Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Depiction Part 9 - Depicting A Hero by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Depiction Part 9
Depicting A Hero
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

The previous parts of the Depiction Series are:









Last week we discussed novel series that depict the Hero, and how the "backstory" of a Heroic Character illustrates the theme. 

But how do you draw a Hero? 

A depiction is not the real thing - not a photo or 3-D large-as-life image.

A depiction is like a Japanese Brush Painting -- a few suggestive lines that cause the beholder to fill in the blanks and "see" a real thing.  That vision often seems more real than reality to the beholder.

That's what writers do with characters -- provide a few strategically chosen details to "depict" a reality that the reader will flesh out, making the vision their own. 

So how do you depict a Hero -- how did the authors of the books reviewed last week achieve that dimension of heroism? 

And why does it work Mass Market miracles when you do capture Heroism?

Here is a New York Times opinion blog entry calling the Hero an American Myth. 

Myth makes the best fiction, so that could be why it's such a popular trope.

But perhaps there's more to it than that.  As I suggested last week, it is the un-askable questions that generate the most powerful themes.

So let's take a look at "The Hero" (an Ancient Greek concept - the offspring of god and human, often by rape) from a different point of view.

This point of view seems to be based in politics, specifically American politics which is like no other in the world.  If you're not familiar with Republican vs. Democrat and the two-party system where what a Party stands for morphs and changes and veers in different directions through the decades, this article may make no sense to you.

Here's the article's URL

At least part of the schism between Republicans and Democrats is based in differing conceptions of the role of the individual. We find these differences expressed in the frequent heated arguments about crucial issues like health care and immigration. In a broad sense, Democrats, particularly the more liberal among them, are more likely to embrace the communal nature of individual lives and to strive for policies that emphasize that understanding. Republicans, especially libertarians and Tea Party members on the ideological fringe, however, often trace their ideas about freedom and liberty back to Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, who argued that the individual is the true measure of human value, and each of us is naturally entitled to act in our own best interests free of interference by others. Self-described libertarians generally also pride themselves on their high valuation of logic and reasoning over emotion.

    The basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish and self-serving individual.

Philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel have emphasized that human beings are essentially social creatures, that the idea of an isolated individual is a misleading abstraction. So it is not just ironic but instructive that modern evolutionary research, anthropology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience have come down on the side of the philosophers who have argued that the basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish, self-serving individual. Contrary to libertarian and Tea Party rhetoric, evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others.
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Personally, I take issue with that description of "Republican vs Democrat" -- at least in 2014, those aren't the principles dominating either side.

But reality is irrelevant to learning how to construct fiction.  Reality is relevant only in deciding what content to put into the fiction you write, and how to lead your reader from what they already know/assume to what your Characters know/assume about their alien worlds.

Learning the concept "conflict" is relevant to learning how to construct fiction.

And this article also illustrates why delineating a clear 'conflict' (a this vs that) is also the essence of good non-fiction writing.

This is a well written article, well organized. It would be an A paper in most courses on non-fiction writing, and maybe in some others.

The author of this NYT opinion article factored the prevailing mixed-mess of stances in American politics into two neat (artificial) extremes in order to make the point that Individualism is based on a myth.

Personally, I'm not convinced, but it is a well presented and well argued point worth studying.

However, last week we did discuss three different novel series with three different approaches, all of which illustrate the murky pea-soup of a mixed-mess Philosophy this 21st Century Culture suffers from.

My thesis last week was that this mixed-mess is modern philosophical ideas mixed with left over, contradictory bits and pieces of former prevailing Philosophies -- Aristotle and back through Persia and Egypt (maybe China), and Plato/Aristotle forward through Bacon's "scientific method" and onward to today. 

A simple, coherent, all-pieces-match Philosophy probably hasn't prevailed in all of human history, so it's not like anything has changed.

But people do continue to try to raise their children in isolation from "alien influences" -- trying to distill and convey a world view that is utterly coherent.

As far as I can see, to date, the more isolated children are from the melted-pot-of-ideas, the more incoherent their internal philosophy becomes.  But that could just be my opinion -- what if I'm wrong about that? 

The writer of this article has tried to distill his boyhood into a couple of sentences -- thus establishing camaraderie with the reader. 

He says:

When I was a boy I was taught that the Old Testament is about our relationship with God and the New Testament is about our responsibilities to one another. I now know this division of biblical wisdom is too simple. I have also learned that in the eyes of many conservative Americans today, religion and evolution do not mix. You either accept what the Bible tells us or what Charles Darwin wrote, but not both.
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Well, no way on Earth could anyone ever get the impression that I'm "Conservative."  I'm a disruptive force wherever I go.

But no way can I be termed a Liberal (by the American Definition -- in some other countries the term might fit).  I'm definitely not "Progressive" either because net-net the Progressive agenda is to force change by passive-aggressive psychological trickery (such as never articulating what the actual goal of the actions is.)   

And as I see it, personally, Darwin and the Biblical Account are identical, not in conflict at all.  Science and Religion aren't two separate things, and not mutually exclusive. 

That could be where I've got leftover bits and pieces of alien Philosophy stuck somewhere in my operating system, or maybe not.

As I pointed out last week, writers who know, internalize and then consciously forget the history of philosophy have a better chance of hitting the wide, Mass Market Paperback stride. 

This article isolates some of the broad rivers of thought that flow into our world from our past, gives you the names of writers to study, and some of their often cited works.  A broad education in these key works will give a writer the chance to understand the readership better than the readers understand themselves.

The job of the writer is to depict, to select out the salient bits of the reader's real-world, then express the reader's opinion using all the tools of Art, tools the reader may not have Talent or Training to handle.

One of the ways writers express the reader's opinion is by depicting the Hero, the Individual who (during his Story) resolves the conflict between his personal Needs and his social needs and obligations.

Each Character, according to the theme you embed in the Character's "backstory," must come to a unique resolution of that self-other conflict.

I've discussed that self-other conflict line in terms of Astrology and in terms of Tarot, (here are the index posts to those series)




The Astrology Just For Writers series illustrates how to depict fresh, unique angles on the self-other conflict while making what you write conform to the Mass Market and Hollywood dictum "the same but different." 

Say it better than the reader can say it -- and you will be quoted.

This New York Times opinion piece gives a good clue to how you can articulate what your readers only suspect, fear, even just accept.

The USA is wrestling with the self/other dichotomy these historical philosophers articulated for their readers.

Philosophers don't invent these Ideas -- they formulate, organize and communicate the suspicions of their teachers, contemporaries, and the ancestors of those contemporaries. 

Philosophers formulate the connections between the leftover bits and pieces of alien philosophies embedded in their own societies.

They use what appears to be non-fiction as their format, but employ as much imagination as a fiction writer. 

In fact, I would say all fiction writers are philosophers of their time.  The more schooled in the history of philosophy a fiction writer is, the more likely they are to articulate the current culture's issues. 

Some of these issues we wrestle with today are identical to those depicted in the oldest known writings such as the Bible, and perhaps some fragments even older than that.

The problem of "we need a leader" all the way to the problem of "Who Am I and Does It Matter?"  Are we a Group if we don't have a Leader?  How do you get to be Leader (Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Series is all about Who Will Be King). 

If you look at an Astrological Natal Chart (the practice and concept of which dates back long before the Bible), you see that every human being born on Earth (bets are off for those born elsewhere), has an Ascendent and Descendent.

The Ascendent is the point on the Eastern Horizon where the Sun will rise (or has risen) at the day of birth in the place of birth. 

The Descendant is the point on the Western Horizon where the Sun will set or has set that day in that place. 

The Ascendent represents the Self -- mentioned in that New York Times Article.

The Descendent represents the Other (Spouse, Family, Town, County, State, Country, General Public -- "other" in the intimate sense of Soul Mate and in the generic sense of anyone who's not-me.)

In Astrology, there are 12 "Houses" in the Zodiac (calculated various ways in various systems).  They take the circle and divide it into pie-wedges.

Each wedge has an opposite wedge of the same size.

Events that happen (transits, progressions, etc) in one of the wedges often manifest in the opposite wedge as a reflection of the Event.

In other words, from oldest times, human psychology has been depicted as symmetric -- what is inside a person appears OUTside that person. 

Which end of that reflection does a person "control?" 

Some religions say you only control yourself, and most of that may be an illusion God allows you.

Others (such as Science when it is believed in like a Religion) say you only control what is outside of you and you are driven to hammer your environment into a convenient shape, subdue Nature to your Will.

Some say all of these conflicts are artificial (man-made) and we are free to opt-out of Conflict. 

Your Hero, your Main Character, your Viewpoint Character, the Character whose story you are telling, is the Character who resolves some piece of one or another (or all three) of the conflicts over what a single person controls and how to adjust to the existence of things you do not control. 

The "Hero" is "larger than life" -- a child of a god and a human -- an individual with the Power of Creation imperfectly manifested.  To write the story of a Hero, you need a Conflict that is likewise Larger Than Life -- larger than your reader is likely to confront in reality.

The conflict over whether a human being is an Individual or a Member of Society is easily depicted in the form of the Romance.  The Footloose Bachelor meets his Soul Mate and bonds himself into a Happily Ever After resolution of the Individual vs Society conflict. 

You may want to read a short blog entry related to the issue of how implausible the HEA is thought to be today.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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