oedipus to receive “poetic justice” for his misdeeds.

When a writer does something like that in an apparent attempt to make fiction or drama more “realistic,” we typically aren’t pleased; we feel cheated—at least, I do. In the HIGHLANDER series, for instance, Duncan and his sidekick, Richie, rescue Duncan’s beloved Tessa from kidnappers. In the final scene of the episode, while Richie and Tessa wait for Duncan on the street near the villains’ hideout, she gets killed by a mugger. Probably the script was trying to show that nobody is safe and disaster can strike out of nowhere at any second. What it actually did, from my perspective as a viewer, was pull a “twist” ending out of thin air, with no organic connection to the rest of the plot, robbing Tessa’s death of the dignity she “deserved” as a major character.

“Anybody can die” books and TV series produce an illusion of “reality” by refusing to grant any character immunity from the hazards of the fictional world. Usually, however, writers of those series kill off characters in ways that feel meaningful. Tara’s murder on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER came as a surprise, yet it did arise logically from the conflict between Warren (the killer) and Buffy’s Scooby Gang. When Ned Stark died in GAME OF THRONES, I was shocked at losing a central character so early in the series, but his fate made sense in plot terms; it grew out of the choices he’d made.

If I want “reality,” I’ll read nonfiction or watch a documentary. And even in those kinds of works, the creator imposes a shape on his or her material. Human minds have a deeply ingrained need to make sense of the world through narrative.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Reviews 4 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - "Taxi! Follow That Byline!"

Reviews 4
by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
"Taxi! Follow That Byline!"


First thing, I'd like to point you to a blog -- this happens to be an entry by Heather Massey, and it's about the Sime~Gen Game I've mentioned here a number of times, the one taking Sime~Gen (an SF series of mine with Jean Lorrah) into its space age.

I'm expecting to have more news about that game for you this year.

So now to today's lessons in writing. 

Previous entries in this "reviews" series of blogs are here:

I was in a school library a few days ago and asked the school librarian if they still teach kids to follow particular bylines when they find something they like.

I had decided I rather liked that library.  It had a higher book-density than our public library currently has, and had the books shelved by genre, with very good books featured prominently.

OK, being a writer, I know that the way certain writers and titles get that treatment in school libraries is to be reviewed in School Library Journal etc -- and that only one or two titles of a publisher's monthly output are sent to those special reviewers.

So a school library (or a public one; same deal) does not present a legitimate cross section of what's available, or even what's good or what's advisable.  That's what parents are for.  But the school library is the hook to get kids reading for fun -- which leads to reading for profit and reading easily enough to be able to take in and understand complex subjects necessary to earn a living.

However, I discovered (as is usual in my career) that the school librarian was a science fiction/fantasy FAN -- and did a lot of work with the local used book store, too.  She knew her stuff, and the field.  (Yes, I handed her a Sime~Gen promo flyer.)

We had a great conversation, and I learned that at least this one librarian is dedicated to teaching kids to FOLLOW THAT BYLINE! 

Today, since we haven't yet recovered from all the Holiday Cheer, and maybe you have some gift cards left from stocking stuffers, I'm going to point you to some books well worth their cover price, that I think you will benefit from reading.

These books are recent entries in series, or by writers who've done series.  Some are recognizably Romance, others have driving dynamics using our principles without hitting the reader over the head with ideas and attitudes the reader wouldn't find amusing.  Sample and you'll find many more books to read in that series.

First lets look at Simon R. Green's Ghost Finders Novels -- this is one series in a Universe which Green has been writing other series in. 

Spirits From Beyond

Spirits From Beyond has the velocity and format of a YA.  It's a very simple "adventure" by a ghost-hunting group that is involved in peeling away very complicated layers of the facade of reality to solve the puzzle of what it all means -- and who is masterminding this mess.  The ongoing story is told in these small, ultrasimplified increments.  The other series are not at all YA.  Taken together, the novels display a universe background as rich and complex as Heinlein's multiverse.

The story relies heavily on visuals, and thus gives the impression of being a set of novels trying to become a YA TV Series (somewhat like Buffy). 

Green is not particularly great at characterization or dialogue, but is very strong on simplified structure.  For that reason, all these books under his byline are well worth careful dissection by the Romance writing student.

Susan Sizemore (one of my all-time favorite writers since I first encountered her fan fiction about the TV Vampire Series FOREVER KNIGHT) has a Vampire Hunter novel set in Chicago -- replete with the politics and warfare tactics of Demons, Vampires, and mortals. 

