Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 12: What Makes Evil Seductive? by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 12

What Makes Evil Seductive?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Is existence, all human experience, the condition of being human, a battle between "Good" and "Evil?"

Of such abstract questions are High Concept themes composed.

A writer is generally a writer because a born writer just can't not-write!

Writing, per se, is seductive.

But we still must somehow "make a living."  So it is with great trepidation that most of us realize that what we write is of no real use or interest to anyone else. What a bummer!

Still, life is not so terrible for born writers, provided one little trick is firmly mastered early in life.

The trick? REWRITING.

There are at least 4 Types of Writers (and any given person may morph from one to another throughout life).

TYPE A:  Isaac Asimov is a prime example. This type writes and sells "first drafts." Many beginners think that if their first drafts are not sell-able, then they "can't write."  But that's not true. It's just that they aren't TYPE A writers.  There are very few TYPE A writers working professionally in writing. Most of them are Journalists. Remember Asimov wrote mostly non-fiction best sellers.

TYPE B: Many more writers do their first drafts in their mind, then rewrite and refine it all mentally.  Eventually, they just type it up.  To an observer it all looks remarkably easy. When asked how they write such best selling material, they have no idea how to explain it.  This type of writer can't figure out what beginners don't know.

TYPE C: An even more populous category of writers first-draft mentally, then rewrite and refine by telling the story verbally to other people.  I've known a few who did that, but I am generally of a type.  Most of the Type C writers I know personally never publish.

TYPE D: The most populated category is the work-a-day writer who writes a first draft for personal satisfaction, then stores that in the proverbial bottom drawer and hammers out a sellable version of the story through the process known as drafting, or rewriting.

All of Type D's rewriting efforts that we will discuss today are done long before an agent or editor ever sees the manuscript. Much of the re-drafting is done before Beta Readers see any of it (or hear of it). Then Beta Reader input is digested and incorporated, producing more drafts.  Finally, after submission and acceptance, comes more drafting to hammer the work into shape for the specific publisher's existing market.

Here is a series of posts detailing exactly what an editor's job is from the point of view of a writer trying to appear professional.


Part VII contains links to previous parts.

So what has the type of writer you are got to do with What Makes Evil Seductive?

Well, types A, B, and C either already know or don't want to know.

It's Type D writers who have to learn, know, observe, dissect, analyze, and understand such abstract ideas that compose the core material of a theme.

When writing for yourself, for personal satisfaction, to craft a story about an interesting person, you don't have to SHOW DON'T TELL, illustrate or dramatize the utterly abstract notion of Good or Evil, or even the conflict between them.

You don't need a theory of Good and Evil - what they are, where they came from, which side your protagonist is on, which side wins, - or any conscious statement of these abstract, underlying principles of Creation.

You don't need religion. You don't even need to know if you have a Religion, never mind what your Religion is.

You just write your story, and it is yours.

But if you intend to monetize the time spent writing, rather than just tossing it away as "recreational," then as a Type D writer,  you will have to think hard about abstractions.

There are 3 things to study separately before combining them into a coherent Worldbuilding exercise based on a cleanly stated Theme so you can show-don't-tell how your Characters' World is fully integrated with your Theme.

If these 3 things are clear in your mind when you begin a rewrite,  you will be able to convey the Unity of  your World and your Theme in one, penetrating, unforgettable, quotable scene.

1) What your intended audience assumes about the nature of Good, Evil and how they conflict.

2) What you assume about the nature of Good, Evil, and how they conflict.

3) What your Characters assume ab out the nature of Good, Evil, and how they conflict.

Here's one example about what audiences assume:

"The Good Guys Win Because They Are Good."

That's an envelope theme, and can be broken out into thousands of more specific themes, such as Love Conquers All.

Yes, Love Conquers All is a thematic statement about the nature of Reality -- it is made concrete by assigning the value "Love" to the initial variable "Good Guys."

To be a "Good Guy/Gal" the Character must be
a) capable of love,
b) using that capability when we first meet the Character (saving the cat), and
c) losing at first, taking it well, coming back in middle, hitting his stride at the 3/4 point, and winning in the end.

In our culture, "Winner" = "Good"

Being enamored of the romance genre novel, we generally tend to be seduced by Love.

Romance is the hint of the hope of love.  Romance seduces even the most wayward Character into Love.

We live in a world where Love = Good = Winner.  And Love starts with Romance, the quick double-take, the captured attention, the incessant obsession, the surrender to Love.

So, if the Romance Genre Novel is all about Love,
about Good,
about being good or becoming good,
about falling in love with "The Good Guy" who is the Winner-Guy (big, strong, hunk, powerful protector),
then why is the Bad Boy Romance so seductive?

Why do we drool over an unshaven, torn jeans, tough-guy biker running from the law?

Why is Darth Vader so popular?  Why are there so many Evil Guy costumes at ComicCon?

Why did the Vampire Romance explode so fast big three publishers had to invent spine-symbols for those books on the Romance shelves? Most Vampires in Vampire Romance were pretty good Good Guys, or struggling to be so. Remember the TV Series Forever Knight and that hot romance with a woman Coroner?

Or conversely, why is Cozy Romance so popular?

If "Winner" = "Good" does that mean "Loser" = "Bad" ?

What makes Evil seductive?

