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. 

http://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/museum/exhibits/Bob_Hope/Presidential 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 audible.com 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

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