Selling the Happily Ever After Ending
Here is the index to the series Theme-Worldbuilding Integration:
We've been boring down into the core of the problem of why Romance Genre does not get the respect it deserves with the general audience, and why those who do read Romance Genre have begun to reject the plausibility of the Happily Ever After Ending.
Last week, in Depiction Part 14, we circled around the methodology of depicting cultural shifts as part of giving a novel "depth" -- by showing rather than telling the way the protagonist's world has changed from the world their grandparents grew up in.
Now we "get into the weeds" by confronting nasty truths that need to be omitted from Romance Genre in order to create the "mood."
Yet without those truths (theme) being part of the protagonist's world (worldbuilding) there is no verisimilitude. Without verisimilitude, the reader can no "suspend disbelief" and follow your Romance plot into a relationship with an Alien - a non-human from way out there.
Great science fiction always includes exciting scientific speculation as the solution to the problem, but problem-solving ability in humans always stems from the personal relationships (warped, ordinary, or non-existent) of the problem solver.
Humans are driven to solve problems by the effect of the problem on those they love. Sometimes it is "self-love" (narcissism) that is the driver, but the power building up behind that dam of emotions will explode outward the moment a Love is spotted. Even a narcissist can throw him/herself into the breach for Love. When that happens, Love truly conquers all.
There it is - an unpardonable gaffe in our modern society where your reader resides. Love Conquers All.
The mechanism by which the conquering happens is as imaginary as the "science" used in science fiction. And in truth, Imagination (Neptune) is the targeting mechanism of Magic and Science both. What humans can imagine, humanity can accomplish.
You've seen that with Star Trek from the 1960's.
How many of the imaginary, impossible, "instruments" and theories behind the Enterprise "depiction" are now in play in our world, changing our world? The A.I. computer that talks, the typewriter that takes dictation, the "communicator" that can reach orbit and back (our whole satellite communications system beams TV shows around the world). We have nailed the science behind the Transporter, and are in hot pursuit of the FTL drive. Most of that work has been done by a handful of people inspired by Star Trek in their extreme youth. In another lifetime, we may see Star Wars "magic" of The Force come into play.
Just as the Science Fiction Writer must "convince" the reader (if only for a short time) that FTL travel is "possible," so the Romance Writer must "convince" the reader that the HEA is possible.
The HEA is a hard sell these days. Our objective has been to figure out why it is such a hard sell, so we can solve this problem, and spread out the solution before our readers to energize their imagination the way Star Trek energized the scientific imagination.
The writer must lull the reader into suspension of disbelief as the first step, then argue the point in show-don't-tell. Show Don't Tell is done by symbolism and depiction, not plot or dialogue.
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2016/01/theme-symbolism-integration-part-5-how.html has links to previous posts in this series .
"Selling" or salesmanship requires the integration of at least two skills (usually more). You have to know the nature of what you are selling. You have to know the nature of the buyer.
Getting a "match" is very hard, so when a mis-match between product and buyer happens, we call that a "hard sell." That generally refers to a salesman trying to make a person do something against their nature in such a way as to be against their best interests, and for the salesman's profit.
In the case of a Writer selling the Idea of the Happily Ever After ending, the random reader browsing a bookstore may have a 50% chance of regarding the Idea of the HEA as inimical to their wellbeing.
How can I say 50%? I don't have an article, a survey, a scientific study to point you to. All I have is the current Election Issues being bandied about by USA political parties.
Pundits refer to the generation gap we discussed last week as a process of "polarization."
Here is a video clip of Donald Trump as a Guest of George H.W. Bush at the Republican Convention where he said some "Republican Things" when he was in his 40's.
And the media has been full of clips of Donald Trump saying "Democratic Things" until recently, 2008 onwards, when he started to shade into saying "Republican Things."
Now look at the polls over all those decades. Look at the election results. Mostly we only remember who the winner was (we don't recall the losers). Look at the margin by which winners win -- not at who won or why, just the difference between them in the popular vote.
