Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Theme-Conflict Integration Part 2: Battle of Ideas - A Grifter, A Shyster, and A Priest Walk Into A Bar

Theme-Conflict Integration 
Part 2: Battle of Ideas
A Grifter, A Shyster, and A Priest Walk Into A Bar
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 1 - about J. J. Abrams and sexism is here:

Last week we discussed Theme-Marketing Integration, and this week we'll look at a particular best selling writer's recent novel for examples about how Theme and Marketing can be Integrated using Theme-Conflict Integration.


So what if the "Bar" that the Grifter, the Shyster, and the Priest walk into doesn't serve liquor, but justice? What if the Bar is the Court of Law?  Or perhaps, the Bar is an Alien  Court of Law?

Art is an selective depiction of reality.

That selectivity is best illustrated by the cartoonist's art.

Here's an example from Dick Morris Reports back in January, 2016 when Trump and Cruz went at each other on stage at the Fox Business Republican Debate.


Note the YELLOW hair - strokes vaguely evocative of Trump's haircut.

Note the nose-to-nose post, squashing both (in reality different) noses flat against each other.

Note the bloodshot eyeballs shooting out of their heads.  Conflict is "eyeball to eyeball" in modern parlance, but it is not meant literally.  Here in this selective recreation of reality, you see it literally.

Note the boxing gloves, posed fist to fist -- the suggestion is of a "hit" but each hitting the other on the very well armored protection of the glove.  "The Gloves Come Off" is a metaphor for bloody fighting, fighting for real, not prize-fighting.

Note how this selective graphic representation somehow conjures "reality" in your mind's eye. That is exactly what writers do when "hooking" you into a novel.  That is a graphic representation of how to create an  opening paragraph. It is also an entire essay on how to create a book cover.

Remember the line, used politically earlier than January, "this is not a cage-match."  Meaning, it's not for real. Nobody's whole life is in danger. It's just a game played until the winner gets a prize -- it is not a grudge-match, it is a Game.

Politics is called, "The Game Of Politics."  Internationally, The Great Game - where politicians use spies to maneuver nations into a Hobson's Choice, or Prisoner's Dilemma.

It is not called the "Literature of Ideas."  Nor is politics termed, "A Meeting Of Minds."  It is a Game.

So who are the "players" of this Game?

Maybe it is "Politicians" vs. "Voters?"

And what is the name of the Game?

The Protection Racket?  The Confidence Racket (or Con Man)?  Snakeoil Salesman? Scammer? Phishing?

Note the title of this piece -- A Grifter, A Shyster, A Priest.  These are three Attributes that are  components of every living person.

We all know what a grifter is from watching the TV Series Leverage.

"Shyster" is a derogatory term for lawyer, or sometimes any businessman who relies on deception or fraud.

"Priest" here means your Inner Priest, your conscience, spiritual sensitivity, sense of right and wrong, of fair and just. That Inner Priest configures your personal individual identity by patching together the crazy-quilt of beliefs, rules of thumb, maxims, old wive's tales, and cliches by which you live your life and make major spur of the moment decisions.

So grifters and shysters pretend to be something they are not.  Do writers do that?  Do writers have to do that?  Is all back cover copy fraudulent? Does being in the business of self-publishing make you a shyster?  After all, you're selling the "snake oil" of the Happily Ever After Ending.  Are writers all con artists?

What exactly is a Con Artist?

Most people probably think that all politicians are con artists, except the one oddball who seems trustworthy.  Many bar fights start from disagreements over which politician is trustworthy.

Here's an article that explains what an app detected in voice analysis of Presidential candidates:

And here's another article that explains the same thing from a different perspective.  Compare these two articles and any others you find about this app, and reconstruct - as an archeologist does - the original press release.


Both articles seem to be made from the same press release, a publicity barrage that has to have had immense amounts of money behind it, yes, but also a marketing genius leveraging the USA political calendar (these articles appeared deep into January, right before the Iowa Causes.)

