Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Theme-Plot Integration Part 16 - Affairs of State by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Plot Integration
Part 16
Affairs of State

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to previous posts in the Theme-Plot Integration Series:


Believe it or not, we live in a storybook, and sometimes the "real" news headlines actually reveal that great secret.

In these writing-craft posts I focus on "how" to do the various tasks of the writing craft.  Most books on or about how to write just tell you to do this or that.  I've never found that helpful, so I am showing not telling how the writer's mind looks, sees, interprets and then uses the elements of audience appeal to create fiction that can become a Classic in its field. One sort of Classic that Romance dances around is Cinderella - the unknown girl marrying a Prince.

What Cinderella does not cover is the Pygmalion aspect -- what does Cinderella do once she is Queen and her Prince has died?  What is the difference between a working stiff and a Head of State?  Is there any difference that matters?

Study World History.  Previously I've recommended writing students read dozens maybe hundreds of biographies and autobiographies.

Here's a great biography to study if you have liked any of the Star Wars movies.


Now I'm saying combine World History with what you learned from Biographies, and add Contemporary History.

International Affairs are actually run as a story-plot generated by the internal conflict of the people who make the policy decisions (Heads of State, department heads, financial backers,  Powers That Be Behind The Scenes, Corporations...)

Here is a contemporary non-fiction book about our current shapers of Affairs of State that has gained much praise (and excoriation).


We saw that reflection of neuroses of Heads of State in our world during World War II. As a close reading of Hitler biographies will reveal, he had a psychological "need" to "cleanse" -- and he projected that need into the environment.

The magnification of Pluto related forces (which I've discussed at length in these blogs as the source of War and Drama), unleashed the Final Solution.  His drive to execute the riffraff causing him to feel "dirty" created the Death Camps, burning people to ash in ovens.

Or just look at any of the TV Series Dramas that include Queen Elizabeth I, such as REIGN - which is about Mary Queen of Scots in France.

Those are caricature-sketches of  International Affairs, of course, but this is the point to grasp when you've got a THEME that needs to generate a PLOT.

The theme generates the plot by fueling the internal conflict of a Character who is in a position in life where his/her actions can manifest externally.

"Life" has cycles. There are times you are trapped inside yourself and nothing you think, do, or feel has any impact on the external world.  And there are times every twitch of your eyebrow is gossiped about from the mail room to the CEO's office.

Jupiter, Uranus, Pluto, all the planets are 'cyclical' -- the cycles impact different parts of your life at different times, and sometimes manifest externally.

USA Presidential candidates have three or four properties that I've noticed.
A) their Natal Charts have some tight Relationship to the USA Natal Chart(s).
B) their transits ignite pure dynamic Energy,
C) their Solar Arc contacts trigger off something usually interpreted as Sexual, Romantic, or Social during the Campaign or the ensuing Term of Office.

Nothing in a Natal Chart can really indicate whether the person "wins" or "loses."

Transits just indicate peaks and valleys from a baseline.

The Natal Chart shows whether the person is "channeling" Energy into their own interior (unlikely to do more than a few whistle stops on the campaign trail) or into their Environment (very likely to hit a peak popularity)  Sustaining that peak means successive transits must continue to sweep energy into the Environment.

Which candidate "wins" -- well, sometimes becoming President is a way of losing in "life."  It's a brutal, massively difficult killer of a job, and it uses men up in the peak of their lives.

So is becoming President (or King, Queen, Dictator) a "win?"  Or a "destiny?"

That question can be a THEME.


So here's a sub-theme to ponder.  A sub-theme is a theme derived from a main theme.  It's not "another" theme grabbed out of thin air because you "like" it.  A sub-theme is a theme that is an essential component of the Main Theme.

So, a sub-theme for "Is being Elected President a Win?" might be something like the Hitler story encapsulated above -- playing out a Character's innermost Needs, Drives, Ambitions, Frustrations, on the International Stage then showing his demise as poetic justice.

If the Character has a ruthless streak (Mars conjunct Pluto in the Natal Chart often produces something like ruthlessness when triggered by transit or Solar Arc), that Character might take the Force of an Economy and an Army and sweep out into the world to accomplish what their internal neuroses demand of them.

This is not a "modern" idea or a new one. You see it in the Ancient Greek plays, in all that's derived from them, in modern History books, and in today's Headlines, and even in the Blockbuster films and video games of today such as STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

Star Wars is the saga of a galactic war long ago and far away.  The reboot by Disney, The Force Awakens, shows how a new generation picks up the "conquer or be conquered" theme.

The film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens depicts the Good Guys as the Underdog, and the Bad Guys as the Mighty.  The Bad Guys have a Grandmother of all Death Stars that sucks up a whole Sun, then spits out a beam that can destroy planets and stars halfway across their Galaxy. And to be sure you understand that, you see them blowing up planets of Good Guys with their new weapon.

Bad Guys return with bigger, badder weapons -- the same weapons, the weapons of destruction, just bigger.

In good comic book fashion, the Bad Guys uniforms are still the same ineffective, comical "body armor" with visible seams -- the bad guys wear white.

The whole movie is about explosions, and destruction. In fact, it is about destroying antique buildings, wondrous relics, and treasured people.

It brings back Light Sabers but simplifies the whole arcane concept of THE FORCE into Dark and Light, without any morality involved. Might Makes Right (a theme) abounds all over the place.

Hans Solo and Leia have spawned a son who turns to the Dark Side, and with a face-to-face trick kills his father -- saber through the chest, just as in the King Arthur Legend, and sends him falling from an immense height echoing previous fallen villains and heroes.

Luke Skywalker is the object of the hunt, and we see him in the final scenes.  He's supposed to be raising more Jedi Knights - we learn nothing of the training he is supposedly giving.

Absolutely not one thing is being BUILT in this film, not ships, buildings, planets, or families -- nothing is growing and prospering. Destruction reigns supreme, center spotlight, destruction of things, of Characters, and of every tradition (except possibly the Light Saber, but it is treated as simply mechanical.)  Look at Affairs of State around us today. What is being built?  What do people in their twenties remember of a world building things?

We never see anyone making a new Light Saber.

In our real world, plenty of people have made new things -- the Internet, the Web, the cell phone, the smartphone, phablets, and services like Uber and Amazon Prime, Netflix.  Most of those were founded more than 20 years ago.  The target audience for Star Wars does not remember the founding of these technologies.

In this movie, there is no originality, no creation, no invention, no moment of wondrous accomplishment.  The old Millenium Falcon is resurrected, the new ship Hans Solo has is destroyed. The ending depicts mere survival as a laudable goal achieved.

In traditional science fiction, the young hero is a kid with a lab in his parent's garage -- or a young married man tinkering with tech in the basement.  The hero has been learning things, (as Luke Skywalker had been when we meet him whomping sand rats), gaining skills, and is full of unrealized potential.  The young Luke Skywalker was a typical science fiction Hero.  Rey is not. Her highest aspiration is survival.

The typical young science fiction hero meets up with his Problem. He grabs hold of it, and through much fun and games, uses his apparently irrelevant, socially unacceptable skills and accomplishments, expertise about useless subjects, to solve the problem.  Rey has a few useful skills, but using those skills is not the fulfillment of her personal dream.

Rising to Accomplishment, to become something more than mere potential, is what science fiction is about.

It's what "science" is about.

Science is organizing knowledge into patterns that can be applied to solve bigger problems.  And so is Building Character -- becoming a strong, self-reliant adult upon whom others can rely -- more a matter of organizing "who you are" into a Persona, the science of Maturation.

The internal character becomes a Character by becoming externalized into the world.  That is the link between Story and Plot, between internal conflict and external conflict.

That externalization is what a writer has to accomplish by taking the theme, a "thorn in the side" of a very particularized individual, and externalizing that theme, making it real to other Characters in the play.

In the case of Star Wars The Force Awakens, we have new young Good Guys taking over from the old young guys, and doing the same things over again -- for no apparent thematic reason than that Good Guys Must Always Be Underdogs.  In other words, our promising young good guys didn't WIN, didn't conquer the Dark, vanquish it, establish a stable and functional galactic civilization.

The theme the movie works out is that Evil Always Wins and the best any Good can do is to hold the line, to contain the Evil.

Whether that's true or not, you (the Romance Writer) can easily see that the target audience for this film lives in a world where they have never, ever, known or seen any other situation.  The highest aspiration of the USA leadership is to contain the enemy.

