Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Setting-Character Integration Part 1 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - Mindspace Investigations

Setting-Character Integration
Part 1
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Mindspace Investigations

In Reviews 11, we looked at a number of science fiction novels and films that depict Artificial Intelligence (AI).


Among them were the recent Mindspace Investigations novels and stories by Alex Hughes.

The most recent Mindspace Investigations novel came out in December 2014 in paper and e-book.

Here's the description from Amazon:
Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes—especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.   

I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”

Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…

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So I'm hoping by now you've read at least one or two of these Mindspace Investigations novels. 

A couple of the titles on Amazon are shorter than novel length.  Here may be some spoilers -- but even if they are spoilers, they won't spoil your enjoyment of these novels.  This is the kind of writing that just can't be "spoiled" by knowing what will happen.

Now we want to discuss one of those structural questions Romance writers face when writing a science fiction novel.

How much space must I devote to science and action to make it science fiction?"

The Mindspace Investigations novels are an example of how to strike that balance using the same kind of apportionment that Star Trek used.

You all know how Science Fiction Romance exploded onto the commercial scene during the Star Trek fanzine boom.  There was the "Get Spock" story where a character had to capture Spock's romantic interest, or just sexual.  There were such stories devoted to every other character.  There were terrific triangle novels where Kirk and Spock vied for the same woman.

Variations were endless, and are still going online with the new characters.  From Trek, it all spread to other TV and film universes.  

This enthusiasm for adding the personal life story-arc to the action/adventure story arc of a set of characters is increasing.

So if you create a purely adventure setting -- an all male cast of soldiers for example -- and pit them against a nemesis to create a purely action novel or TV show (or film), someone will write about their love lives, even if you stringently leave it all out of your story.

If you create a pure Romance, or a story that happens entirely during a Romantic Interlude -- on a Cruise, or a vacation in Paris, etc. -- take the characters out of their normal everyday responsibilities and their lives, and toss them into a Romance, someone will write the action-adventure part of their story.

Whatever is missing, that is what fans will write fanfic about, just as Sime~Gen fans keep writing stories about how the Territories eventually crafted some kind of working relationship.  They also gravitate toward writing about how the Sime~Gen mutation happened.  Fans write the missing parts.

So how do you get ALL the parts into a novel? 

Apportionment -- a little of this, a bit of that, more of this other, a little and more.  As you change the apportionment of the parts of a story, you change the genre.

So the Romance writer attempting a science fiction novel does have a valid question to answer -- how much space must be devoted to science, and how much to romance? 

Here is a wry, humorous way of looking at that apportionment.


I certainly don't expect writers to copy those apportionments, but there is a lot to be learned by the way it makes you laugh when you read the captions.

What the target audience loves most gets the most space devoted to it.

So if you're writing SCIENCE fiction ROMANCE, you need equal amounts of Science and Romance.

There is a way to accomplish this balance, and Mindspace Investigations does it gracefully.

The method is setting-character integration.

Every bit of description of the Setting also lends dimension to the Characters, to their motivations, their culture, their limitations, and their abilities (or Ability as Alex Hughes terms the various ESP function.)

Generally, Science Fiction does not encompass telepathy, but stories about telepaths (and other ESP functions) first arose inside science fiction during the years when ESP was being investigated using the best tools science could come up with at that time.

Today, telepathy etc is usually relegated to the Fantasy genre unless you can come up with a scientific explanation of how it works and why it works.  Of course, you can always rely on aliens from outer space to be your telepaths, (as Star Trek did introduce telepathy via Spock). 

The Science Fiction and Fantasy fields split several decades ago, and now they seem to be on a convergent path.

What is causing that convergence?


Just as Spock became a hugely dominant character - the very symbol of Star Trek - for his mind meld, so science fiction adventure novels are blending back into the fantasy field.

It is CHARACTER that integrates into the SETTING that permits the blurring of the genres.

Notice how Alex Hughes uses a telepath who investigates murders by "reading" "mindspace" -- which is far beyond mere telepathy, and close to clairvoyance. 

The origin of humans with Abilities is not explained in the Mindspace novels, but the origin of the Guild that gives them legal status is explained.

Artificial Intelligence was used by some really nasty people to attack and dominate humanity (very bad war), and AI went wild.  The humans with Ability came forth to do battle with AI and won.  Now AI and most computerization is legally forbidden, and The Guild virtually owns all those with powerful Ability.

All this deep history is clumsy to explain, but emerges naturally as we follow the main character through his desperate plights. 

He was a professor of high level telepathic tricks and has precognition that works very well (sometimes), but because of a Guild research program, he became hooked on an addictive drug.  Because he was addicted, he was thrown out of the Guild -- they expected him to die on the street. 