Today, the genre tropes and tastes, even the sub-genre names and symbols have shifted to market to a new generation.

Today, the Fantasy Genre is churning out, in books, TV and film, endless variations on Worlds  built around "Meta-Humans" or other mutations, some from parallel universes, some with "magical powers."

One such example is the TV Series The Magicians.

"The Magicians" stars Jason Ralph ("A Most Violent Year," "Aquarius") as Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant grad student who enrolls in Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, a secret upstate New York university specializing in magic.


And of course, we have The Flash, Supergirl, and many others, both in comics, and now on TV and film.

The Worldbuilding provides the display case, the black-velvet backdrop, to show off the Strange People (the Aliens).  Some like The Flash or Supergirl are 'Good Guys" but in each case, there's some sort of "Bad Guys" for the Good Guys to fight.

What is so fascinating about these Variant Humans?

In most of the Built Worlds, "they" live secretly underneath or beside regular humans such as the reader/viewer.

In others, they have two identities, like Superman and Clark Kent.

Rarely are they publicly known and accepted, but we see that kind of Worldbuilding in novels today. I expect to see it on TV soon. We have had the TV Series Alien Nation where the aliens were known to have crash landed on Earth.


And there was the lovely TV Series Beauty and the Beast


So, today, the mass market audience has become accustomed to Aliens among or beneath us.

And the image of The Alien has morphed from Alien  = Bad Guy (early Hollywood, not cured by The Day The Earth Stood Still), to Aliens Are People, Too.

Thus today's Aliens (magical, Vampire, Supernatural, other dimensional, meta-human mutants by accident or genetic experiment) come in Good Guy and Bad Guy flavors.

Remember the TV Series V ?


What made that series interesting was the single Alien who saw how Evil was encroaching on his people and defected to the Human Resistance fighters (Good Guys).

So you see a group of 1980's TV Series here that etch the outlines of a cultural shift in the way your Romance reader audience regards and defines Good and Evil.

Perhaps the entire world culture has be 'seduced to the Dark Side of the Force?'

I doubt there is one, single, answer that a writer of any of the 4 Types can use to reach "all audiences."  But you don't need a General Relativity Theory to market a novel.

You don't need all answers or "the" answer -- you just need "an answer" that your Protagonist discovers he/she knows and believes, uses and applies to his/her problem, and WINS.

Happily Ever After is a plausible ending, a "win" if it is the optimal answer to the question posed on Page One, usually in Paragraph One.

The Good Guy/Gal is introduced on Page One at the moment in life when the general Battle of Good Vs. Evil impacts his/her life.

It is a pivotal moment that makes or breaks a life.  Some audiences lust to see a life broken, especially the life of a Good Guy/Gal.  Others yearn desperately to experience what it would be like if the "Good" quality of a human being CAUSED (because-line = plot) that person to Win.  The sure sign that winning happened is the moment when Romance turns to Love.

So what is seductive about Evil?

Find out what your audience thinks, what you think, and what your character thinks about why Evil is seducing them -- then craft the moment when Good chooses to do Good despite the apparently inevitable, and devastating cost.

Fabricate your fictional world in such a way that the Evil in it can be converted to Good, then show don't tell the process of converting.

For Romance Genre, that usually means taking your Bad Boy Hero and showing him what life is like on the Good Girl side of the tracks.

Let your Good Girl be seduced by your Bad Boy, leave him despite the cost in lost love, and by that leaving, awaken the Goodness within the Bad Boy.  The Awakening is shown not told in the moment when he 'saves the cat' at the end of the book. (Remember Darth Vader's death scene.)

That is the High Concept story we all love so much -- as in the TV Series V -- a minion of the Evil Guys has an epiphany and throws in with the Good Guys. He's a traitor to his Oath to Evil, but we see him as a Good Guy because of it. Poetic Justice.

In Romance genre, what makes Evil so sexually seductive is the potential for converting it to Good.  But what happens when Good is converted to Evil?

If you've first drafted such a novel, on rewrite, you need to write down very clearly, what is Good, what is Evil, and why they can't co-exist without conflict. You need 3 definitions to each of those three elements - your audience's, yours, and your Characters' definitions.

Conform each of the scenes in the novel to that set of definitions. The set of definitions is your Theme.  Theme is the core element in the Type D writer's rewrite process.  First Draft may be haphazzard and chaotic, dramatic power viciated by  contradicting themes. But the finished product must be pristine, single-pointed, clarity personified.

The Theme is what the book is about, what it says about Life, The Universe, and Everything. It is the Truth as the Character comes to see it at the end. The transition from delusion to truth in the Character's perceptions is the source of reader satisfaction.

In other words, the writer's job is to deliver the "Aha!" moment of illumination to the reader.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. The TV series ONCE UPON A TIME focuses very strongly on the power of Good to overcome Evil through Love. Several Evil characters have been converted from the dark side, notably Regina, the Evil Queen. In last night's finale, she confessed how hard it is for her to resist the darkness within her and lamented how falling in love and trying to be good have brought her more suffering than joy. Yet she resolves to continue resisting the darkness because she would rather suffer pain than revert to what she was and cause harm to people she has come to care for. (She even decides to magically split off and destroy her dark-side self, with -- as the audience might have predicted -- not quite the results she hoped for.)