Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Mysteries of Pacing Part 6 - How To Change A Character's Mind

Mysteries of Pacing
Part 6
How To Change A Character's Mind
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Previous parts in this series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 - where we discussed the TV Series Outlander

Part 4 Story Pacing

Part 5 How Fast Can A Character Arc?

One of the top five glaring errors that beginning writers make in crafting a novel is to start it in the wrong place.  The usual mistake is to start the opening scene after the actual end of the novel.

How can that be?

The newest writers open the first scene with the Main Character already having learned the lesson the novel's plot events teach.

Remember, we established previously, that one reason readers read novels is page-one, the narrative hook.

On Page One, the main Character does something (Save the Cat!) that endears the Character to the reader, and at the same time lures the reader to see, "Oh, has that one got a lesson to learn!"

We read to watch Characters learn their lesson, -- both lessons we have learned (to validate our own understanding of the world), and lessons we have yet to face (to glimpse our future and reinforce our courage to face it heroically.)

If the Main Character has already learned the lesson contained in the Plot's challenges, the Main Character can not "arc" (or change in response to the blows the plot delivers.)  The Character's Arc is the story.

As discussed previously, there are two moving parts to a novel that have to be "paced" -- or move in a way that
a) keeps the reader enthralled, and
b) convey an element of verisimilitude.

Those tandem elements (called by different names by different writing teachers and editors) are Plot and Story.  All agree that there are two elements, and that they must work together.

Like two horses hitched to a wagon, they must move in concert, and render the most impressive, smooth ride when trained to keep to the same rhythm in the same direction.

Imagine one horse goes one way, the other charges off in the opposite direction, the wagon tree and tackle break, the wagon overturns.  That overturned wagon is a symbol for the rejection letter.

Here, I use "Plot" to mean the sequence of external events, what happens next, or what I call "the because line."  I use "Story" to mean the assessment of "Life, The Universe and Everything" which motivates the Main Viewpoint Character.

The plot is driven by the External Conflict 
Joanne vs Government.

The story is driven by the Internal Conflict
Joanne vs. "Go Along To Get Along"

This year, rumors are resurfacing that the US Government has possession of the wreckage of a UFO.  It hasn't been identified, so you can't say it's the ship of  alien from outer space or an experiment of some other Government on Earth.  There has been nothing about there being the remains of an occupant.

Since distrust of government and media is so very high, right now, it is very easy to believe Government has been lying about UFOs.

Another reason to disbelieve all government denials of the UFO rumors is that telescopes, orbital observatories, etc are mapping the galaxies around us and identifying many planets.  A few decades ago, mathematicians "proved" planetary systems around stars had to be so rare that our solar system might be the only one.

Also a few decades ago, the argument against the UFO rumors included scientific (mathematical) proof that even if some stars had planets, there just couldn't be many in the kind of "life zone" that Earth is in -- liquid water, etc..

Well, now math and astrophysics has produced evidence that there are many stars with planets - in fact, it's common.  Some of the stars not very different from our Sun even have planets in the "life zone" -- often too large or too small, but there are a lot we have detected so the "facts" have changed.

Here is a video - running a bit over an hour - about defining the core essence of a human.  What makes us human? What distinguishes us from animals?  This video suggests how we could identify Aliens who should be treated as we treat human beings (poor Aliens!).


The fellow in the video seems to me to be widely read in Science Fiction and understands how science fiction writers think.

What is your "mind" and how do you "make it up?"

If the facts change, does your Main Character change her mind?

We like to believe that sane people change their mind when presented with new facts.

We like to identify with characters who are sane, level headed, goal directed, and resilient.  Characters who can say, "Oh, I was wrong about that."

But the thing is humans discard ideas and attitudes readily only when they are not rooted in belief.

Just as plot and story are yoked in tandem, 
so are thinking and belief.  

Plot and Story pull the wagon of the novel.  Thinking and Belief pull the wagon of the Character Motivations.

In structuring your Characters, you as the writer must know not just what your Characters think, but what they believe, and how they came to believe it.

How the Characters came to believe it (the backstory) is important in Science Fiction Romance because there is a human tendency to believe in science.

You find both kind of humans - the born skeptic and the born believer - in the world of computer science.

The current push to recruit women into "STEM" majors will scoop up more and more of the True Believer mentality type (which type has hitherto been diverted).  Meanwhile, the social trend toward Secularism will predispose the True Believer type of human to "believe in" Science instead of Mysticism, God, Magic.

You can change a scientist's mind with a new peer-reviewed paper contradicting what the scientist was taught in school.

But you can't change a True Believer's mind with ONE simple declaration of a contradictory fact.

Could this be the definition of "human?"  Could the ability to cling to Belief despite facts be what we must identify in life on other planets - to decide if that life is to be granted "Human Rights Protections?"

All humans have a mental compartment where they store what they Believe. The contents of that compartment generally manifests in unconscious ways, motivating responses to situations that the person is not even aware of.  Illogical behavior may be mostly rooted in unconscious Beliefs, and be rigorously, logically derived from that Belief.