The company was trying to sell you an app.  And they went on a campaign to trick you into wanting it by tying it to the headlines of the day - the most popular and riveting spectator sport of January - the Presidential Primary Season. (just like Basketball Season or Deer Season.)

When you see articles announcing something like this app product -- not paid ads, but ARTICLES that might as well be paid ads, that sell you on wanting something better than a paid ad could sell you -- you are looking at marketing.  It is a whole profession, usually incompatible with the skills of a writer. Today, we conflate News with Publicity.

Each newspaper or magazine editor requires the writers to take these topical press releases and craft an article "slanted" toward their special readership's interest. So each article is ostensibly about something different -- but the core content is the press release.

Fiction writing skills let you take a press release and craft a newspaper or magazine article from that release.

In writing fiction,  you learn to take a huge mass of data (your story Idea) and re-arrange it into a straight-line (plot) that will interest (story) your particular target readership.

Writing such a release is an entirely different profession.

Today's self-publishing novelists need to master both skill sets because "publishing" means PUBLICITY, or press-release.  Getting widely distributed "news" sources to focus their readers' attention on your novel is very hard.

Writing an article from a press release is very similar to writing an advertisement, or 'cover blurb' from a press release.  Both craft skills require sorting through a jumble of facts to "bring to the surface" or emphasize certain "selected traits" (like the blond hair in the cartoon above) to "characterize" the novel.

You characterize a novel as belonging to a particular genre, appealing to a specific reader.

You selectively recreate the reality of what is in the novel, drawing a caricature, a cartoon, of the novel itself.

And like the two articles linked above, each depicting a larger reality, you take your own "larger reality" of the novel you have written, and whack-and-whittle it down by selecting TRAITS (like the trademarked "hair") and leaving out all the rest.

It is what you leave out that (for you) was the whole point of writing the novel to begin with. In fact, that most important part or point is often edited out before publication by a major house.

You can learn a lot about what to  "select" for your cartoon representation of your novel, and what to leave to the imagination, by studying the Battle Of Politicians and the Race For The White House (will they ever paint it another color?).

What you learn has to do with not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Just like that cartoon does not "tell the truth," and just like the two articles about an app being publicized do not "tell the truth" about the app.

You 'select' the traits of your novel that connect  best to your target audience.  Thus, since Trump's hair was the subject of so much attention at first, his trademark became his hair-transplant comb-over style.

So look at your Theme, state your theme a number of different ways until you hit on vocabulary and imagery that "depicts" the topic the readership has been most deeply involved in lately. In other words, rip your theme from the headlines.  Make your THEME recognizable to your target audience, so book browsers see it and say, "I love that kind of book."

The Conflicting elements have to be depicted in your blurb, too.

Note in the cartoon how the eyes pop -- I mean, really!  I wouldn't believe that image of Aliens -- but one non-verbal glance and you know what that popping eyeballs image means, even if you miss the gloves.

Donald Trump's college degree is in Business, not Law.

Cruz made a neat point of that by saying he wouldn't take legal advice from Trump.  But we all know that Trump got the advice he's spouting at Cruz from his own Lawyers.  Lawyers get to know Presidential candidates in hopes of a Supreme Court appointment in the future.

So the "conflict" in that cartoon is "lawyers vs. lawyers." The lawyers are using the politicians to fight a "proxy war."

Lawyers are famous for a) picking fights (as in divorces that would have been amicable if not for the lawyers getting involved) and b) backing people into a corner so they will "settle" whatever lawsuit.

Lawyers are also famous for charging a lot of money -- but nothing like what Publicists charge.  Lawyers, though, being lawyers seem to get to keep a bigger chunk of the fees paid.

Under current law in the USA, it is virtually legal for lawyers to behave like grifters.  To become a rich grifter, get a law degree.

What do lawyers do that is patterned on what grifters do (or is it vice-versa?).

If you've won the lottery or been in a traffic accident, a building collapse, or sold a product that some odd individual got injured using, you will find yourself surrounded three deep by Lawyers looking to "protect" you - trying to scare you with visions of people attacking you or denying you justice.  Lawyers will promise you, as the erstwhile victim, not only their protection but a windfall profit, a huge sum of money for doing nothing but "suffering."

