Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stylistic Fetishes

Recently one of my "e-mail pals" (if that's what we have nowadays instead of pen pals) told me about a poetry writing teacher she'd had who banned the words "huddle" and "ooze." I can understand objecting to "ooze" if that word had been beaten to death because she was teaching a horror-themed course, but that wasn't the case. And what in the name of the Great Horn Spoon is wrong with "huddle"? The same instructor also maintained, against all established conversational practice, that books can't sit on shelves, chairs in corners, etc. because only living creatures "sit." Since when?

I've run into several examples of such quirks—"rules" that spring from nowhere, as far as I could tell, insisted on by editors or other writing authorities. One of my editors declares that "stand up" and "sit down" are always redundant and deletes the preposition whenever it sneaks into those phrases. I believe sometimes a legitimate distinction needs to be made between the static position of sitting or standing and the process of moving into one of those positions. Another editor (different publisher) forbids inanimate possessives, holding that only people or animals can support an apostrophe followed by S. That "rule" came as a shock to me, in view of our habitual use of inanimate possessives in casual conversation and numerous literary counter-examples. What about the rockets' red glare, dawn's early light, the twilight's last gleaming, the church's one foundation, Land's End, a stone's throw away, New Year's Eve, and a Midsummer Night's Dream? Yet another of my editors disallows the S on the end of "backwards," a perfectly legitimate word sometimes more colloquially fitting than "backward." In fact, the two words can have a substantive difference in meaning, as when "backward" signifies a lack of mental capacity.

More widespread is the notion that one shouldn't start a sentence with "and" or "but," despite countless sentences beginning with "and" in the Bible and Shakespeare. That "rule" makes no grammatical sense, because these are coordinating conjunctions (not subordinating), so of course they can introduce an independent clause, which can stand alone as a sentence. Like any other stylistic device, starting a sentence with these conjunctions shouldn't be overdone, but it's absurd to shun them altogether. Similarly, by now everybody probably realizes there's no legitimate rule against splitting infinitives in English (that prohibition was borrowed from Latin, in which an infinitive is a single word, as in modern German or French). It's usually best avoided because of awkwardness, but sometimes splitting the infinitive is the only way to construct a smoothly flowing or clearly understandable sentence. Would "boldly to go where no one has gone before" sound as impressive as "to boldly go"?

Too many contemporary American published books contain enough cringe-making grammatical and stylistic errors to occupy us usage purists for a lifetime, without piling on additional "rules" of dubious validity.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Plot-Character Integration: Part 1, The 3/4 Point Pivot: The Worm Turns by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Plot-Character Integration:
Part 1,
The 3/4 Point Pivot
The Worm Turns
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
We've talked about Theme-Character integration for 6 entries now.

Here's #6 on the Hero vs the Bully

Much of this is based on this method of constructing an opening to any story:

And here is the index to Theme-Plot Integration series:

Theme-Plot Integration index has now been updated with more posts on acquiring the ability to carve out a theme and state that theme within a PLOT.

"Plot" is very concrete, very specific, well defined and easy to learn to distinguish from "story" for the purposes of this analysis.

Here is the post defining "plot" in contrast to "story".

Both "theme" and "character" are amorphous clouds it's very hard to get your head around. 

Theme is based on "philosophy" -- which despite being a couple thousand years old as a discipline (think Socrates) is still rather ill defined as a subject. 

Meanwhile a story "character" is based on how people internalize and use "philosophy" without even knowing they have one.

In fact, the biggest percentage of your audience as a Romance Writer is composed of readers who are convinced they do not have a philosophy, and are bored by philosophy.  They love Love -- not "philosophy."   

Put theme and character together and you wander away into mists of confusion that just don't produce entertainment.  Add plot, and presto, the mists crystallize into bemusing patterns like snowflakes.

Ruminating on theme or character won't  articulate words that a publisher can take to the marketing department expecting sales.

What marketers can sell is PLOT.

"Plot" as I've defined it throughout these posts is simply the sequence of EVENTS that happen on a BECAUSE LINE.

That's why so many books on writing craft tell (without showing) you to keep the reader turning pages by making them eager to know "what happens next."  The word "happens" is key, but "next" is vital to creating a plot. 

Plot is a structure.  Like "time" structures our reality, "plot" structures our fiction. 

There are just two plots that work across all genres: 

A) Johnny gets his fanny caught in a bear trap and has his adventures getting it out.
B) A likeable hero struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal.

That's it.  If you've got anything other than one of those two -- you don't have a widely marketable work.

Note each of those 2 basic types of plot integrates Character into the plot action. 

It takes a character to make something "happen next."  It takes a character to make readers care what happens next -- because what happens must happen to someone who deserves it (or doesn't deserve it.)

One more clue that I discovered by myself:

C) stay on your BECAUSE-LINE.  Plot=Because.

PLOT= CHESS -- that's it, a novel is a chess game between your student (your main POV character is your sock-puppet or student of Living Life) and your reader.

At your opening scene, the Character who will be the HERO -- the character whose story you are telling, DOES SOMETHING.  "Johnny gets his fanny" or "hero struggles."

Remember, your POV character is playing the WHITE PIECES and thus MAKES THE FIRST MOVE.

That's how you find the opening scene of your novel -- look for the singular point in your main character's whole life where they made that ONE SINGULAR fateful decision and took action on it.  Look for that singular point in his/her life where they had to play the white pieces and thus make the first move.

The singularity of that moment in a Life is what "hooks" the reader into wanting to know what happens NEXT. 

"The Plot" is the series of consequences of that initial decision/action.

For example, a soldier just returned from war "saves the cat" ... standing in line at a hot-dog stand, he hears a BOOM and reflexively sweeps the strange woman standing in front of him behind a car.

A building collapses on them, but they're in a sheltered cave under all that rubble.  They get acquainted as the rescue squad digs them out.  As a CONSEQUENCE (i.e. because) this man survived to return from war, this woman's life is saved.

What HAPPENS NEXT is the because line -- what are the further life-directing consequences of his reflex action? 

Is this fellow "Johnny" and the woman his 'bear trap' he must struggle free of?  Or is PTSD his bear-trap?

Or perhaps this Likeable Hero's "worthwhile goal" is uprooting the terrorists who blow things up, and the woman is either the overwhelming odds or the key to the conspiracy he's trying to unmask?

Or perhaps the Likeable Hero's "worthwhile goal" is to find a wife and settle down to raising kids (after almost being killed in war), and the woman he saves is his goal, and the terrorists who make explosions are the "seemingly overwhelming odds" (as he's just one person, and they are international organizations.)

Do you see how all these questions are folded up inside the description of a single EVENT?  That EVENT is the opening plot event of a novel.  Because that event happened, Hero did something that had consequences, then because of that consequence, She will do something, and because of the consequence of what she does, he will do something etc etc to HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Literally millions of stories, no two alike, can be woven out of that plot.

The story is something else all together.

The story is the emotional effect those deeds and consequences have on the Characters. 

The story is all about who those characters are, the emotional impact of the Event, and the consequences of those emotions.  The story is all about the PLOT happening to the Character -- that is, impacting a Person, an individual like no other in the world. 

The plot is what the character does; the story is what happens to the character because of what the character did. 

The theme is the equation that relates the character's actions to the consequences of those actions -- the theme is this character's Life Lesson (and the title of the Work.)

The element that "integrates" plot and character is theme.

What happens and who it happens to are selected by the writer to reveal something primal about the nature of life, the universe and everything.  What is revealed is the theme.

For example, if the Hero is this fellow just returned from war looking for a wife, and terrorists strike the city, then that Event might define the THEME of this piece as something about how "Whatever you flee follows you because it originates inside you."

He can only free himself from a life of fighting terrorists by expunging that element inside him that binds him to either a life of violence (he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword) or to a life of opposing an ideology. 

Does he really want to change his life -- or does he just want to relocate his life?

Does she have to accept his life and enter it?  Or will he enter her life, leaving his behind?  Or will they create something new?

If that's the direction of your novel, you create the woman he rescues from the explosion to be maybe a daughter or grand-daughter of someone who holds the ideology the Hero has been fighting.

The plot is all about him chasing down the terrorists who dropped a building on his woman (and him, but hero types don't count themselves.)

The story that goes with that plot is all about him convincing her to change her ideology (or vice/versa).

Set this PLOT in Iran, for example, and make this Hero a guy who has just returned from fighting in Syria.  Change the hot-dog stand to ethnic food.  He rescues the comely niece of a Christian Preacher making World headlines from Jerusalem.  Did the explosion that collapsed the building on them originate with a Shin Bet operation undermining Iran?  Is she perhaps involved? 

Do you see how such a simple plot EVENT as an explosion can be pregnant with Questions of THEMATIC SUBSTANCE? 

Regardless of whether your reader knows that they live by a philosophy, they do in fact read stories in search of the underlying philosophy the Characters live by.  That is what causes the interest in "what happens next."

You do not allow yourself as a writer to TELL your theme - or reveal in explicit, on-the-nose-dialogue -  what that underlying philosophy of your characters is.

Why is that?  Because readers who don't know that they, themselves, have and live by a philosophy don't want to read about characters who DO KNOW that they live by a philosophy. 

What happens -- the Plot Events - define the entire philosophical underpinnings invisible behind the character's lives.  The Events -- what happens next -- are the plot, and the plot tells the story.

There are many possible consequences of any action, any Plot Event.

Which one actually happens is selected by the writer from the Theme because what happens (with or against the odds) eventually adds up to a sketch of the nature of reality, the structure of the universe. 

The plot reveals the theme; the story explains the theme. 

To Integrate the Plot with the Characters whose actions generate the plot, just let the Character collect enough information about "what action causes what to happen" and then arrive at a notion of the structure and function of their universe.

The Hero, who can be female, then takes a final action based on that new perception of reality.

And the final consequence gives the reader assurance that they have understood what the Character saw in their universe that caused them to choose this final action.

In the best selling books on screenwriting, Save The Cat!, Blake Snyder discusses the 3-act and 4-act structure, pointing out that recent blockbuster films are most all 3-act.

Novels, so far, have tended to be 4-act structures, even as best sellers.

Watch for this to change as the two fields blend.  To learn about 'acts' and the structure of an 'act' read up on stage writing, especially going back to the Ancient Greek plays.

So going with the 4-act structure of the typical Romance Novel, the end of Act 3 is the 3/4 point in the novel. 

3/4 is the point at which the Main Character arrives at the AHA! moment when he understands the world he lives in, the tricks his enemies have played. 

