Thursday, September 17, 2020

On Intellectual Property

Cory Doctorow has an unusually long, information-dense post this bimonth, about the background of the concept of intellectual property:


He reviews the history of open source software and the shift toward increasingly stringent restrictions, leading up to the present situation in which taking the wrapper off a box legally commits users to agreements they haven't yet had a chance to read. He discusses in great detail the principle of "interoperability," which lets all railroads run on the same tracks, all brands of lightbulbs work in lamps from different manufacturers, in general all the benefits of standardization. "Interoperability lowers 'switching costs' –- the cost of leaving behind whatever you’re using now in favor of something you think will suit you better." This advantage to consumers, naturally, is something a lot of commercial interests would like to eliminate or minimize. Doctorow analyzes how companies such as Google and Facebook make it easy for customers to start using their services but hard to get out, sometimes impossible to do so without abandoning a wide network of services and contacts. He explores the differences among copyright, patent, and trademark and how those different "creators' monopolies" became bundled together under the single term "intellectual property" -- a development he disapproves of, by the way.

Market monopolists, according to Doctorow, often strip power from the alleged "creator's monopoly." Corporate monopolists also tilt the balance of power as far as possible from the consumer to the seller. The abuse of DRM, one of Doctorow's recurrent topics, is a conspicuous example. Laws against bypassing software, as more and more devices in common use become computerized, will inevitably lead (according to him) to this result: "Software isn’t just a way to put IP into otherwise inert objects. It’s also a way to automate them, to make them into unblinking, ever-vigilant enforcers for the manufacturer/monopolist’s interests. They can detect and interdict any attempt at unauthorized interoperability, and call the appropriate authorities to punish the offenders." Furthermore, "Even where tech is challenging these monopolies, it is doing so in order to create more monopolies." He mentions the Kindle program and Amazon's dominance of the audiobook market as examples.

This article contains much to reread, digest, and debate. Is Doctorow's concluding manifesto valid? "There are no digital rights, only human rights. There is no software freedom, only human freedom."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Plot-Character Integration Part 2 - Finding Your Opening Scene

Plot-Character Integration
Part 2
Finding Your Opening Scene

Previous Parts in Plot-Character Integration are:

Part 1 - The 3/4 Point Pivot Part 1 - The Worm Turns

Part 3 - The Starring Character For A Series

And this is Part 2 of Plot-Character Integration - Finding Your Opening Scene

Chances are you have had your sizzling Science Fiction Romance novel simmering in the back of your mind for years.  You know the Characters and you know when your Starring Character gets a grip on his life and acts to change everything.

You know these people so well, you just gibber when you try to tell someone about them and their influence on each other and on the World they live in.

It is a huge story, so you believe you have a Series of novels to write that story in.  It is an intimidating prospect - spending 20 years writing a 25 year series with many short stories, novellas, and contributions to other people's universes sandwiched in between personal appearances.  Can you handle it?  If you're not quivering at the prospect, there is something you don't understand.

I couldn't begin to guess what you, in particular, are missing about understanding yourself or the world you live in.

However, I have a long-running Series of novels now with an anthology of stories by other writers, and novels I've collaborated on written by two other writers.  The Sime~Gen novels are a series structured like a future history, and the Starring Character changes from one novel to the next (unbeknownst to the reader, there are a handful of Souls re-incarnating every few hundred years).

In between, I've sold several other universes, trilogies, and contributed to other writers' universes, shared universes, and so on.

And I've taught writing craft at workshops across the country, read a lot of beginning writers' first attempts, heard other professional writers and editors analyze why a manuscript could not be published, and learned much from all that.

One very common mistake beginning writers make is starting the manuscript with the wrong scene, at the wrong time in the Starring Character's life-arc, and usually at the END of the Star's story, not the BEGINNING.

Start at the beginning is the advice I've heard given many times, and the teary-eyed young writer stars in numb bewilderment utterly certain that they did start at the beginning.

The contact with the young writer usually ends there, so most of these earnest young people never make it to print unless they self-publish and become more bewildered about why their work doesn't click with their intended readership.

The reason new writers make this error in starting-point, and subsequent plot-errors is that they know their Starring Character and his or her entire LIFE is well known, so well known, so real, so involving, that none of the plot-alterations suggested by the editor or teacher in a workshop are acceptable.

"He wouldn't do that!" is the stock response signaling you are dealing with an amateur who will never sell anything.  "She couldn't bring herself to do this!"  "That can't happen in this world!"

The reason you can't find the "correct" (e.g. commercially salable) opening scene, thus middle and ending scenes, is that the alternate reality in which these Characters "live" and the destiny of the Characters is already known to you.  It just has to be the way you've already imagined it - because that' just plain the RIGHT story you have to tell. It's right. It just is right, and so it can't be changed.

Why have you created an entire story, a universe, which is commercially non-viable, or seems so to professionals?

It could well be that you have not spent enough time training your subconscious to recognize the shape and rhythm of real life, and how that reality becomes symbolized, condensed, and portrayed rather than related by writers creating fiction.

There is a relationship between a fictional Character's life-arc and story-arc, and the "Arc" humans live.

Lives have shapes - not everyone's life is shaped just like another's life, and even those with lives shaped very much the same will have vastly different outcomes because the PERSON living the life is unique.

Nevertheless, everyone who knows a lot of people, engages in gossip or social chit-chat, and/or reads lots of biographies, knows a lot of life-shapes that are real.

To get your reader to suspend disbelief and enter your Science Fiction Romance universe, you need to convince them (on page 1) that your made-up universe is REAL.

The writing tool that conveys that conviction is what I've called in these blogs "verisimilitude"  -- some element in your made-up world is just like the reality in the reader's real world (or what the reader of that target readership believes is reality).

One tool for injecting verisimilitude into Page 1, is Character Arc.  The Character must be moving along a trajectory and with a velocity that the reader immediately recognizes as something they have seen in reality.

Everything else in your opening scene can be purest Fantasy, utterly impossible, and definitely not-real, as long as there is one anchor point for the reader to recognize and accept.

Verisimilitude and Symbolism can be used to create that anchor point.

Here are some discussions of the use of Verisimilitude.

And using symbolism to explain why we cry at weddings:

When the Starring Character's Character Arc is fully integrated with the Plot, (and I mean fully), the verisimilitude of the Character's movement from one Place in his Life-Story to another Place in his Life-Story will pull the reader into your novel.

This fully integrated Plot-Character element is often referred to as a "narrative hook" -- which, to a beginning writer, is a meaningless term. It is a meaningless term not because the writer is a beginner, but because the term doesn't actually mean anything at all -- it just sounds like it does.

You already know your Characters, the story of how they meet, how they get involved, what outside forces end the Honeymoon, who gets in what trouble and has to be rescued by whom.  You know how they embark on their Series of Potent Dramas (as Detectives for NYPD or Scientists for NASA, or CIA operatives).

You know who your people are and what story you need to tell.  So what narrative?  What quality of "hook" (twisted?  What hook?) does the term Narrative Hook refer to?

You look over the whole life-history of your characters and find nothing nothing twisted and no narrative in sight.

Anything you invent as the opening will be made-up on the spot in the workshop, and just too unreal to work for your novel.  Right there, your well known, vibrant Romance morphs into something else entirely, something unsatisfying and uninteresting to write.

The opening words, the opening sentence, the first line of your novel is just that integral to the entire rest of it.  Everything depends on the opening words. Everything.

It is so much the cornerstone of the work, contains all the rest of the words in that one single (hopefully short, declarative or interrogative sentence) that when a workshop finds a problem with the Middle or 3/4 point or even the ending, the writing teachers will tell you to rewrite THAT scene they find problematic, but nothing you can do will fix the problem they see.  Nothing!

Why? Because the problem is not in the scene they trip over.

The problem on page 312 is on page 1.

It is Page 1 that has to be rewritten, not page 312.

Trust me. It is always the case.

I thought it was a special case with my first novel, House of Zeor,

Read the "Look Inside" to see the opening I'm talking about here.

House of Zeor is the foundation novel for the Sime~Gen Series which is still running.

I ended up rewriting that opening page a couple dozen times, and moving the opening scene up and down the timeline of the Plot about 5 times.  I was trying to craft a "narrative hook" -- after studying the term and its applications for many years.

It took a long time after I sold House of Zeor to Hardcover until I understood there is no such thing as a "Narrative Hook."

But that's what I learned crafting that opening - and since the novel stayed in print for 20 consecutive years, maybe I figured something out.

After that 20-year run in print, a short hiatus, and it came back into print from a publisher doing Omnibus editions - then moved to Wildside Press where it is in print as paper, audiobook, and e-book in all formats.  Something went right in that opening -- people still recommend House of Zeor as a first Sime~Gen novel even though there are 14 other volumes to choose among.

They say, "Write something interesting."  What's interesting to you isn't interesting to anyone else in this world because you are unique.  What matters to you doesn't matter to anyone else.

They say, "Write your main character in the fury of Action, make the Character MOVE."

That's good advice, but ruins everything in a "Love at First Sight" opening.  The shock of first sight paralyzes all movement, which is the tell-tale signature of the Plot Event "First Sight."

I used Character Movement as the opening line in House of Zeor, pacing impatiently, worriedly, annoyingly, but pointlessly back and forth.

Pacing doesn't really work too well as an opening, but the Starring Character who is pacing is impatient to be off on horseback to rescue his Soul Mate.  So it does the job of establishing verisimilitude.

The story I wanted to tell is about the Starring Character's future incarnations.  I had several incarnations at different points in History (from circa 1700 to 3700 level technology) after this lifetime.

The Soul's soul-lesson of the House of Zeor lifetime is about his HEA with his Soul Mate being thwarted by the torrential forces of History. His Soul's Destiny was what interested me - couldn't sell that back then.

I used pacing back and forth because movement was touted as a requirement of the Narrative Hook.  Pacing is a show-don't-tell for the invisible tension of impatience.

Pacing, and being snapped at for it by your boss, leads the reader to ask why this Character is impatient.  The reader doesn't need to be told what impatience is.  This is a Character at a point in his Character-Arc where an anticipated Event is not-happening-now.

Everyone has experienced this Situation - some pace, some snap at people, some twist paperclips. Everyone knows impatience - it is verisimilitude.

I didn't write something "interesting" -- I wrote something curious.

Science fiction is all about satisfying a scientific curiosity (which is why Spock became a Starring Character.)

So just as the term "atom" was invented to designate the smallest indivisible particle of matter, "narrative hook" was a term invented to designate the indivisible, rock solid formula opening for a story or novel.

And just as atoms have been split, and even the particles composing atoms have been split and analyzed, so too the "narrative hook" decomposes into small parts.

Atoms actually exist, but aren't indivisible.

Narrative Hooks actually exist, but aren't indivisible.

Narrative Hooks don't actually need any narrative in them at all.  And hooking is not a great idea if you respect your readers.  You want to invite your reader by displaying your sympathetic understanding of their life experience.

Thus, the Hung Hero (absolutely unsellable as science fiction) is an invitation to certain readers.  The Hung Hero is a Starring Character who has no options for acting to change the Situation.

Usually, beginning writers make a Hung Hero by choosing the wrong Character to Star in the story.

But in real life, most of us live long-long years as "hung hero" of our own story -- nothing we do seems to fix our problems. We know that feeling.  And in many well-known, famous lifetimes, we see how the hung-situation breaks only when the Hero "is forced to" do something out of character.

Many great Romance novels use the outside-forces forcing the reluctant Hero to do something -- but in Science Fiction genre, that won't work as an opening.  It often works as a Middle, which is the lowest point, or as the 3/4 Worm Turns point.

But your viewpoint characters, your Stars, have to be on the active pole, not passive. They have to want, decide, and act to achieve.

The paradigm for the Character on the Positive Pole is "Consider-Evaluate-Decide-Act."  As the Character does that sequence - the plot just happens, it just rolls on out as the Story drives the plot.  The Character Arc drives the Story.

When all these separate components are "integrated" into one single thing, the writing teachers throw up their hands and term it a "Narrative Hook."  "Once upon a time, ..." is a narrative hook.  It implies a Character in a different Time did something for a reason you need to understand.  It prompts the question, "What happened?"

"What happened?" is the hook, or more specifically, the Invitation.  Open on something that sparks curiosity in your reader. Open at the point where the Starring Character doesn't understand anything about the Life Lesson about to come smashing into his life.  Make the reader ask that question right there at the beginning sentence.  Make the Starring Character's quest for the answer into both Plot and Story -- integrated.

The opening scene presents the issue to be Considered and Evaluated by the Character whose actions will change the Situation.

Other Characters who merely influence or support the Star may have their own Stories - but those aren't the stories you are telling.  One novel - one story with one Main Plot and one crystal clear thematic statement uniting the work of Art.

Lives well lived in reality are also "works of art."  Living Well is an art form, and that is something the educated reader knows, but may not know they know.

The best open door invitation into a well built World will be fabricated from bits and pieces of what the reader knows but does not know she knows.

So how do you find the Character in your world who is crafting a work of art from his Life?

Look at real-life.  Look at life-stories of real people.  (and/or study Astrology).

Then look at the kind of fiction you prefer to read.

Sift out the Character Arc shapes.

Note the life-stages we are all familiar with.  Each stage has its specific readership you can target because they happen at 10 or 20 year intervals if you should live so long.  The HEA plateau is not notable on this list, but a phenomenon of the flat Character Arc interval.  More on that is in Part 3 of the Plot-Character Integration series.

A) Character is learning and/or being Trained

B) Character is venturing into using Training. (first solo drive, first solo piloting of a plane, first infiltration on a spy mission). First Testing.  Loss of virginity.

C) Having racked up a resume of failures, being fired, getting jailed, a lawyer who loses too many cases, Character goes on the bum, hits the skids, becomes homeless, hits bottom.

D) Character remakes himself - as arch criminal mastermind, business entrepreneur, or goes to police academy, gets other schooling, volunteers to be a pioneer settler on another world.

Science Fiction genre requires (usually, not always) a Hero on the way UP in life - deciding and acting to improve himself and others.

The downward spiral of failure is of interest in developing the Character's past - but is a series of novels in itself, and not amenable to use as Science Fiction or Romance.  A Romance for such a Character would be the turning point into another phase of existence.

The flat Character Arc - where the Character doesn't learn or change because of Plot Events - is the formula for the Starring Character in a long Series such as a Detective Series.

We discuss that flat-arc in Part 3, but for now search your fictional worlds for the Character Springboard where the Starring Character dives off a cliff or leaps to grab the skids of a rescue helicopter.

Find your Starring Character by finding the Character in the ensemble of the novel who is about to take a risk. Changing your life is a risk. Success requires a risk, but not all risks lead to success.  Both Science Fiction and Romance are about a Starring Character who achieves Success - an HEA or a scientific breakthrough that saves, heals, revives others.

Show that moment of risk evaluation, and make the reader ask what the stakes are, and what the opposing force is.

The Starring Character is the one who considers, evaluates, decides and acts -- and whose actions change the Situation.  Rate of change of situation = "Action."  Rate of change of Situation = Pacing. And pacing is an art.

Then open the door and invite your reader to explore the issues involved in why the opposing forces are opposing.

Pose the question in your opening line without actually asking the question.  Answer the question in your final line of the novel.  Then write what went between.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Joy Of Registering Your DMCA Totally Non-Secret Agent Info

Every website and every blog that permits comments ought to have a DMCA agent registered with the Copyright Office’s DMCA Designated Agent Directory. 

Renewal is required when service provider or designated agent information has not been verified or updated within the last three years.

If you don't shell out the sum of $6, your listing will expire and be labeled "Terminated" in the directory. Even more stressful, your failure to renew your registration may result in the loss of safe harbor eligibility under 17 U.S.C. 512. 

To renew, you will need to review your designation and either amend it to correct or update outdated information or resubmit it without amendment to confirm its continued accuracy. 

Begin by logging in to your account at

Before you log in, you will need to remind yourself of your username and your password.  The helpful government will tell you by email what it was, if you cannot remember.  You may also discover that your 3-year old PW is deemed to be expired.  This is always annoying when done on the fly.

You may not reuse a PW used for 11 previous times.... but it appears that a creative suffix (such as the word SUFFIX!) added to the original one will satisfy the bot.

Once logged in, click the pencil icon next to the designation, which will take you to a summary screen where you can review your information. 

From there, click "Edit" if you need to update anything, or click "Preview and Pay" to renew without making any changes. 

There is no value to renewing early, except that procrastinators might forget to renew altogether, and there is a certain satisfaction in getting annoying red tape "done!" but know that your renewal will be effective for three years starting the day it is submitted; renewal does not add three years to your prior expiration date. 

This DMCA agent for this blog has just renewed. It still costs $6 and there is no fee on for using a credit card. The site doesn't tell you this, so it's good to know. 

Using a credit or debit card also means that the DMCA agent knows almost immediately that their registration was successful. If you pay by ACH, it could take 7 days for the assurance. 

There are a few minor annoyances in the process.  There is a tiny little box to check.  If you don't see it, you will have to figure it out.  Also, once you type in your country, you have to click on the popup of how the site likes the country name to be written. That's pretty much all there is to it. 

You pay. You remember to log out. Hopefully, you are then "done" for three more years. 

All the best,

Rowena Cherry SPACE SNARK™

Thursday, September 10, 2020

More on Robots

If convenient, try to pick up a copy of the September 2020 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, which should still be in stores at this time. The feature article, "Meet the Robots," goes into lengthy detail about a variety of different types of robots and their functions, strengths, and limitations. The cover shows a mechanical hand delicately holding a flower. The article on the magazine's website is behind a paywall, unfortunately.

Profusely illustrated, it includes photos of robots that range from human-like to vaguely humanoid to fully non-anthropomorphic. One resembles an ambulatory egg, another a mechanical octopus. As the text points out, form follows function. Some machines would gain nothing by being shaped like people, and for some tasks the human form would actually be more of a drawback than a benefit. Some of those devices perform narrowly defined, repetitive jobs such as factory assembly, while others more closely resemble what science-fiction fans think of as "robots"—quasi-intelligent, partly autonomous machines that can make decisions among alternatives. In many cases, they don't "steal jobs" but, rather, fill positions for which employers have trouble hiring enough live workers. Robots don't get sick or tired, don't suffer from boredom, and can spare human workers from exposure to hazards. On the other hand, the loss of some kinds of jobs to automation is a real problem, to which the article devotes balanced attention. Although an increasingly automated working environment may create new jobs in the long run, people can't be retrained for those hypothetical positions overnight.

Some robots carry their "brains" within their bodies, as organic creatures do, while others take remote direction from computers (Wi-Fi efficiency permitting—now there's an intriguing plot premise, a society dependent on robots controlled by a central hive-mind AI, which blackmailers or terrorists might threaten to disable). On the most lifelike end of the scale, an animated figure called Mindar, "a metal and silicone incarnation of Kannon," a deity in Japanese Buddhism, interacts with worshipers. Mindar contains no AI, but that feature may eventually be added. American company Abyss Creations makes life-size, realistic sex dolls able to converse with customers willing to pay extra for an AI similar to Alexa or Siri. Unfortunately for people envisioning truly autonomous robot lovers, from the neck down they're still just dolls.

We're cautioned against giving today's robots too much credit. They can't match us in some respects, such as the manipulative dexterity of human hands, bipedal walking, or plain "common sense." We need to approach them with "realistic expectations" rather than thinking they "are far more capable than they really are." Still, it seems wondrous to me that already robots can pick crops, milk cows, clean and disinfect rooms (I want one of those), excavate, load cargo, make deliveries in office buildings (even asking human colleagues to operate elevators for them), take inventory, guide patients through exercise routines, arrange flowers, and "help autistic children socialize." Considering that today's handheld phones are more intelligent than our first computer was (1982), imagine what lies ahead in the near future!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Plot-Character Integration Part 3 - The Starring Character For A Series

Plot-Character Integration
Part 3
The Starring Character For A Series

Part 1 - The 3/4 Point Pivot Part 1 - The Worm Turns

Part 2 - Finding Your Opening Scene posted September 15, 2020

This is Part 3 of Plot-Character Integration.  The Starring Character For A Series

You'd think finding the opening scene should come AFTER designing your Starring Character, and BEFORE finding the epiphany moment in the Character's life where Events (Plot) trigger (not force) the Character to change his/her life's vector.  In truth, Creativity just doesn't work in logical order, and most often the Vector Impelling Moment pops into the writer's mind first, then maybe the writer backtracks to the Opening Scene (which we will look at next week on this Blog) and from the opening scene where the conflict is sketched in and the Life Vector shifting scene, the writer pursues a definition of the Character.

Beginning writers often make the mistake of not polishing (rewriting like crazy) these 3 moments or elements until they are one, inextricable, interlinked, fully integrated thing - a Starring Character.  In a well written book, no reader who isn't also a writer will see the separate elements that go into building a Starring Character.  Readers only see a Person walking a life-path, and love the book if they recognize a few bits of verisimilitude and much more to be curious about.

When you walk and chew gum, you are "integrating" two actions.  When you plot a novel, you are doing one action, and when you create the Characters (or depict the Characters) you are doing another action. When you "integrate" these two actions, the reader (even accomplished English professors) can't tell the difference between Plot and Character.

That's why, once you've finished a novel, you stumble and dither through trying to describe the novel in a cover letter.

Your dithering tells you that you have, in fact, integrated the Plot into other elements, Character, Theme, Setting, etc.

A cover letter needs to display the PLOT, and do that by tracing the decisions and actions, pro-active actions (not "being forced to") that get his/her fanny caught in the bear trap of the plot.

So the blurb, the pitch, and the cover letter should be written BEFORE picking the opening scene, before creating the Characters, before even "I've got an Idea" -- lay down the plot in terms an editor can identify clearly.

Then rummage through the stockpile of ideas in your subconscious and come up with one that just naturally fits that plot.

The Science Fiction Romance novel is one about the Science of Romance.  The bear trap for either Character in the Romance is the Other Character in the Romance -- once two Soul Mates first come in contact (even without physically meeting) - they are each trapped into a plot.

Their efforts to pry their way out of the bear trap are the events of the plot -- the things they do to avoid fate.

The "I love you" moment, or the "I do" moment, (or "why the hell not" moment) ends that struggle to avoid the fate of joining with a Soul Mate.

These Tuesday blog posts are about crafting a convincing argument for the Happily Ever After Ending.  The famous HEA is so adamantly disbelieved, a thing that never can happen in "real" life, that those who know it is real, those who are living it, those who intend to live it for themselves, just can't communicate that reality to the disbelievers.

So the Romance writer venturing into Science Fiction has to lull the veteran science fiction reader into suspension of disbelief.

Willing suspension of disbelief.

One powerful tool the science fiction romance writer has for setting up suspension of disbelief is the Character who Stars in the show which is the novel.

The other most powerful tool in the writer's toolbox for delivering the gut-punch of the HEA-as-Reality is the Character who stars in the show.

Character is depicted via Character-Arc.  How many events, how much pressure, how much evidence the reader needs in order to believe the thematic statement the Character is making, and the Life Lesson the Character is learning, -- i.e. the Character Arc -- constitutes Pacing.  We explored Character Arc and pacing in the Mysteries of Pacing Series, indexed here.

A Starring Character is shown (not told) in the opening scene to "be" at a life-intersection-point akin to what the Target Reader expects to face, is facing, or has recently faced but not yet resolved.

Thus, novels aimed at Teens are generally set in High School or early University - because that's where Teens are in life.  (usually -- Science Fiction Hero Characters generally drop out to launch Microsoft, or get swept away from school because their father is the new Ambassador to Mars).

Aiming at the 30-something readership, the writer can choose a Starring Character who has just been fired from a job and is job-hunting.  Or in a Regency Romance, left destitute and becoming a governess.  That is the starting point, the pivot point in life for many Romance readers who happen to love Science.

Novels need a Starring Character to "Arc" or change his mind about something deeply philosophical because the reader's experience of reality is that "Life" does indeed "Arc" in a ballistic trajectory.  Aging has a PATTERN, and everyone who has elders in their life understands that pattern, even while refusing to identify with it.

So for verisimilitude, your Starring Character(s) must Arc, must change internally as external life is impacted by Events that result from their actions.  The reader must be able to see the cause-effect chain, the because line, between what the Character does and the Plot Events that happen to him.  It has to make sense in some way -- even if the thematic statement is that life is random and nothing makes sense (a valid philosophy).

Poetic Justice reigns in fiction.

So what has the Starring Character's Arc to do with arguing for the HEA?

Life Arcs have different shapes.  Some swoop upward in a parabola, then crash straight down.  Some are a shallow-angle straight line, steadily upward.  Some seem to start on an upward path, then crash way down and never recover, the Star ending up dying homeless.  Some gain prominence almost from birth, then steadily maintain huge Public Figure Status despite scandals and losses ( Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis ).

Some Life Arcs have a long-long extended flat top, going up steeply through adventurous youth, then flattening.

The Starring Character of a Long Series of Novels has to be living the long-long flat Arc (either at the top or the bottom of the curve).

The Series we examined in previous posts ...

... show some examples of the flat-arc portion of Character's lives.

Marshall Ryan Maresca avoids the "boring" effect of the flat-arc portion of a life well lived by skipping about among Characters and setting groups of novels among different ensemble casts of Characters, with a long-arc for the government of a large city.

C. J. Cherryh takes her Star of the Foreigner Series from the very steep rising part of his life (being appointed to represent his human people to an alien government), where he has to learn that he wasn't taught everything there is to know about the Aliens, all the way to becoming the steadying hand behind the blending of the governments of the respective peoples because they face an external threat (or two).

Faye Kellerman's Detective Novels display the HEA most prominently - because her Detective character meets his Soul Mate in Book 1 (which won Kellerman awards), then goes on to the business of holding a stressful job (as Homicide Detective in Los Angeles) and keeping a family together, raising kids, and then retiring to an "easy" job with more mystery-mahem-menace than LA ever provided.  Yet all the mysteries he solves don't change him in any essential way -- which is very likely due to the steady influence of his wife, his anchor in reality (and often the catalyst plunging him into new mysteries.)

To star in such a long-running series the Character has to attain a solid, steady, disruption-proof, stable point in life, and in life-philosophy.  The flat part of the Character Arc is the HEA.

All these series throw searing, explosive, life-shattering bombs at these Starring Characters, and though the Star does feel it, does react to tragedy and danger, the impact doesn't derail his Life.  He adjusts his Life to suit the new circumstances and moves right ahead, actually enjoying living.

That is the HEA -- not Happily for Now, but seriously stable to the grave long-lived stability.

It is Stability that your reader doesn't believe in because their own lives are not Stable.

Stable doesn't mean unchanging, or unresponsive, or bored.  Stable means having the deep resources to meet every challenge -- but meet that challenge you must.  That sort of resource well can be filled to the brim only with a Soul Mate, and usually with children (born, adopted, or students taught - a next generation).

Lives can reach that plateau, that long, level path to the future, with or without a Soul Mate.  Level stability doesn't mean Happiness.

Lives can stabilize in a miserable state, in a numb state (consider people from war-torn countries), in depression, or in happiness.

What the modern audience lacks is the sense that stability is possible.  This may be in part because of the News of the World flying at us all day from the Web, or in part from the wild ride up the Technology Curve, with every 3 years having to learn whole new software.

The rate of change in this modern world, as Alvin Toffler predicted, stresses the basic human animal brain beyond the ability to adjust.  So many people feel blinding, blazing, change whipping this way and that, and have grown up without the feeling of stability that previous generations see as the norm.

Here is an example of a 21 book private detective series upon which so many current series have been based.

It is the Travis McGee Novel series by John D. MacDonald.

This one, The Long Lavender Look, was published #12 in the 21 book series (all of which have a color name in the title).  The series is about a third of the total output of John D. MacDonald. I suspect it is the one he is the most famous for.

Here are a quotes from the erudite introduction by Lee Child:

MacDonald, John D.. The Long Lavender Look: A Travis McGee Novel . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

From A Deadly Shade of Gold, a Travis McGee title: “The only thing in the world worth a damn is the strange, touching, pathetic, awesome nobility of the individual human spirit.” From the stand-alone thriller Where Is Janice Gantry?: “Somebody has to be tireless, or the fast-buck operators would asphalt the entire coast, fill every bay, and slay every living thing incapable of carrying a wallet.” These two angles show up everywhere in his novels: the need to—maybe reluctantly, possibly even grumpily—stand up and be counted on behalf of the weak, helpless, and downtrodden, which included people, animals, and what we now call the environment—which was in itself a very early and very prescient concern: Janice Gantry, for instance, predated Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring by a whole year.


McGee is a quiet man, internally bewildered by and raging at what passes for modern progress, externally happy merely to be varnishing the decks of his houseboat and polishing its brass, but always ready to saddle up and ride off in the service of those who need and deserve his help. Again, not the product of the privileged youth enjoyed by the salaried executive’s son. So where did McGee and MacDonald’s other heroes come from? Why Florida? Why the jaundiced concerns? We will never know. But maybe we can work it out, by mining the millions of words written with such haste and urgency and passion between 1945 and 1986.

-----end quote-----

Go on Amazon and read this whole introduction, even if you remember reading the novels.

Now, consider this:

The Character arc captured in this introduction is relatively static and flat, which is why the series endured for so many decades.

McGee is a Hero who will go out of his comfort zone to save others, but whose inner conflict keeps him spiritually static, just like all good anthology-format TV heroes.

He sees his long-arc life conflict as un-winnable, but is compelled to fight that battle anyway.  This is the opposite of Star Trek’s Kirk, who doesn’t see a battle, but rather an adventure to be lived with zest, humor, and joy.  McGee has become the archetype drawn on by many writers.  Despair seems more realistic than joy to the modern reader.

Note how McGee is seen as bewildered by the lightning pace of change in the world around him.  But 1950's to 1980's is seen, today, in retrospect as stable relative to modern change (Zoom swoops in to save the day for work-from-home necessity during Pandemic).  Vaccine developed via genetic analysis at a dizzying pace, using tools not even dreamed of in 1970's.

Yet, McGee is the stable Star Character of this series, in a stable part of his life, with his attitude toward life solidly established and unchanging.  He responds to each challenge, each case (even in The Long Lavender Look where he, himself, is a suspect in a murder) from that solidly planted, interior orienting point.

Compare McGee to Bren Cameron of C. J. Cherryh's series.

Then contrast with Gini Koch's ALIEN Series -- where the ensemble of Characters rally round the Starring Character with the common intention of creating Stability -- and step by tiny step, they achieve that goal as a team.

If you want to write a Series long enough to convince the modern reader that the HEA is an achievable goal for the shape of the life that they want to live, Show Don't Tell a Starring Character who learns, step by step, one tiny step in each novel, how to stabilize himself and others in a whirlwind of challenges.

The forlorn belief that only the Happily For Now (temporary, not stable) the best one can expect has to be transitioned into the concept that Life can be Stable and not boring!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Razing Rights (for writers)

Ever since the Statute of Queen Anne, so, for centuries, copyright law has protected creators. For writers, copyright means that as soon as you write something.... the lyrics of a song, a blog, a play, a story, a letter,  a novel, etc, you had the right to be paid when others enjoyed your work.

At least legally and in theory, the creator owned the word and had the right to publish or not publish, to distribute or not distribute, to license or sell or not license or not sell.

Artists (or creators, or writers) might do deals and sign with agents, managers, publishers, film studios, music labels. Those deals might have been one sided, even exploitative, but the copyright owner got to sign the contract, and they were paid according to the agreements.  If they weren't paid, they had the right to sue.

With the intenet cam sharp-elbowed middlemen who inserted themselves without a contract or the consent of the creator. At first, these middlemen offered some value. They helped potential paying customers to "find" legal copies of the works, and enabled those finders to purchase rights or physical goods (such as vinyl albums, cds, dvds, paper books).  The camel's nose was under the tent.

Soon, the middlemen began to help fans to "find" illegal copies of works which might have been "free", and the copyright owners were not paid and nor were the agents and managers and publishers and labels. This was very profitable for the uncontrolled, permissionless, contractless outsiders, because they were funded by advertising.

Then came lending, and streaming, and subscription services (paid and free), and perhaps creators were paid a pittance, and perhaps they weren't, but the creators were not consulted, had no contracts, and no power to negotiate their compensation.

Amazon had its KU model, (which admittedly was opt-in) where there was a "pot" that Amazon funded, and Amazon unilaterally controlled. It was a zero sum pot. It was a "take it or leave it" pot.

Spotify has a zero sum pot, too. Musicians are not paid based on consumption, and the pot is not determined by "play" but by increasing paid subscriptions and increasing advertisements.  Songwriters never got to opt out or to set their price or choose their agent.

It's quite a scandal.  The cruellest cut is what has happened since all touring is on hiatus, and the always-weak piratical excuse that record sales (or piracy) are valuable free promotion for live tours is shown as bad business for creators.

(See also Part 2 and Part 3)

The richer and more powerful the middlemen became, the more influence they were able to buy and bully in their quest to weaken and eventually raze copyright. Chris Castle makes some telling points perhaps about high level back scratching in discussing "the anaconda in the chandelier". 

Only recently are song writers realizing just how dreadful a deal was made in 2017, when people who  had no right to represent them or make deals on their behalf without their knowledge or consent gave retroactive safe harbor to Spotify and others, making them "judgment proof" so those "music services" could not be sued for rampant copyright infringement. No recourse, no payments, rights razed for songwriters.

There is to be a new head of the copyright office. Copyright owners wonder whether the new Register will balance the rights of creators with the needs of "fans" and the ambitions of those dedicated to the profitable eradication of copyright.

Legal bloggers Linda J. Zirkelbach and Dana Tinelli for Venable discuss the key findings of the new report on Section 513 (the over-broad and over-generous Safe Harbor provisions which are not working as intended, assuming that the intention was for balance and actual cooperation between OSPs and copyright owners to discourage piracy). 

Other articles of interest are:

From Thompson Coburn, LLC, Justin Mulligan writes: 

Activist judges, allegedly, have raised the bar for copyright owners by requiring that copyright owners can face legal jeopardy if they do not consult a lawyer (which is costly) before filing a take down notice of copyright infringement. Victims of piracy who see their music or their books being exploited by others without consent, payment, or a contract must now analyze whether or not the infringement is "fair use".

For Squire Patton Boggs, Philip R. Zender and Raisa Dyadkina suggest that there might be a possibility of changes to the (outdated) DMCA. 

Happy Labor Day Weekend.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry


Thursday, September 03, 2020

Benford's Law

On a Netflix series called CONNECTED, I recently watched an episode about Benford's Law, a theory new to me. Here's the Wikipedia article on this theory. It's dense with equations and mathematical terms, but you can get a general idea of the concept from the explanatory sections:

Benford's Law

In brief, it states that in any large set of numbers, about 30% begin with the digit 1, about 17% with 2, about 12% with 3, and so on, decreasing predictably with each digit. The larger the sample, the more reliably this pattern shows up. "As a rule of thumb, the more orders of magnitude that the data evenly covers, the more accurately Benford's law applies." It doesn't matter what kind of statistics we're examining. Population figures of cities, a list of the sixty tallest structures in the world, death rates, house prices—all follow the pattern. Furthermore, it doesn't matter what units of measurement are used. The data are so predictable that this principle has been used in fraud detection and granted legal status in court cases.

This phenomenon seems downright spooky, especially since nobody knows for sure why numbers work that way. The Wikipedia article explains various hypotheses in detail, with mathematical terminology and symbols that I skipped over because they made my head spin. The host of the Netflix program raised an existential question: What does Benford's Law mean for human free will? If the statistical outcome of such a wide variety of human activities is so predictable, are our individual choices freely made?

I believe the two levels of phenomena don't negate each other. Patterns of large numbers of events in the aggregate follow the "law." Nevertheless, the decisions of any particular person in a given situation can't be reliably predicted. For instance, at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, a half-serious rule was discovered that every couple stationed there eventually got a pet, a baby, or a divorce. My husband and I had our third baby while he attended the school. But that decision wasn't compelled by the "rule." Somehow, by acting freely in their own lives, human beings collectively fulfill demographic "laws." Yet each action is still chosen, not compelled.

Maybe it's as C. S. Lewis proposes in his allegorical novel THE GREAT DIVORCE: From the perspective of eternity, predestination and free will are not incompatible. Likewise, there's no contradiction between predictable statistical probabilities and individuals' conscious choices.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Worldbuilding From Reality Part 14 - Ripping A Headline For Theme

Worldbuilding From Reality
Part 14
Ripping A Headline For Theme

Previous entries in Worldbuilding From Reality are indexed here:

On Facebook back in May, 2020, I ran across a comment on a Headline I considered extremely "rip-able" -- so much drama entwined in the scenes behind such headlines.

The article is fraught with emotionally loaded, semantically powerful, language which drives inexorably toward a specific conclusion, and careful reading of the article reveals much about the very nature of theme.

We have discussed theme and targeting an audience many times, looking at the use of theme from many angles.

One of the most commercial uses of Theme in fiction creation is simply to target an audience.  This article illustrates that usage in journalistic prose.  Master writing articles in this style to insert into Chapters where your protagonist needs to learn something about the theme of his story, her life.

Theme is a statement (or question)  about some matter of ultimate concern -- but what matters concern an audience varies with the average age of the audience, maybe gender, maybe economic status, maybe political bias, whether they believe the HEA is real or wish-fulfillment-fantasy.

Currently, we are in an election-of-a-lifetime, and it truly is a life or death election for many people who have had their lives ruined by the shut down.  Some see the shut down as due to a virus that may or may not have been deliberately created, maybe not genetically engineered but just deliberately bred, and weaponized.  Others see it as an artifact of malfunctioning government.

We can only imagine what might have happened, and we've all seen enough horror movies to have vivid imaginations about what governments might do, while journalism is agitating our imagination.

So, no matter who is in charge of a government and no matter what that person might do with government power, most of the people will just purely hate that person.

It's natural to hate anything that coerces you -- including parents, and even the most passionate Soul Mate.

We all understand striking back at people whose actions constrain our actions.

So we impute our own most probable motives to those who strike back and to those who constrain.  We imagine ourselves into the characters portrayed in the real-life news, and firmly believe we know what went on behind the scenes.  As long as we're governed by humans, we're probably pretty close to accurate.

Because we understand the world in fictional terms, journalism has learned to extract, distill and present to us a "narrative" -- a plot, a because-line of events -- that leads us to conclude whatever the owners of the news outlet want us to conclude.

In fiction writing, we use the term "show don't tell" to indicate that we must portray, illustrate, but never come out and SAY IT to the reader.

The reader will believe what the reader figures out for themselves, NOT what the writer tells them to believe.  So we show emotions, but we don't name them.

This technique of inducing the reader to adopt a specific conclusion by figuring it out for themselves has been perfected by journalism.

By carefully editing away extraneous or confusing events, focusing on a "narrative" the journalists lead the audience to believe something that will motivate the audience to act in a certain way -- vote for a particular candidate, or vote for someone they hate just to get a particular policy enacted.

This is called "slant" in journalism, and "genre" in fiction.

It is the selective recreation of reality with emphasis on selective.

The particular issue being highlighted doesn't matter.  What matters is the spotlight of the highlighting.  As in stagecraft the spotlight has to "follow" the actor -- making everything else shadowed, but real and acknowledged. The spotlight shows the audience what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.

Taking the spotlighted issue of the era (say, Climate Change, Weapons In Space, Financial Malfeasance In Office, Government Funding, anything really) and extracting from it a THEME you can use in fiction to enthrall your reader is the foundation of good writing.

Write about what the reader is interested in, but say something on that topic that the reader does not expect.

The THEME is what you have to say about the issue, but a theme is an abstraction, a principle of reality as you understand it, or as your Main Character understands or misunderstands it.  The Main Character then learns through the Plot Events of the novel.  That's Character Arc.

For example: In my Romantic Times Award Winning novel, Dushau

I used the overall theme of "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" to generate a plot driven by an unjust accusation making a fugitive out of an innocent non-human who couldn't comprehend the injustice.

This is a theme dear to my heart, and so when I see any hint of it in real-world headlines, it gets me revved up.

That happened with this Washington Post article to my Facebook Feed.

So one of my Facebook contacts summarized the meat of the article in a way that drew many comments.

It should be noted that the investigation here involved whether or not Pompeo and his wife used a federal employee for personal errands.

State Department inspector general fired as Democrats decry ‘dangerous pattern of retaliation’ State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired Friday in a late-night ouster that drew condemnations from Democrats, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warning of an acceleration in a “dangerous pattern of retaliation” against federal watchdogs.

Linick, a 2013 Obama appointee who has criticized department leadership for alleged retribution toward staffers, will be replaced by Ambassador Stephen J. Akard, a State Department spokesperson confirmed Friday. It was the latest in a string of weekend removals of oversight officials who have clashed with the Trump administration.

------end quote-----

Way down the active comment thread, someone said something that prompted me to reply:

It's not supposed to be "investigate this person to see if they did this crime" -- it's supposed to be, "here's a crime somebody did, FIND THE CULPRIT."

Someone commented:

When the crime is misuse of an employee's time, it is difficult not to look at the employer as the source of the directions being followed.

Which is so true, I stared at it a long while before replying:

Yes, and the most attractive suspect is rarely the culprit.

So one of the other commenters on the thread jumped in with:

Really? Where did you find statistics supporting that claim?

And then added:


In reality both approaches are used; that's how the DEA goes after drug cartel members, among other criminals. Sometimes you just know someone is guilty; the problem is finding good evidence that proves your case.


Clearly that double comment had come after a reaction somewhat like mine -- thinking hard about the entire context.  But he was thinking in an entirely different context than I was thinking.

So I wrote the following long-essay reply:

As a professional science fiction writer, I've studied perception and subjectivity and language and culture, etc (but my degree is in Physical Chemistry). Read some of my novels to see if you think I have a handle on that.

Recently, research has surfaced (again) about subjectivity, and expertise. Bottom line: the more certain you are that you are correct and know exactly what you're talking about, the more likely it is that you're wrong, or not correct, or only partially correct in a special case.

It used to be a surprise that "the butler did it" -- now it's a cliche.

So in this context, if it's "difficult not to look at the employer" as noted (accurately)  for misuse of an employee, then don't look at the employer first or that's misuse of your employer's time.

Note, rather, how the phrasing of the headlines leads you to a specific interpretation of the text of the articles - and away from other interpretations.

"Late night firing..." does not constitute a crime. There's no statute against firing an employee - no statute that says what time of day you may fire an employee.  The person who suggested the firing and the person who did the firing were both entitled to fire the job holder.

All those involved held the correct titles and authority to act. No crime is sited.  It is our suspicions about motives that make us sit up straight - and our very low opinion of the persons holding the various offices make us certain there has to be some nefarious deed here and it must, absolutely must, be illegal! It just must be a crime - must. We feel that deeply.

Or put another way, it's hard to assume a person innocent until proven guilty if you hold that person in low esteem - and as you point out, finding PROOF is the difficult job.

Accusation does not imply guilt.

"Knowing" does not even hint at guilt. You must start with the crime and work up the tenuous connecting thread(s) to the culprit -- not the other way around.

Starting with the person and "investigating" them until you find some crime they must have committed is the foundation of tyranny.

Once the culture accepts "investigate the person to find the crime," two to four generations later, it seems perfectly plausible to people who never knew any other way of governing that government and law enforcement must investigate everyone to find their crimes, but since the budget won't allow that, law enforcement depends on friends and family to rat out the culprits (and the rat can lie with impunity.)  Accusation=Guilt.

So new "leaders" make so many laws or decrees that every single person is guilty of something horrendous, and the new tyrants just need to pick out their enemies and sic the investigators on them -- because everyone is guilty of something.

In those intervening decades, the kind of person, the sort of character who is attracted into a career in government or law enforcement shifts from true public servants and statesmen  to wannabe dictators with a frenetic inner compulsion to control other people's behavior.

So I pointed out that this story about an appointed paper-pusher being investigated is presented via headlines phrased to encourage the assumption that accusation=guilt. This assumption is indicating we are edging into the procedural black hole of investigating people instead of crimes.  I'm sure you can name a bunch more in the headlines who are people being investigated.

So go read some current pre-election headlines, search for the connecting theme underlying the issues spotlighted, look into the shadows around the spotlight and find what you have to say on the matter.

If you need more inspiration for building a Science Fiction Romance world, check out my blog entry from May 12, 2020:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg