Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 11 - Arranging Marriages

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 11
Arranging Marriages

Previous posts in this series for advanced writers on blending individual techniques so readers never notice you did anything are:


The previous entry in this series of posts is about How To Marry A Billionaire.  It used to be "millionaire" - but, inflation, you know.

The symbolism of "rich" is desirable not just for looks, but prowess.  The self-made billionaire is sexy because he/she can provide for children and ease the burden of motherhood with maidservants etc.

Considering what happens when a billionaire comes into the spotlight of the media, do you really want to be the spouse of such a hot property?


Check out this series of posts on symbolism:


The billionaire is the one-step-solution to all life's problems rolled up into one symbol - being rich.  Likewise the Duke, the King, the Prince -- all the royal titles or heirs to such titles come with the implication of rich, and an easy life.

But novels are not about living EASY.  Easy is what happens after the novel is over - (or the series) - in the HEA part of existence.  To get to the HEA, you gotta suffer!  And you have to work for that ending, really work, searcher your soul, change your habits.  (My Fair Lady!)

So to marry your Soul Mate, you have to know your own Soul.

Generally, readers (in any genre) don't buy a book to learn how to search their own Soul, but will remember a book that illustrated (in show don't tell) how to determine what you really want in life.  You only know you got the right answer decades later, when having what you want has gone on-and-on until it becomes the norm.

Novels can happen at the point where that norm is threatened, and the Characters must question whether they made good choices as children.  Most often, those characters, slogging through those confrontations, are ancillary characters, supporting players (not spear carriers or red-shirts).

So here we'll study how the World you build shows (without telling) how to determine what you really want in Life.

I suggest you watch 2 TV Series, one on Netflix and one on Amazon Prime, imported TV Series with English subtitles (that aren't always accurate).

1. Srugim on Amazon Prime

2. Shtisel on Netflix

If they aren't there when you read this, Google around a bit.  They are popular for a reason.  But companies are playing games of keep-away against viewers these days.

We discussed Srugim here

The world it is set in might as well be another planet full of people who aren't quite comprehensible to normal humans.  They march to a different drummer.

In Srugim, the Characters in the drama are all young people searching for a true mate, and over the course of 3 seasons, most of them settle down.

In Shtisel (the word is a family name), we see a whole family with grandparents, retirement age parents, and adult children with young children approaching marriageable age.

It is a family drama set in a world most viewers have to learn as they go, but since it is not an American made series, it assumes the viewer knows things Americans probably don't know (or think they know the opposite).

Shtisel has been hailed as a breaker of stereotypes, and as such is worth studying carefully -- because writers of Science Fiction/Paranormal Romance are breaking stereotypes.  Most of the blow-back against the HEA ending is coming from that source -- people are comfortable inside their "world" composed of stereotypes, and find it painful when you break them.

The Theme of Shtisel might be stated thusly:

A) Ancestry Matters
B)  To maintain coherence, a family must change with the World they live in.
C) No family can survive in a changing world.
D) Religion doesn't help anyone understand the World around them.

It's unclear which theme would be more descriptive, and that lack of clarity is the problem with this TV Series.  At the same time, the lack of clarity in the theme is what makes this TV Series about the role of Romance in Marriage worth studying for all writers -- most especially Romance sub-genre writers.

The plots of the episodes turn on marriages broken (widowhood, abandonment, divorce), and marriages made or mended.  The only solid, continuing marriage is almost completely off-stage.  The episodes are set in Jerusalem, and the successful religiously solid couple lives in Tel Aviv and has adopted different practices from their ancestors.

The Tel Aviv couple's only interaction with the main story line is to invite the (stubborn, reluctant) grandfather to come teach Judaism to their children who are learning a different tradition.  It's a little like Catholics vs. Protestants, but not really the same thing.

So one stray, modernized, couple mends estrangement from ancestors -- but that whole story line is barely mentioned.

The main plots turn on a young Rabbi with a nice teaching position in a primary school environment where his father has taught, and eventually becomes Principle.  But the young Rabbi wants to be an artist and paint portraits, thus estranging himself from his entire family.

A daughter of the Rabbi's father is married with 4 then 5 children, is abandoned by her husband, but keeps that quiet, lies about it, and supports her family by herself, by taking over the (somewhat illicit) currency-exchanging business of an old widow in the same Care Facility as the grandmother of the young artist-Rabbi.  Her lies are rewarded when her strayed husband comes home, and she takes the advice of another Rabbi to not-know too much about what happened.

Another brother with a marriageable daughter comes back from Europe looking for a husband for his daughter, and thus a Matchmaker (time-honored profession) is brought on stage.

We follow several attempts to match a couple in the ultra-orthodox way that is still rather successful in these modern times.

All the while that meetings are being arranged for possible young couples, we see all the men involved sitting over books, studying Torah and Talmud on the adult level, as we see the elementary school students being introduced to the material.

This is their World, framed by ancient laws of how to behave gently and forgivingly to other people.  These are the Characters - members of a family with a lot in common, and even more in divergent interests and standards of behavior.  And that is the Plot -- get married, already!  All of the Themes suggested above surface many times, but none of the themes actually crystalize.

