Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Depiction Part 27 - Depicting Love by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 27
Depicting Love

Previous parts of the Depiction series are indexed here:

You'd think in a writing blog about Alien Romance that Depicting Love would be the first topic in the series on how to "depict" the intangibles that make a novel truly memorable.

Love is both the most obvious, simple, easy intangible for a Romance writer to depict, and the most difficult, slippery, nebulous topic to find a concrete "show don't tell" symbol to convey.

We've discussed depicting Love many times from different directions.

Here is "What Does She See In Him?" and "What Does He See In Her" -- a primary question every reader wants a concrete answer to right up front in Chapter One.


And how to make what one person sees in another into a "symbol" -- something that could be photographed when they make the movie of your novel.  It has to be something that can "arc" or change for those characters because of the events of the novel, and turn up again and again (as a theme does).


And most especially - why we cry at weddings.




We've also discussed Love At First Sight as part of the Happily Ever After ending.

Many good Romance novels start with a Divorced Character, or a widowed Character -- someone who had a good relationship that went sour.  Sometimes the story focuses around an Affair -- that ends well or badly, destroying other people's happiness.

One thing that has split good marriages apart is Politics.  The initial Romance following Love At First Sight often masks the deepest beliefs that form a person's self-image.

People in the USA choose to be Republican or Democrat (or Independent, or Libertarian, or nothing-much) because they encounter "messaging" from a number of Candidates expressing the party's platform.  At that time, a person will identify people who seem to be saying believable things, and "join" that party.  People look for a party that represents what they already believe, or at least some most cherished belief.

Over decades, the USA Parties redefine themselves with the turning of the generations, and espouse different (often contradictory) causes and stances.  The final bundle of positions on issues the Party settles on at the Convention is a mishmash of philosophically contradictory stances.

This happens because the Party platform is "negotiated" by committee.

In fiction, thematic unity is essential.  Fiction is art - a selective representation of reality, not reality itself.

The real reality your Characters live in has no perceptible thematic unity -- which is why people seek that unity in recreational reading.

Readers often pick up Romance novels to get away from the chaotic contradictions of a very confusing world.  The reader is looking for a trip through a world that makes sense.  Readers often look to get away from it all, to get relief from confusion.

Your job as a writer is to depict a world that is not confusing, but is enough like reality to be convincing.

If a novel is too simplified, too much lacking in confusion (Red Herrings), it seems childish and unconvincing.

We discussed a galactic war adventure novel series, with excellent tender-romance here:

The main character, a Prince serving in the Military, loves a couple of different women for exactly the reason any Romance reader woman would want to be loved in real life -- little to do with appearance and everything to do with admirable accomplishments to be proud of.  He loves women of Strong Character because of their strength of character.

Nevertheless, the story comes off as too childish simply because the Characters are rewarded vastly for little real effort, and seem to understand way too much of their world with far too little work.

When Characters accomplish too much with too little real effort/angst readers just don't believe the story or the plot.

That's one reason "Love At First Sight" is often viewed with skepticism by readers who have never known anyone it happened to.

But when Love At First Sight happens (and I know it does, so I have adjusted my view of reality to include it), the Lovers are usually too smitten with each other to ask the kinds of questions a Matchmaker would -- or the sort of questions you might find on a good Dating Site.

The impact of "This Person" is so overwhelming that the inquiring mind just does not ask.

The couple might evaluate each other on Values and Principles, but fail to ask why those Values and Principles were adopted, where they came from, and whether they are all consistent with each other.

In fact, most Romance readers aren't looking for a novel that depicts Characters who have stringent philosophical consistency.  Most humans don't revere logical consistency and in fact are convinced emotions have no logical basis.

So the beginning Romance writer, or a writer like Dave Bara and his Lightship Series, may be convinced that Love is not Logical, emotions in general are not connected to or originating in the cognitive functions part of the brain.

Love Is Not Logical is a Theme.

It is a statement about the reality of the human condition, a summation of many assumptions and a conclusion that implies how life is to be lived.

The Theme of my Star Trek fanzine series, Kraith, is Love Is Logical.

There is a view of human history that is held dear by those who are convinced Emotions Are Not Logical, a view that is based on the assumption that Emotion Is Logical.  That view of human history shows how one civilization rises, collapses, and gives rise to another civilization, one culture spawning another.

Cultures through history are like our children, made up of the same genes but rearranged and even mutated into something else.

Beliefs are like our genes -- containing much that has gone before, one or two traits that are new, and the whole rearranged to seem new, but it's really old.

We love Regency Romance and Historical Romance set in Castles, arranged political marriages, as Dave Bara uses in his Lightship Series, Rulerships, Kings, Dukes -- we love reading about those times.  But today's novels of the Aristocratic Times whitewash some of the ugliest parts of that reality.

Politics is one of those Cultural Philosophies that propagates as our genetic children do -- like us, identical to us, but vastly different.

In January 2017, Rowena Cherry wrote in this blog:
I gained a new perspective on why so many folks in society have so little respect for copyrights and the right of musicians, authors, photographers, movie-making participants and others to be paid for their time, talents and effort from the free Hillsdale College lecture covering the difference between Originalists and Progressives when it comes to the rights of an individual.

According to Professor Ronald J. Pestritto, the Progressive ideology is heavily influenced by European--especially German-- thinking, and holds that the needs of the Community is always superior to the needs (and rights) of the individual, and far from certain rights such as the right to Life, to Liberty, and to the Pursuit of happiness being bestowed on mankind as a birthright by the Creator, all rights that an individual has are permitted by the government depending on convenience and expediency.  (And can be revoked.)

How expedient and convenient do you suppose it is to uphold individual copyrights?

---------end quote-------------

The Progressive Movement article on Wikipedia is illuminating:

The thesis is that the Progessive Movement began in 1890 and ended in the 1920's.

There is a Liberal or Progressive movement, actually several different ones within each political party, today -- and using different labels and symbols, targeting the same social ills that were identified in 1890.

There are several basic ideas about "what" a human being is, where and how humans originate, and under what social contract terms humans can live together -- and those sets of ideas do neatly separate into two camps, two mutually exclusive ideologies.

Note the element Rowena Cherry focused on relevant to Intellectual Property Rights -- or actually, just property rights in general -- does a human own what they make, or not?

Notice how very basic that THEME concept is!

THEME: humans own the product of their own labor

THEME: humanity owns the product of any human's labor

Every two year old coming into the ability to use language learns NO first, maybe MaMa and PaPa, but definitely NO.  And then comes major lessons in MINE.  Toddlers learn to POSSESS their possessions, and the very concept of possession.  They have not, to the adult's way of thinking, earned it, but they own it.

So the concept MINE comes before the concept EARN.

Parents love their children -- and through that love, teach the concept "no" and "mine" and "you can't have that because it is mine."

"You can't take that because it is mine" is an expression of LOVE.  It is a way of depicting love.

MINE is an extremely abstract concept.  Just try explaining it to an Alien whose species does not have that concept.

We discussed explaining humans to aliens, and how it can help writers do solid worldbuilding here:

One rock that marriages founder upon is POSSESSIONS -- as well as TERRITORY.

If a Couple is split on the issue of regard for another person's possessions and personal space, or territory or privacy, the marital combat will be feral.

The arguments - regardless of what the ostensible subject is (toothpaste tube, toilet seat, cleaning the trash out of the car, overdrawing the checking account, inviting guests without asking the cook) will take on basic animal characteristics.  The combatants are fighting for their LIVES - for their very existence.

The concept MINE lives in us at that pre-verbal level where the 2 year old can only scream red-faced and clutch the toy they just stole off the store shelf.

The adult will defend what is MINE with that same ferocity -- even if what is being defended is only a symbol of the toy their parent would not buy for them (long before they knew about the connection between earning, buying, and mine.

Sometimes LOVE is best symbolized by not-buying that toy.  And sometimes a good marriage is based on not-taking the spouse's possessions.

Children absorb the very definition of what marriage is by the way parents handle and regard the spouse's possessions.

One magnificent depiction of LOVE in symbolism is the way the loved-one's possessions are regarded and handled, not because of what that object is, but because of what it means to the loved one.  Sometimes the most penetrating drama comes with the way a Character handles a possession of a deceased loved-one.

The connection between a person and their possessions (yes, somewhat like the gypsy scam artists claim, or you see in many Fantasy or Paranormal Romances) is a mystical force in this world.

We experience MINE as a mystical force, perhaps because it is one of those pre-verbal learning experiences.  Even dogs know what is theirs and what is not.  Children get it very, very young.

The next lesson in growing up that humans learn is how to make something MINE -- how to acquire what holds meaning.  Seeing the toy on the store shelf, screaming "Mommy, buy me that!" or just "I want!!!"  Then comes Mommy's lesson in how to love -- "Be good and I'll get it for you next month."

You want to own something, you must comply with the wishes of others.  Love is unconditional -- possessing is conditional.

If that's how you are brought up, that is how you will conduct your marriage -- whether you know you are doing it, or not.

That is how deep into the subconscious, into the brain-synapses developed in childhood, that the concept MINE goes.

With age, you learn you have to do chores to get money to buy things -- then get a summer job to earn money, then work your way through college -- and so on.

Along through those years, you may change your mind about possessions, come to see the massive contribution to your prosperity made by your community, society, family privelege, etc, and understand a portion of what you earn belongs to everyone (taxes, insurance).

You may change your behavior so drastically that during a hot Romance, you display only community awareness, not the 2 year old's selfish MINE.  But within months of marriage, that 2-year-old's MINE will assert itself, sometimes to your dismay.

Other 2-year-olds may have learned MINE in a different way, with support and respect for the exclusive possessions of an individual being sacrosanct.

If an adult with a commune mentality of "everything belongs to everyone in the family" marries a "what's mine is mine; what's yours is yours" person, there will be primal-scream-level-combat where neither party knows what they are really fighting for or over.

At some point, that mixed marriage may well crack -- and you, the writer, will have a Character ready for a second time around Romance.

By that point in maturity, the Character will be grappling with the vague and confusing question, "What is Love?"  How do you know if you're in love after being so bitterly disappointed by that Selfish Bastard you gave your heart to?

Or, on the other hand, that mixed marriage may gel and solidify into a happily ever after for real.

How can that happen?  If the very concept of MINE is not shared, how can two people meld into One?

It has happened.  I have seen it happen in real life.  Compromise is not the answer.  Winning a negotiation is not the answer.  Asserting your rights is not the answer.  Separate bedrooms is not the answer (though sometimes it helps.)

Even Love may not be the answer.  MINE may be something that Love can not conquer, at least not by itself.

One human's love for another human may not be up to the job of welding two such disparate views of what a human is into a single marriage.  This is the kind of welding job you write about in an Alien Romance, where a human has to apprehend the true alien quality of this strange Soul Mate.  If the weld is sturdy enough and flexible enough, you do end up with a Happily Ever After between Soul Mates.

Making that HEA ending seem plausible to your modern day readers is tricky.

We've discussed the HEA ending perpetually, and here we go again.  It is based on the validity of the concept, Soul Mates.

If your readers accept the concept of Soul Mates, they may not be ready to accept the concept of Souls per se.  That could take some convincing, a series of long novels.

The concept Souls comes with the question of what they are and how they came to exist -- and what the rules are about mating souls.

You can depict the Love of Soul Mates who nevertheless have primal-screaming-fights about MINE, and whose marriage may founder on that concept, and or its political manifestation (today: Democrats vs Republicans), Fiscal Responsibility, Health Care, Obamacare, Trumpcare, -- who must pay for the healthcare of the poor?  Who is responsible for making people poor to begin with, and for keeping people poor (and why would anyone do that?)

So Soul Mates may end up in Divorce Court.

Or maybe not.

There is a fundamental force in the Universe, a variable related to Love, which some call Delight.

If both Soul Mates become aware of the spiritual forces moving in the world, of the finger of God stirring their lives, (sometimes pregnancy brings this awareness, if only momentarily), and experience a peaceful moment together, they may transcend awareness of MINE.  It won't resolve the issues they fight over, but it will put the Values involved into another perspective.

Remember, we've discussed the two-valued either/or zero-sum-game model of the universe in many contexts -- that model is the foundation of most Conflict, and conflict is the essence of story.

If it is mine, it is therefore not-yours -- is zero-sum-game model.  There is only so much wealth to go around, a pie to slice, and it is not fair if some people get more of the pie.  That is the zero-sum-game model.

Then there is the infinite, expanding model of the universe wherein any human makes something and thus adds to the sum total of human wealth while at the same time keeping what has been made, dubbing it MINE.

The infinite, ever expanding model of reality has no pie to be sliced.  Whatever you make, you keep and divvy up as you choose.

Humans have the capacity to choose to do justice, to give away a portion of what they create.  That behavior is rare in the average 2 year old just encountering the concept MINE -- but it turns up often in the 3 or 4 year old who sees parents giving, and experiences love when recieving.


After having been the recipient of giving, a child learns the even greater delight of being the giver.  You can't experience that ineffable delight of giving unless what you are giving is MINE.  You must create/earn and acquire something of your very own, which you have no obligation to give away, and then give it to another (for whatever reason).

The delight of giving is a spiritual experience - an experience that happens, like Love At First Sight, at the soul level.  It lights up the brain circuits, true, but that is a pale reflection of the vast ignition of the Soul.

Possessing that which you have created and/or earned is a pre-requisite to experiencing that ineffable delight of the soul.

Sharing the experience of soul-level-delight can weld a couple into a single whole, a whole that readers can view as deserving of a Happily Ever After life.

So sharing a moment of Soul Delight can work as the climax of a Romance plot, and the Story climax is the realization by both that the moment of supreme intensity was indeed shared.  This Selfish Bastard you want to ditch actually has a heart.  That's a game-changer discovery.

The fabric of the universe is woven from shades of Delight, according to one ancient source.  Here it is in poetic form:

A bird builds its nest, a tree spreads its boughs, a cloud floats across the sky—and we see there beauty, ingenuity, wisdom and might.

But behind it all is delight. The delight the Creator takes in each thing.

Each thing begins with delight; delight condenses to become wisdom; wisdom condenses to become ingenuity, consciousness, love, might and beauty, and all the other fabric of the universe.

“Nothing is higher than delight,” says the Book of Formation. It is the quintessence of all that exists.          http://www.chabad.org/lx4rt0

-----end quote-----

Think about that.  Delight and thus its derivative Love is more primal than MINE, is woven into the soul way above the point in cognitive development when the toddler learns "No" and "Mine!"

You can't get Delight by taking, only by giving what is Mine.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Last night I watched THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, a romantic comedy (although a lot of it is more angst-ridden than funny) starring Cary Grant and Katherine [sp?] Hepburn as a divorced couple. She broke off the marriage because of his drinking, which he has since given up. Still, from what's shown in the movie it would be hard to understand why they would ever get back together -- except for an "off the nose" discussion between them about the sailing yacht Grant's character designed and they took on their honeymoon. Their nostalgic love for the boat demonstrates to the viewer their once-fervent love for each other, and as the conversation continues, it becomes more and more obvious that their remarks about the boat contain subtext meanings about their relationship.

    Incidentally, the movie's first scene, the prologue showing the breakup, contains a moment that would never get filmed today (in a comedy) -- Grant's character knocks Hepburn's character down with a blow to the face (after she breaks one of his golf clubs). It's clearly meant to be "funny." Thank goodness times have changed for the better in SOME ways.

  2. Margaret: That is a good example film, but has to be placed on a timeline of development. What can be mass marketed (expensive to make films require huge massive market to make a profit) -- so they only make what they think will be popular. See this article on theatrical film marketing: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-movie-business-is-in-big-trouble-2017-3

  3. Interesting - Blogger didn't make a link of the link I put in my comment. Copy/paste it -- fabulously insightful article.