Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Theme-Story Integration Part 1 - Villain Story Arc

Theme-Story Integration
Part 1
Villain Story Arc
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

This is the opening of a new "walk and chew gum" exercise.

We have "integrated" various combinations of (artificially) separated techniques of the writing craft in a variety of long entries.  The posts titled "Integration" are advanced writing lessons - not about spelling, punctuation, grammar, paragraph structure, etc.  But about how to take the fascinating scenario in your mind and give it to other people, to people you don't know who don't know you.

Recently, on Facebook, P. N. Elrod echoed the core lesson in attitude that a beginning writer must internalize.  My first writing teacher, Alma Hill, put it thusly:


It takes practice to de-personalize and project a tapestry of emotions so that the recipients find within the material something of personal value to them.

Another maxim often quoted, and (writers being writers) elaborately paraphrased, is:


So how does a good person (like you) depict a bad person and make that Character interesting (and plausible) enough to grab a Science Fiction/Fantasy-Romance reader?

The core technique is called STORY ARC.


ARC indicates change along a curve, a changing vector or direction of change.  Vector refers to a resultant (or combination) of direction and momentum (or force).

STORY indicates what is going on inside a Character as the Character becomes aware of, then conquers, an INTERNAL CONFLICT.

THEME is what you have to say, as a writer, about life-the-universe-and-everything.  Why do you want to write this story?  Who do you want to read it?  What do you want them to understand from reading it (that they didn't know before?)

A Villain is not (necessarily) a bad person (human or Alien).

A Villain is a Character whose objectives thwart the Hero from achieving the Hero's objective.  This is the main source of conflict that drives Plot.

We've discussed Theme-Plot Integration at length.


And in various cross-fertilizing combinations:




And we've touched on where Story fits into both Plot and Worldbuilding.


So now let's look at the possibilities revealed by bringing Story to the surface (rather than Plot).

Almost all traditional science fiction has been marketed to (thus written for) teenage boys -- not girls.  Romance has been firmly excluded, and the plot related in narrative without nuances of emotion.

Today, the popularity of Fantasy written for adults has blended Paranormal-Magic-ESP possibilities in world building into the genre, Paranormal Romance.  We see it in Vampire Romance and even Zombie Romance.

Any sort of Alien can be a Romantic Interest, or the Villain thwarting the Romance from crystalizing.  The Science Fiction genre has blended into the Romance genre.

Why do these two distinct genres blend so easily?

Because Science Fiction genre specializes in Plot, while Romance specializes in Story.

Both genre categories have both plot and story -- deciding which label to put on the spine is largely a matter of whether Plot or Story artistically dominates.

Both Plot and Story arcs are driven by Conflict. Plot by External Conflict (Man against Nature or other Men), and Story by Internal Conflict (Man against himself or as his own worst enemy.)

A prominent example of how Plot and Story are separate but blend is the TV Series, NCIS.  It follows the modern cop-drama formula of presenting a full plot-arc each episode with the case to be solved, then counter-currents the plot with the story of what it all means to the investigator team, individually and collectively.

Aggregate the Characters and you have a typical Science Fiction Romance novel.

Most Romance novel conflicts are not between Hero and Villain, but between the couple in the process of uniting, which in the case of TV cop-dramas is the investigative team.

But there is a wild sub-genre dealing with the Bad Boy lover, and of course the arranged marriage to anyone but the actual lover.  And all the variations make endlessly fascinating reading.

One element that often turns people off to anything called Romance is how "Love Conquers All" in one fell swoop, a single emotional-moral-ethical SEE THE LIGHT moment.

It is true such Character "reversals" happen in real life.  If that were not so, there wouldn't be a word to refer to it.  The word exists.  It is "epiphany."

Epiphany usually refers to an encounter with God, one way or another -- a religious experience, or spiritual one.  LSD was famous in the 1960's for revealing new ways of looking at reality.

The existence of a different way of looking at things is the core of all science fiction.  And it is what happens when you fall in love -- you see the exact same world you've always lived in as something very different from what you thought it was.

So, traditionally, we have the term "Black Hearted."

How can a heart be black?

We have the term, "Good Hearted Soul."

How can a Soul have a "heart?"

We call fiction about insanity, heinous crime, and logical reasons for doing unethical things -- turning good guys into bad guys, step by step, "Dark."

We use light and dark to refer to emotions, motives, behavior, choices, religion and ritual.  We term "understanding" as "enlightening."

We use white hats for heroes and black hats for villains - just to be sure the audience knows which is which.

Where does this convention of light/dark come from and how can a Romance writer (working in rainbow hued emotions) use this notion to "arc" the Villain's Character?

We'll look at the potential of Villain's Arc in Part 2.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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