At the 3/4 point, the Who of the "who-dun-it" mystery is clear to the Detective, the "Dear God, I Love That Woman!" moment happens when the woman is about to marry someone else.

At the 3/4 point the main character understands what he/she must DO, regardless of the obvious consequences.  The action which is suddenly imperative was inconceivable prior to this understanding. 

This 3/4 point is the point at which THE WORM TURNS -- this is the cornered-rat moment, this is the wounded-elephant-rage moment.  This is where the character finally gets a grip on himself and shows what he's made of. 

The 3/4 point is where Story and Plot blend into one seamless whole.

At the 3/4 point the reader understands the theme.

To create that complex point, the writer has to have trimmed away all extraneous matter from the story and from the plot so that every story-reaction and every plot-event illustrates precisely the same theme. 

"Theme" is very nebulous until it's been defined by precision plotting.

A lot of writers don't do precision plotting with conscious intent, but finished product is the same.

At the 3/4 point, the writer may state the theme in a line of dialogue, a worded thought (in italics), or even a narrative statement, possibly even exposition where the writer speaks directly to the reader.  Dialogue is best for stating a theme, and the best character to do that is a secondary character -- not one of the two principles who are in conflict.  In film, this is your B-story character.

The thematic statement should be no more than one line, not even one whole sentence.

Sometimes, if you've done your work well by keeping every Event on the Because Line and selecting what happens next to clearly delineate the THEME, you can do this "theme-stated beat" with a single word that the reader has enough information to understand.

This verbalization of the theme should come several pages after the character clearly grasps the point he/she has been missing about how and why his world works the way it does.

Thus the writer is not informing the reader of what the theme is, but confirming the reader's suspicion -- or perhaps conviction -- of what makes this invented world tick.

The 3/4 point is the moment when the main character knows right from wrong, and understands what the right action must be.  It is a moment of value judgement, and thus often akin to a religious conversion.

One of the major tasks in rewriting is to cut, trim and adjust the entire manuscript so that this salient moment of revelation, of epiphany, comes at exactly the 3/4 (or 2/3 in a 3-act structure) point without moving the 1/2 point (highest or lowest moment of main Character's life) of its mark.  These critical story-structure points are called in screenwriting and stage writing "beats."  They have the emotional intensity of a drumbeat and structure fiction just as tempo structures music.

Placing these story-development points at the correct percentage points of the manuscript is what is technically called "pacing."  If the writer doesn't get the placement right in the submission draft, a good editor will insist that a chapter be cut here or a character be cut there.  That final edit against a deadline can be brutal and high-pressure for the writer, so it's better to do it yourself at the outline stage.

The final act, the last quarter (or third) of the novel, is configured around the main character taking an action (plot) based on his new understanding (story) of his world (theme). 

When at the end, his world reacts to his action as he understood at the 3/4 point, the reader feels that events corroborate the reader's understanding of the novel.

That moment of corroboration is the payload for every novel, every film, every story.

Corroboration provides the satisfaction, confidence, and relaxation that can only come from understanding your reality.  (Never mind if that understanding is wrong; it is yours, and that's all that matters.)

That corroboration is the resolution of the conflict that generated the plot on page 1, and it is also the resolution of the internal conflict that generated the story. 

Reading a good Ending is like putting the final piece into a jigsaw puzzle so you can see the entire work of art without any holes.  The final piece falls into place and the fictional world makes sense -- which provides the feeling that the real world makes sense. 

Ultimately, that's why we read fiction -- to discover how and why our real world, our real life experience, makes sense.

The 3/4 point beat is where the hypothesis becomes a theory, and the end is where the theory is proven to be fact.  That proof releases the tension wound into the springboard at the opening moment.

Here is the index to the series on creating Story Springboards:

In that series on Springboards we discuss what exactly it is that makes a novel "interesting" -- what does a writer do to tell "an interesting story" and what "interesting" means from an editor's and reviewer's point of view.

Here is the index post listing the Art And Craft of Story and Plot Arcs

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Romantic Writer Myths

The new LOCUS includes an essay by Kameron Hurley titled “Busting Down the Romantic Myth of Writing Fiction, and Mitigating Author Burnout” (as far as I can tell, it’s not posted online yet). She discusses the dangers of the “romantic writer myth” most of us have absorbed—the archetype of the solitary artist driven by passion for his or her work, inspired by a compulsion to create, probably fueled by hard drinking, heavy smoking, or pots of coffee far into the night. According to Hurley, when she transitioned from the production of marketing copy to the creation of fiction, “I expected that writing fiction would always be fun—it was my passion.” This misconception, she discovered, makes too many beginning writers decide something is wrong with them if, as it happened to her during the rewriting of her fourth novel, the process becomes “not fun. . . . pure, unadulterated grind.”

To me, the most striking line in this essay is, “The most dangerous lie we tell ourselves is that writing novels shouldn’t feel like a job.” This “lie,” according to Hurley, “encourages younger and newer writers to work for little or no pay.” It leads them to think writing should always be fun and, if it isn’t, it’s time to stop. It convinces them that suffering “burnout” is a uniquely personal problem that signifies (see above) something wrong with THEM.

We have to come to grips, as Hurley says she did, with the fact that writing novels isn’t “a magical merry-go-round of nonstop fun.” Instead, it’s often “a mix of joy and grind, incompetence and compassion.” In other words, much like other jobs. When deadlines loomed, she learned that a writer had to “come up with words even when they weren’t there.”

I found this essay enlightening and encouraging because I do tend to fear I’m the only writer in the world who doesn’t enjoy writing. I enjoy lots of things about the process, such as outlining, line editing, galley proofing, and contemplating the finished product, but not first-draft writing itself. I often wish I could be like Isaac Asimov, who refused to go on vacation without taking his work along, or like my own teenage self when I couldn’t type words on paper fast enough to keep up with my brain. I also often envy the novelists who say their characters "talk to them" or come alive and insist on going in a direction the author hasn't planned. Mine haven't done any of that since my teens. I have to mold them from scratch and make them do what I want. Knowing that other fiction writers sometimes think of the work as a “grind” reassures me that maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Theme-Character Integration Part 6 - The Hero vs The Bully by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration
Part 6
The Hero vs The Bully
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 Previous parts in this sequence on Theme-Character Integration:

Integrating THEME and CHARACTER -- making them a seamless center-pole of your story-plot integration structure is pretty easy, but you do need to focus on the energy-sources that drive people.

Note, in the political arena, how it happens when one person states their position, another will leap up and hammer them with counter-statements.  Don't listen to the vitriol itself, but rather focus on the energy driving the interaction.

That raw energy-pattern is what drives stories, what causes characters to act in ways that make trouble, whereupon the trouble made causes another character to act. 

All actions in this world are kinetic.  Think of your story as a billiards table with balls scattered about.  You are the player with the cue.  You TAP a ball, it flies across the table with enough kinetic energy to SMACK into another ball.  That ball rolls less energetically (some energy got absorbed in the smack) and hits another ball that just barely moves -- but falls into a pocket.

That's a story. 

The main character grabs some energy and a tool (the stick, your muscles) and SMACKS another character -- with an idea, a sloe-eyed glance, a stinging insult, out-right defiance of authority, or slinking behind someone's back. 

It doesn't matter so much what the ACT is, but it matters that on page 1 your main character is introduced first, and the first thing any reader learns about him/her is via their ACTION -- that the reader must interpret to suit the reader, not to suit the writer.

In other words, you create a character, and introduce that character to the reader in a SHOW DON'T TELL -- an action.

Now, first decide if your POV character is The Hero or The Bully, then create the Situation etc that will lay out your theme in visuals, in pictures, and in what seems to the reader as mere decoration. 

If your POV Character is The Hero, his first ACTION on that first page must be a SAVE THE CAT! action -- he has to "save the cat" as defined by Blake Snyder.

What does it mean to save the cat?  It's an action which puts the character at risk in some way (doesn't have to be life and limb).  Something is at stake for The Hero that will seem to the reader to be more vital -- more crucial or important -- than what is at stake for the "owner" of the cat. 

"The Hero" is a character who risks losing something of vast importance of his own in order to mitigate, offset, or eliminate (rescue), a LESSER LOSS for someone else.

How the person who is rescued then reacts (doing things,) to the Hero reveals that secondary character's worthiness to be rescued.  How each assesses what might have been lost against what might have been gained provides the SPRINGBOARD for a Romance.

Differing 'values' are source of conflict that is the energy to power your springboard or billiards game.

So back to billiards -- "conflict" is the point where your cue's point hits the billiard ball.  That's the initial conflict defined on page 1.

Prior to that point, there is only potential energy, -- the thought, the chalking of the cue, the study of the lay of the table, the measuring of angles, the positioning, and the working of muscles in which potential energy is stored -- all of that is "backstory" --then the energy is RELEASED in that SMACK, or the springboard rebounds.

Contact between the cue and the ball is conflict illustrated.  That is the point at which the two elements that will conflict to generate the plot first meet.  And that's the definition of a story opening.  The ending is where the ball falls into the pocket (HEA) or fails to fall in (sad ending or teaser for a sequel.)

The Hero is a character who has a vast amount of potential energy, maybe isn't aware of it or doesn't care, but also has the most to lose, and doesn't dwell on The Stakes.

That's one key to success in the climb to high places noted in this blog entry:

In the book cited in that entry, the point is clear that high profile (celebrities, politicians, people in the news all their lives) liars never consider what might happen if they're caught.  They never worry about what it would mean to lose.  They don't worry about The Stakes. 

So read Dialogue Part 5 to see how to construct the inner dialogue as well as the spoken dialogue.  It's not just what you put there, but what you leave out that shows rather than tells what stuff your character is made of. 

The core definition of Hero is the person who handles their own power well.

The core definition of a Bully is the person who has more power than they can handle.

A bully is a sad sack indeed, but instead of feeling sorry for such people we often cringe in fear before them.

That's not irrational.  There is nothing more dangerous than a 3 year old with a loaded gun with the safety off.  That image pretty much defines the bully.

The bully has deep, twisted, terrible emotional problems that viciate their strength of character.  When such a person is physically larger than his/her peers, has a larger reputation, more charisma (the High School clique leader), more powerful parents, employer, associates, has weaponry that out-guns others, that power will be put to the service of assuaging that person's emotional issues.

That's the way every human being is made.

It is depicted in Astrology (as explained by Noel Tyl) as the Moon, Saturn and the Sun as positioned in the natal chart.  The Moon represents the emotional core of essential NEEDS, or what you WANT (what you always feel is missing no matter how much you have).  Saturn represents your ambition.  The Sun represents your energy -- how it flows into and through you, driving your actions.

The key that Noel Tyl teaches with astrology is that a personality will organize (by maturity) to put the ambition and energy at the service of the reigning need.  Life is lived trying to fulfill that need.  Tyl also factors in the Moon's nodes and aspects to them to get a picture of the internalized stresses acquired in childhood which people work out in later life.

A Bully is someone who has more Need than Power.

A Hero is someone who has more Power than Need.

If your story is about a Hero, your theme will have to reflect that strength of character that controls, subverts, dismisses, ignores -- or whatever mechanism -- the character's reigning Need. 

If your story is about a Bully, your theme will have to reflect that weakness of character that lets the screaming pain at the center of this person dominate all actions, reactions, ambitions and goals, whether the person knows it or not.

In either case, Hero or Bully, your theme will have to deal with the Source of Power, the method of accumulating Power, the use of Power, the goals that Power is aimed at, and of course the theme determines the ending. 

If the Bully wins, you are making a thematic statement that the way to an HEA is to use Power to assuage Need.

If the Hero wins, you are making a thematic statement that the way to an HEA is to use Need (sensitivity to others) to harness Power. 

The Hero uses Power in the service of other people's needs.  The Hero doesn't feel deprived, doesn't feel he/she is Giving anything because the Hero has so much extra Power, and is tapped into the Divine Source of power which the Hero knows is not his/her own, so that whatever impossible task is presented, it is accomplished without diminishing the Hero's Power.

The Bully, on the other hand, goes around with something to prove, and a Need not just to be dominant, but to make everyone acknowledge that dominance.

The Hero does not dominate, and has no need for anyone to know he/she exists nevermind has a lot of Power.

The Bully is insatiably thirsty for more and more Power -- somehow knowing that to make the screaming Need shut up, there has to be more Power than Need. 

And that's true.  It is one way to turn a Bully into a Hero. 

Experiencing, even for a moment, enough power to shut that need up can change an individual's entire personality.  There are two ways to accomplish that reversal of proportion of Power and Need.  You can reduce the amount of Need, or you can increase the amount of Power. 

Thus a young Bully can be 'cured' by having a victim stand up and smack him down in front of his cronies.  This reduces the amount of social Power the Bully has -- and if it reduces the Power level to below the Need level, the Bully can become a level-headed functioning member of society who is ashamed of his prior behavior.  It's all a matter of the relative intensity of the potential energy tied up in Need and Power.

Also a Hero can be transformed into a Bully by reversing the proportions of Need and Power.  That's the source of the saying, "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely." 

Any individual can have their Power/Need balance disrupted and find their character cracked and crumbling (high drama in that; tragedy and death or hard lessons learned).  The Wisdom to avoid taking on more power than the character can handle is not usually a trait of the Hero.  Wisdom is usually a trait of the archetype of The King or The Priest -- that is, the elders who made that mistake decades ago and learned from it.

Astrology does not say you are a Hero or a Bully.  The Sun, Moon, Saturn relationship does not determine that at all.  It's not what you've got that matters, but how you choose to use it.

The true Hero confronting a Bully will see himself in that Bully -- and know how to handle that particular Bully to bring the Power/Need balance to functional proportions.

As I said, there are two ways to cure a Bully -- reduce Need or increase Power.  Psychiatrists prescribe drugs to reduce Need.  Politicians prescribe more control of public funds to increase Power.

In any universe you create for your characters, if you choose to tell the story of a Bully vs. a Hero, you will have to deal with themes involving the use and abuse of Power.

Here is a discussion of Six Kind of Power in a Relationship:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fair Warning For Lazy Authors

From time to time, authors take a short cut, and instead of describing a hero, heroine, or villain, authors use a simile and the name of a celebrity. Without permission.

For that matter, some cover art uses the body of one celebrity and the face of another. Without the permission of either celebrity.

Don't do it.

Celebrities, quite rightly, IMHO, are starting to sue.

For additional information, follow Joelle Rich on Lexology and elsewhere:

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Protagonist Bait and Switch

How do you feel about a book that starts by immersing the reader in the viewpoint of a sympathetic character who looks as if he or she might be the protagonist—and then killing the character at the end of the first scene? This device happens often enough in horror and thriller novels that maybe a reader should be prepared for the shock. Stephen King does it in his new novel, MR. MERCEDES. The first scene introduces a throng of unemployed people waiting in line for a job fair to open. A stolen Mercedes plows into the crowd, killing (among others) the viewpoint character we’ve quickly come to sympathize with. No spoilers here, the cover blurb reveals all this information (which serves as backstory for the main plot, set over a year later). So the character’s death didn’t outrage me, because I expected it. And of course King wants the reader to feel sorry for these victims, so we’ll root all the more enthusiastically for the hero to catch the perp in the body of the novel.

But what about similar opening incidents where the reader doesn’t have advance warning? When an author uses this device, do you ever feel cheated or unfairly manipulated? I’ve read novels in which the set-up for the introductory viewpoint character’s death (a reviewer for the Innsmouth Free Press website calls this kind of person on a TV show “Doomed Teaser Guy”) extends for so many pages that the reader really can plausibly think he’s going to be the protagonist. Or sometimes a similar character in the first scene doesn’t die but just turns out to be a minor player or not even a participant in the main story at all. In such cases, I often feel annoyed at the author for getting me emotionally involved with one character, then forcing me to switch mental gears and make a fresh emotional investment in someone entirely different. It’s like starting the book twice.

And what about books or series with ensemble casts, where we’re expected to shift our attention and emotional involvement among several characters of equal importance? With even three or four of them, it’s sometimes hard to get re-immersed in a different character’s thread. If there are many more than that—well, I’m thinking of George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. As monumental an achievement as that epic saga is, I, personally, would find it even more enthralling if it had a clear protagonist. I freely admit that after the first book I started skimming the chapters written from the viewpoints of characters who interested me less than others.

A clear ensemble-cast story, of course, is a different matter from an opening-scene bait-and-switch. However, both can present a similar risk of losing the reader by forcing him or her to shift mental and emotional gears.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Theme-Conflict Integration Part 2: Designing a Conflict by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Conflict Integration 
Part 2 
Designing a Conflict
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 1 of Theme-Conflict Integration is here:

-------quote from Part 1------------
The error that we, as Science Fiction Romance writers, have been trying to correct is the assumption that Romance is "pulp" and only pulp.  The assumption is that Romance is suitable only for lining bird cages and wrapping dead fish.  Oddly, that was always the assumption about science fiction.  Hmmm.

It is an unconscious assumption, and our entire civilization is founded upon it.

Once you see that manifesting in TV News, popular TV Series, and heated blog controversies over "sexism" you understand that we've been had.  Big time.

Like Science Fiction, Westerns, and many other genres so disparaged, Romance is not now and never has been "throw away" literature.  It is CLASSIC by it's very nature.

That fact is so terrifying that it is buried in the subconscious (Neptune, Pisces -- the best horror genre novels are fabricated out of NEPTUNE EVENTS (illusion) just as Romance Genre pivots on a Neptune Transit).  Buried in the collective subconscious, that fact about Romance being Classic Literature by its very nature is left to suppurate and rot us all out from the inside.

Do you see how I've taken a CONFLICT (the battle of the sexes over the prestige of Romance Genre) and edged it over into a THEME?

--------end quote from Part 1----------

Part 1 is titled Battle of the Sexes.  One would think that "battle of the sexes" pretty much covers the entire field of Romance.

However, I read eclectically, all around the spectrum and even into non-fiction, looking for "what she sees in him" and "what he sees in her."  You might think that's the core of "Romance" -- but wait!  It's actually the core of all "relationship" driven stories -- and the core of Life as depicted in those fascinating biographies I keep pointing you toward.

One way to puzzle out "what X sees in Y" is to examine human life-paths using the tool of Astrology.  Those who discard Astrology without actually learning any generally think it is just superstition and nonsense.  Actually, it's an empirical science.

It was developed by those who observed the heavens and observed human life-paths, and human nature, and puzzled over the problem "what does she see in him?"

What do humans see in each other?

Take a big example known to every reader of this blog.  What did the USA electorate see in Barak Obama?  What do they see now?  How come everyone doesn't see the same thing in this vast, larger-than-life public figure? 

The fact that we don't all "see" the same thing in every fictional character -- take Spock for example -- mirrors ordinary human life and existence. 

When two (or more) people who have observed the same person (maybe a prospective employer and the Human Resources director in his company) hold opposite assessments of that person's skills, character, personality, potential, etc. you have CONFLICT.  And that kind of conflict is what generates great novels.

Take for example, the head of the IT department at a large Hewlett Packard plant gearing up to make a new computer here in the USA.  As they're interviewing for positions, the place is mostly dusty concrete floors, big dirty windows, echoing chambers where machinery will chug and assembly lines move.  Touring what's going to be the cubicle corral and in the back the exec offices of the IT department that's tasked with keeping all the desk workers' computers functioning, the man who will run that department looks at the wispy slip of a woman with an operatic contralto voice and a dazzling smile.

She looks at a medium height, brown haired, brown eyed Geek and thinks she sees through his crisp white shirt the vague outline of a Superman T-shirt logo.  She can't stop smiling, thinking, "Home at last!  Yes!!!"

Problem is his ex runs the HR department and saw that exchange of smiles during the tour.  His ex tables her resume and tells him that when his call-back for a second interview went through, she declined without noting a reason.

She checks her phone every 15 minutes for missed calls.  Nothing until she gets a job offer from another company and reluctantly (jacking up the offered salary by hemming and hawing) accepts.

Who is she working for?  How does she come into contact with the HP IT guy again?  What happens to the ex in HR as a result of them comparing notes? 

Which hackers get jailed because these two get together?

CONFLICT is the result of what this human (or non-human) sees in another human (or non-human.) 

CONFLICT is the key to generating both plot and story, where plot is defined as the series of Events, what people do because of what others have done, and story is defined as the meaning of the Events to the characters who experience them (lessons learned, ambitions ignited, possibilities expanded, Happily Ever After Achieved.)

HEA or Happily Ever After is the end of the STORY -- but not necessarily of the plot. 

A Couple such as described in this example might end up married into an HEA ending, and there could still be more books in this series.

For example, you have this crackerjack anti-hacker team working at this giant Corporation HQ (yes, she comes to work for him, probably a few books later is his boss) -- but the next novel in this Universe might be about characters only mentioned or introduced in Book I -- such as an Uncle or Grandparents.  It could center on relatives of the ex who had attempted to manipulate the HR woman into marrying this IT guy because of some larger, intricate international plot?