The reason the Themes in the TV Series Shtisel don't sizzle off the screen with vivid portraits illustrating how to decide what you want out of Life, which mate is right for you, what sort of destiny you want to guide your family toward, is not a flaw in what is there on your TV Screen.

The reason the Themes of Shtisel don't crystalize properly is what is missing from that TV Screen.

That missing material is what we'll focus on here, despite all the other elements worth delving into.

The element missing from your TV screen is one that can be crafted very smoothly in a novel, printed text, but is commercially impossible (so far) in a TV Series.

You'd have to break a stereotype to get the fully realized THEME that belongs to the TV Series Shtisel (and even to Srugim) onto public TV Screens.

You'd have to SHOW DON'T TELL how the Hand of God moves the real world, in everyday reality.  In other words, you'd have to convince your readers that their world actually does have the potential to deliver to them a Happily Ever After ending for their lives, an ending that leaves an indelible legacy stretching back to the Beginning, the family of humanity.

The stereotype that lulls people into security is the portrayal of every person who understands God as a real, close, present force in this World is just deluded into superstition.

The production company behind Srugim and Shtisel, "YES" is their English name, probably couldn't get that kind of disruptive stereotype-breaking show on the air, and I'm not sure if anyone on their staff actually understands the HEA or Soul Mates as a concept.  I don't think they know what a Matchmaker really is -- at least not from the Character portrayed in Shtisel.

But if they could, if Shtisel were a Romance Novel (and it has all the makings of hot-stuff Romance), what could they add that isn't on the screen now?  What could draw that show-don't-tell image of how to recognize what you really want in life -- at first glance.

The principle behind the Matchmaker concept is that such an individual is very close to God, very much an instrument of the Creator of the Universe, and is given prophetic insight beyond the simple facts about a person's ancestry and temperament.

Matchmakng is a divine profession.

But it only works if the young people behind matched are enough in tune with their Creator, enough attuned to their own Souls, to be open on the highest wavelengths, and able to recognize their Soul Mate and fall in love at first sight.

The young, matched, couple only gets two or three brief meetings in a public setting to determine whether to marry.  It has to be love at first sight, and that's not a quality of the person you are looking at, but rather a quality of yourself.

So, given this TV Series is about the arranged marriage, thematically it lacks the dimension of an explanation of how and why matchmaking works, and what could prevent it from working.

Conflict is the essence of story.

Conflict means there is a goal, a reason to reach the goal, and an obstacle to prevent reaching that goal.  The conflict is between the goal-directed person and the obstacle.

Shtisel has that conflict laid out nicely.  The Characters have internal conflicts that are projected into their lives, reflected in the other Characters.

But the plot never addresses the reason why the obstacle is there, or the methods of removing or surmounting the obstacle.

The thematic element completely missing from this TV Series is the content of the material we see everyone studying.

Because we are not given the content of what is being learned, we can't notice how or whether the behaviors and events in the family's daily life illustrate that wisdom contained in that content.  If the content were added, though, the writers would have had to add a Character and change the character (and eventual fate) of the Matchmaker, then play the two off against each other to illustrate the dynamics driving the religious lifestyle.

One thing the American audience might miss because it's not mentioned in the series, is that there are specific pages of specific books assigned to be learned on specific days.

Because it is a set calendar, if the content were specified, it would date the show, and that might prevent it from surviving enough years to earn back its investment.

However, because it is a set bit to be learned, what does happen in real life, too often to be mere coincidence, the content of that assigned page to be learned does manifest in surrounding Reality.

It is just plain spooky how often that happens.  It happens so often that when it doesn't happen, someone who pays attention to correlations knows that they've missed something.  It happened, but you just didn't see it.

So the characterization of the TV Characters is just plain "off" somehow.  Several of them are Rabbis, and the rest learn and pray routinely.  But they don't understand their World in terms of those assigned readings.

What little is revealed of the content is contrived to sound boring and irrelevant (when in fact it is not).  With one exception, each Character who is studying from a book gets interrupted and just ignores what they're reading as if the interruption is more interesting and compelling than the material.  The exception is a very mentally disturbed young man no one in the audience wants to become.  (he gets saved by the woman who falls in love with him)

The stereotype the series did not break is how for normal people, Talmud is boring to learn, and religion is an irrelevant waste of time that just keeps you from having fun in life, or a refuge for the unbalanced.  Religion can't be the key for understanding what's really happening in the real world.

The stereotype the series did break is how helpless and illiterate the women of arranged marriages are.

All of the women Characters in Shtisel read, learn, and think for themselves.  They are dynamic businesswomen, faithful employees with skills and talents, adventurous and indomitable -- just like real people.

These women who have chosen husbands who were suggested to them by a Matchmaker are not helpless victims of an outmoded system.  They are the backbone of the family heritage.  They matter.  They count.  They make their own decisions and carry them out vigorously.  And sometimes they choose a husband who was not selected by the matchmaker!  Sometimes that works out very well.

So, dig up this TV Series, Shtisel -- and the other I've discussed, Srugim.  You will visit an alien world, and learn how to create a Romance with an Alien that will put your Characters on a glide-path to their own, individualized, Happily Ever After ending.

Really - having a blast watching TV is not wasting time.  To be the writer you were born to be, you have to understand why this TV Series, Shtisel, couldn't live up to its potential.  Use that knowledge to build the world your Romance Novel needs.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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