A majority of Lawyers don't behave that way.  The small segment of that population that does "ambulance chase" and victimize the victims, are often called shysters, though not all shysters are actually lawyers.

The Idea that Grifters and Shysters have something in common is like Trump's hair - a vivid item that can be extracted from a confusing mass of information and used to depict something that a lot of people remember.

But it is an abstract Idea.

So the title of this piece is A Grifter, A Shyster and A Priest.

The "Priest" is a symbol for a person who is steeped in ideas, motivated by the abstract, and very selective about objectives.

The Grifter and the Shyster operate via emotion.  They get their mark or their client to do something the mark/client would see as self-destructive if not for the emotion aroused.

The Grifter and the Shyster play on emotion, and they both choose the emotion they evoke in their target.

The Grifter arouses Greed.

It is always said, and I've found it to be true, that if you have no Greed in your soul, you can not be fleeced by a con man.  If the price is "too good to be true" - it is not the price you will pay.   Everyone knows that intellectually (the Priest Within You told you that).  Don't fall for a bargain - because it is not a bargain.

So when Politicians offer you something for nothing -- or point to someone else they will trick into paying so you can get something -- you only fall for the trick if your Greed is in charge of your opinions.

The Shyster arouses Fear.

It is always said that you have nothing to fear but fear itself -- and that is such a truth that all your readers know it.  When you're afraid, you twitch and jerk around in ill-coordinated actions that are more self-destructive than self-protective.

So when Politicians offer to allay your fears, to deal with what threatens you, to protect you from ( big bad corporations; alien invaders; your neighbor who owns a gun) you only fall for the trick if you are afraid.

When you are afraid, the Priest Withing You who is more focused on Ideas, Intellect, principles of faith, can't shout loudly enough to be heard.  Fear is a brain-noise that will always take charge of your actions.

So a theme can be expressed (cartoon depiction of your novel for a back cover blurb) as "The Masses Can Be Manipulated."

"The Masses" would refer to the old political theory that most people are illiterate, stupid, and behave like a herd of sheep,  or cattle.  The Leaders can easily trick the Masses into doing whatever the Leader wants simply by arousing certain emotions.

Romance novels turn on a variation of this. Everyone wants to be loved, so the declaration, "I love you" changes everything.

There is such a thing as a Greed For Love - someone so desperately hungry to be loved that they believe the grifter's offer, "I'll marry you and cherish and protect you forever if you'll just have sex with me now."  You can translate that dialog dynamic into Politics very easily if you see electing someone as handing them a blank check to your bank account.


The Grifter can use Greed for any missing emotion to manipulate the unsuspecting into self-destructive behavior.  Some people have Greed for Power -- offer them Power without a price-tag (like discipline and responsibility) and the mark will do anything.  Remember Spiderman -- with great power comes great responsibility.  Well, what if it didn't?  What if great power could be had without responsibility?  Then you have the novel about the ne'er-do-well Scion of a Great House who gambles away his inheritance and goes into debt.

To integrate a theme such as "The Masses Can Be Manipulated" you can define the conflict as Leader vs Follower.

Take the famous maxim, "A Sucker Is Born Every Day."  That's a theme.  What if humanity meets up with Aliens who don't bear suckers every day?

Or reverse that - and what if humanity were not producing a new sucker every day, but aliens at war out in the galaxy are?

Jean Johnson's prequel to her famous series Theirs Not To Reason Why is called The First Salik War, and Book 1 is titled The Terrans.  Book 2, The V'Dan is now available.

Here's my discussion of The Terrans:

And here's where to get The V'Dan

It's a First Contact novel with leading Characters, an Alien Prince in a psychic/sexual bond with a human woman who is a Politician, a Prisoner's Dilemma maneuver, and clash of notions of what constitutes Honorable Behavior.

On Jean Johnson's future Earth, humans have finally come to their senses and eliminated discrimination by skin color, elevated honesty in Politics to a level where failure to be honorable and truthful means corporal punishment by public caning, and utter physical humiliation.