You'll see a trend of that difference narrowing.
Most of your target readership will be unaware of that narrowing, consciously, but they have grown up in the world created by that narrowing trend - a world of increasing philosophical (thematic) stress.
That shows up clearly in the nasty-horrible tweets posted (often by people who get paid to swamp a target person in vitriol). Your readers read to step out of that stress-zone, or have their opinions of the nasty folks validated. Some read to experience vicariously what it's like to destroy someone. Others want to believe that love is possible, even for them.
So how do you "hard sell" that readership the Idea that the HEA is not only possible but almost inevitable?
As noted above, you have to understand what the HEA actually is, and how it works, why it works, on what occasions it works. You have to understand the nature of Reality that generates the HEA as a symptom of life itself, not a lofty far-off goal, but a function of the "scientific" reality the reader is embedded within.
There are, of course, thousands of philosophical systems humanity has discovered and invented which assert and demonstrate that the HEA is a natural consequence of being "A Good Person."
Some of those systems are called "Religion" these days.
We class "Religion" as part of the Fantasy Genre, and Fantasy as the opposite of Science Fiction.
Take another look at the cultural shift from the 1980's to today. Look at the books published and the genre labels on the spines.
Before around 1980, science fiction was the label on far-out fantasy novels that were really about Religion.
In 1979, Katherine Kurtz's first novel, Camber of Culdi, was a product of clumsy writing but profound thinking.
Camber of Culdi hit the paperback stands and rocketed to the top of the charts. Now it is re-issued and available in all sorts of formats.
Sequels were demanded, and written -- now it's called a Classic Series. I've used Deryni as an example previously:
It was blatantly about Magic and Religion (an oil and water mix, symbolizing the immiscible mix of Science And Religion we deal with today).
Deryni was optioned by Columbia - it is a vivid work that could translate to the big screen.
The Deryni Series (which I highly recommend) was marketed as fantasy, but bookstores shelved it with the science fiction. That publication marked the splitting off of Fantasy from Science Fiction until decades later, the Science Fiction Writers of American added "Fantasy" to their name, "Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers of America" -- not used anymore.
In the attempt, in the 1950's and 1960's to define science fiction, the famous end to the argument was, "All fiction is fantasy." Which I see as a usable truth for writers, but not for readers.
Any fictional work, regardless of setting or plot, cradles the Characters in a made-up World built by the writer.
What would Hollywood do to Deryni to turn it into a blockbuster film?
Just as with Ursula LeGuinn's Earthsea Trilogy, Hollywood (as TV or miniseries, or film) would change the theme.
That's what they always do - change the book's theme to make it worth the price of producing it as a visual.
Films cost more to make than a book costs to print, but theater entry fees are about the price of a paperback, more or less. So a film must get more people to buy it to make back millions invested plus a profit to invest in the next film project.
As we learned by studying SAVE THE CAT! - the size of the audience depends on the theme-worldbuilding structure that cradles and presents the plot, as black velvet displays a diamond.
So take a look at the re-issue pages on Amazon for the Deryni novels. The envelope theme connecting all these books is "The Good Guy Wins Against All Odds Because Of His/Her Goodness."
The quality of goodness wins, even when society as a whole labels that goodness as evil incarnate.
The Deryni have a natural "talent" for Magic -- in fact, those that have the gift for magic can't not-do magic, and must be trained and disciplined so as not to be a danger.
There has been a war to exterminate the Deryni because one of them siezed the Throne by using Magical Power and then did serious dirt to the "normal" human subjects of the Kingdom. So there was a revolution and now only humans can be King. Except for one problem -- interbreeding happens.
So all the novels are plotted to be "about" "Who Will Be King."
And the Bad Guys win a lot -- a lot, and often -- but the Good Guys have triumph and generations of HEA.
Or at least, Happily For Now -- but the "now" is decades.
The Deryni series is liberally laced with love stories. But the core of the matter is that the universe has nasty forces destructive to life in it, but The Good Guys Win Because of Goodness.
In that, it is like Star Wars we burst onto the scene in 1977 -- contemporary with Kurtz's series -- and integrated elements of Fantasy (The Force; Magic) with Science Fiction's classic galactic war, and the Hero's Journey, one man makes a difference.
Luke Skywalker was a winner because of his Goodness, and the color of his Lightsaber symbolized that while the plot scattered and blurred that message enough for the 1977 audience to eat it up and lick the plate.
Look at statistics through time in America (or wherever you intend to be published.)
--------quote NY Times----------
“The decline is taking place in every region of the country, including the Bible Belt,” said Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at the Pew Research Center and the lead editor of the report.
The decline has been propelled in part by generational change, as relatively non-Christian millennials reach adulthood and gradually replace the oldest and most Christian adults. But it is also because many former Christians, of all ages, have joined the rapidly growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated or “nones”: a broad category including atheists, agnostics and those who adhere to “nothing in particular.”
That's a profile of your readership by the New York Times who thought they were writing about Religion.
What is the connection between Religion (or religious affiliation) and understanding the HEA as a natural consequence of Life?
It is that notion of "The Good Guy Wins" not because he's a Guy but because he's Good.
The entire "feminist" movement (again a 1970's phenomenon) is a red-herring as far as the Romance Writer is concerned. Oh yes, it's vital in portraying your lead Character as a kick-ass-broad the equal of any man in her world. Only recently has the Romance Genre allowed the female lead to be A Strong Character because the self-perception of young women has shifted -- for the better, in my never-humble opinion.
But women came out of the mud of the gutter of human society mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore.
As a result, we have a Fantasy genre full of kick-ass-heroines, Kung Fu Masters all, who can take a beating as well as inflict one. They don't worry about "good vs bad" and which is which -- they go with their gut.
The writers have "read" their buyers correctly and produced Lead Characters whose guts agree with their readership. It's a soft-sell.
Now we have a generation that has grown up on kick-ass-heroine images as the essence of what it means to be feminine.
We are beginning to see a shift, though. We have 1940's hairstyles come back, shrink-wrap clothing modeled after videogame characters, and the Soccer Mom image of raising kids heroically.
In 1984, we had the TV Series Scarecrow And Mrs. King -- where a typical Mom ventured out as a secret agent and was better than the men (once she got over being Lucy Ricardo-scared).
And in 1982 we had Remington Steele http://www.amazon.com/License-to-Steele/dp/B0010HYINW/ where a woman invented a man to "front" for her private detective agency, then had a guy walk in who impersonated her imaginary boss.
In both those shows, The Good Guy/Gal Wins Because They Are Good.
And the Bad Guy Loses Because He's Bad.
Hollywood doesn't invent these trends or Ideas. Hollywood is in the business of making a profit "validating" their customer's feelings with visual proof, in show don't tell, that the world really is as they suspect it is.
Hollywood doesn't do "hard-sell" -- Hollywood does "soft-sell" -- Hollywood produces reflections of the audiences, at the budget points that the size of that audience justifies. Hollywood makes a profit.
Today, Hollywood is making new Star Trek (that crushingly disappoints those who grew up in the 1960's and validates those who grew up in the 2000's.) Retreads of classics abound -- and all of them display a marked shift in theme.
The overall theme revealing the unconscious assumptions of the paying audience in the 1980's was that Goodness Prevails Because it is Goodness. And more than that, you can determine what is good and what is not-good by checking the Bible.
In the 2010's (we're mid-way at this writing), we see a trend, reflected in the political divisions between the USA Democratic Party and the USA Republican Party, saying "The Bad Guys Always Win Unless We Use Science To Force Them To Behave Properly." And you can tell the bad guys because they loudly proclaim they are Christians, then behave as anything but Christians (advocating war, cruelty to women, and throwing off all civil discipline.)
Your audience has become "polarized." They have separated themselves according to selected "beliefs" and gone to separate corners, waiting for the bell to start a slugfest.
