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

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