In other words, fear keeps power-lust in check for law makers and especially law-enforcers and military commanders (this book introduces a Caning law previously applied only to police to be used to hold military commanders and new recruits in check). Every morning, each government official has to recite an Oath to be Honorable.  It's long, complicated, abstract, and the repeated recitation has a similar effect that prayer does. It is designed to engrave on the psyche that when you act in the name of others, you are responsible for the consequences.

Greed is controlled by Fear.

The expected signature behavior that proves Greed (for power, money, sex, anything) is in complete check by fear of Caning is Honorable Behavior.

"Honorable Behavior" is presented, in this series, as a set of rules that is objectively true, as clear and precisely determined as any scientific fact.

For most readers, the word "Honorable" means something hard, absolute, easily understood and recognized in the behavior of others.

Blake Snyder illustrates the core-value shared across the USA as "honorable behavior" as "save the cat" (take a personal risk to save the helpless).  Compare the thinking behind Snyder's image of "saving a cat" to the thinking behind that Trump/Cruz cartoon.

The thing is, in the USA today, we do not share a common creed of Honorable Behavior.

What is honorable to one (murdering a daughter who refuses to dress correctly, thus insults her parents and dishonors them) is considered death-penalty-material to others.

The difference between an illegal alien and a drug smuggler is that while they might both promise to sell you heroin, the drug smuggler will deliver.  Which one is the Honorable one?

Generation to generation the definition of what behavior is Honorable changes.

For example, in the early twentieth century, an apology was considered false and worthless if given in response to a demand for an apology.  In the 19th century, if someone uttered an insult about another person, ("You're a Horse Thief!" or "You Cheated At Cards!") the insulted had the right to deck the insulter (or shoot him dead).

In the 21st century everyone takes offense at any statement (true or not) and demands an apology, which, when choked out bitterly is still regarded as valid, and the matter as settled.  There was a time when the statement of a truth could never be considered an insult, however rude it might be.

In fact, this "I'm offended, so you must apologize even if you didn't think you did anything wrong" attitude now governs international affairs.

Heads of State demand apologies from other Heads of State -- not individual to individual, but whole countries to whole countries, involving people who never knew anything about it and have no idea what is true in  the matter.

Jean Johnson, in The V'Dan, has noticed this rise of a new custom regarding insults and apologies.

Johnson has shown (not told) how the "I demand an Apology because I feel offended and therefore you must act to assuage my feelings, never mind how you feel, only my feelings count..." attitude can be used by an Interstellar Ambassador from Earth to illustrate Earth's superior Morality.

Because Earth's Inner Priest's sense of Honorable Behavior is so superior, the lead character is Honor Bound to force Earth's behavior norms down the throats of aliens during First Contact negotiations.

All of this is rationalized by the fact that the Aliens are treating the Earth humans as if they were children, not adults -- not allowed to spend large sums of money to buy supplies for the Earth Embassy building, not allowed to buy liquor, not allowed to drive.

It is a genuine First Contact issue (and absolutely hilarious to read).  But the reason the issue is an emergency to be taken up immediately with the Alien head of state is that these Aliens keep insulting the humans by treating them as children.  Other human groups might consider the Aliens' penchant for protecting children to be a sign the Aliens are kind, considerate and honorable.

Johnson's Earth humans take offense, and because they feel offended, are honor bound to force the Aliens to apologize and adopt Earth's then-current human standards.  This novel series is full of such absolutely gorgeous work.

The way Johnson depicts interstellar politics plays into the current USA fear of being irretrievably emotionally damaged by the words of others.  It is, from this, very clear why Johnson is a national best selling author.

To the target audience for this novel, mere words are an existential threat that must be countered by wielding force majeure.  An insult flung can cause a mortal wound.

The V'Dan depicts with searing accuracy how the reader's Earth currently manages international affairs.  And this novel portends, just as our current election-cycle portends, that change is seething below the surface, about to erupt perhaps violently.

