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

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