Is The HEA Balderdash?
Previous parts in Soul Mates and the HEA are indexed at:
That index also contains links to posts discussing the HEA in the context of other subjects we've tackled here.
Today, let's look at some real-world views of the mystical element we call Soul. Previously, we usually approach "Soul" as a binary proposition - either Souls are "real" in your built world, or there is no such thing as "Soul" in your built world.
In other words, as with entering a video game, you choose this or that trait, and throughout the game, stick with that choice.
But as we've noted, the readership most hungry for the payload a good Romance delivers, the HEA, is the very readership that thinks the HEA is balderdash, and thus the whole Romance genre is just balderdash.
I was in a casual discussion the other day with 3 men who were fans of the action-superhero-films, and devotees of Game of Thrones.
The shared, main complaint of this non-Romance reading audience was simple -- how come there is so little dialogue in action-superhero films?
One thought it was because dialogue is only exposition -- that's not the reason as you know if you've followed all the posts here on Tuesdays.
The reason that, over the last 15 years or so, the amount of screen time allocated to dialogue has steeply declined is simply that to afford the spiffy special effects, the film must hit it big in the non-USA market. As someone on Twitter noted recently, you can't read subtitles while watching an action-film and enjoy the action.
Romance's "action" (plot-movement, change of situation, and character arc) all happens in words-spoken, in dialogue, and mostly in sub-text (dialogue that carries meaning other than what the dictionary says the words mean).
That's why we have a few heroic films like ROMANCING THE STONE,
So there is a growing audience for the simple Romance where the guy gets the girl, and that's it.
To enjoy an action-romance film, the audience does not have to accept the HEA as either goal or distant possibility.
But the payload the disillusioned, cynical audience wants is the HEA-made-REAL.
We have discussed Believing In The Happily Ever After, and those posts are indexed here:
Each subset of the audience is looking for their own, unique, convincing premise to let them revel in the reality of a Happily Ever After lifetime.
With more and more people living to and beyond 100 years, ...
...today's writer has so much more material to work with, to illustrate what happiness in marriage is, and how things work out in the long-long run.
"Ever After" is not about your 30's or 40's -- it might be about your 80's but more likely you won't understand "Happily" at all until after 100.
Now why is that? And what good is happiness if you don't understand you have it until you're about gone?
The concept of the HEA is built on the concept of Soul Mates, which can't exist unless you postulate Souls plus some sort of structure for the Soul.
"Mate" implies that all souls have something missing that can be supplied by the opposite-number, the mate, like a key in a lock, two parts that make a whole.
So already you see in your world building process that postulating A Soul is not enough to drive a Romance. You have to create some sort of structure from your amorphous Soul.
Luckily, many mystics through all human existence have come up with many theories of what a human is, and what part of us distinguishes us from animals.
Most pet owners are convinced their animal has a Soul - or whatever awareness it is that humans have of Self.
This theory is part of the theory of Soul-structure you find in Jewish Mysticism. Animals have Souls, yes, but the structure of the animal's soul is different, simpler, than the structure of the human soul.
In Jewish Mysticism, the human body all by itself has a Soul, the animal Soul, absolutely essential for a human to live and with the goal of staying alive, but we also have a G-dly Soul, with the goal of reconnecting with the Source of all Soul.
So humans are bifurcate creatures? Mysticism goes on to theorize five distinct levels of our non-material (no length, no breadth, no depth, no mass, can't be detected by physical existence) structure, and our Souls exist on each of these 5 levels. Each level of Soul has a name.
Here's an article that sets this out with extreme simplicity.
As a writer building a world, you might not want to copy any particular, existing, mystical system. Your Aliens might believe in some other system (which might be true for them, if not for humans).
But here is a quote to study from the article What Is A Soul Neshama.
But it is the human soul that is both the most complex and the most lofty of souls. Our sages have said: "She is called by five names: Nefesh (soul), Ruach (spirit), Neshamah (breath), Chayah (life) and Yechidah (singularity)."2 The Chassidic masters explain that the soul's five "names" actually describe five levels or dimensions of the soul. Nefesh is the soul as the engine of physical life. Ruach is the emotional self and "personality." Neshamah is the intellectual self. Chayah is the supra-rational self—the seat of will, desire, commitment and faith. Yechidah connotes the essence of the soul—its unity with its source, the singular essence of G‑d. For the essence of the soul of man is "literally a part of G‑d above"3--a piece of G‑d in us, so to speak.
So you see, merely establishing whether Soul is real in your built world may not give you the plot that derives from that theme. Plot requires conflict, but mere eternal conflict isn't a Plot -- plots have structure, just like Souls, and the plot's structure demands a beginning, a middle, and an END.
Souls, we know by definition, are "eternal" and thus don't "end."
The Happily Ever After "ending" can't be an "ending" at all since it is FOREVER by definition. Ever-after = forever.
Here's a question to answer to generate a theme.
As we've noted in previous posts, the mystical theory is that Souls enter manifestation through the dimension of Time.
As I said above, the reason science can't design an experiment to identify a "Soul" and thus prove or disprove the structure of the universe, is that Souls as described in mystical thought, have no height, depth, width, or mass.
However, mystical thought postulates that Souls enter manifestation through the dimension of Time, which means Souls Exist.
In this system, we know that G-d does not exist, since "exist" means ride along the timeline one moment after another, subject to the laws of Time. The concept G-d includes the postulate that this primal Cause is not subject to anything, least of all the created universe.
G-d creates Time, from outside it. This is a notion that is very hard for a creature subject to Time, counting the years to 120, too conceptualize. Nothing is exempt from Time. Well, yes, exactly - no thing.
This is a fundamental axiom in the Visualization of the Cosmic All used by many people to make decisions, even about what to have for dinner.
It is worth pondering just how abstract, how fundamental, these axioms are because when you build your artificial world, you must depict everything and everyone (human and Alien) in a way that is consistent with your most abstract axiom.
Conflict arises to drive plots when two Characters in your built world disagree about their axioms. What is an axiom to some is a mere postulate to another, subject to disproof. Wars have been fought over this - and in fact, are being fought right now over such notions.
You can create a Fantasy world, or an alternate-reality, using the Souls notion, and the different ideas about the structure of the Soul.
But once you have included Soul, and defined it with its structure -- not in your narrative or exposition but just in your worldbuilding so you can keep your world consistent, weaving an aura of verisimilitude for your readers, -- then you can create Soul Mates.
If Souls have no structure in your world, there would be no mates, and no conflict. Each individual would be sovereign and in isolation, unable to Bond with others, and therefore unable to conflict.
Souls created for high drama will be dynamic, learning, growing, changing, both continuously and in leaps-and-bounds, discontinuously. (like real people).
So once you've included Soul in your world building, you give your Souls a structure that allows for "mating" and a part that drives the Character to find a mate, allows a Character to identify a Mate, then you have a Theme and Plot-Worldbuilding integrated set of postulates.
Now, if you can get your skeptical reader to suspend disbelief and empathize with a Character for whom Soul is an axiom, you can tackle the next part of "Happily Ever After" that your reader has problems with.
Most people who reject the fictional worlds with a thematic structure that allows for an HEA, do so because the HEA itself is an idiotic notion.
and a specific definition of Happiness.
Some readers reject the HEA as realistic because they don't know anyone who has lived it, or found it, or even heard of someone who is persistently happy.
In fact, the absence of real-life examples of an HEA couple is the biggest stumbling block. Only children, teens who haven't lived long enough to observe the real-life absence of happiness or ever-after-to-a-hundred-years, actually believe in the HEA -- in "if I could just find my Soul Mate all my problems would be solved and I'd be happy."
Many cynics choke on the definition of happy. The lifestyle depicted in many novels, the hopes and dreams as stated by the young and inexperienced, would be unendurably boring.
Well, yes, by definition it's all over, no conflict, no giant projects, no Cause To Die For. What an empty, boring life.
Would you be happy if you never had to wash another dish? Ironing. Mending. Planting, reaping, washing, churning butter -- we used to work so hard, and one by one these daily chores have been lifted off our tired backs. But are we happy? No, now it's carpooling, PTA meetings, office work, ever-available-by-cell-phone. We are not happy doing nothing. And we're not happy having nothing to complain about.
So what is happiness? You can't craft an HEA without a working definition of happiness, but your Characters may "arc," may start out the novel with one definition and travel a curved trajectory through the plot to end up with another.
Readers who can't abide the concept of Soul often also have no concrete definition of happiness. To convince such readers to enjoy suspending disbelief, the writer has to supply both, or risk the novel being labeled balderdash.
The same mystical source that defines the Soul as structured into 5 levels, also solves the problem of why, in our everyday existence, we can't nail down a definition of happiness.
We know it when we feel it, but it is always an emotion that just evaporates on impact with the next life challenge.
Romance is an interval (a Neptune transit to your natal chart) when Neptune casts a glamour over the world, blurs the rough edges, and softens the impact of events. People remember it as the happiest time of life, but it is a defined interval, not "ever after."
The honeymoon will inevitably end, and reality come crashing in.
OK, so when building your world to exemplify a theme having to do with the HEA, how do you define happiness?
Neuroscience is pursuing this, taking interesting photos of the brain's circuitry. But is "happiness" just the stimulation of the pleasure centers?
Many reject the HEA simply because "ever after" implies unchanging, and thus, as noted above, boring.
Humans crave change. We play videogames and keep score because we need to do better each time, we need to count how many times, and change things.
The mental condition dictated by brain development during the college years is the unstoppable urge to "change the world" because it's all wrong, it's not new and modern, and we have to make those old people change.
To that developmental stage, all change is good, whether it is an improvement or not.
You can't have human happiness unless there's change, which means happiness can't be "ever after." Eternal happiness would be hell.
It is obviously not a property of the physical, human (primate) body which has a pleasure center in the brain, but gets addicted, or goes stark-raving-nuts if that pleasure center is CONSTANTLY STIMULATED.
So happiness is not necessarily pleasurable, at least not to the body.
Note again the linkage between Soul Mates and the HEA is what this series of posts explores. And we have come to a nexus where the two must connect.
That connecting nexus is the definition of happiness.
Perhaps "happiness" is not a phenomenon of the physical body, but rather a phenomenon of the Soul?
Because Soul is eternal, and only part of the complex structure of the Soul is subject to Time, true happiness, once achieved, is by definition eternal, or "ever after."
Once you've got it, you can't not-have-it.
The definition of happiness may contain the notion of eternity.
Now consider the bifurcate structure of the Soul discussed in the article quoted above,
The Chassidic masters speak of two distinct souls that vitalize the human being: an "Animal Soul" and a "G‑dly Soul." The Animal Soul is driven by the quest for self-preservation and self-enhancement; in this, it resembles the soul and self of all other creations. But we also possess a G‑dly Soul"--a soul driven by the desire to reconnect with its Source. Our lives are the story of the contest and interplay between these two souls, as we struggle to balance and reconcile our physical needs and desires with our spiritual aspirations, our self-focused drives with our altruistic yearnings. These two souls, however, do not reside "side-by-side" within the body; rather, the G‑dly Soul is enclothed within the Animal Soul—just as the Animal Soul is enclothed within the body. This means that the Animal Soul, too, is vitalized by the "part of G‑d above" at its core. Ostensibly, the two souls are in conflict with each other, but in essence they are compatible.4
Suppose we can't figure out "what" happiness is because happiness is a state, or experience, or property of the "G-dly Soul." Experiencing happiness, the G-dly Soul within the Animal Soul induces a vibrational response in the Animal Soul. And that response is all we have to examine.
We are trying to figure out what happiness is, when all we have to examine is the effect of happiness.
The G-dly Soul fused to the Animal Soul is the source, and it is the G-dly Soul's experience that causes the Animal Soul to feel happiness.
A soul is not just the engine of life; it also embodies the why of a thing's existence, its meaning and purpose.
Maybe happiness is the achieving the G-dly Soul's meaning and purpose, the reason that unique individual was crested.
Or maybe it isn't having achieved that creates true happiness, but the score, the tally, we rack up along the way, like in a video game or any other engrossing, immersive, enthralling endeavor.
This image of the Soul's Quest being an "ever after" dynamic, ever-changing yet perpetual happy experience is presented in an article here:
The article provides a useful notion for plotters:
All the souls of these generations have been here before. And they come with their baggage—both good and not so good.
But there is a distinction:
The good the soul has collected is eternal. It can never be uprooted, it can never fade away, for it is G‑dly, and G‑d does not change.
But the bad is not a thing of substance. It is an emptiness, a vacancy of light. As the soul makes its journey, through trials and travails, through growth and renewal, that darkness falls away, never to return.
Know yourself only as you are here in this life, and the challenges of our times are beyond perseverance.
Tap into the reservoir of your soul from the past, and find there the unimaginable powers of millennia.
---------end quote ------
Think about that. GOOD is eternal. BAD is dispatched, never to return.
That is score-keeping, that is measurable progress, that is what humans are designed to become engrossed within.
We wash one dish, set it in the drainer, and wash another, and keep score by how full the drainer is.
Or today we load the dishwasher, wait for it to cycle, take the dry dishes out and put in the rest of the pots and pans waiting on the counter. Little by little, the kitchen comes into order, ready for the next meal.
The futility of all that stems from the lack of a COUNTER on the wall, to count the number of meals served vs the number that must be served, so we can see progress toward a goal.
We do it in stitching quilts, each stitch permanent vanquishing of scattered bits of cloth, and the progress toward a coherent pattern.
Happiness for humans is scoring progress toward the G-dly Soul's objective, a score kept by the Animal Soul, and a celebration, a high-five, between the two.
Every good deed, every bit of goodness our Souls have brought into the world over many lifetimes is progress, measurable progress toward the goal because Goodness is permanent while the bad is ephemeral.
So all the good you did in previous incarnations is part of your score in this incarnation. And what you do now, will be part of your score next time.
Racking up that score, continuing to increase it, to do good deeds every day, is happiness. You can increase your score by teaming with your Soul Mate, raising kids, working toward good causes, helping the helpless, or serving the meals every day, keeping bodies alive.
That is one usable theory that generates whole bundles of themes. The HEA is not about achieving a static state, but rather is about achieving the dynamic state of increasing the good in the world.
See if you can come up with a system of axioms and postulates - say for your Aliens to live by - that has the ring of verisimilitude this one does.
By using different definitions of "good" you can generate lots of themes, and many Characters in conflict with each other -- none of whom are villains! Everyone is increasing what they consider good in the world -- they just disagree on what is good!
But before you launch that conflict, be sure you have a resolution of it in mind. "Good" may be as difficult to define for the modern reader as "happiness" is -- and Soul, and ever-after.
Both plotters and pantsers ...
...can use the method of knowing the resolution to the conflict before starting to write the novel. As you write, using either crafting style, you will find that the resolution point itself may shift, change, and morph, requiring lots of rewriting. Both styles require you to stop writing when the conflict has been resolved.
Consider that if happiness is, by definition, a property of the G-dly Soul, then "mate" is likely also a property of the G-dly Soul.
Possibly, the Animal Soul's experience of cementing the Soul Mate bond is by sharing the G-dly Soul's happiness.
Now, if the reader's axiom is that there is no Soul, and thus no bifurcation into G-dly Soul and Animal Soul, and no structure of G-dly and Animal souls which could mate with another such bifurcate soul, then all of this is balderdash.
Your job, as a writer, is to make these notions real, tangible and immanent. The best way to do that in fiction is to use symbolism.