The enemy in the interstellar war of Johnson's series is a species that eats Alien sentients. The tastiest type of food they know is the flesh of sentients of species other than themselves (though I believe they do eat each other).  It doesn't matter how alien the body chemistry is, these Salik will eat anything sentient.  The Salik are Greed Personified.

The V'Dan are humans whose ancestors left earth almost 10,000 years ago, and colonized a planet (now a lot of planets) so far away from Earth the region has not been explored by Earth's budding interstellar united planets.  Somehow, many earth plants and animals were carried with the humans who eventually colonized a planet and became The V'Dan.

The V'Dan have many non-human allies in the fight against Greed Personified, the Salik. But that coalition is losing the fight against the Salik, and they know it.  They are Afraid.

So, Jean Johnson, a very well known National Best Selling author, has crafted theme and conflict around Greed, Fear, and The Priest Within.  It's a beautiful mix of carefully selected attributes, brought to the fore just like Trump's hair and the popping eyeballs.

That's what Best Selling Writers do!  Dissect any Best Seller, and you will find a pattern just like this -- something that reflects what is the most prominent Theme in the headlines divided up into recognizable adversaries who naturally conflict.  Personification and Dramatization are subsidiary techniques. Ripping theme from the headlines is the primary requirement.

The conflict is the exact conflict inside all of us -- the Grifter's Mark who believes in something for nothing; the Shyster's client who sees something to be afraid of, and The Inner Priest who knows "the right thing to do" but is not in charge.

The basic human animal will be emotion-driven, though the human spirit reaches for the ineffable.

Our current civilization has surrendered to the animal nature of humanity.  We see that in the rise and sustained popularity of Romance novel plots turning on the absolute irresistibility of sexual urges.  The V'dan and its prequel The Terrans, turns on the formation of the psychic bonded pair that will literally die (both of them) if denied sexual intimacy. Star Trek did something similar with Pon Farr, but Star Trek got that from much older science fiction works.

That inner dichotomy between the animal body and human spirit can easily be roused into Conflict.

All audiences recognize the Greed & Fear vs. Voice of Reason or Righteousness.

Look again at that cartoon.  Why do you understand what it says?

Yes, people will disagree about what it means, but everyone can see what it says.

That's what Jean Johnson accomplishes to earn the appellation, "Best Selling" writer.

Now, go watch the Politicians hurl insults at each other and demand apologies as if they are in the grip of Greed for Power and Fear of Humiliation.

Remember your early childhood. Did you ever lust after enough power to make your parents stop preventing you from doing what you wanted to do?  "When I grow up, I'm going to stay up all night!"

Greed for Power (especially over your own life and destiny) is absolutely basic to the human animal.

Now think back to your childhood, and remember how you eventually learned to refrain from some action, "...Mommy won't let!" you would tell  your friends luring you into misbehaving (then you'd probably do it anyway, then lie about it).

Eventually, you learned to do it anyway, lie about it, and not get  caught in the lie.

And beyond that,  you learned it's really better not to do that anyway because it's counter productive.

The different self-perceptions of Child vs. Adult is the pivot upon which the novel The V'Dan turns.  Just how insulting is it to  you to be treated as a child? Then why do you treat your children that way?  Does truth have anything to do with it?

Only with many decades under your belt do you arrive at "mature" considerations.  You no longer lunge greedily after the proverbial Free Lunch -- because you've learned the price.  Therefore, you have nothing to lie about.

To arrive at a life-stage where you're not greedy because you have all you need, not fearful because the worst has happened ( bankruptcy, divorce, being fired, whatever) and you handled it, you have the luxury of listening to what that Inner Priest has to say about right and wrong, truth and lies.

With enough years and enough experiences, we all turn into Gandalf or Yoda -- serene, confident, wise, having resolved that conflict between Greed, Fear and the Inner Priest.

When someone slings insults at such a Gandalf/Yoda Figure, that Figure is not insulted.  Such a Figure is not insulted by being treated as a child. Knowing that what comes out of a person's mouth says more about the speaker than about the topic being spoken of, the Figure does a kind of Emotional Judo.