Politicians and social scientists try very hard to label these groupings, to figure out what belief belongs on which side of the boxing ring.
Writers have to speak to both sides, equally, without advocating one over the other, to make sales figures that justify mass market paperback publication. That's why it is called "mass market" -- because it's bigger than any group.
And here is an article from CNN talking about religious affiliation drop in both parties -- more emphatic in the Democratic Party than the Republican. It is a general trend, and seen even among older people. The 2015 survey by Pew Research did assert that 70% of the USA still says they are Christian.
From that article, I don't think everyone who says they are "Christian" means the same thing by the word.
One political issue in particular has benefited from a sea change in religious attitudes -- same-sex marriage. Consistent with the political and legal changes to gay rights that have taken place in the United States over the past year, the Pew survey demonstrates that the share of all Christians saying that homosexuality should be accepted by society increased from 44% in 2007 to 54% in 2014.
-------END CNN QUOTE---------
Trace that political trend (remember the early 1980's was "The Reagan Era" ) next to the decline in acceptance of the HEA, with the rise of the Kick Ass Heroine.
Just because you see a correlation in the graphic curve, don't assume there's a cause-effect relationship.
But you can build a world around the theme that there is a cause-effect relationship between religious views, a particular standard of what constitute's the Good that Wins Because it's Good, and the accessibility of the HEA to your Characters.
You build the world your Characters must puzzle out, build its physics, chemistry, biology, its science, in such a way as to reveal to the reader what is "Good" and how the practice of "Good" generates success.
In our real, everyday world that your reader lives in, we see that Bad always wins. Just listen to what Bernie Sanders has said while running for President. He's popular because he paints an accurate picture of what his voters see in their world. He validates their view of their world, deplores it with them, and points to the solutions that seem obvious to his voters.
Donald Trump does the same thing, making it clear he shares his voters' assessment of reality and will apply the rules of Good Guy Behavior to solve those problems.
Both are problem-solvers writ large. Both engage their audience's sense that Goodness Will Prevail "if only" we do what Good Guys do.
They differ on what "Good" actually is.
Don't forget to check out Ted Cruz and his followers, assessing what they think is the "Good" action that will lead to an HEA for the country.
Tease all this political theater apart until you can see the Theme and the Worldbuilding as separate factors in our real world. In the everyday reality, they are so entangled very few specialists can ever tease them apart. Practicing separation of Theme from World is what writers do as compulsively and incessantly as we people-watch.
Once you can see your reader's everyday reality as composed of theme and a world that illustrates that theme, you can choose new content for the theme element and new content for the world element, then re-integrate your created ingredients into a story that all readers can believe (for a while.).
We read fiction to believe something we actually don't believe, just to try it on for a while. We read to walk a mile in someone else's moccasins. We read Alien Romance to grasp an bizarre and impossible problem, and then problem-solve along with the Characters, rooting for the Good Guy to win because he/she is Good.
Here's a post in the Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration series that pertains to this idea of what Goodness is and what properties the world has to have to tilt probability so that Goodness causes Winning, at least when pitted against Not-Goodness.
Ponder the relationship between the world you live in and the forces that shape probability around you. That's what Magic and Fantasy generally depict - a world where human will, emotion, intention, shape consequences. In science, nothing you think or feel matters in terms of the working of physical laws.
In science, what you do causes what happens.
In magic, who you ARE causes what happens.
Are these two views of reality irreconcilable?
What if you write a Romance between one who lives in a world where who you are does not matter (e.g. where it is stupid to believe in the HEA) and one who lives in a world where the way to achieve the HEA is to become the Good Guy by strengthening Character (not body).
What does she see in him? What does he see in her?
You can do that story in any setting and sparks will fly, readers of every stripe will flock to the book.
It is the pattern behind the TV Series, X-Files which we discussed briefly in Part 13 of this series on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration.
And just for good measure, here is an article about great, bestselling writers telling you that good people don't make good Characters.
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