Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Theme-Character Integration - Part 10 - Popping The Question by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration
Part 10
Popping The Question
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts to this series are indexed at:


The topic of marriage is pretty much outside the Romance Genre domain of definition.  However, Robert A. Heinlein often depicted marriages as a stabilizing influence and a powerful adjunct to Adventure.

He also had an ever broadening definition of marriage -- using line-marriage and various forms of open marriage in his later works, novels that became more famous and more widely read than science fiction.

That widening of the audience that Heinlein achieved for science fiction is what we are after in this blog about elevating the prestige of Science Fiction Romance.

Heinlein worked during a time when the social fabric was morphing beneath our feet, women's lib on the rise and divorce rate soaring.  Working women had to wear suits, many pants-suits and skirt-suits were seen as a sell-out).

It is difficult for today's Romance audience to conceptualize why that dress code was important or what the current rash of "sexual harassment" claims is all about.  Of course, if you have been targeted by such harassment, you may think you know what it is about.  Unfortunately, many who are targeted become so emotionally entangled in the gut-deep offense that the bigger picture of what it is about escapes.

That bigger picture is what the Literary Field of Science Fiction Romance can bring to the international conversation on human rights, spotlight it, bring it into focus, create language (Heinlein's "Grok" is still understood), and establish a new domain of discourse.

In worldbuilding for a Science Fiction novel, Poul Anderson taught us (and illustrated with all his magnificent novels) how to start with the biology of an Earth species, and extrapolate how that biology might work in an Intelligent Sentient species - from another world, another ecological line of development.  Or it could work for an Alternate Earth where some asteroid strike or solar low-point diverted evolution into another channel.

In Romance Genre, the focus is on a couple or triad, who have to settle into a Relationship for the purpose of building a life -- of laying the foundation for a Happily Ever After.  But at the moment when they meet and become enamored -- stuck on each other -- they don't care a whit for building anything.  The whole focus is on this brand new feeling that is pre-empting all the fixed parameters of their Self Images.

Romance, when it strikes out of the blue, when it sweeps the couple off their feet (or just sweeps one off of feet, leaving the other in a practical frame of mind), blurs any ability to judge another person, to draw a bead on that other's Personality.

When "In Love" we bind our Identity to the Image of another person, an image that is mostly our own imagination.

Those who have trained and practiced imagining, judging Character, connecting observed actions with the motivations that prompt actions, may have an edge during the onset of a Romance, before surrendering to the sweeping dissolve and reform process of becoming another person because of this binding Bond.

Others, who have not been raised to judge others' Character with objective precision, are more likely to mistake Romance for Love -- two very different personal experiences.

We live in a culture where children are taught there is no objective reality, and that objective judgement of people, values, cultures, is impossible.

During the decades between Heinlein's peak sales, and now, we have seen a massive shift in Thematic emphasis in Romance Genre.

Since there are no objective touchstones by which to judge the people you meet, the only way to evaluate where a new person fits into your life is by how you respond emotionally to that person.  The only thing that matters is subjective emotion because there is no such thing as objective reality, objective values, or any way to judge "Art" objectively.

That idea is a THEME.

Subjective judgement, emotional reaction, is the surest guide to finding a Mate who can build a Happily Ever After with you.  

For decades, our whole society has been using that premise, that subjective judgement is the surest possible guide, to decide whether to marry this or that person, or not to marry at all, or to live-with for "a while" and then decide whether to marry.

Meanwhile, the divorce rate soars ever higher and the first-marriage rate drops (and the birth rate in the USA drops).  Nobody seems to wonder, the way science fiction writers wonder, if perhaps something in our assumptions might be incorrect.

Science is done with the type of thinking that is always questioning assumptions, questioning unspoken and unconscious assumptions as well as assumptions defined into an equation.

When you blend Science with Romance, you get Science Fiction Romance.

Romance Genre never questions assumptions, especially assumptions about emotions, or about the fundamental structure of reality.

Science Fiction Genre always questions every assumption about fundamental structure, unseen under Reality (or even the very existence of Reality.)

Science fiction is done by applying the thought-processes that produce hard science with the artistic process that produces a Life Well Lived.

That artistic process works with the theory that there exists such a thing as the Soul, and Soul Mates.  Science can't prove the existence of the Soul or for that matter, the existence of existence.

So the blend producing science fiction romance is an oil-and-water type mixture, an emulsion, not a solution.

Working that blend,  you come to the question, "Well, where do Souls come from, and how do you figure out whether this person is your soul mate?"

And the answer, "You don't figure it out, you FEEL it."

What is it that you FEEL?

How do you identify it or explain it to someone who has never been struck by love at first sight?

One touchstone is that this special person makes you perform to your own highest standards of moral and ethical precision -- or possibly of productivity, of grit and determination and pure heroism.  This special person brings out the best in you, or perhaps even better than you ever thought you could be.

And after the dust settles, you are happy that you are who you are, happy and proud to be you.

So a Soul Mate coupling is about FEELINGS.

Romance Genre has been selling big time using the "steamy" Romance premise that sexual arousal and emotional imagination about "who" this other person actually is, is the best way to judge whether you've found your Soul Mate and a path to the Happily Ever After.

One reason the general public no longer conceptualizes a "Happily Ever After" life as "real" -- as possible, plausible or even desirable -- is the soaring divorce rate, the shattered-shambles divorce leaves behind especially when there are children.

Everyone knows someone who has an "ex" -- and everyone knows grown people who were children of a divorced couple, very possibly remarried to other people, and very possibly divorced again.

The stable, firm and reliable "nuclear family" has disintegrated.

That's a scientific fact - we have all seen the statistics.

What many Romance readers today don't know is that it was not always that way, and that this phenomenon is not the only possible way for human society to be organized.

Today's readers may have read that nuclear families used to exist, but they have no personal experience of such a thing.  So it's not real to them.  It's a fantasy.

Historically, there is a good reason that England overthrew the law preventing divorce.  A miserable and incompatible couple does not raise self-confident, innovative and productive children.  A bad marriage is bad for society.

Historically, there is a good reason that despite legal divorce, the U.S.A. maintained stable marriages (even somewhat miserable ones) for a very long time.  One big component was the way a female was rendered dependent on the male for her living, and her existence, and her children's future.

Once economic independence became common for women, divorce rates rose.

You'd expect that getting couples properly matched in marriages would have become the norm, and divorce rates would be close to zero by now.  Not so.

We've talked enough about arranged marriages here, and we've all read any number of Romances involving both good and bad arranged marriages.  Some systems have a better success rate than others.  But they produce a preponderance of life-long marriages in societies where divorce is unthinkable if not illegal.  If women don't hold good jobs, they are stuck in misery.

One can argue that being free to leave at any time also allows an emotional freedom that cements a nuclear family together.  If a human feels trapped, that human (male or female) with FIGHT to get out of the trap.

So having free alternatives is a key to a Happily Ever After marriage.

Here is a wonderful article on the relationship between health and marriage, scanning some scientific investigations into statistics, and reporting on following individuals health for many years.  The results are not clear.  Marriage doesn't guarantee better health, and being single doesn't guarantee better health either.  But the research is a treasure trove of story material.


The title says it all:
Is marriage good for your health? It depends who you’re married to
New research has found being married has protective health effects – unless it doesn’t
What are you doing, why are you doing it, and what is your goal?  What are your chances of achieving that goal by staying in the marriage vs. leaving the marriage?

Humans are happier when doing things voluntarily rather than being forced, coerced, tricked, or manipulated.  Even if the thing being done is actually beneficial to the human individual, if it is in any way coerced, it turns toxic.

So one pervading theme in the modern Romance Novel is, "If I feel like having sex with this person, there's no sense fighting it.  It is impossible to control feelings, and it is unhealthy to try."

One pervading theme in modern science fiction is, "If I see a mistake most people are making, I don't have to make that mistake myself."  That is the theme of the Hero, the maverick, the Adventurer.

So to get science fiction romance from these two themes, you need two Characters with contrasting views.

Marriage and the Happily Ever After have become the subject of legitimate scientific investigation.

So one Character might believe that instant, irresistible sexual arousal is the only reliable sign you have found a Soul Mate who can build a Happily Ever After life with you.

The other Character might believe that the goal of the Happily Ever After Life can be achieved only by a stable, bound, solid marriage and nuclear and extended family structure.

Now, take two Scientific Researchers, each with well-funded projects examining statistics, interviewing people, gathering medical records on them, following individuals through Life.

They each get papers published, and they are BOTH being considered for a Nobel Prize (or whatever the top in their field is), and they become rivals advocating their theories, intent on proving their theory so that society will change and conform to their Ideals.  They want to FIX THE WORLD by demonstrating the path to the HEA for Everyone.

They meet for the first time at a cocktail party (or some Event) having read each others' research, having their minds full of refutations of the flimsy science behind the other person's paper.

Now what happens?  What happens is the PLOT, and that plot must be integrated (fabricated from) with the theme.

The Characters, who they are and where they are in Life, and career, whether they have an "Ex" and children, all the Identity parameters go into fabricating the Plot, the things they do and the consequences of those deeds prompting more actions.

This series is about Theme-Character integration -- and you will note that the moment you have Characters whose Identify is fabricated from the Theme, you suddenly can think of dozens of plot events, and a wide variety of ways that Events might unfold.

Ponder the diverse and inconclusive (even confusing) results of the scientific investigation of marriage -- find these statistical assumptions that may be behind this research and what systemic flaws might be there.  Create two additional experiments, statistical analyses, that your Characters might execute -- and then pit them against each other.

Here is the index to theme-plot-character integration:


Maybe instead of being up for the same Prize, they start their Epic Rivalry at the point where they are seeking funding, or seeking a Teaching Assistance-ship under the same Professor.  All that is Character -- and within that Character is the Theme and within the Theme is the Plot.

The Story is all about what their Conflict and their Romance do to change each of them, to forge them into a lifelong and successful partnership.

One signature of success in marriage is revealed in that Article I pointed you to above -- increased HEALTH.  The physical body, relieved of stress, performs better.

Thus at work you get more promotions because you don't "fly off the handle" so easily and produce precision work more reliably.

With children, you are more consistent day to day instead of confusing them with your eruptions of temper, so they grow up to be more steady adults.

There are a lot of documented similarities between human behavior and animal behavior.  Perhaps the most revealing is in the way our pets behave.

Here is an article about dog behavior written by a Veterinarian who has seen individual humans owning successive generations of dogs, and has noted how human habitual behavior toward a dog creates dog behavior problems.

The same habitual human behaviors that prompt dog misbehavior also prompt children's misbehavior.  Each child or dog personality reacts differently to the same human behavior.


Here are the headings for this article on dogs
1. Some dogs have a genetic tendency to behave badly
2. Poorly socialised pups turn into badly behaved adult dogs
3. Dogs that are not trained enough cannot learn to be well behaved
4. Old fashioned, dominance-based training doesn’t work
5. Negative experiences leave dogs with long lasting emotional memories
6. Testosterone drives aggression
7. Treating dogs like people doesn’t work
8. Dogs without boundaries are more likely to behave badly
9. Insufficient exercise leads to frustrated dogs that behave badly
10. Trying to solve dog behaviour problems on your own is unlikely to succeed
----------end quote---------

Convert that to children's behavior problems to generate conflict.  You can use a pet's behavior to reveal hidden Character traits.

Back to the article on marriage research:

And in old age, you survive health challenges and adjust together -- you just plain live longer, healthier lives.

Is that what people have in mind when they pop the question?  Do your characters choose a person to be 90 years old with?  Or do they propose marriage because you feel a certain way at that moment?

Stress is the killer.  A good marriage relieves stress.  A not-so-wonderful marriage maintains dangerous stress levels.

What will the next brand new scientific discovery be that proves the Ancient Wisdom modern society has thrown out with such contempt?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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