Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Mysteries of Pacing Part 9 - Character Arc Pacing Using The Foible

Mysteries of Pacing
Part 9
Character Arc Pacing Using The Foible

Previous entries in this series are indexed at:


People make mistakes.

So, therefore, a Character in a story who makes a mistake (thus advancing the plot, NOT delaying it), is entirely plausible, sometimes lovable, easily identified with, and a true candidate for Husband of the Year -- eventually -- when that mistake arises from a foible.

See the entry on What Does She See In Him

It is the core of the HEA plausibility study we've been doing. How does one human assess another's Character?  How inflexible is that human in changing the criteria by which Character is to be assessed?  How important is Character in a Romance?  Does a Romance need two sterling Characters to progress to an HEA?

Does Happily Ever After ending plausibility depend entirely on two Characters having internal strength of character?

What is character, exactly? What constitutes "strength" in Character?  Can one strong Character be the Soul Mate of another Strong Character, or does a Strong Character require a Weak Character Mate?

All these questions have one valid answer.


Somewhere, some-when, on some fantasy timeline, each of those questions has a yes, and each has a no, and where there is a sliding scale (how important?) every single value on that whole scale, plus-to-minus, works perfectly in some alternate universe.

Your job as a writer is to take your reader on a journey across the border between here and now and there and then, and insert your reader into the head of a native of that otherwhere.

At the end of the story, the reader should return to reality with a new METHOD of assessing data about the nature and value of a person, maybe about what constitutes person-hood.

To be the tour-guide into that otherwhere, the writer has to create that otherwhere, and all its non-human Characters, if not from scratch, from a template.

The best template to use to create a fictional World is one of the many your target readership already knows.

See the following Index lists for posts on these intertwined and related topics on Worldbuilding, Theme, and integrating theme and setting ( where setting = world).





Actually, "Setting" is a tiny slice of a "World" - but to write science fiction, the writer needs a sketch of the whole world around the Characters.

To end up with a Science Fiction Romance novel, you start by envisioning (not necessarily building in detail) the World the Characters must cope with.

The one decisive element the writer needs to know to avoid endless rewriting is what-and-where the imaginary world diverges from the reader's reality (or the reader's notion of reality).

What your reader KNOWS is key to targeting a readership.  Publishing mostly regards assumptions about the reader's pre-existing knowledge base as the key to deciding the label to put on the book, Children's, Juvenile, Adult, Cozy, Chicklit, etc.

Readerships are regarded as divided by age, and thus "life-experience" -- and aspirations.  "When I grow up, I want to be  ... " or, "I want my newborn grandson to grow up to be ..."

What the reader will learn from the book depends on how old that reader is, or alternatively what their live-experience is.  For example, the children growing up in a war-torn region of the globe will be fully Adult at maybe 10 or 12, maybe having shot and killed an attacker, or an enemy who isn't attacking (yet).

Maybe that child learns hate, and grows up to un-learn it, as so very many things learned in childhood are discarded in the twenties.

Alternatively, the majority of Romance readers probably are growing up in sheltered homes, being pushed through schooling they don't want (yet), and having their lives planned by their grandparents.

These readerships have overlap points, but Publishers still prefer to divide humanity by age.

See these posts on Targeting a Readership:


So your job as a Science Fiction Romance Writer is to be the tour guide to a gaggle of tourists of mixed backgrounds all arriving in your world with different expectations.

As in the film AVATAR,
you have to give each of the tourists in your gaggle a persona, an avatar, inside which they can safely tour your world, and still bond with and empathize with the issues at hand.

The cultural rejection of the HEA as inevitable, or even possible, may reside in the scarcity of Avatars tailored for the segment of the readership that flat disbelieves.

Your job is to usher them into a world where things are different than their current reality, where the singular difference makes the HEA possible, or even very likely.

For the firmly convinced anti-HEA (maybe amenable to the HFNow ending), the transition in belief system is truly gigantic.

It is existential.

It is a transition that threatens the very foundations of conceptual reality.  Change in such fundamental beliefs can feel like being suddenly plunged into a nightmare.

In other words, for some people a realistic Romance Novel is actually Horror Genre.

To ease such a reader into your World, you need a Character to be their Avatar.

To deliver a satisfying good read, you need that Avatar to Arc from where the Reader is in their life at that time, to where the Reader can envision a world where SOMETHING is different than in her real world, and that difference makes the HEA either possible or inevitable.

The place in "life" and the parameter of reality blocking the reader's life progress, are items you glean from your view of the world (yes, rip this from the current headlines).

To build your fictional world, a simplified, stripped down, version of Reality, you target a problem in real Reality, and figure what about that target has to change (and into what it must change) to cause the HEA to be the normal life-arc of the characters in your world.

To make rabbit stew, first catch your rabbit.

In this case the rabbit is the problem making people frustrated or miserable, or maybe excited and ready to leap into adventure, never mind the danger.  The stew is your theme.

Identify the problem, hypothesize a solution, run an experiment.

The essence of science fiction is encapsulated in three question formats:  "What if ...?" " "If only ..." and "If this goes  on ..."

Focus on that, and you find it applies perfectly to Romance.  These are not two separate genres, as publishers still believe, and when you use both in a single novel or series, you aren't "mixing" genres, but rather revealing the hard-core practical reality at the center of your World.

The mystery of pacing is likewise revealed by what you choose as your hard-core, practical, inescapable attribute of reality that is so very different from what your reader thinks reality revolves around.

Consider, maybe our individual (and collective) "view of reality" is somewhat like a Galaxy -- with a black hole in the center, and our beliefs like a spiral scattering of stars being pulled down that drain just like water sucked down a drain by gravity.

It's the inexorable gravity of the black hole that gives spiral galaxies their shape.

Study your black hole.  Study your reader's black hole.  Measure the distance between them, and consider if one passes through the other at an angle, what "beliefs" (e.g. stars) will be changed in orbit, or possibly gather substance or planets?

The belief system of a person can be reshaped by an encounter with a black hole from another system of belief.

One won't be turned into the other, but there will be a morphing into something else.

Nothing remains unaffected by such major encounters.

Reading a novel can be a view through a telescope, or a close encounter, or an interpenetration.

The interpenetration happens when the Main Character of the story is an amenable Avatar for the reader who then experiences not just the story, but the arc of the Character.

The reader's real, personal, character will arc in response just as two galaxies passing through each other leave change in both.

The pacing the writer needs to pull off this non-destructive but morphing encounter depends on the initial distance between the core beliefs of the reader and the core beliefs of the Avatar, the main character to whom the plot happens.

A core belief is like that black hole that shapes the position and vector of each of the suns in the galaxy spiral.  A core belief shapes and determines the direction of change of all the other beliefs.  Beliefs are not static, and they have gravity of their own, and pull planetary beliefs into orbit, all forever moving through reality, each shaping space around it.

Dynamic motion.

Beliefs are not static things.  They arc.  They arc around a central gravity-point like that black hole, and they become organized through life into recognizable shapes.

An interpenetration with another character can add, subtract, and re-organize the substance of the beliefs, or rip them away sending them off into the deep.  Romance can do that to a Character - just reshape reality.

In dramatic writing, "pacing" is the rate of change of Situation.  It can also be the rate of change of the Character's understanding of what the Situation really is.

In other words, pacing can be increased or slowed by the rate at which a Character learns either information or a method of interpreting information.  Having to pause to re-interpret everything that's happened so far can slow pacing.

Pacing is a vector.  It has both direction and speed.

Once you've lured or seduced your reader into occupying the Avatar character, you can manipulate the Avatar's understanding of your World.

The best way to captivate and show-don't-tell is to start your Avatar out at a point where his/her beliefs match orbit with your reader.  Then send a challenge of current beliefs flying at your Avatar knocking him out of orbit.

Like billiards.  

It is what happens when two Soul Mates meet.  The core beliefs of each, the black hole at the center of Soul, is knocked, deformed, and rung like a bell.

The Love At First Sight Romance is a direct collision of the black holes at the centers of your pair of Characters.  It sets the whole galaxy of belief system of each of them ringing like a bell.

Each of the Characters must arc, or change their beliefs to accommodate the new gravity pattern around their central, core belief.

In a Romance, the core beliefs either don't have very far to go, or if they have far to go, they change in very tiny increments, very slowly, which takes an entire Series of novels, a long series, 20 books or more sometimes.

Pacing, in drama, is a vector quantity.  It has speed and direction.

If you have to change your Character's direction in life, by a lot, do it slowly.

Science Fiction Romance is one genre that, in a Series, allows your plot to be fast-paced while your story (Romance) is slow-paced enough to have verisimilitude.

Using the definition of Plot as the sequence of events caused by the Main Character's initial action, each event causing the next, you can start the series where the Main Character, the Avatar, makes a mistake.

However, it can't be just a random mistake.  The Avatar's action has to be an illustration of an innate foible, a character flaw, that throughout the coming series of novels, will be hammered to destruction, the source revealed, and the remedy encountered, resisted, then accepted.

The HEA, in real life, is usually the result of such a developmental arc, where events cause self-examination and reassessment, gradually (over years) revealing and eliminating a foible.

Some foibles are not worth the effort to eliminate -- they just make the person individualistic, one of a kind, charming, interesting or just a character.

Other foibles can cripple a person's life, preventing career advancement, diverting energy to unproductive channels, and just being mistakes to regret.

The foible is the key ingredient in a Character formulation, in Characterization, that allows that Character to be the Main Character and the reader's Avatar.

Look up foible (Google it) and study the word and its ever changing meaning.  Identify your own foibles, which you still have and which you've vanquished.  Think about how the vanquished ones were knocked out of you.

Identify that pattern of foible-remediation in other people you know, and then maybe on Facebook Friends postings.

Find some headlines about people undergoing remediation of their foibles.

Find the foible pattern common to humanity, and build your Aliens around a different pattern.

The Aliens will be more plausible if they have foibles, but a different pattern of them, and a different mechanism of remediation.

Your Alien will be more lovable with a recognizable foible.

Really study the word foible.  It is the black hole at the center of the Character Arc spiral.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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