Read anything you can find by Susan Sizemore.

And I say the same about Ann Aguirre.

Ann is starting a new series, but here is one in her Corine Solomon series -- read all these series starting with the 1st novel in them.  Aguirre's writing skills are top notch, and her story material is right on target for the Romance reader who wants stories about feisty women (just like themselves) instead of wimps. 

But Aguirre also explores the feisty female spirit faced with living as a woman who is somewhat "different" -- having telepathic or magical Talent, or some other attribute that just makes life's problems require a different set of solutions.

Aguirre has a number of series, so just dip in and sample whatever strikes you as interesting.  I'm a particular fan of her space-adventure series about Sirantha Jax.

Now we come to an interesting writer.  She's an actress you probably remember from Buffy The Vampire Slayer (has had other roles, but that's the one readers of this blog will likely know).

This is Amber Benson, and she used her acting talents and experience to start selling Fantasy Novels.  I ran into her on twitter, and gobbled up the novels in her Calliope Reaper-Jones series -- starting with Daughter of Death.

That's a title which is a real eye-stopper.  It doesn't LOOK like the title of a Romance, but this is a Romance driven story.  The main character, Calliope is the daughter of the holder of the office called Death (and is in charge of the dead and the causing of dying).

It's a story of family, inheritance, inherited talents, responsibility -- and how all those things tend to conflict with one's love-life. 

In this growing series, Amber Benson weaves a long, complicated story against a deep, complex background, and pulls off all the nuances with grace and aplomb. 

Like Buffy, the premise and the universe is "dark" but the characters are of the "light" side of Nature.

And here's the most interesting part! 

In 2013, I was invited to contribute an essay to a non-fiction book about fan fiction.

Here's the book - released Nov 26, 2013:

I did my essay, and several rewrites as the book took shape, and when the contributors list finally appeared in the promotional materials, I discovered that both Amber Benson and Rachel Caine were also contributors.

At that time, Rachel Caine (whom I also knew via twitter) was involved in a Kickstarter for a webisode series based on her Morganville Vampire series (which I also recommend to you)

The Kickstarter made its goal, and the webisode production is in development.


Amber Benson is starring in the webisodes!!!! 

Now do you see why you have to "Follow That Byline!"

To understand your field - the Romance Novel and the Romance Genre - you must understand the people and their relationships to each other. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, January 02, 2014

New Year's Greetings

Did you stay up Tuesday night to watch the ball drop? Do you make annual resolutions?

Rationally speaking, it seems pointless to make a big fuss over New Year’s Eve, since the beginning of the year is a completely arbitrary, human-made date. Various cultures have chosen many different dates for the first day of the year. The original Roman calendar had ten months and began with March. The Jewish New Year is celebrated in September. The Chinese New Year falls in late January or early February. Some other Asian cultures observe New Year’s in April. Samhain (November 1) is considered to be the Celtic New Year. So there’s nothing especially natural or inevitable about marking the start of a new solar cycle and making resolutions on the first of January rather than any other day.

Personally, I gave up on “resolutions” a long time ago. I do have “goals” for 2014, though, mainly related to writing projects I want to accomplish.

How to have luck in the coming year: Do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? Even though my grandmother came from North Carolina, I didn’t know about this Southern custom until my husband introduced it to me. It’s supposed to ensure prosperity for the coming year (the peas represent coins, I think). In Spain, eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve signifies twelve happy months to come. The Scottish Hogmanay celebration includes neighbors calling on each other with good wishes shortly after midnight. It’s especially good luck if the “first footer” (first visitor to the home) of the New Year is a tall, dark man. Sharyn McCrumb wrote a funny story about the first footer to a Scottish-American home being a burglar. The daughter of the house, a police officer, comes home from her late shift and arrests him.

According to our family’s tradition, it is good luck to eat dinner at a nice restaurant early enough to get home long before the party-goers hit the roads.

My parents always took down the Christmas tree on New Year's Day. We gave up that depressing custom years ago. Our tree stays up until Epiphany; I don't even start dismantling it until then. (Because it's artificial, we don't have to worry about dried-out needles.) New Year's Day in our house is a quiet time of relaxation.

Arbitrary date or not, New Year’s Eve provides an excuse to drink champagne. I’m all in favor of that! So Happy New Year to all!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt