Previous parts in the Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series are here:
The posts with Integration in the title are not "elementary" writing lessons, but exploration of how a fiction writer processes real-world observations into gripping fiction that takes the reader OUT of the "real" world and into a much more real Reality.
Or put another way, fiction is the alphabet of the left hand, the building block of non-verbalizable "words" -- constructs that integrate parts of the brain to create an orchestrated, deep-textured reality.
With a vast and deep background in reading well constructed fiction, a young person can observe the real world they must "go out and conquer" with an understanding that leads to successful choices and actions.
Fiction is not an add-on, or a waste of time. And by "fiction" I also mean today's videogaming media.
The process of becoming an adult includes the vital process of "Integrating" all the parts, pieces, isolated experiences, and pre-configured academic "courses." By the teens, we should all have created a model of the universe in our minds and begin testing our model against "reality."
The process of adjusting the imaginary model and changing "reality" to suit us, and re-adjusting our model, and re-changing our reality (picking a college major, getting a job, founding a company, getting married, burying our parents, marrying-off our children), over and over again will lead to a successful life very smoothly if the first "model of reality" we build in our minds (from fiction) is solid.
When, in mid-life, one must utterly discard the earliest model of reality, and start from scratch, one does lose the capital investment of life-years and emotional-depth.
Getting divorced can be that kind of trauma -- or discovering Aliens From Outer Space Are Among Us produces a similar reassessment.
Actually, watching a teen child you have raised discover the difference between sex and love is likewise harrowing.
So, the key for a writer to creating novels (or series of novels) about the nuanced differences between sex, love, friendship, Romance and Reality, is a solid grasp of "what is really going on" in our actual real world.
To understand what I mean by "What is really going on," do read Gini Koch's ALIEN series -- real romance starting without a clue, ending up with an in-depth grasp of the Galactic Situation (for all the good that grasp does!).
So, as a writer, open your mind as Gini Koch's Kitty-Kat does to the idea that maybe you don't yet know what is "really" going on.
What does it mean, "going on..." ???
When do things start "going on" -- and when exactly is "now" and what does "now" mean? How big is now? What is TIME anyway?
"Time Is XXXX" is a THEME.
Pick some value for XXXX -- each value you pick will create a Theme. Now create a world, a galaxy, or a universe (parallel or divergent, or splinter of time, or pocket of time) from that Theme.
Our reality is a "world" -- but we see and know of our world only what can fit into our earliest imaginings, our earliest model of reality gleaned from our earliest readings, then modified and modified.
For the most part, most humans just modify their first model, trying to avoid obvious conflicts with what they currently observe. But humans are oddly (maybe among all the species of sentients in the plethora of galaxies, oddly) tolerant of contradictions.
We hold these truths to be self-evident --- therefore, we don't have to test these truths to see if they all belong in the same universe.
We, as a species, have very little merit in survival traits -- no shell, poor eyesight, no pelt against the cold, slow running speed, etc. etc. -- but survive and dominate this planet because we are adaptable. Sharks and cockroaches survive by other traits, which annoys us.
Mentally and emotionally, we adapt to, absorb, and ignore all contradictions. We ignore impediments to our beliefs and barge on ahead toward our goals, regardless of collateral damage.
Let the collaterals damaged by our barging through just adapt to the mess we leave behind. "Go For It!" is our watchword.
Take that human attitude out into a galaxy full of space-faring civilizations, and what do you think might happen?
What COULD happen on this planet before Space Travel becomes possible that would change that "barge on through" attitude -- the "adapt the world to our mental model, not our model to the world" attitude -- so we arrive on the Galactic Scene with a different sort of civilization than we have today?
What would it take to change humanity?
What part of humanity needs changing to change the "barge" trait?
Our bodies are not tough, and most of us are not very smart. What else is there to a human being besides our primate bodies?
So many primate species have gone extinct. Are we next because our bodies are all humans are?
Or is there such a thing as the Soul? Is there a non-material component to the human being? (or maybe only some of us have souls?)
Is the patent reality of the Soul Mate, and thus the reality of the Soul, what is really going on?
Part of every romance genre reader's model of reality includes the Soul Mate as a fact, though finding such an exact mate is not guaranteed if you only have this one little Earth to search.
Does the existence of a Soul imply or necessitate the postulate of the reality of a Creator of the Universe, God?
The answer to that question is one of the ingredients in your World Building. In some fictional realities, the answer is no. In other novel series, the answer is yes. In the really great fictional series that mirror our actual reality, the answer is either "Maybe" or possibly "Sometimes."
What exactly is a Soul?
I know a huge variety of theories used by and relied upon by many ancient civilizations, but the one I find most intriguing is the concept that the "Soul" enters our material "reality" via the dimension of Time.
The Soul does this -- but does that mean it is inserted into Reality by the Creator of that Reality? Or just that the Soul chooses -- like an Olympic swimmer diving into a pool to race down his lane, hit a barrier, turn and race back?
What is the Soul really doing? Does every person have a Soul?
Answers to those questions are THEMES.
Now, as has been noted previously in these blogs, the way to create verisimilitude (the matching of your fictional World to your particular readership's notions of their reality) is to study the vast array of academic pursuits most of your readers have not (yet) absorbed.
History, Religion, the history of religion, sociology, archaeology, -- any sort of 'ology. Just learn, study, absorb.
Then ask yourself whether the difference between appearances (the Earth is flat) and reality (the Earth is an oblate spheroid), matters. Does it matter in general or just to your particular Characters.
Here is an article about how NASA tracking our space probes is not finding them where their math says they should be -- but just a bit off from that location. Something is wrong with our theories or our math (what is really going on? Does it matter?)
"A difference which makes no difference is no difference?"
Or is it?
What is really going on with human souls and civilization?
Back in the 1930's a brilliant and diligent effort produced what we call today an info-graphic. It was called a Histomap, was hung in classrooms and sold in book stores for decades.
There is a high-rez version big enough to read all the words (on a big desktop screen) you should read carefully to understand Human Heritage.
There is a printing over 6 ft long (to hang on a wall) for sale on Amazon
Since then, archaeologists have determined different dates for some of the Events pegged to this time-scale, but stand back and absorb the impact of the PATTERN of rise and fall of influence of various civilizations throughout human history on Earth.
Now consider WHY that pattern is there and why it seems to repeat -- OK, raggedly, approximately, only vaguely -- but repeat and repeat with no obvious indication that some sort of "progress" is being made by humanity.
Do civilizations become world influences because of intrinsic moral merit? Or is it just being better warriors? Or is it economics? Or adaptability?
Why do they "fall" or disappear or retreat from being influential. After all, today we have a country called Greece, one called Italy which has a Rome inside it, we have a country called China -- and one tiny spec called Israel.
But Russia and the USA are called the superpowers of our day.
At the same time, our "Western" civilization is hated, resented, and targeted by a younger civilization based on a religion founded around 600 AD, which "rose" and "fell" and is rising again.
What is the connection between Souls, Soul Mates and Civilizations? Or World Superpowers?
Will a Galactic Civilization created by humans of that day repeat this pattern?
If not, will it have any pattern at all?
Will there be a new pattern for the Galaxy?
Do the Aliens previously or currently (whatever definition of TIME you choose for your worldbuilding -- remembering that by theoretical physics there is no such thing as simultaneity -- have a pattern of rising/fall of Galactic Civilizations, and will the impact of Humans on their scene change their pattern?
If so, how will be change that direction or pulsing of History? What part of us will shift something basic in them? (I'll bet on Love, Romance, Bonding of Soul Mates).
We discussed sexuality and "What is Life" in perspective of the newer map of all the stars we know about -- the image Laniakea shows the tiny red dot that is our entire Galaxy, not even visible -- because it is so small. Each of the tiny pixel size dots on that image represents a Galaxy (many larger than ours, and we now know most have black holes at the center).
Study that Histomap graphic, think long and hard about how that infographic reveals the flow of Souls in and out of incarnation, pairing or failing to pair with mates (think Helen of Troy), and consider what it all means in terms of the Finger of God nudging countries, cultures, civilizations.
Note that, contemporary with the timeline in this Histomap, historical summaries of thousands of years of human pre-history/history (technically we call it "history" only after the fall of the Roman Empire, about 1,000 AD) -- in the 1980's scholars considered the hard evidence they had placed the time of Abraham (Patriarch of Judaism) at 2100 BCE and the First Temple in Jerusalem (i.e. King Solomon of the Bible) at 953 BCE.
Note this Histomap does not show Israel. Its influence was huge, as I've noted in various blog entries here, but its geographic area was too tiny and the population total too tiny, to register on a Histomap of this scale. But that tiny population -- taken out in the trackless desert to get the Ten Commandments and build a Tent of Meeting with the Divine -- founded a new Culture.
See Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, for an easy to understand explanation of what "culture" really is.
The Kings of Israel did not go out and conquer Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Macedonia etc etc -- they conquered the tiny slice of land given to the Jews, and no more. There were never many Jews - compared to the rest of the world around them. They traded with far-off places (the blue dye they used, and the spices used in the Temple tell that story), but they weren't known for exports.
One thing they did export was their Culture. Not so much export as maybe "leak" around the edges. And it made many larger nations their enemies, and got them destroyed.
Earth as a whole may be such a microscopic thread in the vast billion-year scale of Galactic History.
If Earth humans have Souls, and our culture(s) may become our only export of note.
Each of the civilizations on that Histomap had a distinct Culture -- today many neopagan communities are reviving worship of these potent forces those civilizations called gods (plural). Egypt had a monotheistic Sun worshiping religion, but the whole of Egypt was never strictly monotheistic.
What is a Soul? Is it just a natural phenomenon? Or does its reality require postulating a supernatural force to Create it?
Answer those questions with a simple, one sentence answer, and you have a Galactic Size Theme.
What do Souls have to do with the rise and fall of Civilizations?
Now, suppose a Soul is contagious -- like a disease you can catch -- and the Galactic Aliens we first encounter do not have Souls.
What if Humans -- and our incessant Love -- infect some Aliens with Souls that proceed to propagate among various Alien species and Star Spanning civilizations.
What if the nice, stable, galaxy Earth first discovers out there becomes as unstable as Earth's history -- setting off a rise/fall/rise repeating pattern just like Earth's pre-history?
What do you suppose their attitude toward humans might become?
What if our Souls "leak" out from wherever we settle to live and infect their civilizations, the way Israel's culture leaked?
Then postulate the Aliens generating something akin to "Christianity" (I don't mean the august Personage -- but the phenomenon of the spark of truth hitting dry kindling and setting off a cultural conflagration). There were and are never many Jews -- but there are billions and billions of Christians and Muslims. Suppose that happens to a Galactic Culture - or alliance of Cultures that have been stable for billions of years, and suddenly grow-and-shrink as our Histomap shows?
Pick the THEME you will use -- an answer to any one of these questions will do the trick -- then build your galactic world with high contrast between Earth and the Aliens.
Contrast is what makes an amorphous mess into a Work Of Art.
Contrast generates Conflict and Conflict is the Essence of Story.
The Story is not happening before the two contrasting elements first meet, and the story is over at the point where the contrast melds into bland oneness. Romance ends at the sound of Wedding Bells, which toll for the beginning of Life.