Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Worldbuilding From Reality Part 9 - Conquest In Romance

Worldbuilding From Reality
Part 9
Conquest In Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Previous parts in this series are indexed here:

Every world you build to showcase your story has to include the basic cultural elements anthropologists have identified in human cultures from time immemorial.

That doesn't mean your Aliens have to be Human!

It means you, the writer, has to explain to your reader why your Alien culture lacks this or that element common among humans, and what that absence means.

Spock on Star Trek is the most obvious example, and was created around exactly that formula -- "Human Minus One" -- in his case Emotion.  From that Character, all of Vulcan culture and history was fleshed out.  The necessity for that became obvious when the marvelous one-liner hit the air -- where Spock identifies a Romulan visage as reminiscent of his father.

One of the elements in human cultures has always been Religion -- or some sort of notion about supernatural forces interacting with "real world" elements.

Humans imagine.  If your Aliens have any imagination, they have something that fills the niche of Religion (organized, institutionalized, or not-so-much).

But not every Alien culture has to use (or blame) Religion for sexual behavior.  Not every Alien culture has to integrate Romance and Sexuality.  Sex may be completely irrelevant to Romantic attachment for an Alien.  If so, you have to explain how that happened to a species, and illustrate what it means in relationships with humans.

Alien Romance is a gigantic field that has barely been explored, certainly not mapped, and leaves everything wide open for writers.

There is one rule of writing craftsmanship you must meet, even when exploring Alien Romance with or without sexuality -- your worldbuilding must be internally consistent enough to seem like Reality.

OK, our everyday Reality isn't very consistent, but it does keep reverting to well known norms.  If you're going to create verisimilitude enough to transport readers into an Alien culture that does not have sexual arousal during Romance, you need to keep your worldbuilding rigorously consistent.

Worldbuilding, we have established in other series of posts on this topic, is rooted in a Theme.

Just like Spock delineates the theme of Emotion Is Not Logical in Star Trek, so your Alien delineates the theme of your entire world by what that Alien Culture has that humans do not -- or what the Aliens lack that Humans have.

One variable is all you get to play with in a work of fiction where you are departing from everyday Reality.  Just add or subtract one, and only one, element from the world your readers know, then pursue the way that affects everything that happens in an ordinary, regular Romance genre novel.

Suppose you want to rip a notion from current media headlines, from the media's current narrative, and create an Alien Romance from that topic.

One prominent narrative topic in 2019 is a second wave of challenges to Roe v. Wade and a woman's sovereign control of her body.

I'm pretty sure you can find marriages ending in divorce over this massive philosophical divide.

It is entirely possible that abortion is one, perhaps the only, issue that Love can't Conquer, even though it can Conquer All Else.

I do see our everyday reality as a place where love conquers all, and can even conquer this one, horrendous, topic.  But it is easy to imagine a fictional pair, head over heels into an epic Romance, ripped apart by this one topic.

Does a man have any rights over a fetus he fathered?

Does the Law have any business trying to criminalize any actions for or against abortion?

In the USA, we have the constitutional division of Law and Religion -- we can't make laws governing religion.  But in the 21st Century, that division is becoming blurred.

Take for example, a pregnant woman who is addicted to drugs (some bad stuff - heroine etc.).  What is her legal obligation to the fetus?  To the newborn baby, born addicted, and thus suffering a life-long set of health issues which, very possibly, the State has to pay for?

Where do the mother's rights leave off and the baby's rights begin?

The answers to those questions are THEMES.  Take a stance one way or another, state the theme in one sentence, and select every element of story, plot, character, setting, conflict, etc. to illustrate, explain, or challenge that theme.

Theme is philosophy and religion distilled into a platitude, aphorism, or folk wisdom.

So when you build a world from Reality, you start (whether you know it or not) with a theme, some idea about what Reality is or is-not.

Those who start with the concept of Soul Mates are inherently starting with the concept of Soul as a reality in their built world.

What is a soul?  Where does it come from?  Where does it go?  Can souls die?  Can souls be destroyed?  Or do souls learn?

Each of those questions is a brick you build into your world's edifice whether you know it or not.  We all make assumptions about our everyday Reality, but rarely do we articulate those assumptions.  So your Characters, likewise, may have many assumptions about Souls and how they slip into or out of Manifestation, and have no clue why they believe what they believe, or why they are willing to die for a cause.

There are women who will commit themselves to die trying to give birth, and others that prioritize themselves over an unborn fetus.  Both sorts of women are courageous, heroic, and completely believable to your readership.

In fact, one sort can transform before the reader's eyes into the other sort, and the transformation can be completely plausible.

Many women on one side or the other of this divisive issue hold their position because of Religion -- some from adopting a Religion later in life, others having been raised to certain strict standards of right and wrong.  But today's readerships are maybe more than half atheist, and that half divides pretty much along the same line (risk life to give birth vs. my life is more important than potential life).