A mis-match between contents of the Belief Compartment and the contents of the Knowledge Compartment can tear marriages apart.  I know of some where that happened, even over Politics, not Religion!  We believe in our favorite celebrities, and favorite politicians, even when we "know" nothing about them but the public image.

What your Character knows is subject to abrupt revision as the plot unfolds,   but what the Character believes must never be called into question unless the Theme demands it.

Any opposing Character who attacks such a belief will meet with vigorous rejection, scorn used as a weapon, character assassination in the workplace, and so forth.

If your theme needs the kind of raging fire ignited by the Catholic/Protestant furor in Northern Ireland that gave rise to video cameras and gunshot detectors all over London, then let the Plot attack Belief.

One example of a collision of Beliefs with Facts would be the place and role of masculinity in the workplace.  The reason we still have very real sexual harassment, favor trading, career advancement  for sexual favors, and even forced sex as an act of dominance, is the cultural belief in the role of masculinity in society.

The knowledge regarding the role of masculinity has changed over the last few decades -- the belief has barely been touched.

So now we have a generation of men in charge of corporate offices who suffer a mis-match between what they know and what they believe.  Belief will dominate, for some of them, from time to time.  For others, it always dominates.

The exact same thing is going on with women, the core readership for Romance of all sub-genres.  The mismatch between what is believed and what is known may actually be growing.

The writer's job is to convince the reader that this Character has had a change of belief.  To be convincing, the writer must craft page one from a point at which the Action of the Plot begins, where the Main Character has not yet changed Belief, but does something that will rebound to teach them a lesson (the hard way).

We want to see the Bad Guys get their comeuppance and the Good Guys learn their lesson.  The "lesson" is your theme.  The Good Guys come to a brighter understanding of the truth of the universe.

Which brings us right back to Targeting An Audience.


Each specific genre has an audience that is selected for the distinctive process by which that audience routinely changes their Beliefs.

I doubt any Editor has ever looked at the target audience for an imprint in quite this way, but though it is dynamic, it is the coarse sieve through which the general public passes on the way to choosing what to read or view tonight.

We enjoy books about Characters who regard their beliefs the same way we do, even if the Characters don't believe what we do.

We enjoy stories about Characters who change (or don't change) their Beliefs and their Knowledge using the same method we do.  Those Characters seem real to us, people we can identify with, walk in their moccasins, and enjoy wondering, "What would I do faced with that problem?"

Would what I would do actually work in that Character's world and situation?

Ayn Rand pegged "Psychological Visibility" as a human need, vital to sanity.  We need people to validate our existence by understanding what we feel when we say certain things.

We enjoy fiction where the Character is internally visible to us, and what we see in that Character validates our own unique individuality, our hodge-lodge of contradictory Beliefs stored in that walled off mental compartment.

In humans, that compartment can not be empty.  Maybe you can portray an Alien (or an Artificial Intelligence) who has no belief compartment, or has the option of leaving it empty, but with humans, something will crawl in to inhabit and proliferate in that compartment.

That is why it is so important to limit and control what a young child is exposed to, and in what order they encounter information and situations.  The parent fills the Belief compartment, stuffed brim full, and then whatever facts come along may be known,  but likely not believed.

There is a segment of the population that wants (even needs) to control how parents dominate and control their children, feeding the children only certain beliefs, and not others. The old adage, "As the twig is bent; so grows the tree," is being used by people who don't want others to believe in bending twigs.

Another old saying, "Give me a child until he is seven years old, and you can do what you want with him after that - he will always be mine."  And that, too, has enough truth in it for writers to use constructing fictional Characters.

So, if you set out to Pace your Story - the development of the Character's internal conflict toward an internal resolution - advance both knowledge and belief in tandem.

As a writer, you need to know more about knowledge and belief, as well as the relationship between them, than readers do.

Learn a few theories extant - both the theoretical work done in universities, and the everyday practical usage of the general public, or at least your specific Target Readership - about how people internalize beliefs.

One good source of discourse on Belief is non-fiction autobiographies about religious conversion.  The "Come To Jesus" moment people talk incessantly about is worth your close study.

Understand your own Beliefs, especially the ones you don't know you have.  You will find them in your responses to non-fiction, to news, to TV Series.  You see them reflected in other people -- you generally approve of, and want to be friends with, people who share some of your beliefs.  You will find yourself repelled  by those whose beliefs are incompatible.

Usually, around college age, people choose which beliefs to internalize and found their whole lives upon.  Very often the set of beliefs are chosen so that the individual can "fit in" to a certain group.  Humans need that "psychological visibility" and the validation of their Group.  So some people, at college age, find their Belief Compartment enlarging as their views expand.  Humans (maybe not Aliens) can happily hold contradictory beliefs.

Contradictory knowledge, on the other hand, demands current, real-time, choices.

For example, we don't know if the US Government is holding a crashed UFO, but we do know that a reporter said that a government employee said that the US Government has possession of a "something" that might be extraterrestrial.

Since we know the reporter said that someone said, we will choose to believe it (or not) based on our current beliefs about the Government.  So some people will accept as incontrovertible fact that the Government has been hiding the truth about UFOs from the citizens for decades. Others won't accept that idea.

Why would some Characters reject the idea that the Government is hiding the facts about UFO's?

The reason the Character rejects the IDEA matters to the plot of your novel.

A) The U.S. Government is unique in the world, elected by a free people, monitored by a Free Press.  The U. S. Government doesn't lie, the way a Communist dictatorship does.  There's no reason to lie about UFOs.

B) Only crazy people with an ax to grind talk about UFOs as if there really is life on other planets. I don't want to be seen as crazy, so I won't believe in UFOs (but yeah, they spook me).

C) It's a scientific fact that planets like Earth are rare.  The ones we think we found are so far away nothing could get here - and probably wouldn't get near enough to us to notice it.  Math shows that two space-going civilizations wouldn't encounter each other because one would be extinct before the other emerges.  Forget the whole Idea - you're nuts.

D) My Religion holds that Earth is the center of Creation (if not The Universe), and humans are created in the Image of God, therefore any life out there won't be more than microbes, certainly not spaceship builders.

How would you change that Character to make it plausible to your readers that the Character now believes there's a UFO sequestered by the government?

How would you convince the skeptical reader that UFOs are real, so the Character the reader admires can accept them and still be admirable?

This is the essence of genre --
 not "a genre" but the very concept of genre.

Many (especially editors) think that if the novel is set in space, it must be science fiction.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The essence that binds science fiction writer to science fiction reader is the shared process of how we choose what we believe.

Among humans, the ability to choose what to believe, and the lifelong, intensive practice of actively editing, selecting and choosing the content of the Belief Compartment, is extremely rare.

Intelligence doesn't matter.  Anyone of any I.Q. might have this ability to edit their Beliefs, but among those rare individuals who are able to do it, very few choose to train and exercise to perfect that ability.

Writers, all sorts of Artists, especially performing arts specialists, do generally refine their ability to edit the subconscious to extraordinary levels.  The business of Art is the business of making visible or perceptible, the unconscious beliefs of a generation.

Each of the 4 categories of reasons why a Character might start Chapter One of a novel disbelieving in UFO's, and especially a wreck sequestered by the U.S. Government represent subconscious assumptions driving large swaths of the U. S. population.

Each of the 4 Categories could be fully realized in specific genres.

A) Political Intrigue (let the Character learn that the government lies)

 B) Romance (the Character falls for an Alien. Gini Koch's ALIEN series.)

C) Science Fiction (the Character follows a signal to the craft the government has sequestered)

D) Religious Conversion Romance (the Character falls in love with someone whose religion allows for Aliens but still holds Earth is the center of Creation)

We have discussed many aspects of how Theme connects these separate elements of fiction into a cohesive artistic work, a realistic world the audience can walk into.






Theme is the secret to pacing.  Theme is what you, the writer, are saying to the reader.  Theme is what the story is about.

Theme is the lesson the Character is about the learn, preferably the hard way, but just like the reader learned it.

Theme is the glue that holds Plot and Story together - or in terms of the above analogy, theme is the wagon tree that the pair of horses (Plot and Story) are hitched to.  The wagon is the novel, or whole series of novels, moved by Plot and Story.

Romance genre's overall theme is Love Conquers All.

Science Fiction's overall theme is nailed in Star Trek's opening, "...where no one has gone before."

Love Conquers All
 is definitely
 Where No One Has Gone Before

Many people (not me), believe, that our everyday existence belies the idea of love conquering, and the brutality of humanity's past illustrates clearly that Love Always Loses.

This connection between Love Conquers All and "...where no one has gone before," is a big reason why Science Fiction and Romance blend so easily into a new genre.

Both genres require the Characters and the reader to edit their Belief Compartment's contents, scrutinize the tangled mess of the subconscious and make conscious choices of what to believe and what to discard.

In other words, Romance pushes humans toward crafting a logical subconscious, a belief system that shifts and changes as new facts emerge.

Under the impact of Love, a human (maybe an Alien, too) can adjust what they know, and what they believe, to be just a little bit more in harmony with each other, a bit more harnessed in tandem to drive Character motivation.

Internal peace, the relief from internal conflict, is a critical ingredient in happiness, and thus in the Happily Ever After.

To live Happily Ever After, the Character must have a plausible, permanent and reliable reduction in internal conflict, and thus a realistic sense of being at peace within.

The esoteric theory is that our internal conflicts roil the external world into a furious tempest that resists our every move.  By increasing internal peace, we increase our ability to walk the world without being stomped on and trampled at every turn.

Romance and Science Fiction readers both accept this premise at least subconsciously and see the story finished when the Character's internal conflict is fully resolved.  This often takes a long series of long novels to accomplish, as true Hero material generally nurture a stubborn streak.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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