If you look at what I've sketched here, you'll see another version of Gini Koch's ALIEN SERIES -- that I keep raving about because it really is that good.  It's Romance, yes, but a Romance set in a very realistic world.

What?  Aliens on Earth secretly defending Earth is realistic?

Well, no, not exactly -- but the Earth that these strangers are trying to live on is very realistic -- although depicted as a caricature.

Caricature is a valid artistic tool for bringing up certain traits that are ordinarily not consciously noted by the audience. Awards.htm

In the upper left corner of that page, you'll see a famous caricature of Bob Hope.  His chin and his nose were NOT like that -- but this caricature is very identifiable.  Check out Bob Home images in his various movies as he aged.  This caricature is brilliant work.

Caricature is generally considered the province of humor.

But actually that's not true.

All fictional conflict is caricature.

Now, I couldn't create a visual portrait of a person using caricature -- though Kelly Freas once did a caricature of me and it was startlingly informative.

But the fictional CONFLICT that a writer pulls out of the depths of a misty, abstract, intellectualized THEME is a caricature.

I've pointed out in previous posts that the best source of IDEAS is HEADLINES - yes, newspaper, blogs, newsletters, TV or radio or whatever comes next. 

Here's the index to MARKETING FICTION IN A CHANGING WORLD -- note the one titled HEADLINES AND TITLES:

The TITLE of a novel is a HEADLINE formulated from the THEME. 

Headline writing is what journalists do.  Book and Chapter titles is what fiction writers do.  Actually, non-fiction writers also do exactly the same thing. 

Find a way to convey the core of the matter (the conflict extracted from the heart of theme) in 6 words or less, preferably less.

The Headline says what this piece is ABOUT.

What anything is ABOUT is the theme.  The theme is the point you are making.  The point you are making is the reason the reader wants to read the piece you've written.

If your headline/title fails to convey the THEME - then the readers who read it will hate it and report that your writing is boring, and those to whom you are really addressing this piece will shun it because it's not about what they are interested in. 

The TITLE is key to the conflict and maybe it's resolution.  Usually, the real meaning of a good title (one that can't be resisted and can't be forgotten) is revealed at the 3/4 point in a 4-act structured novel.

So ripping your story from the HEADLINES (e.g. titles of news stories) works, provided, as I've said before, you are working with headlines from several years or decades prior to when your novel will be published.

If the reader hasn't yet forgotten the kerfuffle, or digested it or reached a personal accommodation with it, the story you write about that theme probably won't work as fiction.  (It might work as non-fiction.)

So in ripping from the headlines, it's important to judge your timing.

Occasionally, a contemporary basis works well if it catches the imagination of the marketers. 

But let me point you to an item which is both ancient and modern, a headline that's recurred just this year after being relegated to the dustbin of academic history for a century or so.  You can mine this for themes because it's old, and sell the resulting story because the theme is new.  What a trick!

It's also in edition and you can find it on that page, but the Kindle is only 99cents. 

Here below are 25 quoted POINTS (headlines?) from an article on THE BLAZE

This article defines one side of a conflict you could use to fuel an epic Romance.  The other side you can easily rummage out of your mind, I'm sure.  The one-sidedness of this article is what gives it the clarity to be a useful source of Headlines to rip into a novel, but in a novel you must also argue the other side of any conflict.  After all "conflict" is a concept that implies 2 sides (at least).  For clarity, and to deliver a satisfactory resolution to your reader, work hard at dividing your thematic material into two clearly separated positions. 

Watch for examples of this artificial division into two and just two sides.  You'll see it in political advertisements, in Talking Heads TV shows, in Talking Points displayed in campaign "debates" and so on.

The real world is complicated and complex, with all issues having thousands of "sides."  But only a  very tiny percent of our general population has the patience to gnaw through all that clutter to figure out what they think.  So politicians and marketers of all sorts (including book marketers) have to "simplify" things down to just two diametrically opposed views, and then convince the audience that these are the only two choices.  And you see this illustrated in this "pamphlet" which is short because it's showing you only one side, and pretending there actually is only one other side. 

What tickles my imagination about this pamphlet titled THE LAW is that it's from 1850 culture. 

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro used this kind of material (absorbed over a lifetime interest in History) to generate her incredible 1978 Best Seller redefining Vampire Romance Historical, The Palace:

That links to the Kindle page with various other editions.  The Palace was the foundation of her best selling St. Germain novels, a Life Work worthy of our greatest respect.

In The Palace, Renaissance Florence provides the background for this story of the collapse of the artistic and literary life of the city after the death of San Germano's friend, Lorenzo the Magnificent, followed by the rise of the fanatical Savonarola.
From Wikipedia:

Citizen Government in Renaissance Florence

From 1328 until 1434, Florence was a city republic governed by a broad swath of citizens from the elite merchant and banking families. They used a method of sortition to draw candidates for public office. During the late 13th and 14th centuries, popular revolts led to periods when public office was also shared among citizens from the middle and lower artisan class.

Note how the writer's mind associates across all the barriers between France in 1850 and Forence's city republic and morphing governmental forms in the 1300's.  And here we are again in the 2000's.  Remember how we discussed cycles and oscillation as a key to understanding (and thus depicting) a character's "life."

History is background, but also thematic substance.  One sort of thematic substance you can take from a pamphlet reference like THE LAW is that History moves in CYCLES, a spiral where even though the repetition is not exact, it's recognizably an "here we go round again" experience for those who know what happened before.

That effect (the cyclical nature of Life's events) can be used to add verisimilitude to the wildest fantasy settings.  It's used in the Sime~Gen Series where, a thousand years after the collapse of this civilization we're in now, humans pull together a whole new, global civilization and rebuild from scratch to reach out into Space The Final Frontier.

The cycle of history goes round again -- but with a difference. 

So read this list of issues covered in this 1850 pamphlet THE LAW, with the titles showing how it surfaces again in today's headlines and write it into your fantasy world.  This is the substance of High Drama, but even more-so it is the fuel of every great Romance (think Helen Of Troy!)

I'll list the 25 headlines here, but click through to the article for the substance behind each of these quotes.
To get the real gist of this list, you should read the article itself, but first ponder these excerpts from the article:

Each of the 25 could be made into a THEME for a Romance Novel, and if you sequence them properly you will have a SERIES -- or serial -- or an entire "Universe" if you do the science fiction worldbuilding to incorporate these fertile themes into your work.

Read this list as if it were a spelling list in a school course, and your task is to use each word in a sentence in such a way that the sentence adds up to a micro-short story.  Or you could do this for NanoWriMo this November.

Read this and monitor your blood pressure.  Imagine you want to break up a marriage so your main characters can get close without inappropriate spouses in the way.  Start a breakfast table (before coffee) conversation about one of these 25 points -- BAM! Divorce! 


: The following quotes come from French classical liberal, economic journalist and legislator Frédéric Bastiat’s 1850 pamphlet, “The Law.”

1. It started with “hope and change"  ”While society is struggling toward liberty, these famous men who put themselves at its head are filled with the spirit of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They think only of subjecting mankind to the philanthropic tyranny of their own social inventions. Like Rousseau, they desire to force mankind docilely to bear this yoke of the public welfare that they have dreamed up in their own imaginations…".....

2. And a social justice agenda   "Now this must be said: When justice is organized by law — that is, by force — this excludes the idea of using law (force) to organize any human activity whatever, whether it be labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, art, or religion. ..."...

3. That enabled Obamacare ”But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed — then the law is no longer negative; ....

4. And the IRS scandal, DOJ malfeasances, etc. ”Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it...

5. Where law was used as a weapon ”But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.

6. And condoned in a culture of political corruption ”

7. Imbued with such a philosophy, Washington was a political free-for-all  ”  Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another ....

8. Public education remained ever powerful “You say: “There are persons who lack education,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. ....

9. Leading to Common Core being foisted upon the children   "....Conventional classical thought everywhere says that behind passive society there is a concealed power called law or legislator (or called by some other terminology that designates some unnamed person or persons of undisputed influence and authority) which moves, controls, benefits, and improves mankind.”

10. The media was effectively an organ of the administration  

11. …Really ”  ....  just as the gardener needs axes, pruning hooks, saws, and shears to shape his trees, just so does the socialist writer need the force that he can find only in law to shape human beings. For this purpose, he devises tariff laws, tax laws, relief laws, and school laws.”

12. Truly ”   To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.” 

(JL interjecting here -- John Denver song about the Potter's Wheel -- and current soaring fame of Harry Potter.  Metaphor and imagery are artistic tools that can propel writers into the category of Classic.)

13. So the welfare state that had once started small… ” ..... See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. ...

14. Grew and grew and grew ”  ... It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. .....

15. When re-election time came, they spoke of Republicans ”throwing granny off the cliff” and wanting “dirtier air, dirtier water“ ”Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. ....

16. The community organizers sprung to action “..... If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good?  .....

17. Chanting slogans like ”This is what democracy looks like” “The strange phenomenon of our times — one which will probably astound our descendants — is the doctrine based on this triple hypothesis: the total inertness of mankind, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the legislator. These three ideas form the sacred symbol of those who proclaim themselves totally democratic.

18. And speaking of all sorts of previously unknown ”rights” ”The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. ...

19. While the President said ”You didn’t build that“ “Thus, according to [a tutor to the Dauphin in the Court of Louis XIV] Bossuet, persons derive nothing from themselves. Patriotism, prosperity, inventions, husbandry, science — all of these are given to the people by the operation of the laws, the rulers.

20. And while the President won re-election, due to efforts of the House and various scandals, he now makes statements like “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone“ “In cases where the alleged evil is so great that ordinary governmental procedures cannot cure it, Mably recommends a dictatorship to promote virtue: “Resort,” he says, “to an extraordinary tribunal with considerable powers for a short time. The imagination of the citizens needs to be struck a hard blow.” This doctrine has not been forgotten. Listen to Robespierre: ...

21. While his party pushes an inequality meme ”  ..... Since all persons seek well-being and perfection, would not a condition of justice be sufficient to cause the greatest efforts toward progress, and the greatest possible equality that is compatible with individual responsibility?

22. And dreams of equalization ”You say: “There are persons who have no money,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society. .....

23. And the conservatives are left with a tall task ”Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole — with their common aim of legal plunder — constitute socialism.  ... 

24. A very tall task ”Socialists desire to practice legal plunder, not illegal plunder. Socialists, like all other monopolists, desire to make the law their own weapon. And when once the law is on the side of socialism, how can it be used against socialism? For when plunder is abetted by the law, it does not fear your courts, your gendarmes, and your prisons. Rather, it may call upon them for help.

To prevent this, you would exclude socialism from entering into the making of laws? You would prevent socialists from entering the Legislative Palace? You shall not succeed, I predict, so long as legal plunder continues to be the main business of the legislature. It is illogical — in fact, absurd — to assume otherwise.”

25. And so here we stand today “As long as these ideas prevail, it is clear that the responsibility of government is enormous. Good fortune and bad fortune, wealth and destitution, equality and inequality, virtue and vice — all then depend upon political administration."

Where does it all end? Here’s what Bastiat says:

“But if the government undertakes to control and to raise wages, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes to care for all who may be in want, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes to support all unemployed workers, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes to lend interest-free money to all borrowers, and cannot do it; if, in these words that we regret to say escaped from the pen of Mr. de Lamartine, “The state considers that its purpose is to enlighten, to develop, to enlarge, to strengthen, to spiritualize, and to sanctify the soul of the people” — and if the government cannot do all of these things, what then? Is it not certain that after every government failure — which, alas! is more than probable — there will be an equally inevitable revolution?”


Even before I edited out most of this article, the article was a caricature of a book from 1850 that painted a caricature of 1850 which could be taken as a caricature of today!

Note the reference in point #1 to the 17th century, written in the 19th century.  Now we're in the 21st century talking about the 19th.  Remember this periodicity when worldbuilding. 

So you may consider all fiction and non-fiction as caricature -- and the Classics are all caricatures! 

To become classic like this book THE LAW, the work has to leave out or de-emphasize some truths and exaggerate others to dominate the picture, just as that line-drawing caricature of Bob Hope is not Bob Hope's picture.

Now do you see your Helen of Troy emerging from the juncture of Theme and Conflict?

Those 25 points are thematic.  Your characters will each read that pamphlet and SEE different things, just as two people assess a third differently.  And boy will they fight over breakfast the next morning! 

Imagine if your characters are each running for public office against each other, cramming for a "Debate."  Now imagine they each have the hots for the other (or better yet already married, and running against each other as an extension of that breakfast conversation), but are on opposite sides of this argument about the purpose of government. 

Each of your readers is convinced their OWN IDEAS are the correct assessment and each is rooting for a different spouse in this family quarrel.

Remember we discussed how "interesting" means the IDEA arises from within the reader, not from within the writer? 

The Index to Springboards is here:

The same is true of "reliable information."  That which the reader extracts (apparently on their own) from what they "see" (e.g. are SHOWN not told)  is convincing. 

That which is SHOWN to the reader becomes convincing because the reader has to put the puzzle together and arrive at an idea of what it means. 

What is TOLD to the reader is immediately suspect -- review your responses to reading that list of points! 

Your own assessment is TRUE -- someone else's assessment is SUSPECT, dubious or plain lies, and in any event uninteresting.

As a writer, you must find that spot where Theme and Conflict intersect, then SHOW it (not tell it) to your reader and let them discover their own truth, not yours.  Then the book you write will be "interesting" to your reader, and true (at least while reading.) 

Notice particularly how this set of 25 thematic issues all go together for form a perfect bundle -- the core theme is "purpose of government."  Each issue taken up in turn is individual, but the theme each issue illustrates is related in exactly the way we noted in previous posts that themes designed for long, multiple Point Of View novels, must be related.

Here is the Index to posts on THEME:

Here is one of the early posts listed in that index post:

The reason themes forming the structure (and title) of a single work must be related is that the only things a reader will both enjoy and believe (if only temporarily for the story) are the thoughts the reader originates.

Nobody looking to read a whopping good story is at all interested in what you have to say, but your THEME is exactly what you have to say.  So don't say it.  Show it just the way that list of 25 points shows what the argument is regarding "What Is The Purpose Of Government?"  

Your job as a writer is to provide the disciplined framework (the nest) and the energetic spark that begins the reader's question, (the egg) leading to the reader hatching their own idea -- not yours.  Yes, people are as possessive of their own ideas as a mother hen of her chicks.

Watch yourself discard the writer's ideas as you read the next few novels you pick up.  It is very instructive when you catch yourself hatching your own chicks -- but it's very hard to catch yourself. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hanging Out; Has Copyright Gone Too Far...? And other musings

Before I begin.... for copyright owners and would-be copyright owners who are interested in the future of ICANN, you have an opportunity to let your thoughts be known on Intellectual Property issues
ICANN (the folks who hand out the IP numbers to registrars and internet providers) are asking for comments on various topics, including Intellectual Property issues, in planning their goals for governing the internet over the next 5 years. 

On Thursday, I participated in a Google Hangout as a Tweeting, question-asking, wannabe thorn in the side of those who would return copyright protections to perhaps 14 years.... or at least a term much closer to the time envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

You may view the video here. (I'm not on it.)

The speakers opined that copyright harms most authors, also that any copyright owners who speak up for their rights can be inferred to be paid employees of major corporations. There was some discussion of the harsh statutory penalties available to copyright owners who take copyright infringers to court.

Now, I have covered the gist of the hour-long schmooze between academics, I will proceed to rant.

What the Founding Fathers thought --or may have thought-- is not really relevant to the digital age.
Back then, intellectual property was disseminated through a laborious, time-consuming, and expensive process. Books were written by hand with quill, nib, and inkwell. Binding was expensive. Books were often accessed by subscription, one book at a time, from a for-fee travelling lending library.

There were copyright infringers and plagiarists, but those unimaginative and enterprising souls had to copy that which they wanted to infringe and monetize by hand, exerting considerable time and effort as well. Apparently, Charles Dickens had a problem with such persons.

I assume that in those days, it was highly unlikely that a copyright infringer could create thousands if not millions of perfect illegal duplications of a copyright owner's works and sell it in competition with the expensive legal copies on the very first day that the legal version went on sale.

Of course, that is piracy and plagiarism. These days, a work can and will be pirated and plagiarised while it is under theoretical copyright protection. It can also be lawfully accessed at no cost from a public lending library. On the other hand, books that are out of copyright protection are not necessarily freely available in every possible format.

What really motivates those who want to strip authors of all ages --and their heirs of all ages-- of their intellectual property in as short a time as possible? Really? It's not likely to be "culture", is it? It must be something else, such as the legal ability to exploit the work in "other ways" for their own gain, such as using access to it in order to sell advertising.  Perhaps the professors want to save their students the cost of textbooks.... or maybe they want to mash up and mix other authors' content and create their own compilation works which they will make available to their students, perhaps for a fee.

One of the learned speakers suggested that copyright protection hurts authors. This strikes me as a version of the argument that all authors and musicians and artists should be forcibly stripped of their intellectual property rights because obscure content creators wish to be famous and popular, and see free access to their works as a way out of obscurity.

As for the statutory penalties, whenever those are discussed, it is seldom mentioned that most authors cannot afford to get to court because of the cost of litigation and the great risk that the defendant --if found guilty-- will not have the funds to pay the fines.

The next USPTO forum on copyright issues is June 25th, and the next one is July 29th and 30th.

I'm afraid that I've mentioned the June 25th forum too late for anyone to sign up to attend in person and to speak, but there is time to participate on July 29th.

A Press Release about the series of consultations with the public can be found here:

"The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force will host roundtable discussions in cities around the country on several copyright Internet policy topics, as part of the work envisioned in the Green Paper. The purpose of the roundtables is to engage further with members of the public on the following issues: (1) the legal framework for the creation of remixes; (2) the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital environment; and (3) the appropriate calibration of statutory damages in the contexts of individual file sharers and of secondary liability for large-scale infringement. The roundtables, which will be led by USPTO and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be held in Nashville, TN on May 21, 2014, Cambridge, MA on June 25, 2014, Los Angeles, CA on July 29, 2014, and Berkeley, CA on July 30, 2014."

And, about participating and/or listening in

"Requests to participate and observe are due three weeks in advance of each of the respective roundtables. While the Task Force may not be able to grant all requests, it will seek to maximize participation to the extent possible. The agendas and webcast instructions will be available approximately one week prior to each meeting on the Task Force website and the USPTO website at "

Finally, for those who want grist for the mill, here is a handy link to a directory of mostly pirate sites.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

PS. I am still reading fanFICtion by Anne Jamieson

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Legal Drugs?

Another new experience our Rhine trip exposed us to: Legal marijuana in the Netherlands. I learned that “Coffee Shop” above a door in Amsterdam doesn’t mean what Americans think it should. If you want coffee and pastry in Holland, you go to a café. A “coffee shop” sells marijuana. I stepped inside two of those for about a minute each. One, dim and strange-smelling, had a colorful sign on the wall advertising the various types (brands? varieties?) of pot. The prices started at about six Euros per gram. The other shop, lighter and cleaner-looking, displayed a list of rules next to the front counter. They included what you’d expect, nobody under 18 allowed inside, no outside drugs or alcohol, product must be consumed on the premises, etc. This shop also sold spiked brownies and displayed a case of glass curios and paraphernalia. (For a few seconds I considered buying something but didn’t know whether the objects—whatever they were, I couldn’t tell—might be illegal to import to the U.S.)

A news story earlier this week reveals that in the 1970s at least one tobacco company researched going into the marijuana business, if it were to become legal. This fall Maryland law will reduce the penalty for simple possession of a small amount to a civil offense (like a traffic ticket) rather than criminal. The catch is that selling the stuff is still illegal, so it’s easy to anticipate law enforcement problems. Some states already allow medicinal applications of marijuana or, in Colorado at least, recreational use.

In all the public controversy over pot legalization, what I haven’t seen is analysis of how well the system works in places such as Holland. Are young adults being ruined by indulgence? Has economic productivity gone down? What about crime? As for legalization—or, more sensibly, decriminalization and treatment as a medical rather than law enforcement problem—of “hard” drugs, I’ve never come across anything in the media comparing our present disastrous “war on drugs” to the situation in the nineteenth century when these substances could be bought over the counter in any pharmacy. (Remember laudanum? And Sherlock Holmes’s cocaine? Sigmund Freud used the latter, too.) How do addiction and drug-related crime rates compare? Why don’t these concrete examples from past eras’ experience enter the discussion? And what about the medicalization of heroine treatment in Britain? Instead, we hear arguments based on fears of encouraging increased drug abuse. Has this happened in those other situations?