It pleases and amuses that young audience that their favorite fiction reinforces their assessment of reality -- i.e. Good Must Not Win Or It Becomes Evil.

In our Reality - winners are always "bad."

Large corporations are large (and old) because they have WON. That's evil by definition, because they always (in reality) do become "corrupt."  Likewise the rich.  Likewise the economic powerhouse of the USA has "won" and therefore has generated a new "underdog" now coming to destroy it.

Look at STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES. Match what happens on that Trek series with what was going on in the Viet Nam war at that time -- keeping in mind some months lag between a Headline and a thematic statement being broadcast.

Read archaeology, back beyond Ancient Greek Plays, and you will find that cycle enshrined in the basics of our Literature, ancient mythology.

Rome fell -- for a reason.

Now, with all our new science and technology, can Humanity break that cycle of destruction?

Can our Affairs of State become the product of level headed sanity and benign morality?  Can Countries and Alliances become our idealized family of nations. Can Earth ever speak to the Galaxy with one voice?

Can we become constructors who do not destroy?

Those are themes that can be the "thorn in the side" of a major Character you promote to Head of State, and see if you can create a Galactic Civilization that is not a projection of some individual's internal neuroses, personal hell-transits, or life-cycle issues.

Science Fiction has postulated that Artificial Intelligence, A.I., could arise and yank command of the world from human hands because of our irrationalities being projected onto Affairs of State.

Would an A.I. who became Head of State (maybe of All Earth) be able to remain sane?  Is it "sane" to want to be such a Head of State? What would your A.I. Character/Hero go through to avoid being elected Head of State?

Would the A.I. Characters elect their own Head of State, create a civilization separate from Humanity.  Would the position destroy that A.I. Head of State's sanity?

Is there such a thing as "The Force" and if so could an A.I. command it?  Are the Jedi Knights like the Templars?  Does commanding The Force corrupt a Character?

We touched on the Templars as a fictional concept last week:

What could prevent absolute power from corrupting absolutely?

Pictures of things blowing up interspersed with inane bits of comic book dialogue do not fulfill the potential of the modern cinematic medium.

The establishment in Hollywood, with the megabucks to invest, are not the Underdogs.  Does that make them the Bad Guys?

They claim there is no audience interested in exploring traditional science fiction themes (which is why they expunged most of the guts out of Star Wars).  There are head-scratching moral questions always at the heart of real science fiction.  But what if a searingly hot Romance were the driving Force of such a movie?

What audience could such a mixed-genre science not fantasy movie target?

Remember AVATAR, while ostensibly science fiction, was dressed up as Fantasy, and that worked very well indeed.

Let your imagination roam, find a story in your heart that has an audience large enough for your movie to make a profit, write it as a novel easily transformed to a 90 minute script.  Be the Heroic Character.  See what happens next.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Reminds me of an observation I once read somewhere: A toymaker with a little shop where he crafts toys that make children happy is a beloved figure. If he goes on to found a huge corporation manufacturing toys that make millions of children happy, he becomes evil.

  2. Margaret: I suspect whether absolute power corrupts absolutely depends on the Character and inner nature of the one who is charged with controlling that power. Most of us can not handle more than we have already. But humanity does produce people who can handle vast amounts of power without it corrupting them (or making so many bad decisions leaving them with no idea how to fix their mess that they do something desperate that makes it worse).

    Your example of the toy maker is solid. He can handle his business because he understands is book keeping. Given an international conglomerate, he would be robbed blind by "accountants." In more debt that he knew about, he would desperately do the wrong thing to cover the debt, and cause international amounts of damage - and make the international news with all the "evil" labels any journalist could think of.

    The journalist's error in these cases is simple violation of the basic rule: Do not attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. The toymaker is only smart enough to handle his one-shop business, not smart enough to do battle with accountant-sharks taking him to the cleaners.

  3. Good points! I think what the meme I referenced was targeting, however, isn't mainly whether the small craftsman really turned bad when he expanded. It seems intended to question the popular equation of "mega corporation" with "evil" simply because it's big.

  4. Yes, that is what it is supposed to mean, but the theme integration exercise requires thinking outside the box of "Supposed to..."