So entire philosophies of "Who Am I" questions are woven into the themes you can use to feature a conflict over abortion.

Historically, abortion has been an issue that shatters the mood of romance, but today's readers and writers are gradually exploring Romance that deals directly with spouse-abuse, with rape and incest, and even abortion.

And all of these relationship issues are super-charged by Religion.

People on any side of one of these issues point to Religion to justify their position, while the people on the other side point to Religion to nullify their opponent's position.  Sometimes, they both point to the same Religion.

If you're writing Alien Romance, your aliens might have no regard whatever for an unborn fetus -- or even for an infant less than 5 years old.  Some human cultures don't name a child for a long time after birth.  So Aliens who think like that would be plausible to everyday readers.

In Paranormal Romance, you might have ghosts, demons or angels who actually know what a Soul is, and how decisions implemented during mortal life determine fates in the afterlife.  They might be allowed to tell mortals, or perhaps be prevented from telling.  Plot driving conflicts can arise over the refusal to tell -- or disbelief of what has been told.

So to craft either an Alien to love your human Character, or a Supernatural Being to love your mortal, you need to choose an answer to the questions that define Soul.

Are Souls real?  Does every human have one?  Does your Alien have one?

Are Souls necessary for Romance to happen?

The answers to those questions are THEMES.  You build the answer into your world, and that integration gives rise to your main plot conflict.

Whatever your answer is, there is a Character in your story who takes the opposite stance.  That creates your integrated Theme-Plot-Character structure.


To lure your reader into such an explosive story context and deliver the promised Romance, you need to study up on the World's Religions.  Chances are much of what you think you know comes from news or online articles.  That is necessary information as it tells you what most of your readers think they know -- thus lays out the plot which your conflict will generate.

People act on what they think they know.

Characters can act on what they think they know, but to tell a story, that Character must "arc" -- or learn something the reader didn't know, and begin to act in a distinctly different way.

So study the solidly orthodox, strict, version of several religions, and contrast it with the vastly more popular, more relaxed and accepting version of that religion.  For example, Catholicism vs. Tent Revivalist vs. TV Evangelist.

You might also study the Law, and the history of laws on a particular topic.

It can lead you into many topics, and sorting them out can be difficult.

Themes designed to support a long series of large novels can be "nested" one inside the other, to produce what some call the "braided plot" and possibly use several viewpoint characters.


But to nest themes, they must all relate to a single, overall, or envelope theme.  All the questions you answer have to be about the same topic.

Take "conquest" for example.

A Master Theme might be, "My Way Or The Highway"

Sub-themes could be answers to such questions as "Who Am I?" "How Does A Human Choose A Way?" "Do Humans Get A Choice?" "Is Running Away From Home Better Than Running Toward A Goal?"

Each of those sub-theme areas could split and split again to eventually come down to something small enough to fit into a single novel.  Together, they could make a series or a life's work.

Philosophy behind novel themes can be very abstract, and start with things about the notion of a God who is the Creator of the Universe, the master architect.  Does the Divine force take a personal interest in individual humans?  Is that different from interactions with Aliens?

Would a Ghost be able to hold direct dialogue with the Creator of the Universe?  And then tell a human?  Or perhaps a fetus?

Would a Creator still have any power over the Creation?  Note how the Bible's story of the Tower of Babel shows without telling what happens when the Creation challenges the Creator.  What if the Creator hadn't been so gentle in Conquest as to just mess up the ability to communicate?

Some answers to these questions in the context of Romance Genre will inevitably lead to all the issues of human sexual relationships, and thus to how human law attempts to codify morality.

But what about Divine Law?

The Hellenistic Greek gods didn't lay down laws that they, themselves, abided by.  They operated, like the Roman gods after them, basically on whim, and under the thumb of the biggest bully god.

Humans developed Law as a concept, but only very gradually, over many generations.  What if your Aliens don't have the concept of Law, as Star Trek's Vulcans don't have emotion?'

Not all of modern Earth lives under the Judeo-Christian concept of a Creator who has told us His Laws (10 Commandments, 7 Noachide Laws, or 613 Commandments).

The 10 Commandments and the whole set of 613 Commandments given in the Old Testament are considered to apply only to Jews, while the 7 Laws given to Noah apply to all humans.

But overall, the concept is a Divine Creator explaining how Creation works to his Creatures.  And it is a contract. If humans do this, then the Divine will do that.  Our deeds don't cause the Creator to act.  The Creator's word of honor on the Contract is the cause of the consequences of our actions.

Our real world is currently built on the aspiration to make Laws that fill in the outline given to us by the Divine.

Even atheists agree that most of those boundaries around human behavior make for civilization to function to the advantage of most (if not all).  

The USA is founded on the idea that government can't infringe on personal sovereignty.  Each human is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (though there was a big argument over happiness or merely the pursuit thereof.)

Most of the Founders who framed the legal structure of the USA were Christian, and some were Christian mystics.  A lot of their subconscious assumptions became infused into that legal structure.  When they separated Church and State, they were thinking mostly of  various Christian churches, not freedom from Religion, not valuing pagan religions the same as Christian ones, and certainly not accepting the Jewish way of looking at the world.

But today, the USA is a dynamic and creative wellspring mostly because all these varieties of belief systems co-exist, interact, and even conflict.  Our differences are our greatest strength.

Yet, today's politics seem bent on conquest, not co-existence.

The political lines are being drawn as Men vs. Women, with sovereignty over the physical body at stake.

Does the father of your child have the legal right to force you to risk your life giving birth to his child?  What if your husband raped you?  In some religions that's not possible.  But civilization could stand or fall on that exact issue.

When does a woman have a right to an abortion?  When is a woman required to have an abortion?

Can human law be crafted (and enforced) to govern these decisions?  And if so, then what happens when men go to war over women?

Could the Gender War be settled by Conquest -- of either side over the other?

Are any of these questions even relevant to what is really going on with the US Supreme Court deliberations on Roe v. Wade?  I'm sure they're deliberating whether to take this or that case that would challenge the precedent.  If you're writing futuristic romance, you have to guess whether, in your built future world, Roe v. Wade still stands, and if not, what replaces it?

Here is an article that may give you some ideas of where Roe v. Wade is most vulnerable to being modified, or where the 2019 States attempt to craft anti-abortion legislation at the state level might be stopped by the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Religion is baked into our legal system, and most people think that all Religion is inherently anti-abortion.  Many Christian sub-divisions hold that no matter what (rape, incest, dire health collapse of the mother), no pregnancy may be terminated voluntarily.  So most people, even atheists, think that the only issue Religious people have with abortion is to prevent women from having abortion.

If you are pro-choice, you therefore must be anti-Religion.

That is the unconscious assumption.

However, the opposite is the case.

In Judaism, there are circumstances where a woman is required to get an abortion.

Yeah, who would think it?  But an adult woman, especially one with other children to raise, is absolutely not permitted to continue a life-threatening abortion.  Beyond that, different Rabbinic authorities hold that some other circumstances (such as psychological issues), may also dictate the necessity of an abortion.  Nobody can force a woman, no matter the risk, to have an abortion -- but sometimes, to comply with the Creator's Will, she must choose to do so.  A person who commits suicide is governed by the same laws that pertain to one who is a murderer.  Suicide is considered self-murder, and continuing a truly dangerous pregnancy would be suicidal.

Some of the current State laws being tried out would prohibit the practice of this religious requirement to save one's own life.

Here are two articles - one on the legal implications of abortion, and one on suicide.  Put them together and generate a lot of themes.



Another Jewish view holds that the Soul descends into the unborn fetus gradually, and over time.  That line of thought also holds that the Soul continues to descend after birth, as the body develops all the way to sexual maturity (12 or 13 years).  Does the degree of presence of a Soul have anything to do with the choice of abortion?

What about robots, A. I., will Souls descend to inhabit machine intelligence?

As a writer, consider the incredibly dramatic irony of these opposing views:
Religion requires abortion vs. Religion prohibits abortion.

Right now, this Earth is not in imminent danger of running out of humans. Other species are endangered, so it could come to us very soon.  Or colonies on other planets would place a much higher value on new children.  Artificial wombs will solve a lot of this problem, but will such children acquire souls?

Also note the birthrate in the USA has slacked off to where some official notice is being taken -- perhaps it's time to worry?

Nothing shatters the mood of a Romance novel like murder, death, blood sprayed on the walls, rape, abusive beating -- all the ugliness that goes on in our everyday reality.  Yet, writers are artists who love a challenge.

Can you build a world where one side or the other triumphs in conquest of the other side in these Religion vs. Politics debates?

Can you build an alien civilization where a refugee from the shattered Earth can find Romance and safety?

If you build your world out of unrelated bits, a hodgepodge patchwork world, it won't be a work of Art and will not communicate your theme clearly.

So try starting with your true, most deeply held, belief about Life and Souls.  Weave a powerful Romance, and drive the Characters to an accidental pregnancy.  Will Romance turn to Love and Conquer even this immense problem?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. The third season of THE HANDMAID'S TALE includes an episode that vividly demonstrates ("showing" in the most heart-wrenching way, by spending most of the hour in a hospital intensive care room) the Republic of Gilead's valuation of children above all else, when a brain-dead Handmaid's body is kept alive by extreme measures until her unborn baby can be delivered. This guiding principle that has shaped all aspects of Gilead's theocracy came about because the vast majority of people have become infertile, and many babies that are born suffer from deformities. So the procreation of healthy infants supersedes all other values.