Science fiction supplies us with thought experiments in this area just as with other social issues. In Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, everybody has unlimited access to soma, the ideal recreational drug, giving pleasure without addiction or hangovers. Economic productivity doesn’t suffer, but that may be because people are conditioned from birth to carry out their assigned duties with diligence and good cheer. In this novel Huxley disapproves of dulling citizens’ spirits with drugs and mindless entertainment. In a later work, ISLAND, however, he constructs a utopian society that also features sexual freedom and acceptance of drug use but shows these customs in a positive light. Moreover, Huxley himself experimented with mind-altering substances in his later years. Spider Robinson, one of my favorite SF authors, is outspokenly pro-marijuana in both his fiction and his opinion essays. In SF the positive or negative effect of drug use seems to depend partly on whether it’s imposed by a coercive totalitarian regime (which the one in BRAVE NEW WORLD is, even though quite benevolent) to keep the masses pacified or freely chosen by individuals as a means of relaxation like social drinking. Freely, that is, without the “coercion” of a miserable upbringing and immersion in a soul-poisoning drug culture.

I have no inclination to take up the practice myself, but decisions about legalization, in my opinion, should be based on pragmatic considerations, not individual scruples or philosophical and moral arguments. Would legal availability of substances currently illegal create a situation better or worse than the one we’re now in? Given the examples of past historical periods and the cultural practices of some other nations, what does the evidence show?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Information Feed Tricks And Tips For Writers Part 4 - Keep The Press Out Of It by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Information Feed Tricks And Tips For Writers
Part 4
 Keep The Press Out Of It
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Previous parts in this series on Information Feed:

Part 1 was on the Definition of News:

-----------QUOTE FROM PART 1 of Information Feed--------
When is it fun to acquire information?

When you have been harboring a burning question you need the answer to, AND when you have found that answer for yourself, by your own efforts, without anyone TELLING YOU.

Information someone tells you is boring.

Secrets you unravel for yourself are interesting.

That's what editors mean when they say they want to read a well written manuscript that "holds my interest."  That's code for "make me figure it out." 

Information that is kept from you is irresistibly interesting.

----------END QUOTE---------

That quote relates to Story Springboards, Part 7, where we discuss in detail what it means to write an "interesting" story -- what constitutes INTERESTING and how do you identify it? 

Here is Story Springboards Part 7
Part 2 of Information Feed Tricks and Tips is also on Definition of News:

Part 3 is about the publishing business model

Prior to the series on Information Feed we discussed some of the ingredients here:

So now we're going to look at the role of the media in fiction, and how to use the element of media intrusion life in a novel. 

As noted these last few months, to construct an "interesting" piece of fiction, one must consider the world in which the intended reader is living.  You must know more about that world than the reader of your novel would ever want to know. 

Information is boring.  What you are TOLD is boring.  What you figure out for yourself (as discussed in Story Springboards Part 7) is inherently interesting and memorable.  Even if it's the same thing!

So look at how today's public is tuning out the information in "Current Events."

That was the course where 6th grade children learned how to read a newspaper and understand what "The Press" does as the watchdog set to hound our elected officials and expose everything they do (or don't do). 

In the 1940's, people who voted got their news from Newspapers, while Radio News was a bit dubious and superficial.  Though TV had been officially invented, and even deployed commercially, the general public didn't have it, and there was no TV News. 

Visuals of what was going on in the world were distributed via theaters where a short (10 minute) "Newsreel" was shown between the films of the "Double Feature."

A "Double Feature" was two films, one with big name stars called the Feature or A-Picture, and a second with lesser known actors and usually a not-so-good script, cheesy effects, a cheaply made movie called the B-Picture.  You can now get most of them streaming on Amazon.

Between them came cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck,) and sometimes a weekly Serial (Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon), and the Newsreel (when most went out to buy popcorn.)  This would be 3-5 hours of entertainment for 25 or 50 cents depending on your age (about the price of a 1lb loaf of bread or a gallon of gas.) Oh, and no commercials before, during or after these segments.  Theaters made all their money from concession stands and box-office.  And they did WELL indeed.

So a tidbit of NEWS was delivered amidst fictional entertainment, fantasy, and humor aimed at kids (but laced with racial and sexual innuendo only adults would notice.)

People didn't go to theaters in order to see the Newsreel about World War II or the Korean War or whatever.  They went to see FICTION, and that was because there was no TV in most homes.  Where there was TV, there was only one to three channels that broadcast maybe 3-4 hours per evening. 

Why the summary of ancient history?  Those people are not part of the modern Romance writer's audience.  Who cares?   

This blog entry is about the role of the MEDIA in Romance Genre and sub-genre, mixed genre. 

Why is this of interest to fiction writers?  Especially to Romance Writers?

Well, concurrently with this "tune-out" of the general public, we've also seen a complete revolution of the Romance field in general, and the gradual addition of MIXED GENRE sub-categories to Romance genre.

We saw the rise of the Victorian, the Historical, the Regency Romance, the Gothic Romance, the Western Romance, each taking a turn in the spotlight.

But it was still just a Romance story transplanted to another venue. 

Now we've seen a full pivot to the Kickass Romance Heroine, a completely different story and plot.  The shrinking violet and wall-flower are still around, and you can catch up on those via Kindle re-issues.  But today's Romance characters are heroic characters whose decisions are implemented. 

Reprints in general were essentially forbidden in Romance publishing for decades.  The stories were too much alike, and one writer (sometimes under several pen names) would write the same story over and over in different settings, with details and characters that differed slightly, and all of them would sell big time.

That era is almost gone.  Almost.  Now there's Paranormal Romance, Vampire Romance, Werewolf Romance, Interstellar Romance, Alien Romance, Military Romance (where the Heroine is a high ranking military fighter, pilot, strategist, troubleshooter, etc.), and women who are CEO's, COO's, etc -- some who are villains, thieves, blackmailers, spies, etc etc. Even hard-boiled Detective Romance has a place.

In other words, the feminist revolution opened up the roles women live in real life, and now that there's a new generation of teens entering the Romance readership which has internalized the idea that just because you're female doesn't mean you can't do THIS (whatever this is.)

It's not happening worldwide, (yet), but it is seeping into every country, even those under theocratic dictatorship.

In fact, the entire story-line (or Romance sub-genre) of a woman coming into her sense of person-hood under the thumb of an autocratic male regime is still hot-stuff.

In the 1960's writers played with the idea of women in the role of the oppressor (the role-reversal ploy). Even Gene Roddenberry tried that in a couple of failed Pilots.

The Millennials are beginning to drag the culture back to a "norm" of some sort.  If you study TV News, (just turn the sound off and watch), you will notice how men still wear shirts, ties, and jackets while women guests and anchors wear shrink-wrapped sheaths cut down to HERE, over spandex. 

Women TV News anchors wear 3 or 4 inch spike, platform shoes. 

And the hair style has reverted to the 1940's "look" of long, dangling hair with shreds tickling faces.

My mother noted, when she hit 50, that all the styles she had been forced to wear 30 years prior had suddenly come back.  She advised, "Never throw anything out.  It'll come back into style again." 

It's taken about 40 or 50 years, but here comes the 1950/60's sheath dress with spiked heels and lanky, artfully un-done hair.

Gene Roddenberry made a RULE for his TV shows (in the 1960's).  Women had to wear their hair UP or cut short.  If they didn't, it was a "signal" that they were sexually available.

To whom, and under what circumstances (home, work, playground with the kids, night out on the town, on school campus?) are we now sexually UNavailable?

The big difference between the 1950's and now is birth control.  These days a woman is expected to be sexually available with no fertility -- or carrying a morning after pill.  Sex is for fun only unless both parties deliberately choose to make it about procreation. 

That is a huge change in self-perception for women that isn't going away any time soon.

But that perception has not cut into the market for Romance novels.  It has, however spawned a multitude of new kinds of stories told in the search for Love, for a Soul Mate, and the thesis that a sensible woman test-drives the guy before getting deeply "involved." 

Now look at the rest of the picture, searching for where this alteration in female style came from and is going (OK, the answer is "around again" as my Mom noted.)

Where we are in this cycle of Sexual Politics -- reflected in dress, speech, work roles, ball-busting, kickass heroines to shrinking violets -- seems to be in a reversion to some kind of "norm."  

In Biblical Times, daughters who had no father were apportioned Land in his stead, by decree of God. 
In Roman times, a widow had property rights and other powers.  By the Middle Ages, all those rights were gone.  By Victorian times, the pendulum on women's rights was starting to move again, widows first. 

As writers, we search for a principle that works in any kind of fiction designed for marketing via any medium from paper print to webisodes. 

Why do we need that principle?

The Romance Genre professional of the 1950's didn't need any such principle.  In that era, a Romance novel was trash, fit for a single reading and tossing into the fire, or the trash (there was no recycle and no e-book.)

Publishers, as noted above, would never reprint a Romance Novel.

If you worked in Romance, you were a second class citizen (maybe third class) among writers.  The scorn was beyond the belief of today's Millennials.

And we still feel the sting of that scorn.  But it's a lot less now than then.  It just hurts more.

Why has the scorn abated at all? 

Romance novels are now considered re-printable -- if only as re-issues in e-book by their own authors. 

Today, there exists such a thing as the Romance Series.  That, too, is new (in both Science Fiction and Romance, as well as in the SFR or PNR mixed genre).

The existence of the mixed genres may be attributable to female contraception, which unleashed women to take over the world.

Or, as some say, Fanfiction (which is written mostly but not exclusively by women) to take over the world.

Here is an academic study to which I contributed an essay titled FIC, or why fan fiction is taking over the world.

What has fanfic to do with media intruding into a fictional world you have built?

Oh, just about everything. 

Birth control unleashed women to finish college, found careers, and relate to men in general as well as to a Soul Mate in particular, in a fashion that fulfilled the human potential inside that female.  This realization of potential found very early expression in fan fiction, where women raised in the 1940's and 1950's sought to create a model of a male/female Relationship between equals.

In the 1940's 1950's and well into the '60's, science fiction invented the fanzine and practiced (and perfected) individual, personalized magazine publishing. But at first fanzines carried nothing but non-fiction written by fans about writers or their professionally published science fiction novels, about the lives and ambitions of people who read those books and magazines, and about why they read them.

The professional magazine was a main communication channel in addition to Newspapers and Newsreels.  There were a lot, and there were a few "everyone" read (LIFE being one of those, TIME another.) 

Spirit duplication (that purple ink stuff) was used in business and in schools.  Fans used it to copy and distribute (by snailmail) "fanzines" (fan magazines written by and for fans) to fandom.

Fandom was a word that applied not to what you think of today, but to a well organized group of people all over the USA (mostly who hadn't met in person) who paid dues to one or another fan organization.  It had its own language and etiquette that differed markedly from that of the general public.  It spawned the World Science Fiction Convention in the early 1930's, suspended it during WWII, and resumed in the late 1940's.