Judo is based on the physics of using the opponent's strength and momentum to defeat the opponent. Many techniques of Judo and Karate are based on just not-being where the blow lands.

That's not a technique of "dodging" a blow.  It's a matter of letting the force the opponent emits expend itself on the opponent, not on you.

That's what the mature learn about insults. Let the insulter hoist himself on his own petard and hang there in humiliation.

Demanding an apology is an admission that the blow landed on its target -- it is an admission of guilt.

Demanding an apology often seems childish, petulant, an admission of weakness before the superiority of the insulter.

In emotional judo, the target flows aside and lets the force of the insult boomerang onto the insulter.

Look again at this article about stress level measurements in Presidential Candidates voices:


The article notes that the only candidate they measured whose voice rarely shows the kind of emotional stress (expected of Greed or Fear or lying) is Donald Trump.  He's gotten more insults and death-threats than most of the rest combined by now.  He sometimes offhandedly mentions that someone should apologize, but he rarely "demands" apologies except where appropriate.  His attitude toward apologies seems to be that they are good for the soul, so do it for your own sake.  If not, no skin off my nose. (note the nose-to-nose posture in that cartoon.)

He's old enough to know those who attempt to destroy will destroy themselves if you just stay out of the way.  For that matter, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and Biden and Bloomberg) are old enough to have arrived at that maturity.

Perhaps this article's observation of relative voice stress indicates what the pundits have missed in analyzing Donald Trump's initial, wild popularity. They have assumed the voters are "angry" (anger is most often the emotional response of the coward to feeling fear, so calling voters "angry" is an insult).  Maybe they were wrong?

The pundits have assumed the voters are  "the masses" (sheep, followers, herd animals), instead of individuals. When panicked, the masses, the voters, stampede after a "bell-weather" or leader.

The pundits identify Trump as the leader.  The voters are just blindly following this leader out of simple minded anger.

The article shows, somewhat scientifically, that Trump's trumpeting is not stoked by anger.

He's the calm one.

Voters chose him as the best in the field (OK,  not necessarily any good, just the best of the lot, until he disqualifies himself) because he's not afraid and he's not lying.  What he says may not be true or factual, but he believes it sincerely.

He's not stressed when he says he can handle all the President's problems. (Little Does He Know!)

He is confident and relaxed, not running in fear or greed for power. He's not a "Leader" -- he's not greedy for power or fearing he'll lose. He's a goal-oriented achiever, not caring if anyone follows him.  He just goes and does his projects. He doesn't need followers.  He hires specialists.  He's undaunted, calm, confident because of his life experience, and he (unlike the other candidates who have this trait) lets it show. And that's why he's popular --  you can hear it in his voice in person. He's not stressed.

Study Trump's antics on stage, especially his epic "equal opportunity insulter" tactics, and try modeling your Leader/Hero Character after him and see what you get.  Understand the insult as a social instrument by reading a lot of Regency Romances written thirty years ago (mostly free on Kindle). Drawing Room insults are an artform well worth reviving in the interstellar era.

Such a novel won't work in today's market, as Jean Johnson well knows.  She's a best seller because she does  not use Trump as a model.  Such a Character would not be plausible to her target readership. Trump is a salesman, a marketer, a branding master.  His target audience responds to him, just exactly the way you want your target audience to respond to your Romance Novels.  So study him.

The lesson about non-stressed, confident Voices prevailing over anger, greed, fear and panic is the core theme used by Gordon R. Dickson in his long, exemplary, much celebrated best selling series, The Dorsai.


Confidence backed by real strength is a military tactic -- great strength, used properly, never comes to blows. Wars are won by maneuvers, by what the adversary knows you can do, not explosions. Destruction is counter-productive.  The Romans learned that and coined the term Pyrrhic Victory.

Combine Gordon R. Dickson with Keith Laumer's Retief novels, ..

...about professional diplomat Retief engaged in official interstellar diplomacy, much like Jean Johnson's characters but far more effectively, and find a Theme and a Conflict you can Integrate into a Best Selling Series.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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