He survived, and we pick up his story as he has been "Clean" for a few years and has a job as a consultant for the police.  He does Interviews of accused perpetrators (and gets confessions), and helps with murder scene investigations by reading Mindspace to see who did what to whom. 

His personal history could not have happened in any other setting.

This setting could not HELP BUT generate a character such as this one.

The setting produces the character; the character produces the setting.

With these two crucial elements fully integrated, it takes very few WORDS (or screen time) to depict the action, the adventure, the characters, the science behind the ESP, or the absence of a functional Internet and other smart machines. 

So the setting is the somewhat near Future -- which makes it science fiction.  The setting is after a war to conquer Artificial Intelligence gone wild, which makes it relevant to today's world.  The setting is 1960's technology with a few bits and pieces of seriously advanced materials science that startles readers and depicts "the future." 

The Character is what SAVE THE CAT! terms "A Fish Out Of Water."   He was raised in the Guild, is used to dealing with people with Abilities, and has been thrown out among "normals." He is a highly educated, very respected individual who now is not even trusted to manage his own salary and expenditures.  When he needs new shoes, he has to ask his minder on the police force to take him to a store -- he can't even drive.  He can't buy food except where they have set up an account for him.

His self-esteem is in shreds.

SPOILER:  when he does have to deal directly with the Guild, their sense of him is contemptuous because he has lost at least one level of his Ability.

Even though the setting is a strongly developed science fiction scenario, and the Character faces unique fantasy-universe challenges, the underlying story is familiar, routine, easy to slip into and identify with.

The character is a typical Detective (in the process of becoming Hard Boiled, but very soft-boiled right now), and a typical recovering drug addict who fights that battle every day, and sometimes loses, and he's a typical Exile.

The Exile story is the dethroned king or prince.  The Detective story is the typical talented person using a hidden talent to rebuild his life.  The recovering drug Addict story is the typical 12 step program.

These 3 dimensions of Character would be enough, but because he's an Exile, he's ripe for an emotional relationship.  Now, to further his new career, he's working with a woman detective on murders -- and ROMANCE fills the air and the Mindspace.

Because of a battle they fought together, the telepath and police officer are now "Linked" -- with a mind-link that should fade provided they don't have sex.

She hates having her thoughts exposed to him.  He needs that mental contact until his mind heals -- and beyond.

In addition, they are falling for each other big time. 

Look at that Romance/Sex dynamic from the point of view of a Romance writer.

Love is an urgent must-do, and it meets an equally urgent can-not in these opening novels of the series.

That is CONFLICT -- the progenitor of STORY. 

As with Private Eye novel series, or Police Procedurals, there is the problem-of-the-week in the murder, and the opposition to solving the problem is usually the perpetrator.  That is one plot.  And at the same time, there is another plot driving the personal STORY of the detective (in this case the Telepath ), and his/her Relationships.

It was the relationship dynamic among the Bridge Crew of the Enterprise that drove fans to writing Star Trek Fan Fiction.

In the Mindspace Investigations series, the mystery-of-the-book is solved at the end of the book, but the Relationship Issue Of The Book is not resolved.

The Setting provides the element of Character that can not be resolved, just as it usually does in real life.  In real life, we have to keep this job (at least until another comes along), we have to keep up on the mortgage, we have to deal with people we don't like at work, in the community, and the general environment just can't be changed on a whim.

Our SETTING provides the ongoing problems, but one by one we do resolve our problem of the week or problem of the year.  We find people to establish Relationships with.  We find a lover.  We move in.  We get married.  We have kids, or adopt.  And sometimes we move to a completely new setting.

There is the Gothic Novel where the heroine inherits an old house, meets an irresistible Guy, has an adventure with a ghost and sells the house or gets an exorcism, then marries the "other guy" because the irresistible Guy turned out to be the Bad Guy.

The setting for the Gothic Novel is a creaky old house -- in an unknown locale, where the people are strange and different. 

The setting for the Mindspace Investigations is the near-future where everything is strange and different except the people who are just exactly who you would be, or want to be, if you had grown up in that world and been treated like that.

With Setting and Character fully integrated, the science and adventure (solving crimes, fighting Guild Politics or Police Department budgets) do not compete for space on the page. 

You don't have to worry about proportions.

You don't have to separate the action from the romance, the science from the relationship -- they are one and the same thing.  Each paragraph detailing entering or reading a murder scene also advances the Mental Link/Sex issues because Setting and Character are fully integrated.

Study Mindspace Investigations by Alex Hughes for the key to integrating the fictional elements so that it takes fewer words to convey the intricacies.

Setting and Character integration are not the only things done well in this series.

The fewer words it takes to advance the plot and the story, the more vivid the impression you leave on your readers.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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