As science fiction fandom grew, the number of copies of a fanzine grew -- and the larger circulation ones went to mimeograph (Gestetner is the name to research.)

If you look at the pictures of the World Science Fiction Conventions in those decades, you'll note it's mostly men (the writers were men), and you will see a number of women at formal dinner events (where the Hugo was awarded).  They were the SO's and wives,  often who worked hard and made the Event possible, but were not those listed for achievement.  There were exceptions, women who wrote under male bylines.

If you trace this kind of Event through the decades, you'll see that change in fandom in parallel to how it changed in the general population -- Science Fiction people didn't lead this "revolution."  Today science fiction fandom is about 50/50 male/female, as is Gaming, but the purveyors of these story-forms have not yet admitted that.

Science Fiction provided the first outlet for the children of those women you see in those early pictures, the decorative add-ons to what men did.

You may look down on those add-on women, but you might change your attitude if you just sit and imagine what it felt like to be them. 

Very possibly, you are in your thirties, maybe you have one or two children or plan to have them in your thirties.  That's a very different life, and different self-image than those add-on women had.

My grandparent's generation looked at life from that older perspective, and I know a few women who, today, are living that life.  If you know what it feels like to be pregnant, to have a baby that just doesn't sleep for months then barely naps, to get pregnant again before that kid is toilet trained, and so on for 9 to 12 pregnancies starting at age maybe 16-20 years, and turning 40 with two toddlers in tow -- just think about that weary drag on strength, spirit, and self-image.

Think about burying two of those hard-birthed children.

Think about having your body's strength drained away like that while having to do all their laundry by hand (and iron it all) and shop on a shoestring budget and scratch-cook almost everything they ate. 

It isn't a Regency Romance lifestyle.  There are no servants.  And you have to keep all that off your husband's shoulders because he has an even more draining challenge to keep a job and bring home a paycheck. 

Those women didn't monitor the News of the Day via some internet feed.  They knew almost nothing about what the men were up to in Washington D.C. and frankly, couldn't care less. 

Those women were (and still are all around the world) kickass heroines of the first class.

That lifestyle defines what it means to be a woman -- it means indomitable will, keen judgement, crafty budgeting, fiscal responsibility, and an iron fisted control of the husband and his paycheck. 

Remember, too, in those days women died in childbirth -- mostly, that was what any girl had to look forward to as her fate.

Don't feel sorry for them.  Respect your ancestors.

But now consider the women TV News anchors wearing shrink-wrap dresses cut down to HERE and spike heels that serve no purpose but to make it hard to walk around the set as a man does.

ASIDE: If you note the apparel in most videogames, it's shrink-wrap because animating flowing robes, skirts, even loose fitting pants, is one huge (expensive) technical challenge (even though Disney's been doing it for generations.)  So today's Millennials are used to the image of heroic people in shrink-wrap clothing.  Perhaps they are mimicking game-clothing in real life?  Or it just "looks right" to them?

I called that News Anchor apparel change from women in pants suits or at least long sleeved jackets, or dresses with long sleeves and high necks, a "reversion to the norm." 

But what is the "norm?" 

Is it the early 1900's -- the Old West? -- or Regency ballroom low-cut open bosom -- or the cult-modern version of the shirt-dress look?  What's "norm?" 

A writer doesn't need to know the correct answer to that -- but a writer must have an answer.  The answer the writer has (at the moment the Idea For A Story occurs) contains the Theme of this story.

You can make an answer up, especially when worldbuilding an alien culture that will spawn your Leading Man.  A differing "norm" can create conflict.

Take, for example, the "Lost Colony" scenario where you are writing the Old West set on another planet where explorers from Earth have crashed and are trying to eek out a living. 

You have to get inside the head of a young woman raised on that planet to see no escape from a life of rapid-succession child bearing as she meets an Orbital Lander from Earth and sees her Soul Mate step out proclaiming the Colony Found.

He's from Earth at a time when women don't "bear children" -- but have them incubated in a mechanical womb.  Or maybe there is such a thing as a womb "3-D printed" from the mother's DNA that incubates the fetus without strain on the mother's metabolism? 

What would that do to the psyche of all Earth's cultures?  What of the studies that show fetus responses to music and other environmental effects around the pregnant woman?  Would heartbeat and music be provided?  Everyone the same? Or unique for each fetus?

Maybe women have household robots, (Artificial Intelligence as good as what we now see depicted on the TV Show ALMOST HUMAN?) 

I can hardly wait until they do an episode of Almost Human where the AI has to babysit a family of kids while the mother is in the hospital.  I doubt it would be a challenge for him to deliver a baby -- medical procedures are probably in memory -- but you can't program child-care (yet.)  Kids are known for original thinking. 

Would being raised by an AI au paire change humans?  The answer to that could be a THEME. 

Look, here we have a website agenting in-home child-care.

So you can see SFR writers have to be able to don the mindset of the woman from a world where there is no such thing as female contraception -- and if there were, it would be anathema because the very survival of the colony depends on a growing population. 

And you should have no trouble adopting the mindset of a young woman with a Talent (for art, music, acting, business management, sharp-shooting) being crushed into a life of continual pregnancy until she's too old and worn out to do anything she dreamed of as a child.

But having adopted your character's mindset, you now have the Information Feed problem mentioned in the title of this series. 

Somehow, you have to bring your reader into that always-pregnant mindset.

That process of bringing a reader into a new mindset is what I term "Information Feed."  You must feed your reader information in small bits deliciously wrapped in emotional significance. 

To provide your reader entre into the mindset of a woman who does, heroically, seek a life of child bearing and child rearing, you must appreciate the current culture's attitudes, and grasp this process of "reversion to the mean" that I've referenced above.

Such a "Lost Colony" novel really is a contrast/compare essay of two extreme positions highlighted against "the mean" -- the central, no strain, position human cultures tend to oscillate around.

Oscillate is the keyword. 

Currently, Millennial women demand contraception as part of their healthcare insurance policy.  I'm not coming down on one side or the other of the Obamacare argument over contraception.  I'm focused here on how the media figures into storytelling, Romance Novel writing and marketing. 

I'm showing you how to observe your world and think about it like a science fiction writer, not a denizen of that world. 

Stand outside of human history and look at the ideas, opinions, and standards of right and wrong as they oscillate around a mean over thousands of years.

To write a novel that will stay in print for 20 years (as my first novel, House of Zeor, did) then get reprinted and reprinted by different publishers for the next few decades (as my first novel, House of Zeor, did), and leap the gap into whatever new media delivery system becomes popular through those decades (House of Zeor went to e-book, and is now in audiobook, and its series is in development at a videogame company), nail that mean and know where your audience is now in that oscillation.

Just as in sharpshooting, you have to "lead your target."  You have to shoot at where your target audience will be, not where it is.

I don't see that changing any time soon.  Even with Indie production (or Amazon subsidized production) of web-distributed feature films, there is usually at least a 5 year lead time between "I've got an Idea" and "There It Is On My Screen!"  Very often, unless you're handed a work-for-hire contract and have 6 weeks to write the script, the lead time can be 10 years.

So assessing that oscillation around the mean can be a critical skill for any writer. 

Upon your assessment of the world you live in will depend your reprintability, your ability to craft a Series, and your ability to leap across tech-upgrades. 

In other words, your retirement fund depends on your ability to assess the harmonic motion underlying our ambient culture(s). 

Once you've arrived at an assessment and tested it out by watching TV News, Magazine and Web and Blog News, and comments on news stories on blogs, and listened to conversations at parties (that's an important element -- eavesdropping and keeping your mouth shut at parties to scarf up the ambient opinion), then you park your assessment in the back of your mind where your subconscious can find it.  Your subconscious will eventually craft an IDEA out of it.

Don't try to do this consciously.  A story deliberately crafted to showcase your own opinion about current culture will come off as "preachy" or as thin, awkward, with cardboard characters riddled with cliche.

Also, remember all the discussions on this blog about how necessary it is for a writer, particularly of Romance, to be able to argue all sides of any issue, including hot-button issues like contraception or abortion.  Remember, if there is nothing you could accept as evidence that you're wrong, you hold a non-falsifyable opinion.  That's not an opinion at all but rather it is a religious belief (even if God doesn't figure in it!).  You always have to image the counter-argument that would convince you to change your mind.

Romance writers of the 1940's were talking to a fairly homogenous readership, pregnant women raising kids and wondering if they had the right husband because their guys only wanted sex and more sex while women in that position need emotional support and admiration from their men, especially admiration for their heroism.

Also remember, in those days, divorce was a horrid stigma that followed the children and stunted their careers -- especially if the woman remarried.  Whisper campaigns killed. 

Put yourself in the position of such a wife/mother who really (truly, deep inside) wanted to be such a wife and mother, a stay-at-home Mom with no other way to make a living.

In the 1940's, Unions and all men solemnly believed that working men had to make more money than women who worked because a man worked to support a family, and women who were stay-at-home-moms actually EARNED half his paycheck by feeding, clothing, and tumbling him to keep him in top shape to do his job.

For a man to have children at all meant that a woman had to be pregnant most of her career-founding years (read sick as a dog, weak, coddled because of her "delicate condition" and rendered stupid and useless to the outside world by "mood swings.")

To have children meant someone had to stay home and take care of them (no such thing as day-care) -- no way could a Mom be employed without doing irreparable harm to the children.  A working Mom was abusing her children.  Think about that.  Get inside that mindscape. 

Remember the 1950's and 1960's post-WWII era saw the advent not just of the Living Room TV Set, but also the electric washing machine (and dryer), permanent press clothing, and a plethora of "labor saving devices" for the kitchen -- including refrigerators with freezers on top.  Less time scratch cooking (more packaged meals; the TV Dinner), and less time shopping and hauling food home every day by hand (women didn't have CARS -- families with two cars didn't become common until the 1960's and 70's).  Women cooked, cleaned and shopped by hand -- but they didn't have to drive carpool because schools were in walking distance of every home.

Any one item taken by itself wouldn't mean anything to the ambient mindset of the era.

Taken all together, they form a pattern of a huge weight taken off female shoulders allowing women to stand up straight, take a deep breath and re-assess their own self-image, independence, and power.  The 1970's whirlwind of change didn't happen because of ONE BOOK -- it happened because men commercialized convenience food and labor saving devices because they loved their wives.

That's a Point Of View -- it's a thematic element that has to be represented by a Character whose dialogue reflects that attitude in subtle ways.

Why would you need to learn that point of view if you're writing a Contemporary Romance aimed at the Millennials market?

