The Nature of Art
On Facebook Messenger, I was discussing how to create fiction that can sell to a commercial market and at the same time just write what you want to write, what you feel you need to say, what is deeply personal and matters to you -- what you personally want readers to feel in their guts, way below the verbal level.
That gut-response is what makes fictions memorable, and thus talked about and recommended.
I get that response to many things I've written, particularly Sime~Gen.
Sime~Gen #14 is in the works, with more planned.
Most recently, I was reminded on Facebook how moving my first non-fiction book, STAR TREK LIVES!, has been to people still connected to me via social networking.
Robert Eggleton posted a picture of the cover of STAR TREK LIVES! and said nice things about it, whereupon a number of people chimed in with their memories. I only noticed the post when Robert J. Sawyer "tagged" me on his comment, and I got drawn into a long discussion where I answered underneath people's comments. If you know how Facebook "works" -- it spawns lots of conversations under a broad topic where lots of people exchange views. Choose the right friends, and it can be very cordial.
On previous series of posts on this blog, I've explained the intricate relationship between STAR TREK LIVES! -- non-fiction about a TV Series -- and Sime~Gen a future-history of humanity set (so far) mostly on Earth of the far future.
The private discussion on Facebook Messenger with this other writer was within the context of the lasting impact my work has had, still echoing down the generations of writers and readers.
I had pointed her to
... which she had read through once, and came back to say she was left puzzled by my use of the term "archetypes" (she is a well educated professional writer, so it was my usage not her ignorance).
And it is true, I do use the word to refer to a bit of fiction-structure which is related to fiction the way math is related to theoretical physics.
That archetype structure behind the fictional worlds is what gives those fictional worlds their verisimilitude.
We've discussed verisimilitude in several posts. Here are a few:
Creating verisimilitude is a key writing craft skill -- craft not art. Craft can be learned by anyone who can write a literate sentence. Art may be born into you, or absorbed from those who raise you, or a combination, but you can't just "learn" it with the intellectual part of your mind. And you can't learn Art with the part of your mind that can be trained in a Craft (such as driving a car can't be mastered by reading a book about it.)
I make vocabulary distinctions to refer to components of what it takes to launch into a commercial fiction writing career.
Art is like Math. In Math you "let X equal" -- or just arbitrarily assign meanings to blank variables. That trick is the power behind applying a mathematical discovery to a real world problem, such as the Grand Adversary of all students, The Word Problem.
A Math formula is the math equivalent of fiction's archetype.
If you are accustomed to solving problems using carefully selected math formulae, then you know on a nonverbal level what an archetype is.
Yes, it is non-verbal. The language handling section of your brain can not acquire or manipulate the underlying concept "archetype" with the kind of facility necessary to create the artistic dimension of fiction.
LOVE CONQUERS ALL leading to the HAPPILY EVER AFTER is the result of applying an archetype to a problem, of "letting X equal and Y equal" then applying rules to manipulate the equation until you get a solution.
The problem you are applying the archetype to is the problem of "What Is The Meaning Of Life?" Or maybe, "What Is Life?"
Which archetype you select to apply to that WHAT IS LIFE? problem is dictated by the theme for your fictional story. Or maybe the other way around on some occasions, the resulting THEME your novel explicates (after you cut, trim, rewrite, clarify) will have to be an exemplification of the archetype you accidentally applied.
When you are doing "Art" - those "accidents" are in fact your subconscious screaming at you, "SAY THIS!"
We don't always know what we know until we tell ourselves.
So how do we know what we know in order to say it in a novel?
We view the world and then we depict what we see.
Art is a selective depiction of Reality.
Art is not reality itself. Art is a few bits and pieces of Reality, rearranged to say something that may be useful to those who hear it.
Fiction is a conversation about Reality in the language of Art, between fiction writers with readers eavesdropping. Art is a "language" just as mathematics is a language. Physicists talk to each other in Math. Fiction Writers talk to each other in Art.
Physicists talk about the structure of Reality, and Writers talk about the structure of Life.
Both professions are Artistic professions, creative professions, exploring "where no one has gone before."
Good physicists ask good questions no physicist has asked before. Good writers as questions no writer -- or in the case of science fiction romance, no living being -- has asked before.
Having asked a New Question, the artist then suggests an Answer.
Not THE Answer, mind you, but An Answer. Another writer will try to disprove that Answer, postulating a different Answer, and the argument will take shape as readers try out every variation they can imagine. News stories and academic studies will flow, "progress" will be made, and the conversational argument will continue.
That exploration of the non-existent, unreal world of imagination is endlessly fascinating because if a human can imagine it, some other human can make it real.
That is how Art fuels human progress, and why it is so important to "support The Arts" -- Art inspires.
Commercial Art may inspire but that is not its purpose. Commercial Art exists to make a profit, and Commercial Artists do this work to make a living while dreaming of making a killing!
Art is a necessary component of human life -- it existed as Cave Paintings and campfire stories long before people lived in permanent structures with sewers and chimneys.
Art has proven to be a necessary component of Civilization because it inspires creativity and convinces young people to dream and make it real. Through Art we know we can succeed.
So, as I have discussed in many previous posts, the Artistic component of novel writing, as opposed to the Craft Mechanics component, comes from the writer's ability to look at the tangled mess of "white noise" that is the Reality we live in, and sort out a signal, see a pattern in the randomness of reality.
That signal may actually be there -- or maybe not, maybe it is just the writer's imagination. Psychological Studies have determined that humans will always see patterns where there actually are none -- such studies are cited as proof that God does not exist, but is just a figment of our imaginations.
We see patterns in the Stars and give constellations names. Various cultures have seen different patterns and named them differently, attributing different powers to the same sky patterns.
There is something that we just know: Reality consists of patterns.
We don't believe this. We know it.
Science, on the other hand, seems to have proven that we see patterns where there are none. Most of reality is random. Entropy (disorder) always increases.
Then there is the Observer Effect, in physics, where the act of observing changes the observed. This happens because to observe, one must bounce something off the object being observed and detect it. When the bounce-impact happens, the observed object thereupon changes, and the bounce-back particle does not carry all the information about what the object will become.
In other words, as of the early 20th Century, theoretical physics (mostly just math at that time, but now being checked out by the Hadron Collider) postulated a connectivity among all physical objects.
Oddly, this notion mirrored the bedrock principles of the most Ancient mysticism we have record of -- ancient magical traditions, religions even more ancient, -- humanity has always "known" that somehow what we think and feel affects concrete reality.
Physics is all about discovering the equations that describe how physical objects affect one another (gravity and so on).
Art is all about discovering the archetypes that describe how human lives affect one another (Romance and so on).
The psychological "archetypes" that Carl Jung made so famous
describe not only how individual humans function, but also how we are all "connected" through the collective subconscious.
Structuring human psychology this way brings human psychology into the same kind of structure that physics was postulating (during those same decades of the early 20th century). In short it is "wheels inside of wheels" -- symmetry.
And if you study Kabbalah, you will find that the Tree of Life structure that delineates (with mathematical precision) the connection between human consciousness and the physical world around us also uses that "wheels inside of wheels" structure.
The 10 Sepheroth or areas of definition, each contain all the 10, each of which contains all the ten -- the infinite regression effect symbolized by the Quaker Oats box with the picture of the Quaker Oats guy holding a box of Quaker Oats with the Quaker Oats guy holding a box of ..... infinitely.
Note how the image here shows each of the Sepheroth as Trees in and of themselves. Now visualize how each of the Sepheroth on each of the little Trees contains another Tree. In Math, these are called Cross Terms.
One excellent way to understand how this bit of physics (reflection, infinite iteration) applies to human emotion at the interface between the spiritual and the physical (Love vs Sex) is to study this book:
This 49 day drill, done annually, educates and trains that non-verbal part of the mind that knows without believing. (...knows such things as Love Conquers All -- a corollary of Joy Breaks All Barriers -- and other principles that are hugely unpopular these days.)
The human emotions are the lower 7 of the 10 Sephiroth, and each of the 7 manifest in human beings as combinations with each of the other 7X7=49.
Each one of these focused exercises will yield at least one, of not dozens, of Romance Novel Plots, all with Beginning, Middle, End laid out clearly.
Underlying this particular book's explanation of this 7X7 structure of the human psyche is the pure Archetype that generates our human personality. Once fully grasped, these principles will reveal why sayings such as, "There's no accounting for taste!" are not true.
Archetypes belong to the realm of non-verbalizable knowledge. It is not belief, but actual knowledge accessed by a different cognitive function that does not encode data in words or even in math.
An archetype is a pattern. If you set out to make a new dress, you go to the notions store and select a pattern. That pattern envelope contains several variations (long sleeve, short sleeve), and the one you select will give you a range of sizes.
Behind all the variations and sizes is an "archetype" of "dress" -- ball gown, job interview dress, cocktail dress, etc.
Now you go select material and matching thread and buttons, zippers, sequins, whatever. Every possible combination will produce vastly different results.
But underlying all those different dresses is still The Archetype for that style dress that generated the folded tissue inside the envelope.
With writing a novel, you do the same thing. You go to your store of Views of The Universe -- (life's a Ball, life's a party, life's a dinner date, life's all work, life's deep sea fishing expedition) -- and you pick out one of your Views.
Then you go to your notions counter and pick out details of how this Life you are going to depict is going.
Just as sewing that dress is an exercise in craft, so too is writing the novel depicting the meaning of life as experienced by this particular Character.
Your reader will recognize the verisimilitude of the life you are depicting because your reader, too, knows the archetype behind your original creation.
As Jung pointed out, we are all connected by something -- and he called that something the Collective Unconscious. Maybe there is no such thing, but there is something we all have in common, we all recognize, no matter how hidden by details.
Art is in the selection of details juxtaposed to convey a theme - a message about the nature of life.
But the commercial novel writer does not get to invent new patterns, freehand. If enough readers can recognize the underlying archetype, the pattern you selected, the novel will sell well. If that pattern is not recognizable, the first people to buy it will not recommend it to others.
Scholarly, creative writers don't get to invent archetypes either -- but they may discover them. Archetypes are as structurally fundamental to the structure of reality as are the laws of gravity. We can't invent gravity - but our understanding of its relationship to space and time has changed markedly over the last few decades.
Jean Lorrah, my sometime collaborator and a Professor of English, has noted that the novels we write belong to a hitherto unrecognized category, a particular Plot Archetype which I call Intimate Adventure (Action Adventure with the Action replaced by Intimacy which may or may not be sexual).
In real life, all the archetypes overlap and interact -- every human born on this planet has a unique composite of archetypes (Natal Chart) plus all the modifications (epigenetics) they gather through life. It's a mish-mosh.
In fiction, the Characters have 3 prominent traits, only one of which is dominant. Characters are like musical chords, formulated just so. Not every chord goes with every other chord -- in a novel, the writer has to stick to the "Key" as the music writer has to stick to a Key. The plot events of a novel are the "Time" or rhythm, -- is it a waltz or a fox trot or a tango?
As I have explained in previous threads, Writing Is A Performing Art, a wisdom taught to me by Alma Hill.
Commercial Fiction Writers perform the story, just as a pianist might perform a Chopin piece for an audience.
No two performers do it the same way, and no two performances by a given pianist come out exactly the same. A performance is a hand-made, one of a kind, artistic creation.
It is just like giving a speech someone else wrote, or making a dress from a pattern bought at a store. Individual components are carefully chosen to go together into an artistic whole, with each component enhancing the meaning of all the others. A huge set of individually mastered skills are brought together into a performance to present a tiny glimpse of infinite wisdom.
The choosing of components, the bringing of the components together to make the underlying Archetype visible, yet manifesting in a unique way, is the writer's Art. The craft lies in the practice and mastery that makes the performance seamless, effortless, uplifting, memorable.
One sour note, one off-beat plot event, can reduce the sublime to the intolerable.
The Art is in the non-verbal message that is conveyed by the style, voice, and the beauty of the performance.
Some commercial writers have to know what they're doing to do it well. Some can't do it at all if they know what they're doing. Others are hybrids of these extremes.
How you accomplish the performance is idiosyncratic. What story you perform for which audience is idiosyncratic. Writing teaches you as much about yourself as it does about the world and your audience.
The art lies in how you fit what you have to say within the recognizable archetype you share with your audience.
Artists see something in the chaos of reality that the audience doesn't see, then use the tools of shared archetypes to reveal the purpose and meaning of life.
There is no art form that does this better than the Science Fiction Romance.