Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Depiction Part 35 - Depicting Marriage by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 35
Depicting Marriage 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This Depiction series is about finding ways to show-don't-tell the nuances of intangibles -- like Love or Romance or Heritage or Family -- without blasting the reader with "on the nose" description, exposition or even narrative.

The previous parts of the Depiction Series are indexed here:


In the Depiction study we have discussed Proverbs and Psalms



And recently, Prophecy, and other components of culture used in Worldbuilding.

To depict a Human-Alien Romance, you must depict the "human" culture (is there even such a thing as "the" culture of Earth?) and the Alien culture.

If there is no single "Earth Culture" then why would any of your readers think there is a single "alien culture?"

Star Trek fanfic writers often handle Vulcan, Romulan, or Klingon culture as if there is and always has been only one such culture -- monoliths.

As Americans have discovered in recent decades, there is no single, monolithic Moslem culture, religion or belief.  Islam comes in as many shades, gradations, and stark contrasts as does Christianity or Judaism (and most other 'isms).

Complexity is the hallmark of old civilization -- at least on this Earth.

For decades, science fiction has assumed the direction of human cultural development is toward the monolithc -- so that in the future, Earth will have one single culture every human belongs to and is comfortable with.

However, today's trend has reversed.  While, in the early 20th Century, the trend was toward plain vanilla washout of cultures, the melting pot, with the publication and TV Series "Roots" we hit an inflection point toward "multi-culturalism."

That may not last, but today's readers grew up in an environment that values multiculturalism, diversity, and respect for the values and customs of others.

If you use a monolithic society -- a whole world with billions of individuals and only one culture now and throughout all history, you must convince this new reader that such a thing can exist, be viable, and interact with Earth plausibly.

This is a tall order, and may take over your plot, oblitterating all the space you want to devote to a hot Romance.

So depicting your Aliens as having a vast, varied, and confusing past, perhaps irrational and persistent into modern times, could make them seem more human.

Since we are looking at Alien Romance, we should focus on "marriage" or whatever passes for the stable partnership that tends to ensure the survival of the young, the training (acculturation) and education of the young, and perhaps most of all the transmission of Values to the young.

Yes, Romance is actually all about "the young" -- because Romance usually happens to the Young.  Of course, there are "autumn romance" stories, touching beyond words, but the forward looking hope, optimism, and goal directed drive to establish a safe, happy, stable home is for the Young who have not done it yet.

Such youngsters set out to establish themselves mostly because they have been raised in a stable home and understand what makes it a base for "family."

Setting out to write a human/Alien romance immediately raises the question of where do you do the research?  If you want to write a Regency, you know where to find history books.  If you want to write a tale set in Ancient Rome, you know where to find factual material.  But where do you find out about Alien Marriage?

Where do you find out about Alien History, Alien Religion, Alien Customs?

What do Aliens do for "something borrowed, something blue" -- and why?

You will never be more aware of our mixed up, blended and re-separated human cultural heritage and all the customs surrounding marriage as when you set out to create some Aliens.

Science Fiction has always drawn on the strange corners of human history, other parts of this globe, far back to the dawn of time, to generate odd but believable Alien customs.

Most human customs have arisen from biology combined with available technology.

For example, once cloth was woven, it became feasible for people to wear "veils" -- shrouding the head and face.  In certain parts, such as desert where dust blows, face coverings made of cloth became standard wear.

Leather doesn't work so well for face veils because you can't breathe through it.  Cloth woven tightly enough to keep out most sand is perfect.

So growing plants, extracting the fiber, spinning thread, weaving it -- very complex technology with weavers and textile dye experts harboring many trade secrets as dynastic wealth of a family.

You can look up how that developed among humans -- keeping in mind by the time of the Pharoahs of Egypt, textiles were a well developed industry.

Part 21 - Depicting Alien History (Testosterone revisited)

Part 22 - Depicting Alien Nostalgia With Symbolism (Dean Martin song Memories Are Made Of This used in a Video of nostalgic images, perfectly composed and compiled)

So in Worldbuilding your Aliens, research the roots of our current civilization -- from Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, onwards.  The more you know, the better long-range perspective you can envision from human history.

Then you can derive an Alien marriage custom which will not resemble any human custom, but will seem comprehensible and plausible to your readers because it evolved along a path similar to the path of human custom evolution.

Religion is always a cultural wild card, and an easy way to slip in twists that can become potent Character motivations.  Religion can prompt behaviors that are otherwise implausibly Good -- or insanely Bad.  So any Alien world you build is not complete without a Cosmology and Cosmogany -- and the accompanying epistemologies.

Most people who think with, use, and live by these intellectual abstractions do not know the academic terms for them.  Most people call it their gut.

What do your Aliens use for a gut?

For example, most people today do not know why Brides wear veils -- and modern ceremonies often do away with the tradition of the bridal veil.

See Why Do We Cry At Weddings - Part 2 has a link to Part 1.


Here is the historical reason for the Bridal Veil from


Many of the wedding traditions are rooted in the Biblical stories found in the Torah.

Q.  Why according to Jewish tradition, is the bride's face covered with the veil before the Chupah.

A. ...  The Torah tells us that when Rivkah met her future husband, Yitzchak, for the first time, "She took the veil and she covered herself" (Gen. 24:65).

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

This was long before Egypt became a Superpower of that world, and cloth was commonly worn even then.

Also, from the same source:

Q.  Why is it customary that the bride's family presents the groom with a Talit?

A. The Talit has four corners, with eight strings on each corner. In total, the Talit has 32 strings (4X8=32). "Heart" in Hebrew is "Lev," which has the numerical value of 32. The Talit expresses the blessing that the couple's life be filled with love for each other.

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

Here is a video on the Tallit:

The Veil custom promulgated through thousands of years in a lot of cultures that have no obvious connection to the Biblical figures of Rebecca and Isaac.

The Talit -- the fringed prayer shawl worn today by Jewish men (in some traditions, only married men), is also a custom many simply execute routinely and have no idea where it came from, why they do it (except their parents did) or what any of the (many) symbols incorporated into it mean, why they mean that, or how they came to mean that -- thus what the symbols might be evolved into and what they must not be evolved into.

People know their customs, but not the thousands of years of history behind them.

Customs lose meaning through generations, but they don't lose power and impact.

Failing to execute a "good luck" custom (like something borrowed; something blue) may be cited as the reason a marriage failed.

It might actually be the reason.  People subconsciously nagged by a sense of failure to do the right thing will often subconsciously arrange for their own punishment.

In fiction, that is called Poetic Justice, discussed under depicting random luck.


So, Romance focuses on the period of initial encounter - the Love At First Sight between Soul Mates -- well, it can be Hate At First Sight in a deep psychological study of the true nature of Love.

Romance is the beginning of the beginning.

But it has its root in the blending of dynasties -- each living human (and presumably most Aliens) has an ancestry that stretches back into the mists of pre-history.  We all come from somewhere, but have been cross-influenced by many strands of culture.

Throughout Time, humans have lived mostly in mono-cultural environments since travel was so difficult.  War, famine, draught could cause mass migration, and later the Americas were colonized due largely to religious incompatibilities, but the migrants would then settle in and absorb or be absorbed into the local culture.  Archeology shows how this pattern repeated through the evolution of human kind, now genetics revealing how Cro-Magnon cross bred with Neanderthal as populations overlapped.

So the trend seemed to be toward blending into a mono-cultural association creating tribe, village, city, kingdom.

A trader, bard, fugitive from justice, wanderer, exile, soldier of fortune, shipwreck survivor might wash up on the shores of a community -- but would be always the "stranger" (maybe for several generations of his children).  But the community would be mono-cultural, harboring the stranger and absorbing him.

Today, we are reversing that trend, accepting strangers among us who view right/wrong/life/purpose in wholly different ways.

Today, in the world of mobility, and mass migrations is producing communities in ferment, but multi-cultural marriages abound, just as between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.  Imagine what those partnerships might have been like - rape and abandonment?  Or the male protecting the offspring of the female?

As far as we know, these original humans did not have "marriage" as we know it today - (Credit Cards, Bank Accounts with Joint Tennants, house in the title of a Living Trust, Pre-Nup Agreement).  But their children survived, which says something.

So what is marriage?  How do you depict marriage without pointing to a set of rules laid out in a book so old people can't agree on who wrote it?  How do you depict human/Alien marriage to a reader who is convinced the rules in that old book should be discarded as archaic and inapplicable?

For humans, you can't say marriage biological -- because human males have been known to abandon their own children.  Human mothers have been known to discard newborns, espcially from men they disliked.

Yet even without a legal document, men and women (or two men, or two women) live together, settle in, raise children together, create a domestic arrangement that suits them.  Perhaps it is just inertia, but such arrangements can last longer than some document-supported "marriages."

Does going the documented route spoil a Relationship? (the answer to that is a Theme, you know).

Our modern TV shows are fraught with depictions of dysfunctional families, failed marriages, second marriages, men who skip from woman to woman, and twenty-and-thirty-somethings who dread even calling their parents on holidays.  The trend is to depict the broken family dynamic.

There are many depictions of the heartwrenching sorrow at the death of a parent (aunt or uncle) with whom the survivor did not reconcile.  The assumption is always that there had (just absolutely had) to be something to be reconciled.

The idea of a family with nothing outstanding needing reconciliation is simply absurd.

This could be why the HEA, the Happily Ever After, ending is considered insanely ridiculous - beyond contempt the way science fiction had always been regarded up until Star Trek was revived as a result of fan activity.

Today's TV would never broadcast The Brady Bunch or Leave It To Beaver -- which did depict family life in their respective eras.

Today, there are no depictions on mass-fiction-markets of tight-knit, solid, stable multi-generation families.

So it is up to novelists to lure, lull, entice readers into believing in the solid, tight-knit multigeneration family, and to depict marriage that is not dysfunctional.

Only, neither the reader nor the writer today has a model for a functional family in common with one another.

Depict a functional family, and the reader is held spellbound waiting for the Big Reveal of the Big Secret -- the grand lie -- the deception at the core of the matter.  Everyone secretly harbors hate, --- or so an Alien watching modern TV would assume.

So we must look to human history for a model for a futuristic Marriage - a Couple who might be from different cultures, but comfortably raise sane children who can go out and fall in love and form another (sane) generation that does not hate their parents.

Historically, there are such ideals, and a handful of principles of behavior that you can depict the parents of your Couple modeling.

If the parents of the Couple whirling through the Romance in you novel behave in the following fashion, you will show-don't-tell your readers that your Couple has a fine chance at an HEA, a Happily Ever After that will not end in a divorce.

Here is a quote from chabad.org  

Marriage is not a power struggle, and the home is not a battlefield. To give in does not mean to relinquish power, and talking things over does not mean you are entering negotiations.

The two of you comprise a single entity—a couple. What is good for one is good for the other. When you come to a decision, it is the decision of both of you as one being. Do it not as a sacrifice but as a gift, not as a defeat but as a triumph of love.

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

So try writing the scene in your novel where the parents of your Couple meet to resolve the issue of "My Kid Is Going To Marry An Alien!"

Here's a series I've recommended:

Lay out the scene using that set of principles.  Depict each set of Parents approaching the problem, modeling that problem-solving methodology.

This is an essential show-don't-tell of why it is likely your Couple will indeed arriive at an HEA (not that it will be easy, mind you).

"The Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree" and "Like Father; Like Son" and so on, is all true.  These are descriptions of family.  Culture propagates through solid, tight-knit Family.

Of course, humans have had trouble with our relatives since Caine and Able.  Even Abraham had to send one of his sons away.

Esaw and Jacob didn't get along too well, either.

These stories are preserved because they are a repeating pattern built into our makeup.

It is part of the human condition that families spawn aliens within our midst, and spit them out with considerable force.

Genetics does not guarantee acceptance.

Every large family has a "Black Sheep."  (grand source of drama)

But to have a "Black Sheep" -- a family must be a family.  The solidity of the family is a pre-condition for the drama of the "exception" -- the different one.

Two such "different ones" may end up in a human/Alien Romance, and a grand marriage where both functional families have to come around (far-around) to accepting this new, utterly strange, Couple.

The reader will expect there to be no chance for such a couple, two rejects of their cultures, to reach a Happily Ever After.

You can convince your skeptical readers by depicting the parents, maybe grandparents mixing in, settling their disputes over the Couple by using those principles of marriage.  You might even invoke some good-luck-charm custom, like the Talit, depicting it has having worked.

The HEA demands too much suspension of disbelief for today's reader.  So today's writer has to work harder at convincing the reader.

Get your readers to Cry At The Wedding of your Characters.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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