The answer is simple.  To depict a character that is not "cardboard" and to reveal motivations without writing long, internal monologues, (motivations such as What Does She See In Him) you need another character, and that other character has to be someone OLDER. 

Parents and Grandparents are good prospects to flesh out your main character, uncles and old mentors, elderly neighbors, a dependable servant, a clever shop owner, the cop on the beat. 

Fictional characters also work to voice the dialogue that argues the other side of a matter -- characters in old novels or old movies that your Main Characters quote or reference.  "Those aren't the bots you're looking for." 

Oh, and speaking of The Force, don't forget the role that organized Religion has played, and still does in other parts of this world.  Religion is generally considered an oppressive force today, but one of your characters has to present the case for Religion as the actual Liberator of women.  This doesn't have to come from Clergy, but likely prospects for minor characters could be a female Rabbi, and other religions are giving women major roles, too.  Remember that this trend is also an oscillator. 

So we have these social and technological trends that oscillate while governing (independently) sexual behavior, reproductive behavior, marriage laws, gender-based self-esteem, career choices, wealth potential, power potential, gender based property ownership laws, sumptuary laws, and many other departments of life that anthropologists study.

Under "self-esteem" place all the categories of a person's access to communication with others, and sources of in-coming information (such as News, Weather, Sports, Gossip).

Would the good wife/mother hang out at the tavern to hear the latest Bard who wandered through?  Not likely.  They'd pump their men for the story.  The story would be edited by drunken inattention, illiteracy, bad memory, disinterest in the topic, and consideration of a woman's irrational emotional responses to men's business.

Such women didn't have blogs and online support Groups, or any of the worldwide associations we have today.  They weren't less intelligent than we are.  They just lived in an information-vacuum.

Which brings us back to what I sketched out at the top of this blog entry.

Today, the Millennials and their parents have "tuned out" -- they don't listen to "The News" the way people did during World War II.  They don't devote an hour a day to absorbing the import of doings and Events around the world, intent on their responsibility as voters to make the right assessment of the behavior of those they have elected.

Yes, that attitude is also oscillating. 

In the 1950's Radio, Newspaper, fledgling TV, Magazines, and Newsreels were commercial endeavors that served an audience keenly focused on understanding what was going on, and why. 

Here's the thing though.  When it came to voting, if a husband and wife disagreed on an issue on the ballot, they would both not-vote in that election because their votes would cancel each other out, so why bother.

But for the most part, because women were so focused inside the home, and so bedraggled/exhausted/spent, women believed what men told them and tended to vote the way their husbands said they should.  Nevermind secret ballot, the women voluntarily conformed to their husband's political opinions.  (fat chance of that today!)

The 1970's changed that, and women became News Consumers -- a bonanza for advertisers!  Women control spending in the USA -- pretty much always have. 

So women were "tuned out" in the early 1900's, "tuned in" by the 1970's, and now we're approaching the 2020's (just six years hence). 

Where have News Audiences been this last 20 years?  Tuned-in or Tuned-out?  And where will they go next?  (oscillation, remember - is the mean around which we oscillate creeping because of technology?)

Check the new Core Curriculum that has roiled up so much controversy as the Federal Government tries to control childhood education and make it uniform across the country.  See what your kids are being taught now.

Check particularly for Current Events -- what sources are children told to bring in to class to give speeches on?  The Web?  The New York Times or LA Times?  Local papers?  Video clips?  Huffington Post?  What are the authoritative sources most admired by school children today?

Most likely, all you know about the Core Curriculum standards has been learned from TV News or talk-show coverage.  (pundits and talk-shows are a relatively new phenomenon, too).

Unless you're an activist, you probably have not read the original source material that puts a gag order on local school personnel when talking to parents.  And there's very little coverage in mainstream news - TV Network News, Cable News, just don't focus on the revamping of the education system.

Several forces are at work there.  Fewer people are having children, and fewer of those who are growing a family have time to pay attention to News. 

Since our news sources are commercially driven (except NPR which gets public money and thus is politically grant-driven), they edit the news to be of interest (i.e. deliver eyeballs to commercials) to the life-situations of the viewers. Since fewer viewers have children in school, the news programs don't cover what's going on inside education -- must not bore viewers with information they don't want.

The rest of the country, retiring baby-boomers, 40-somethings who may have kids in school but both mother and father work full time, unemployed Millennials, and laid-off middle-aged people who are in the depressed/hopeless stage, may watch TV but even when watching News expect to be entertained not informed.  As a result, most of what's broadcast as news is really gossip and local news like accidents put up to fill National News time.  They show you video clips because it's more entertaining.

SHOW DON'T TELL is the watchword for good fiction because information is boring. 

That's why mystery and suspense has to be structured by the Socratic Method.

In January, 2014, we discussed how to use the Socratic Method to find and construct your story opening:

The Socratic Method gets the reader to ask questions, wonder, formulate answers, then test those answers.

That mental process is inherently entertaining, and the key skill in "writing an interesting story."  People are inherently interested in their own ideas, not yours.  After all, whose ideas are you most interested in?  What gets you racing to your tablet or computer to write something down or look something up?  The Ideas that energize you are your own, and it is your possession of them that makes them interesting -- not the content of the IDEA.

The questions to ask yourself as you craft your second draft is, "Why does this matter?"  "Why does 'the truth' matter to this character?" "Why does that character care?" Or the Romance version, "What does she see in him?"

It's the same with Science Fiction -- it's all about showing the reader into a puzzling situation that the reader gets to solve.

As in the Socratic Method, though, the way to hold your audience's attention is to withhold information.  There's an art to that, as well as a craft.

That's why I call this technique "information feed" not "information withholding." 

The core of the technique is to get your reader asking questions, postulating their own answers, and changing their minds about their assessment of the situation and the characters involved.  You can't tell the reader what you already know -- that's boring.  You have to get the reader to figure out for themselves what you already know. 

You do this by feeding information one kernel at a time.  The easiest way to structure that feed into a story is to have your main Point of View Character ignorant of everything you, the writer, knows at the beginning of the story. 

Then "feed" that information to your Character, causing the character to a)doubt what they know, b) seek more information, c) find partial or wrong data, d) reassess what they think, e) act on insufficient data, f) get into a huge mess because of acting on insufficient data, g) find out more, h) act again and succeed.

Now, look again at the title of this entry -- Keep The Press Out Of It.

That is advice from the screenwriting series, SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES! by Blake Snyder (of the 3 book series that I recommend.)

How do you apply it to novel writing?

In Romance, usually, you work with a tight focus on the lives of two people who are working out a Relationship.  So usually the media would not be in the story.

When you create a character or situation which would inevitably (in our real world) attract media attention into what is a private transaction, you destroy the bubble in which your story occurs.  The characters begin to respond to the external force of media attention more strongly than to each other, and the entire plot explodes and dissipates.  Various successive scenes refocus on the external scrutiny, and you lose your way through the story.

Look again at

That's the Knack of Hooking Readers.  The abstract mental process of a writer creating a "hook" is explained via the analogy of a screwtop bottle.  When you let the media into your story, you strip the threads of that screwtop. 

When Blake Snyder was in the midst of writing that series, and propounded the maxim, "Keep The Press Out Of It" - he had a weekly blog.  I went on the blog and explained to him where I had used media reports to move a plot, and he agreed that technique was usable.

What was the example I gave him?

It was in my Vampire Romance THOSE OF MY BLOOD -

- which is set on the Earth's Moon.  The main character sees a news report showing his house, back on Earth, blowing up, and follows the story of who did that and why.  Knowing that information, learning it via the media, he acted in ways he would not have acted otherwise.  The fact that the team on the Moon was in the media spotlight was inescapable via the story's logic.  At the end, the media arrive in force, and that drives the characters to act yet again.

That novel was difficult to write, but the publisher who bought it for hardcover publicized it as my breakout novel.

Keeping that TIGHT FOCUS on the characters' developing and changing relationship, and using media for information feed for items the characters would not ordinarily learn about, not letting media become a major plot-driver, is difficult. 

There is one way to let the media be a character, and still not include reporters as characters.

Consider the high-profile character -- a corporate executive, multi-billionaires, Presidential Candidates, Oscar Winning celebrities, people who have the media lurking in bushes and chasing after them all the time.

Such people treasure PRIVACY -- and much of their energy is spent getting away from media, locking them out, walling them away. 

That's a CONFLICT.  Conflict resolution is what every story is about.

When you introduce media into your story, you introduce a major conflict inside and outside your characters, a conflict so major that it overshadows and pre-empts whatever conflict you introduced on page 1.

The theme shifts from what you wanted it to be to whatever the media represents to your readers.

The story then becomes all about the effect that your characters' actions have on the general public, how the public reacts, and what that reaction does to your characters.

That's HUGE.  Beginning writers generally can't handle that big a mess of themes, sub-themes, conflicts nested within conflicts. 

One example of how to do that well is

In Gini Koch's ALIEN series, one of the minor characters who provides many plot-moving elements as well as thematic statements is a reporter for a scandal rag.  He used to do UFO stories that were real, but present them as the usual crack-pot-nonsense.  Now, though, everyone knows there really are Aliens - some living on Earth defending Earth from others that are powerful and hostile. (If that sounds like THOSE OF MY BLOOD, it is like it.  THOSE OF MY BLOOD is about Earth's native vampires defending Earth from vampires from outer space.  ALIEN series is about Earth's native space aliens defending Earth from other space aliens.)

Yes, I love Earth.  Yes, I would defend it from all comers.  But yes, I do think it very likely most Aliens are good friend material if we handle First Contact well.

The first part of the ALIEN series is about a woman who thinks of herself as an ordinary human who gets caught up in the secret (out of the view of the media) war the resident aliens are waging against invading aliens. 

Little by little, information is fed to the reader as the Earth woman learns "what is going on." 

Gini Koch has gotten both the information feed and the use of the media just right in this series.

But take a good look at these books.  They are HUGE -- very long, very expensive to publish and very expensive to buy because of the size of each volume.  That's what happens when you include the media, or a media-attention worthy Event or plot-line or character.

That kind of material is hard to control, hard to discipline, and it takes strength built through practice to achieve this. 

Note that in the early ALIEN novels, Koch has "kept the media out of it" -- and only gradually introduced this reporter character.  Study how that is done.  It is done exceptionally well. 

All rules are red flags in front of the bulls who are writers -- all rules will be attacked, and sometimes broken.  Most of the time, breaking a rule of this kind will result in unusable material.  But when you do it successfully, you hit best seller ranks. 

The secret is to practice in secret.  Remember, publishing is itself "media" and doesn't always mix well with real life.  Some of what you do does not go into books or onto the web. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg