Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Plot-Subtext Integration Part 2: Ruining The Romance With Words by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Plot-Subtext Integration Part 2:
Ruining The Romance With Words 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Today we'll examine a terrific novel in a picture-perfect series from Ace Science Fiction  which I just absolutely love -- but find myself gritting my teeth over certain brief scenes that are actually the core of the matter for me.

I will include "spoilers" -- we're talking here about the 11th novel in a series, and no way can you discuss that without revealing where those previous 10 have been leading. 

These scenes score an "epic fail" for me because of the sour note in the Romance thread of the plot. 


What could a writer do about it? 

A lot, and it would be easy and not make the book longer. 

Previously in this blog series on writing craft, we've discussed Dialogue with special focus on invective.

Here is a post from 2009 which opens the issue of dialogue with a broad overview.


It refers to a previous series of posts on Verisimilitude vs. Reality where we examined how "dialogue" differs from the way people just talk in real life.  Dialogue is not "real speech." Writers watch a lot of television and/or movies to develop an "ear" for the difference.

We have also discussed dialogue from other angles. It is part of characterization, pacing, plotting, foreshadowing, choosing a title, description, narrative, and of course conflict.  In fact, dialogue integrates all the techniques we've discussed here separately.

Here are some previous posts about dialogue:







The magnificent writer whose work I'm going to criticize here is Mike Shepherd, a military Science Fiction writer I admire.  He has replicated, in modern writing, the style and rhythm of the 1940's science fiction writers.  This is a tremendous feat!

I read a lot of these very old novels as I grew up, and saw nothing wrong. 

As a teen, I hated "Romance" genre novels because they were about stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons.  Romance has GROWN UP since then, and now we have the kick-ass heroine who won't take "no" for an answer, and we also have women who are hackers, gamers, research scientists, and even military commanders.

Mike Shepherd has created a character for an interstellar war era who comes from a line of military leaders who have risen to be crowned "King" of multiple star systems.

This family line is surnamed Longknife. 

Shepherd has created a galaxy-spanning human civilization which, as humans will do, has split into human vs. human to hold a war or three. 

In the meantime, this civilization has encountered aliens, conducted long and complex war against them, and settled the conflict (maybe not permanently, but things are looking good at the moment.)

Shepherd has extended the human life-span and created artificial intelligence computers and a material for warcraft hulls he has TRADEMARKED the name of "Smart Metal" (so other writers can't use this term.)  This is magnificent work. 

Shepherd has several series set in this vast universe, and today we are focusing on the 11th in the series, the 2013 release, Kris Longknife: DEFENDER by Mike Shepherd from Ace Science Fiction.

The previous titles in the Kris Longknife Series are, in order:
and in 2013, Defender

Slated for October 2014 is Kris Longknife: Tenacious, followed by another novel that takes up the doings of one of Kris's main foes who became an ally, then a filling in of the backstory of the war fought by Kris's father and grandfather. 

These other three people are tremendous, colorful characters -- but they don't grab my interest as Kris Longknife does.  I'll give them a try, though, because Shepherd is a great writer.

Kris Longknife starts out in Mutineer as a slip of a girl, just out of school and taking the stage in her life.

Her ancestors are Kings, her whole family has a reputation for making trouble, for getting people killed, for doings that have the massive signature of Pluto Transit Events.

Natal Pluto position in a birth chart is one of several signatures necessary to produce Fame, Infamy, A Place In The History Books (not a footnote size one either).  Pluto magnifies whatever it forms an aspect with -- hard aspects produce vast results that get noticed.

If you've followed my discussions on how a writer can use Astrology to structure a character or plot that readers can grasp at a glance, you know that these natal chart formations actually form family-signatures -- yes, astrological charts show family tendencies.

I used that well known (but unnoticed by most people) fact to create the Farris Family Reputation ("Every Farris Makes Headlines At Least Once In Life") for the Sime~Gen Series. 

Said another way, "The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree." 

This inheritable factor is the subject of all kinds of folk-sayings, and is just common knowledge.  So writers can use this to plot multi-generation tales.

I doubt Mike Shepherd has studied Astrology, but he has portrayed that Pluto driven natal chart feature of The Warrior-King perfectly. 

Kris Longknife starts out at the beginning of this series with people trying to kill her -- assassinate might be a more accurate term, considering she's scion of this Royal family.

Along the way, she develops a sizzling-hot relationship with her bodyguard who routinely saves her life -- she does her share of saving, too.  In fact, she saves planets, civilization, humanity, even aliens -- big things. 

The point of view stays nicely inside Kris's head, and we see all these problems through her eyes -- we see how she muddles through, assesses and takes risks, congratulates herself when she makes a good call, and aches all over when she gets people killed.

But that's the "Longknife" pattern -- people standing anywhere near her get killed, but she survives (without doing anything to make that happen.)

The few people who do stand near her and survive with her become our friends and win our affections, too.  They are well drawn characters with depth, focus, and values we can admire.

So though this series is mostly about battle strategy and tactics, about politics, revolution, (or revolution thwarted), assassinations, face-saving, and engineering miracles on the fly, all these larger-than-life things are happening TO very real, very deep and sensitive Characters. 

And all of this magnificence is accomplished despite really bad dialogue writing.

What's bad about it?

It is what Blake Snyder labels (in his SAVE THE CAT! series on screenwriting) "on the nose" dialogue. 

"On the nose" is the opposite of "sub-text."

"On the nose" means when you "hit the nail on the head" or say something explicitly, in spades, flat out factual recitation.  "On the nose" means no allusions, allegories, symbolism, misdirection, sarcasm, white lies, but just meaning exactly what you say.

"Subtext" on the other hand means that the utterance contains vocabulary, subject matter, and perhaps plot references (i.e. references to actions under consideration) that have absolutely nothing to do with what the Characters are actually discussing and they both know it.

Good romance is rife with "subtext" and resorts to only one on-the-nose utterance -- which is that final, angst-ridden admission of a by-then-obvious truth, "I love you."

The writing craft term "subtext" means that the "text" (what is actually being said) is "sub" or under that which seems to be the subject under discussion.

Here's a snatch of subtext dialogue from the screenplay BASIC INSTINCT:



It is beautifully done in a Santa Fe motif.  She goes to a
bedroom of the living room.


Nick sits down on a couch facing the bedroom she's walked
into.  Gus sits across from him, his back to the bedroom.
There is a coffee table between them.  She leaves the
bedroom door halfway open.

An old newspaper is on the coffee table them.  Nick reaches
for it.  The headline says:  VICE COP CLEARED IN TOURIST
SHOOTINGS.  A headline underneath says:  GRAND JURY SAYS
SHOOTINGS ACCIDENTAL.  There is a photograph of Nick.

He stares at the paper.

        CATHERINE (O.S.)
    How long will this take?

Nick puts the paper down on the coffee table.  He is lost
in his thoughts.  Gus picks the paper up.

        (looks up)
    I don't know.

Nick, facing the half open bedroom door, sees a mirror near
the wall of the bedroom.  The mirror reflects her in the
other corner of the bedroom.  She is taking her clothes
off.  He stares.  She strips down.  He sees her back. She
has a beautiful body.  Naked, she puts a dress on.  She
doesn't put any underwear on.

    Do you always keep old newspapers

        CATHERINE (O.S.)
    Only when they make interesting

And she is suddenly out of the bedroom.  She stands there,
smiles.  They look at each other a long beat.

    I'm ready.

They get up, head out.

    You have the right to an attorney.

    Why would I need an attorney?


They sit in the front; she is in the back.  The car goes
over the winding, two-lane Mt. Tamalpais road.

The fog is heavy.  It's starting to rain.  We see the beach
far below.

    Do you have a cigarette?

    I don't smoke.

    Yes you do.

    I quit.

She smiles, looks at him.  A beat, and he turns away.
Another beat, and she lights a cigarette up.

    I thought you were out of

    I found some in my purse; would you
    like one?

He turns back to her.

    I told you -- I quit.

    It won't last.

A beat, as she looks at him, and then he turns away.

    You workin' on another book?

    Yes I am.

    It must really be somehtin' --
    makin' stuff up all the time.

He watches her in the rearview mirror.

    It teaches you to lie.

    How's that?

    You make it up, but it has to be
    believable.  They call it
    suspension of disbelief.

    I like that.  "Suspension of

He smiles at her in the mirror.

    What's your new book about?

    A detective.  He falls for the
    wrong woman.

He turns back to her.

    What happens to him?

She looks right into his eye.

    She kills him.

A beat, as they look at each other, and then he turns away
from her.  Gus watcher her in the rearview mirror.

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

You can get the whole screenplay (which showcases this technique throughout, as do almost every movie or TV Series episode today) at

Notice how they're talking about smoking, and a book she's writing -- but that's not what they're talking ABOUT.  The subtext is all about Relationship -- about flirting -- about what they might be or become to each other. 

The REAL conversion is off-the-nose.

Now, back to the military Science Fiction novel with a bit of a love-story squeezed in between battle scenes, or frantic preparation for battle.

In this 11th book in the series about Kris Longknife, the issue that has kept Kris and her bodyguard apart during 10 novels is solved by a woman thought to be dead a long time ago, Kris's grandmother, also a ship's captain, thought lost in action.

Turns out, she led her battle squadron off in a chase across a galaxy, managed to escape her pursuers, just barely, and couldn't get home.  So she set up a colony on a world already occupied by some bird-like aliens with whom she hacked out a treaty of sorts. 

The issue Kris and her bodyguard have been dealing with is Navy Regulations against "fraternization" -- that is an anti-bullying regulation that is there to try to prevent a "superior" officer from trading good will and privileges for sexual favors from someone of lesser rank.

So those in the same chain of command who are (whatever) number of ranks apart aren't allowed to have a Relationship.

Kris's grandmother points out that because of shifts in titles and appointments, there were a few hours when Kris and her bodyguard were not in the same chain of command, and that the grandmother is empowered to conduct weddings.

They throw together a wedding ceremony using borrowed clothing, and well rehearsed wedding participants, and take off for a honeymoon at a coastal resort on the planet.

The romantic interlude is (appropriately) mostly nudity and sex, in very high contrast to the usual scenes in these 11 novels -- all very well written sex fantasy that keeps the characters in character.  But the dialogue lacks that "subtext" technique illustrated above.

Then the novel continues into another mission, more space-battle-tactics, arriving home to more frantic battle-preparations as great-big-bad-alien-killers approach, and a final battle where Kris dredges up some old Earth sea/air battle tactics.

Between long narrations of how they can stretch their resources to defend this solar system from the approaching aliens, Kris and her new husband have several scenes alone.

The issue of "fraternization regs" is raised, and Kris calls a conference of her staff leaders.  They rewrite the regs for the sake of morale, so there are a couple more sex interludes and a few times on the space station they build in orbit, they go out to a cafe for dinner. 

On page 316, near the end of the book, before the aliens arrive to try to take the planet, they go out to a restaurant on the space station (which now serves food that's mostly native to the planet).

Jack is the bodyguard/husband, Kris has 3 titles, one of which is Admiral.  Sal is Jack's A.I. computer and Nellie is Kris's A.I. computer.


I'm having dinner with my husband. Right!

"Do you know what's special about today?" Jack said, reaching across the table for her hands.

"Besides the cavalry arriving to either rescue us or go down in our defeat?"

"Forget the job," Jack growled.  "Today is our second anniversary.  It's been two months since we let Granny Rita talk us into taking the plunge.  Do you regret it?"

"Never," Kris said, squeezing Jack's hand.  "Two months.  I totally forgot about it.  I can hardly keep track of the time.  How'd you do it?"

"I had Sal do it for me."

"Nelly, why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't know it mattered to you.  I know it's a very romantic thing for you humans.  I just didn't know if it would include you, Kris."

"Yes, I'm human, and yes, I'm romantic, at least for Jack, and Jack, why are you doing all the girl things and me doing all the stupid boy stuff?" 

"You're the admiral," he said with a shrug.

Kris let out a sigh.  "I don't like that, Jack."

"But you have to.  That's what Longknives do.  They do what they have to dol."

"Well, I want to do more.  Stuff I want to do as well as what I have to do." 

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

Dinner arrives, and they talk about the food and then ...

"You amaze me, Jack.  You remember our anniversary and do it enough ahead of time to talk my granny ut of the fruits of her garden."

"Oh, I didn't talk her out of anything, it was pure horse-trading.  My Marines will deliver a truckload of fish offal to her and all her neighbors' gardens.  Nobody gets anything free from your granny."

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

Note how dialogue is substituted for narrative, and information is conveyed in TELL rather than SHOW.

Yes, it's fun banter, and yes I do love the styling -- and yes, after all these years of reading these novels, it's fabulous to "hear" them speak to each other so frankly -- but the dialogue is stilted, stiff, servicable, filling an interlude between lovingly detailed, subtly crafted battle scenes with some "words" that indicate they're still in love after all they've been through. 

Off-the-nose dialogue is show-not-tell -- it illustrates rather than states, allowing the reader to deduce what it means, and therefore the reader comes to participate in the story.

OK, so what CAN a writer do to finesse around these awkward moments, creating engrossing dialogue, quotable quotes, and

Why is there no way I can just rewrite that dialogue sequence, changing some words, restyling it, and bring it up to snuff for a modern Romance reader?

Here's why: the problem does not lie within this dialogue itself.  The writer is in a corner, there's a word-length limit, there has to be room for that final battle scene preceded by Kris sweating out what kind of battle plan might give her out-numbered force a chance.

The problem with this dialogue scene lies way back on page 66 to 86.

The problem here lies in the honeymoon scenes.

For this scene to be "off the nose" that honeymoon scene had to have additional "plants" inserted, images, symbols, and other devices that this scene could be fabricated from.

That inserted material had to be alluded to in other snatched moments -- perhaps gifting Kris with a certain flower on her access screen when she gets up in the morning, playing games with the calendar, etc. 

Since this is military science fiction, and this volume consists of more "logistics" problems than it does battle-tactics problems, the sexual innuendo and metaphore material has to be fabricated from shared combat experience (scenes missing here -- they don't work-out together, they don't fight each other, (they do shower together), they don't have a hand-to-hand-combat scene where the two of them are fighting an enemy.

There was opportunity for such together-scenes as their survey of the planet found other races of the natives who were not-so-friendly.  They could have found themselves in hand-to-hand-combat against unfriendly natives that they contrive to befriend.

This volume does have the more combative natives accepting positions in the space Navy to defend their planet, and Kris does consider promoting one of them to her personal staff.  So that story is there, in the background -- and was just passed over as a tell not show. 

The honeymoon scene could have been sliced in half to make room for a side-by-side or back-to-back combat scene which would provide the text to cover the sub-text in this 2-months-anniversary scene. 

There is the sub-genre of Action Romance, and this series of novels fits the description perfectly. 

The Longknife series is about combat, and Kris achieves results in combat that are ostensibly pure luck. 

There is a reason we have the term Sexual Politics and Battle of the Sexes.

This volume of the Kris Longknife series is about sexual politics.

But that issue is told not shown.

Kris's battle-commander results are LUCK.  Some characters resent her for that, others admire her, and the sensible ones stay as far away from her physical person as they can -- but they know which is the winning side in any conflict before it happens.

Watch this video of a veteran attributing combat results to luck:


Read Kris Longknife: DEFENDER, and watch for ways to restructure the early parts of the novel so that this crucial Romance Dinner Scene comes out with all the most powerful part of the content in subtext. 

Now find where you can use that same technique to restructure your work so that the dialogue stays "off-the-nose." 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Greetings

Happy Yuletide, whatever holiday(s) you celebrate! The twelve days of Christmas have just begun, since Christmastide in the Western tradition encompasses December 25 to January 6.

At this time of year, much grumbling comes from some quarters about the so-called “war on Christmas,” by which the viewers-with-alarm usually seem to mean the greeting of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and a lack of Nativity scenes in public places. Far more interesting than attacks on these straw targets is the historical “battle” discussed in one of my favorite nonfiction books, THE BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS, by Stephen Nissenbaum. The REAL old-fashioned Christmas would have looked to us like a mash-up of Halloween, Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve. It’s not surprising the Puritans tried to ban it. The family-centered holiday we think of as “traditional” was invented in the nineteenth century. And as soon as Christmas began to turn into a celebration focused on children, people started worrying about its hazards of materialism and greed. Nissenbaum’s book explores the push and pull between groups who wanted to expand the season and those who wanted to restrict it and between the old “carnival” holiday and the domestic one we’re familiar with, as well as between the commercial and the family-centered.

More than fifty years ago, C. S. Lewis remarked that "Christmas" actually referred to three different things: A religious holiday, a secular festival, and "the commercial racket." Things haven't changed much!

This week I came across a thought-provoking passage in FOR ALL GOD’S WORTH, a book on worship by one of my favorite nonfiction authors, New Testament scholar N. T. Wright. He covers many topics whose immediate relevance to the topic of worship isn’t immediately obvious, including this statement about Christmas in his introduction: In reaction to the popular culture nostalgic holiday with its images of “candles and carols and firelight and happy children,” he says, “Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked. . . . Christmas is God lighting a candle, and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are.” Imagine THAT on a greeting card. Wright continues, “Christmas, then, is not a dream, a moment of escapism. Christmas is the reality, which shows up the rest of ‘reality’.”

Best wishes to all—see you next year.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Story Springboards Part 6 - Earning a Sobriquet by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Story Springboards
Part 6
Earning a Sobriquet
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is a list of the previous parts in this Story Springboards series -- about how to build a "springboard."  In this section we've been examining the adage "just write an interesting story and it will sell."  "Interesting" is a very complex subject.  What interests you might not interest anyone else.  What interests you today might bore you tomorrow.

So what is the secret of being "interesting?" 

In Part 3 of this series,
we started sketching out the issues and topics relevant to constructing an Episodic Plot.


We looked at the link between fame, glory and the "interesting story":

Examines the popularity of Zombies and offers an explanation which might lead you to find the next most-popular subject.

In Reviews Part 3,
we discussed the TV Series version of Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- and noted in the dialogue the use of the concept "Origin Story."

Origin Stories in superhero land are about how the "Hero" became "Super" -- how they got started on a career of crime-fighting or protecting the helpless or innocent.

An Origin Story is a certain type of "story springboard." 

In Romance, the "origin story" can be the "how we first met" story.  Or it can be the recent 'breakup' story of one member of the couple-to-be that sets up why the new Relationship just can't crystalize yet.

In Romance, "Pet Names" are sobriquets that personal and unique to the couple, often so confidential people use them as passwords. 

In Romance, the partner occupies the position of "Superhero" from the point of view of the lover -- the "He can do no wrong," position and "She is mine," position. 

Almost every Superhero has a nickname -- "Superman" is a nickname for Clark Kent which is formed as a sobriquet -- an alternative name that is derived from an observable trait.

Remember, there are many mystical ramifications of Names that we've discussed.  In Magic for Paranormal Romance you want to build into your World a definition of true-name and a mechanism that describes how finding out the true name and calling a person or thing by that true name actually works. 

True Names can be powerful - and so can sobriquets.  A sobriquet can mask a true name, or resonate with the person more strongly than the true name.

Many "ordinary people" acquire nicknames as sobriquets. 

In the Air Force and other military organizations (like the Space Patrol) the "nickname" often becomes a "call sign." 

In Battlestar Galactica "Starbuck" is a call sign and a nickname, a sobriquet.

Native American cultures had the custom of not naming a child until the personality and/or sponsoring animal-god (totem) was evident.  In many cases, that name had to be earned by a coming-of-age feat. 

What feat did your Main Character execute (maybe in college?) that earned a sobriquet?

Many cultures have various ways of creating layers of "names" for everyone.  There's the name you are given -- and the name you earn -- the name plastered upon you by your enemies -- the name awarded by History.

In fact, you find the power of Naming a person also in the Bible as God renames people variously: Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Aaron became Aharon; Jacob became Israel (after wrestling with an Angel), and so on and on.

In online communities, people create an Avatar and name it.  This custom was also practiced in organized Science Fiction Fandom decades before the internet, and today you can register for the World Science Fiction Convention and give a fannish-name to be inscribed on your badge (so everyone will know who you really are -- as your "real" name would be meaningless.) 

Actors (and pole dancers in strip joints) use "stage names." 

Undercover Agents adopt and discard names, but think of themselves by one name.

Hackers make an art of adopting or awarding a sobriquet. 

Writers use "Pen Names" -- known in journalism as a by line. 

All these alternative names are to be considered when naming a character.  Each one you use for a character has to be carefully chosen -- it is an art!  You don't want "too many" names or the readers will get confused.  You might know many sobriquets your character has been known as over his lifetime, but use only one in this story. 

In a Romance, intimating a long-disused sobriquet to a lover is a form of revelation, a baring of Character. 

The sobriquets your Character has been awarded define both the character and the "circles" in which that character has moved. 

The sobriquet then becomes "interesting" because it hints at relevant information yet to be revealed, and at questions such as, "Well, then why aren't you currently moving in Hacker circles?"  "Why did you quit playing World of Warcraft?" 

So Avatar sobriquets are usually chosen by the person who is known by them, while appelations are chosen by those who love them, or hate them -- or just peripherally know them or have been impacted by their actions. 

Adding to or changing a person's NAME has potent magical significance, and that magic makes the Name a source of "springboard" energy for a storyteller.

That's why, very often, the correct first word of a novel -- or even of a pitch for a screenplay or novel -- consists of the character's full name.  Consider what you learn of a character whose full, proper name is six names followed by a list of titles. 

The Name of a character can be intriguing, interesting, portentous, suggestive.

Referring to our "ripped from the headlines" theme on this blog, I should point out that the conservative commentator Anne Coulter (who writes books, appears on several TV news comment shows, and has her own show) has earned the sobriquet, Firebrand.

Wound up tight within the sobriquet, you will find the Origin Story for your superhero.

Very often, a character will "appear" to a writer out of the blue, and the writer knows that character only by the sobriquet the character reveals.  Unraveling that nickname into the Origin Story could easily reveal the powerful springboard for an episodic work.

The sobriquet plastered upon a "Figure" by adversaries or enemies usually contains invective expressing how this Heroic Figure is anathema to the opposition.

The story of how a particular sobriquet was earned, and how that nickname differs from the person's given or family name, makes a terrific subject for a First Novel -- not necessarily the first in the story's own timeline, but the author's first sale to a major outlet.

So let's think a little bit about the earning of a nickname.

The concept "an earned name" speaks to the individuality of a person -- what makes you different from others.  Your given name may be in honor of an ancestor and your family name is inherited -- these are names that connect you to the Past, Present, and Future -- they are symbols of the time-binding function of humanity.

The earned name speaks entirely to what makes you different, singular, and identifies you with an achievement or style of achieving.

The sobriquet, therefore, is the element of CHARACTER that "springs forth" to create that character's story.

And since the sobriquet is earned by DOING something -- it therefore connects the story to the plot, (hus showing the reader the bud that will open to the many-petaled flower of the theme. 

The meaning of your story is the theme, and the sobriquet of your main or ancillary characters connects that meaning to the event sequence which forms the plot.

So "what he did to earn this sobriquet" is the SHOW that is not a TELL. 

Naming characters is a "show-don't-tell" exercise in explaining your theme. 

Your theme is what you have to say, which is what this story is about. 

Many people think they'd love to write novels, but they just don't know where to start.

One place to start is with the springboard -- and one filament in that board that is flexible enough to bend and then spring up to hurl the reader into the story is the Name of the Main Character.

Inside the theme, which is shown by the Main Character's appellations, lies the sound of your Voice.


The story springboard propels your main character into his "story."  It is a "leap" (as in "leap of faith.") 

The character jumps off a cliff, dives into a situation.  Maybe the Main Character gets fed up and runs away from home, cuts all ties with his past and forges out into the world to create a new identity.  In other words, the beginning of the "Origin Story" for your character-sobriquet is where the character "leaps into action." 

And all of that is hidden within the Name and attendant sobriquets.

The sobriquet awarded to your Main Character by another character poses the question and hints at the answers.

And therein lies one of the best kept secrets of writing an "interesting" story.

"Interesting" is not you TELLING the reader the story.

"Interesting" is you hinting at stories within stories -- stories untold -- questions lurking in the background but not quite asked.

Reading a novel is an adventure.  The best part is not knowing what will happen next.

The novel reader wants to figure out what will happen next just before the Main Character twigs to the tricks being played.

Writing a novel is very much like a teacher using the Socratic Method to teach.  You don't TELL the answers.  You ASK the questions, and thus SHOW the matter to the students who feel entertained and thus interested.

What does "interesting" mean?

It means something you do not know.

What "interests" people?

Their own ideas, thoughts, and imagination -- theirs, not yours. 

Review the tweets cited in this post:

What's in a Name?

Inside a Name you will find an organizing principle for the meaning of an Origin Story.

More examples and exercises on creating story-springboards via Theme-Worldbuilding Integration on January 14, 2014 on this blog.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Resurrecting Dead Characters

This week on the mid-season “finale” of a TV show I watch, one of my favorite characters died. I won’t reveal the title or character, in case you follow the series and haven’t seen the episode yet. I’m hoping he’ll return somehow. After all, Buffy’s vampire lovers Angel and Spike didn’t stay dead. On SUPERNATURAL, both Dean and Sam have been to Hell and back. THE VAMPIRE DIARIES restored Bonnie from ghost to living girl. Revival of “dead” characters has become almost commonplace on fantasy programs. Given the tremendous magical powers demonstrated by one of the characters in this series that just started its winter hiatus, bringing someone back from the dead doesn’t seem farfetched. Whether doing so would cheapen his sacrifice, of course, is a separate question.

Simply working a spell to resurrect him seems too simple, in my opinion. I’ve been speculating on whether time travel might be used to return him to life, the way Darla was brought back on ANGEL. Could magic pluck him out of the time stream at the instant of death and bring him forward into a future moment weeks or months later? The extraction would have to occur at the very microsecond before he dies, or else the deed he died to perform wouldn’t get completed, plus witnesses would see him vanish rather than assume they saw his death (in an explosion of black smoke, which is why it’s barely possible to remove him from the present without having anyone realize it).

Robert Heinlein, in one of his later novels, rescues Lazarus Long’s mother from death in somewhat this way. History records that she was killed in a traffic accident. Lazarus's companions leap in from the distant future to whisk her away while a trace of life remains in her body. They pull it off without apparently changing the past, by instantaneously substituting a cloned replica of her to serve as the corpse. (It’s a mindless body that has never really “lived,” so they aren’t committing murder.) A somewhat similar premise allows the time traveling historians in Connie Willis’s series (DOOMSDAY BOOK, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, BLACKOUT, and ALL CLEAR) to rescue doomed artifacts or living creatures in rare circumstances without changing the known past. An object recorded as destroyed in the bombing of a cathedral in the Blitz is snatched away just before the bombs fall, so that it’s preserved while witnesses in the past assume it was blown up. A cat thrown into a river to drown is taken into the future; since the cat was already removed from the timeline by its intended death, transporting it alive into the mid-twenty-first century doesn’t change the past.

Authors treat the problem of changing the past in many different ways. One of my favorite time travel novels, LIGHTNING by Dean Koontz, features a traveler from the past (Nazi Germany) to our present. From his viewpoint, he’s trying to change the future. He labors under the limitation that he can’t be in two places at the same time, so he can’t leap into a moment when he already exists. This restriction makes the story’s climax, when he’s trying to save the heroine while barred from any segment of time he has already visited, highly suspenseful.

So, anyway – what about restoring a deceased major character? Does bringing such a character back to life, whether by magical resurrection, tricks with time, or some other method, retroactively negate the emotional impact of his or her death? I’ve sometimes felt that’s a risk writers take on a series such as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER or SUPERNATURAL, where the revival (in one form or another) of deceased characters becomes almost routine, so that any death of a major character loses importance. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back,” the viewer starts to think. Or, in the case of a person who’s worn out his welcome with the audience, “I hope we won’t see him again.” The series that concluded its half-season this week hasn’t reached that point; we haven’t yet seen a definitely dead person restored in this fictional universe.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Story Springboards Part 5: Explaining Popularity of Zombies by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Story Springboards Part 5: Explaining Popularity of Zombies  
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

In this series, we've been discussing the mechanism of how to "just write an interesting story" -- so let's ask What's So Interesting About Zombies?

Here are the Parts of Story Springboards and related posts:

The index of previous posts relevant to this discussion:


In Part 3 of this series,
we started sketching out the issues and topics relevant to constructing an Episodic Plot.


And last week we looked at the link between fame, glory and the "interesting story":

Then, on TV News, I heard a guy trying earnestly to explain that the popularity of Zombies on TV is due to the way Zombies represent Socialism. 

He might be right.  I couldn't tell because he really was inarticulate and all over the place philosophically.  All he did was express his personal opinion that TV is garbage and we should change the world by changing TV first.

TV's business model is to sell eyeballs to advertisers -- the fiction is just the "glue" to keep the eyeballs through commercials.  Those delivering TV fiction are trying to make a profit from this business model, therefore they must choose fiction that people want to watch.  They are not in the business of creating the desire, but of fulfilling that desire.

Like editors at big publishing houses, TV moguls buy TV series from Producers (and/or production companies or studios -- who are just contractors who build to suit their customers) all use the very latest in polling and public-opinion surveying (focus groups) to identify trends in what already interests the most people. 

The equation they have to work is all about how much it costs to make and deliver this piece of fiction vs. how much they can sell it for.

So the experiment of trying to run this delivery system mechanism BACKWARDS, is about the same as trying to use statistics backwards (e.g. If 51% of Black Hispanics prefer to wear white underwear, and you prefer white underwear, therefore you are a Black Hispanic.) 

So, I've seen this attempt to use mass media to change public opinion done before, and I have never seen that experiment work without losing tons of money.  It can work with specialty media -- aiming really cheap-to-make items at a tiny, already thirsty audience.  But it can't make a profit with expensive media delivery that needs a vast audience to break even. 

It surely wouldn't work with me.  What entertains me, is what entertains ME!  And nobody can change me by forcing me to fall asleep bored in front of something I  don't find entertaining.

But I do find the zombie popularity intriguing, interesting, even entertaining. 

I am perhaps able to analyze Zombie popularity because though it's fascinating to me, Zombies as a topic don't "grab" me the way Vampires do.  It's probably the Romance angle.

Yes, I've read some Zombie Romance novels - even great writing doesn't make Zombies interesting to me, though the craft techniques used to tell such a story are absolutely riveting!

I love the Vampire genres because they toy with the problem of Immortality -- watching everyone you love die, and going on and on and on. 

There's the "never-learning-or-changing" spiritual position of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain, portrait of Noblesse Oblige through the millennia (I love it!).  And there are Romance Vampire types who either learn and grow -- or don't.  And there are Vampires who fight being immortal.  There are even Vampire series that don't address immortality.

The Immortality Problem is what fascinates me about Vampires -- everything else is just a complication.  Humans are not designed to be immortal.

Presenting a person (a Character) with a problem they are not designed to handle is SCIENCE FICTION.  So I like the Vampire series that center on a Vampire who refuses to Kill, and solves his problem with science, say inventing artificial blood, or creating a dimensional doorway and "hunting" in another space-time. 

Zombies also present humans with problems that humans are not designed to handle -- either from the perspective of being a Zombie, or from the perspective of fighting off a rising tide from a cemetary.

A few months ago, I saw a quick item on TV News about the on-time performance of various air ports -- where they noted the SOLUTION to handling the increasing volume of flights was to dig up a cemetery and build a runway over that cemetery.  I think that was Chicago's O'Hare, but it doesn't matter. 

My point is that the city involved could not create a solution that did not violate the code of conduct of part of that city's population -- no "work-around" such as the Vampire's inventing artificial blood or stealing from a blood bank was adopted.  Cost/profit equations rule, just as in Television or Publishing. 

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I think our problem solving mental muscles are deteriorating for lack of training.  The beginning of that training is supposed to be in High School where you learn geometry proofs.  But it has to go on into the twenties. 

PROBLEMS are inherently interesting.

Though different people at different times in life find different problems intriguing, it is the nature of "interesting" to be focused around a problem.

Remember the two plots we've discussed at length that summarize all fiction:

"Johnny gets his fanny caught in a beartrap (problem), and has his adventures getting it out."

"A likeable Hero (Save The Cat!) struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds (problems) toward a worthwhile goal."

Those two story-patterns pivot on the central concept of "interesting" being the PROBLEM as presented to a Character who proceeds to solve that problem (or not).  In a long-novel or series, the "problem" first presented causes a failure, which causes the problem to be redefined, solved, only to uncover another problem. 

See the TV Series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 2 where the problem is an "element" responsible for gravity is mined and used as a weapon.  The solution (as in Horror genre) is to lock it away in an unlabeled vault.  The material locked away had swallowed the scientist who invented the weaponization of it -- the final scene shows the amorphous element extruding a grasping, reaching hand-shape.  They could have left that scene out if they wanted to indicate there was nothing more to be said or done regarding that problem.  But this is a serial in the Buck Rogers tradition of movie-theater serials transformed into Comics.   

Look at the two Plot formulas again.  "The Problem" is part of the structure of CONFLICT, which is the essence of Story (and Plot).  Conflict-anticipated is one of the spring-elements in the "story springboard." 

Anticipation -- knowing what might come and wondering if it will come -- is a core ingredient in "interesting." 

A story-springboard is not about what is there -- but about what might become there.  It's about anticipating what comes next. 

So let's delve more deeply into the popularity of Zombies to see if we can find in that a clue to what comes next.

We've been discussing "interesting" as in the advice in all books about writing that say "All you have to do to sell fiction is write an interesting story."

Keep in mind the question of whether fiction on TV can create "interest" in a topic in a target audience (manipulate masses of people), or whether the "interest" in that topic has to be there first.  Where do we get our mass-interests from?  Where do trends come from?  Can they be created?  Or can they only be magnified like a cowboy creating a stampede of cattle by panicing a few.  

The advice to "just write an interesting story" is very possibly the most frustrating advice -- worse than "Show Don't Tell" -- yet it is so very true, and very possibly as easy to do as creating a cattle stampede! 

Pondering the success of Zombies on TV, in film, books, games -- it occurred to me that there is an explanation for the popularity  of Vampires and Zombies that could allow new writers to predict the NEXT popular trend in fiction, the next thing found "interesting" by huge numbers of people hungry for more-more-more.

In the 1940's -- with the advent of the Atomic Bomb and that horrific potential -- and the UFO sightings of the 1950's, spurring the drive toward orbital space flight in the 1960's -- people were AFRAID OF THE FUTURE. 

Remember the image of the cattle stampede.  That's fear-driven.

At that time as people were becoming spooked over science being destructive or invasive (via hostile aliens), the TELEPHONE was a novelty that didn't appear in every home -- and where a home had a telephone, there was only one instrument centrally placed that seldom rang!  (see the British TV Series Downton Abbey in the two early seasons.)

Science Fiction grew and prospered, broke out of the tiny side-venue it had occupied in the 1920's and 1930's and blossomed into the STAR TREK era in the late 1960's.

That brand of Science Fiction was focused on the future.

People were afraid of the future - the term "techphobe" was coined only later as computers invaded the home, but the prior generation had been displaced from their professions by "automation" (a wave of the future that destroyed lives.) and the telephone was the "tech" that was resisted even as it was accepted.  In the 1950's, teens were allowed to use the phone only for "real" business, and then only a couple minutes per call.  By the 1960's, the TV image of the teenager was a kid sprawled across their bed on the phone for hours -- and parents complained but did nothing to rein in excessive phone-time. 

Alvin Toffler's FUTURE SHOCK explained the over-view of these attitudes toward the future, the speed of change and where it might lead (much of that book's predictions are coming true right this minute, and still coming.)  Toffler predicted the computer and the internet would create telecommuting, cottage industry, and self-employment. 

In the 1950's, Science Fiction was predicting The Welfare State because only half the people alive in the world would have an I.Q. high enough to work the jobs created by technology -- but those jobs would be productive enough that the lower I.Q. people would not have to work at all. 

Readers of 1950's Science Fiction (mostly teens then) could see that trend gathering steam, but didn't want that to happen and regarded it as ridiculous fantasy.  Their fear was not being able to get a job or hold it.  Their parents nearly starved in the Depression, and talked about that and the War constantly, warning teens they had to earn a good living or die starving in the street (which people did.)  They needed jobs that wouldn't be automated out of existence. 

Well, the current generation of teens has never known a world that was not automated, and that kept people from instant communications (even pictures in color).  The current teens all know someone on Welfare or Food Stamps, and it's no stigma at all, nothing to be afraid of if you can't get or hold a job.  You can still have internet access -- after all, it's a right, no?  If you can't afford an iPad, get an Android -- they're better anyway!

What scares the current teens? 


The current teens are scared by the idea that their parent's generation's values (get a high-skilled job and hold it) will come back to haunt and overwhelm their every effort to live an easy life. 

Grandparents are dying off so aren't a source of presents -- or they're retiring to become a burden on "the system" -- Social Security and Medicare are fingered as the source of demands for enormous tax on salary checks.  Teens with their first unskilled labor jobs feel this the most and are convinced we have to raise the minimum wage because those deductions from wages leave nothing to live on. 

The idea that low I.Q. people are unemployable in a tech-based world, and their labor is not only not-needed but not-wanted is unthinkable. 

The idea that having a low I.Q. (that of, say a Zombie?) condemns you to having no internet, no cell phone, no Nikes, no Pizza delivered during The Big Game -- that wouldn't be Justice, and therefore can't happen.  The idea that low I.Q. makes you worthless has been shoved off-stage, into the subconscious where Horror Genre seethes and regenerates. 

Today's teens are not capable of replacing the elder generation workers now retiring (most employers will bemoan this given a chance) -- because today's teens did not master the older, basic skill sets which are still required in the workplace. 

But at the same time, the skill sets of the elders do not seem potentially useful in the future the younger people envision. 

The past rising from the grave Zombie fashion is a subconscious, unconscious, nebulous (NEPTUNE) terror that can't be articulated or faced.

The present is trying to dig that grave to bury the pre-internet way of organizing society.

We are in the throws of a revolution in which Capitalism, the Republic of the USA, the independent person who works for himself (farmer feeding one family out in the middle of nowhere and barely having produce to sell to buy what he can't produce), has become the dependent getting food stamps etc. -- and those who get government subsidies really have no idea where that money comes from, or why it buys less and less at the store. 

But if Toffler was right, our future is one of self-employment. 

Remember I.Q. is a measure artificially invented to prove a socio-political point -- making the point incontrovertible because it was proved by "scientific" experiment.

What if I.Q. is irrelevant, or even non-existent, a mere figment of the imagination?

That would be a good theme for a science fiction series.  If there is no such thing as I.Q., then how do we sort people? 

Do we have to sort people? (Harry Potter's Sorting Hat???)  Do we have to group people into herds and stampede them (like Zombie mobs?) in the direction one or a few people choose (such as people who decry what's on TV and want to change things by changing TV entertainment?) 

Way back before the Industrial Revolution, there was no such thing as "a job" -- there were peasants who worked the King's land, there were self-employed craftsmen who made things (saddles, wagon wheels), and there were Aristocrats who owned things and people. 

Women bred and died young, and men had to master a CRAFT young to raise a family. 

People worked, but there were no jobs and no "bennies."

The Industrial Revolution (1700's and 1800's) changed that, giving us an entire worldwide population whose highest ambition is to "get a good job with good bennies."

We then shifted to relying on "the government" to 'create jobs' just as the government 'creates money.' 

Once Upon A Time we were all self-employed and without pensions.  When you couldn't work, your children supported you or you just died. 

Then we were mostly all employed, and demanded more and more vacation and pensions.

Now we are shifting back to being all-self-employed where we will work-or-die without bennies.  Will "aristocrats" own us all?

THAT TRANSITION IS SCARY not because it's "the future" but because it's "the past."

We are being sucked back into the insecure, benefit-less existence of humanity's far past -- long since buried.  Now it is RISING AGAIN, a Zombie from the grave.

That sense of "something" horrible rising from "the grave" (like the HAND extruded from the gravity material locked in a vault in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)  could be symbolized by Vampires and Zombies, and other "things" that can't be killed, that come back to life again and again. 

Note that the pre-industrial society respected and revered The Aged.  The elderly were supported by their children or just died when they couldn't work any more, and children did consider it a point of personal pride and even joy to support their elders. 

Today every TV show seems to showcase a rift between parents and children that could be called hatred.  Much eye-rolling accompanies the interruption by a phone call from a parent.  Stressful difficulty and personal rejection are the keynotes between elder and adult child. 

That unreasonable burden that parents and grandparents have become has not only accompanied the discarding of supporting your own elders in age (they become the government's responsibility), but has discarded the idea that the Elder Knows Better If Not Best -- Elder Wisdom is now Elder Stupidity (like a Zombie). 

Communicating with an Elder on TV is very much like trying to reason with a hoard of Zombies trying to eat your brains.  Hopeless.  Run For Your Life! 

You see it in almost every TV show now -- people get killed before your eyes, declared dead, buried, mourned, and RISE AGAIN to return to the show as a Character.

See Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. where one of the characters died in The Avengers and is now resurrected (cogent and heroic, easy to communicate with - but resurrected.)  It's a theme.  That which dies rises before you again.  No deadline is real. 

If Reincarnation is real -- we all may have some subliminal memories of the horrors of self-employment without pension benefits.  We may be subliminally "feeling" the rise of that Zombie we thought buried and rotted -- old age without pension.

You can see this in the drumbeat of "safety" everywhere. 

You can't do this because it's not safe.  You can't send soldiers to fight because it's not safe.  You can't send your kids to school without armed guards because it's not safe (tell that to the kid who rode a mule 5 miles to school in a blizzard!).  You can't carry a gun because it's not safe.  Now cars that drive themselves are coming - because driving is not safe. 

We are obsessed with safety (while being interested in Horror on TV)  -- perhaps because we seek security.

Perhaps we seek security because we remember the deaths we died over and over in poverty and pain, old and decrepit at age 45.  Lifetime after lifetime, we have clawed our way out of that horror, and now we're being sucked back into it.

The "show don't tell" for that vision, that subliminal feeling, is "Zombies."

The fascination with Zombies is bottomless, endless, a true "deer in the headlights" watching death approach and unable to move.

So, OK, then what will the NEXT TREND be?

Well, if Toffler was correct, half of us will be in "cottage industry" and "telecommuting" while the half of humanity that's incapable of mastering the mental agility necessary to do modern work will be supported by those who can work.  Those who work will be self-employed -- AND SECURE. 

With very small invested effort, we will be able to produce all humanity needs in food,  clothing, shelter, entertainment, and healthcare.  So everyone will feel secure.

What will entertain that population that feels no threat from any direction? 

What will fuel a thrust into space exploration?  What will pay for scientific advances to conquer space?  Why would anyone do that?

If we don't fear the past and we don't fear the future -- what will we fear?

Or Love?

Or Desire? 

Love, Desire, Curiosity -- maybe Fear, too --  are the story springboards that will work after the Zombies die off. 

Remember, now we are not only discovering planets around other stars, but also spotting asteroids that can wipe Earth out -- on inevitable collision course.  So once again, maybe it's Outer Space that will be feared more than the deeply buried Past.

Do you think this "karmic memory" concept is what is fueling the Zombie popularity?  Is that what's interesting about Zombies? 

If it's fear that's interesting now -- then is love next?  Love in Outer Space?  Love from Outer Space? 

There is a famous story about how Science and Fact swamp out morality in decision making -- titled The Cold Equations.  It was about low-orbit space travel.

Do you think the next famous story that creates a trend will be titled The Warm Equations - about how Emotion is the only valid basis for decision making?

Remember, above, we noted how there seems to be a dearth of decision-making-training in our schools. 

Do you suppose the primacy of Emotion in decision making will become the next scientific breakthrough?

Or maybe it'll be "superstition rules" -- as the airport runway over a cemetery racks up statistical anomalies in crashes?  The Bermuda Triangle of Airports?

What will be afraid of next? 

Or will the predictions in this article come true, and we'll live longer because of increasing health -- and not be old, debilitated and dependent on grandchildren to take care of us?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Open Letter From Authors' Guild (Richard Russo)

Authors are joining The Authors' Guild in record numbers. Here's why:

An Open Letter to My Fellow Authors

It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that sell pirated (read “stolen”) books, and even by militant librarians who see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to “lend” our e-books without restriction. But those of us who are alarmed by these trends have a duty, I think, to defend and protect the writing life that’s been good to us, not just on behalf of younger writers who will not have our advantages if we don’t, but also on behalf of readers, whose imaginative lives will be diminished if authorship becomes untenable as a profession.

I know, I know. Some insist that there’s never been a better time to be an author. Self-publishing has democratized the process, they argue, and authors can now earn royalties of up to seventy percent, where once we had to settle for what traditional publishers told us was our share. Anecdotal evidence is marshaled in support of this view (statistical evidence to follow). Those of us who are alarmed, we’re told, are, well, alarmists. Time will tell who’s right, but surely it can’t be a good idea for writers to stand on the sidelines while our collective fate is decided by others. Especially when we consider who those others are. Entities like Google and Apple and Amazon are rich and powerful enough to influence governments, and every day they demonstrate their willingness to wield that enormous power. Books and authors are a tiny but not insignificant part of the larger battle being waged between these companies, a battleground that includes the movie, music, and newspaper industries. I think it’s fair to say that to a greater or lesser degree, those other industries have all gotten their asses kicked, just as we’re getting ours kicked now. And not just in the courts. Somehow, we’re even losing the war for hearts and minds. When we defend copyright, we’re seen as greedy. When we justly sue, we’re seen as litigious. When we attempt to defend the physical book and stores that sell them, we’re seen as Luddites. Our altruism, when we’re able to summon it, is too often seen as self-serving.

But here’s the thing. What the Apples and Googles and Amazons and Netflixes of the world all have in common (in addition to their quest for world domination), is that they’re all starved for content, and for that they need us. Which means we have a say in all this. Everything in the digital age may feel new and may seem to operate under new rules, but the conversation about the relationship between art and commerce is age-old, and artists must be part of it. To that end we’d do well to speak with one voice, though it’s here we demonstrate our greatest weakness. Writers are notoriously independent cusses, hard to wrangle. We spend our mostly solitary days filling up blank pieces of paper with words. We must like it that way, or we wouldn’t do it. But while it’s pretty to think that our odd way of life will endure, there’s no guarantee. The writing life is ours to defend. Protecting it also happens to be the mission of the Authors Guild, which I myself did not join until last year, when the light switch in my cave finally got tripped. Are you a member? If not, please consider becoming one. We’re badly outgunned and in need of reinforcements. If the writing life has done well by you, as it has by me, here’s your chance to return the favor. Do it now, because there’s such a thing as being too late.

Richard Russo
December 2013

If you are eligible to join, and decide to do so, you can--if you wish-- give credit on your application form to the author who convinced you to join. 

As an Authors' Guild member, you can buy health coverage. I have their dental coverage through TEIGIT (The Entertainment Industry Group Insurance Trust) which is a Cigna policy. It's great. It even offers orthodontistry coverage.

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday TV Viewing

It’s the season for holiday movies and TV specials. Do you have favorites you watch over and over? Some people’s holiday faves don’t even necessarily have any direct connection to Christmas or winter. In the era before home video, the annual December broadcast of THE WIZARD OF OZ was a big holiday event for many families, because that was the only time we could see it. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, of course, is another seasonal staple, even though Christmas comes into the story only at the end. As a child, I loved watching Perry Como’s Christmas shows with my parents, with Como and his guests singing the old standards. Nowadays musical Christmas specials just don’t seem to be what they used to be, so I hardly ever bother with them except to play my home VCR recording of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s holiday concert. My husband frequently re-watches Celtic Woman’s Christmas DVD, a shining exception to the “not what they used to be” remark.

We have friends who make a yearly Christmas tradition of watching THE BISHOP’S WIFE, the vintage film with Cary Grant as an angel sent to help a bishop (David Niven) who’s stressed by the project of building a new cathedral. My personal non-obvious Christmas movie is LADY AND THE TRAMP, my favorite of Disney’s “old” animation cycle. (My favorite of the more recent features is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.) This film begins and ends on a pair of Christmas days two years apart. I watch it every December despite having most of the dialogue memorized. Never having lived with a dog for my first nine years, I got my ideas about dogs from LADY AND THE TRAMP and LASSIE. When my parents bought a boxer, I was severely disappointed that he didn’t act nearly so intelligent as Lady or Lassie. Plus, he was hyper-manic and drooled constantly.

When our sons were little, naturally we viewed the standard TV specials every year—the Peanuts Christmas special, RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, the animated HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (voiced by Boris Karloff), etc. Since the kids have grown up and I know most of those cartoons practically by heart, I seldom watch them when they’re broadcast anymore. For my main Christmas viewing focus, I re-watch one or more of the many version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL I’ve collected. It’s fun to observe how various filmmakers have adapted the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. The Mr. Magoo animated adaptation is surprisingly good, with some lovely songs. Among the live movies, my favorite Scrooge used to be George C. Scott. He has been superseded by Patrick Stewart. I enjoy the way Scrooge displays a certain dry wit even before his conversion, and Stewart captures that trait well. Scott’s Scrooge is humorous in a different way, conveying a somewhat sarcastic tone, e.g. in the speech about garments versus coal for warmth, which isn’t in Dickens’s book. The Muppet CHRISTMAS CAROL is fun just because it has Muppets. Among looser adaptations, I especially admire the Henry Winkler AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, set during the Depression. While Winkler’s Scrooge-like character gets visited by the usual ghosts, the story’s details are different as befits the altered setting and time period. I also like the sex-switched A DIVA’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, though I wouldn’t claim it has the artistic quality of the Winkler film. The diva, a black superstar singer in a modern setting, faces the truth about her life in an updated fashion, such as viewing the Christmas Yet to Come message as a TV documentary about her career and death. This story does require a stringent suspension of disbelief, though, in that we have to accept its taking place in a world where nobody has heard of Dickens; the diva is named Ebony Scrooge and has an assistant named Bob Cratchit with a chronically ill son named Tim.

What are your family or personal holiday viewing staples?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Theme-Character Integration Part 5 - Fame And Glory: When You're Rich They Think You Really Know by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration Part 5
Fame And Glory: When You're Rich They Think You Really Know
by Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Theodore Bikel, my favorite actor (Worf's human father on Star Trek), singer, raconteur, did an album a long time ago with a song from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (he played Tevye on Broadway and toured it for years). 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000QQZQNY/  99cents for that single song

There's a line in "If I Were A Rich Man" -- "when you're rich, they think you really know!"

That is a wondrous song that captures the depths of human psychology, line after line.

It looks at being rich from a poor man's perspective, but not a poor man powered by greed, avarice, jealousy or resentment of those who are rich. 

The song is really about what stops us from great achievements, and what keeps us going toward great achievements which we sometimes achieve!

Would it ruin some "Master Plan" if I were a rich man?  The assumption is that riches "just happen" -- that there is no fundamental difference between a person who happens to be rich, and a person who just happens to be poor.  What kind of strength of character does it take to look at the world that way, when you just happen to be poor? 

So today we're going to use Point of View to talk about Strength of Character as a thematic element in the episodic novel (or series) Springboard. 

Here are some previous posts on the Springboard construction:


In Part 3 of this series,
we started sketching topics relevant to constructing an Episodic Plot.


We will return to the Springboards series with a Part 5 on Zombies and a Part 6 on Earning a Sobriquet.  But first we pick up the issue of Springboard Construction for a long series of novels by delving deeper into issues of Theme-Character Integration.

There was a TV show a while back titled FAME.  And that was the theme of the series -- all about a special High School teaching performers the skills to achieve fame on the stage.

The Klingons in Star Trek embodied WAR IS GLORIOUS as a theme.

"Fame" and "Glory" often equal "Riches" in the minds of Characters who do not have these traits.  Notice Tevye only yearned for "a small fortune." 

The starry-eyed attraction toward "fame" (or local popularity) and the sense of achieving something "glorious" (e.g. something that goes viral on YouTube), are deep human responses that are laced with raw thematic material writers can use with wondrous results.

I had a quick exchange on Twitter a few months ago with Rex Sikes and Becket Adams

Twitter Bios:

Rex Sikes' Movie Beat conversations w filmmakers Inet radio show, website & blog - subscribe to podcast actor/producer/director/ filmmaker & interview host

And Becket Adams bio:

Business writer @theblaze. Opinions are my own. Re-tweets because they're funny, foolish, or newsworthy. badams@theblaze.com

------twitter exchange--------

BecketAdams 9:02am via Web

Pro tip: Just because someone famous and/or inspirational said it doesn't mean it's wise or true.

RexSikesMovieBT 9:04am via TweetDeck

How2 get your movie funded @FlywayFilmFest @Trigonis "it's bout who you R (who r you?) becuz people give2 people not2 projects"

JLichtenberg 9:04am via HootSuite

@BecketAdams Agreed, one should not idolize the famous. Just because you're rich doesn't mean you REALLY KNOW!

JLichtenberg 9:06am via HootSuite

@RexSikesMovieBT It's a combo! "who you R" = "what project U choose" = "what ppl you know who know U" = "FUNDING INVESTED IN U"

JLichtenberg 9:09am via HootSuite

@RexSikesMovieBT "Who U R" = Keeping Ur Word = delivering ON TIME = No gossip, bad-mouthing others, or Put-Downs. Character is a MUSCLE

And after a couple minutes, @RexSikesMovieBT answered me, so I Retweeted.

JLichtenberg 9:25am via HootSuite

RT @RexSikesMovieBT: @JLichtenberg very wise words you share! ==> THANK YOU!

Somewhat later RexSikesMovieBT answered:
I am quoting speaker in my tweets.RT @JLichtenberg: @BecketAdams @RexSikesMovieBT Excerpted Ur tweets on getting movie funded…

-----------end twitter exchange----------

Which praise got me to thinking.  Most people just preen themselves when praised, or maybe get shy and crawl under a rock. 

Me?  I THINK -- I dissect and analyze what I said, what that praising person thought I said, why they thought that, why I said what I said just that way and not another way, and how the exchange created a "stirring in The Force" as they say.


It is often said men consider thinking about emotion to be anathema, a horror to be avoided at all costs, and a sure sign of a lack of strong character.  Only WOMEN think about feelings -- and only women talk about feelings, articulate emotions "on the nose."

That's certainly true in our current culture.

But is it a universal truth about humankind?

After all, we have the whole Book of Psalms which has been preserved and is read regularly to this day -- and it is mostly poetry about feelings written mostly by men (I can't prove only by men, but the attributions are all to men, mostly King David.)

Being a science fiction writer by trade, I generally come to "but is it a universal human trait" with the immediate backlash of, "what would non-humans for whom it is a universal trait create for a culture?"  Or what if they didn't have that trait at all? 

That's how Gene Roddenberry (as I learned while interviewing GR and the actors and crew of Star Trek (ToS) for the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES!)  arrived at the concept "Vulcans" and why Gene fought to have Spock retained, combining "Number One" (the unemotional female first officer) with Spock-half-Vulcan-science-officer character, who turned out to be the source of SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE as a genre.

Yes, the first human/alien romances were Star Trek Fan Fiction --  the first Christian SFR (written by a Reverend's wife!) is posted for free reading on simegen.com:


It is Star Trek fan fiction about a Romance with Spock involving a Christian woman who is a very devoted and sincere Christian -- so the conflict is inherent in the situation.  The work abounds with deep themes.  And it's well crafted, easy reading. 

SFR and romance novels in general are really about character.

One of the signature expressions of "character" is the way people respond to "Fame and Glory" (Spock is a great example of both) -- either by being famous and preening under yes-men praise and fawning-fans, or by lusting after the Glory of Fame from a low-self-esteem position.  Hence the Spock character became the center of many "Mary Sue" stories. 

Part of the appeal of Romance to the very young teen girl is the aura of "what it will feel like to have HIS attention on ME."  Awakening sexual awareness is all about very greedy attention-grabbing.  Hold that thought.  We'll get back to greed at the end of this blog entry.

Attention-grabbing is the core of fame.  It is also the core of the High School yearning for "popularity."

"Glory" is often seen as the pre-requisite to Fame.  The HS Football Star's girlfriend, for example. 

Being voted "Most Popular" in High School, it turns out, is not the key to success in the rest of life.  But during the High School years, popularity is often seen the only way to success in life. 

Likewise, in college -- being the Party Guest Of The Year is not the key to success that can substitute for actually learning how to think, and how to teach yourself anything you subsequently need or want to know.

Fame does not mean you really KNOW!!!

The only ones who think that fame means you really know are those who are not famous.

Do you see the subject we're circling around here?

It is the simple thesis I've been harping on in these blogs.


And a whole lot of "conflict" that generates story-movement is all about Point Of View.

The famous look at the world from one point of view; the non-famous see it all from a different point of view. 

Likewise with riches, with real expertise, with age, with wisdom, with disability due to injury, with disability due to birth defects, etc etc -- each of these points of view provide different perspectives which, when pitted against each other, create conflict that causes the characters to change. 

Story is the sequence of lessons learned by the main character whose story you are telling, the lessons that are mileposts along that character's arc.  "Story" means how that character changed his point of view. 

The plot is the sequence of events that happen TO the character who internalizes a lesson from that event.

The main character does something on page 1 -- makes a decision, parses a problem and sets a goal, evaluates a character and decides to invest in that character's project, or tries to get others to invest in their own project.

How is Romance related to investing? 

Romance is related to investing via the investment that one makes in the Significant Other -- the Soul Mate.

Soul Mating is all about joining two into one -- just like merging a business. 

To make the joint-venture profitable, both firms must eliminate the overlapping and duplicated departments (secretarial pool, rented space in the cloud). 

In the case of Romance, it can be the renting of two apartments that has to be eliminated.  It used to be that record collections and book collections would be merged, discarding duplicates -- with iTunes and e-books, that isn't how it's done anymore.  Today it's more about cancelling duplicate ISP accounts.

Once joined, the Soul Mates each "lack" something ( look up "packing fraction" in atomic physics -- the energy an atomic nucleus does not have because it was emitted when the components joined to create that nucleus.)  In a Romance, the packing-fraction would be the discarded duplicate DVD, book, or ISP account, the extra square-footage rented, etc. 

Now look again at Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry joined two characters into one, in order to get his show on the air, in order to appease the Network which refused to risk money on a show that put a woman in command of men on a bridge crew.

GR had to discard either Spock or Number One (by making her male), and chose the non-human crew member to speak of how humans look from the outside.  

Science Fiction is all about Point of View from inside a Character.  Crafting and expressing that Point of View requires clarity of a theme wholly integrated into (married to) a character. 

To do that, Gene Roddenberry lost the avante guarde thrust into a feminist culture that he wanted Trek to be. He got it back with the first inter-racial kiss on TV, Kirk and Uhura, but when he made this decision to drop Number One, he didn't know he'd be able to pull that off.

So Uhura got lines like, "I'm scared, Captain."  But the show got on the air.

Gene Roddenberry (and quite a few others) got fairly rich from it all -- a "small fortune."  He got rich because "they" invested in him, not in Trek

Does that mean the Rich Really Know?  Does that mean GR really knew? 

Well, he did become famous, too, so obviously that means he really knew, right? 

Think about it.  THINK-THINK-THINK.

Combining Number One and Spock drove human male Characters on the show to speaking about emotion, out-loud on TV.  What a concept! 

I knew Roddenberry -- spoke with him in private, personally, recorded and transcribed interviews with him, studied what he said and excerpted it for the book STAR TREK LIVES!  (all this while writing Sime~Gen Novels, too). 

So during this twitter exchange cited above, my thoughts went from considering why people invest in getting movies made (usually via Kickstarter) -- to the idea that they are investing in YOU, in the person not the project, to why "they" invested in Roddenberry.  He was, at that time, a known Character -- it was only the Idea that was crazy-nuts-ridiculous.  They invested in him, not Trek

*I*N*V*E*S*T*I*N*G* in YOU -- wow. 

It is not the project but YOU that gets the investment.  How very personal that makes all business -- just like romance gets really, intimately, personal.

OK, person not project.  Hmmm.  And Conflict is the Essence of Story as well as of Plot.

If you want to understand the world, you have to "follow the money." 

So in your novel that you are writing, you depict how investment money (or emotion) flows to the Character not the Project that the Character is launching.

Remember that THEME is the glue that holds the entire artistic composition of a novel, TV screenplay, Series, Feature Film, -- any fictional work -- together.

That's why SAVE THE CAT! emphasizes the necessity of getting that "Theme Stated Beat" just right. 

I happened to have been watching the fall, 2013 first episode of the season of ONCE UPON A TIME just before engaging in that twitter exchange, and I had noted how (once again) this show delivered a picture-perfect THEME STATED BEAT. 

At this moment, I don't remember what that theme was -- I just remember how that beat leaped out at me in vivid technicolor as being just, absolutely, p*e*r*f*e*c*t*l*y executed.

And that perfection came from the construction of the characters. 

Consider that each of the characters in ONCE UPON A TIME is "famous" in their own right -- from the fairy tale characters they are based upon.  Some of them are "rich" too.

When you're rich, they think you really know.

So with all of this sizzling around in my head, I got into a conversation with a professional writer in a chatroom between tweets in that twitter exchange.

The conversation was about "life, the universe, and everything" -- A.K.A. "what's wrong with this world?"  I mean what else do professional writers talk about in off moments in private?  It went from current political campaign maneuvers to assisted living facilities to water quality control to building new bridges and infrastructure, all the way to G-d Himself.

During that chatroom exchange I got onto one of my hobbyhorses -- CHARACTER. 

We follow fictional characters episode after episode because of the story of the characters -- not because of the PLOT. 

It is the character arc that intrigues us.   

During the years of ST:ToS, series characters were not allowed to "arc" -- because the shows had to be viewable in any order to qualify for syndication and thus be worth the cost of production.

But fans wouldn't accept that "anthology" structure.  Fans wanted to follow the characters through life-changes -- such as finding true love.  So they wrote and shared their own Trek stories. 

For fans, aired-Trek was just the springboard for the stories they shared. 

Here is a non-fiction book about the development of Fan Fiction.  I have an essay in here, as does Rachel Caine, author of the best-selling Morganville Vampires series.

A "springboard" -- like a diving board -- must flex under the weight of the character, then "spring" upward to hurl the character into the arc. 

The board must not break at the bottom of the flex.  What gives your story springboard that flexibility and strength to support the weight of the character is theme. 

Fame and Glory Makes "them" Think You Really Know so "they" invest in you rather than your project

That is a concept replete with strong and flexible thematic material. 

So as I was tweeting, I found myself in this chat room expounding on a thesis -- a point that seems to be escaping notice by the general public, and is therefore a theme to generate a Best Seller. 

Fame, Glory, Riches are tools.  Who is the tool user? 

Your characters are tool-users, just like real people.  Sometimes a Character gets used, as if he/she were a tool.  They invest in you, not your project.  That's how politicians get "chosen" by the financial backers to be "groomed" for office.  The money gets invested in grooming the politician's image, not in what the politician stands for, not his personal hobby-horse, not his project but in him. 

Lots of really great books and films have spoken on themes such as The Hollywood Producer who says, "I will make you a star!"

Here is the gist of the micro-essays I hammered out between the tweets cited at the top of this entry.

------edited transcript of chatroom discussion ------------

ME 9:46 am
    ...yes, I object strongly to high-density populations -- VERY strongly.  Humans are not built for that.  It ruins all sense of morality. (previously cited studies on rats over-crowded turning violent)
    But schools are AWFUL EVERYWHERE -- graph historical deterioration against growth of Fed Dept of Ed.

 SHE 9:47 am
    The people who were running for school board were against diverting all the tax payer money to the private schools which is stripping the public schools of all the arts and sports programs.
    No music, no art, no sports of any sort, not school plays, no concerts.

 ME 9:48 am
    I'm against arts and sports programs in public schools -- flat against. 
    And that's what "sports" has become.  No such thing as "sportsmanship" any more.  Public School sports programs do not build character as they once did.  Sports was all about character building; now it's about winning, not about how you play the game, or behave toward the loser.  Nobody loses, so no character building happens.
 ME 9:50 am
    Art used to be about character building (the shows I love are about STRENGTH OF CHARACTER IS REQUIRED FOR SUCCESS) -- today Fed money supports pub school arts programs that prevent art from expressing necessity to be a STRONG CHARACTER (kids now think "strong" means bulging muscles gained by taking pills). 
  "Art" used to be taught as a method of displaying poetic justice abroad in the world.  Those who adhered to the highest moral standards would win in the end.
    That was THEN -- this is NOW.
    Things have changed.

 SHE 9:51 am
    It's still wrong to strip the public schools of these programs just to send a few other kids to special ed classes.

 ME 9:52 am
    If you make it a fight over money -- bullies win by crying "You victimized me."
    WATCH for the victim mentality and how passive-agressives play the victim card to mask the fact they are bullies.
    THE LESS MONEY THEY CONTROL THE MORE HONEST THEY WILL BE -- control of large amounts of money you didn't make by your own sweat tests character, and it is character that our society is lacking right now. 
------pause chatroom transcript--------------

I was thinking about Tevye's lack of envy and jealousy, about his unconscious assumption that money was not a limited resource, that if he had a small fortune it didn't mean others in the town would have less.  "Would it upset some master plan?" he asks.  In his world, sending some kids to special ed would not mean "stripping the public schools of programs."  Tevye didn't live in an Aristotelian, zero-sum-game world.  Is Tevye a "strong character?"

Remember, we're chasing what it is about "story" that creates "interesting."  Is it in the point of view? 

We are looking into the story-element "character" and pondering the adage "follow the money" to understand why investors invest in the person, not the project (and how that can make for interesting episodic story-structures.)

Some investors may have decided that strength of character is the signature of a person who will be able to bring a project to successful (profitable) conclusion.  Gene Roddenberry was definitely seen as having strength of character. 

Other investors may be looking for a "weak character" who can be manipulated and bamboozled into doing the investor's bidding. 

The twitter exchange above indicates publishers invest in you more than in your novel. 

Do you have the "strength of character" to imbue your fictional characters with strength?

Can you show-don't-tell character strength? 

Can you increase or decrease a fictional character's strength during that character's arc, and pace that change in such a way as to interest your audience?

The essence of story is character while the essence of plot is conflict. 

In this chatscript, I expressed a point of view about the world around us as suffering from a gradual weakening of "strength of character."  If that's true, what does that mean to publishers looking to profit by investing in you, the writer, rather than in your book?

Entertainment that is intrinsically interesting to the greatest number of people, entertainment with "reach," is (today; not in ST:ToS's market) entertainment structured around Character Arc.

Character Arc used to be only growth of characters toward a stronger moral or ethical fiber, an increasing ability to handle large amounts of power over others and not wimp out on choosing "the right course of action" over the "expedient course of action" or the popular course, or the profitable course. 

The advent of the anti-hero has led to popularity of a character arc that traces the devolution of character.

A great example of that is Laurell K. Hamilton's Vampire Series about Anita Blake. 

Up to #22 in that series now:

I think that anti-hero character devolution trend has bottomed out and we're turning a corner.

I see that turning in the evolution of the Vampire Romance -- the Vampire once represented the epitome of seductive Evil, and has been transformed by Romance fans into a hero returning from the pits of hell to be a staunch advocate of morality (at least to the extent of not-killing his lovers).

The Sexy Vampire Hero is so interesting to me for how he resists temptation (for blood).  Resisting temptation is a measure of strength of character.  The Anita Blake Series describes giving in to temptation as the only sane course. 

-------Back to chatroom discussion where I'm talking to a professional writer -----------

 ME 9:55 am
    You are intrepid -- and you don't see all that's happening around you because you are a person of very strong character. 
    You would not be challenged by being handed control of billions of dollars -- you don't understand the kind of challenge others face when in that position because you are such a GOOD person, down to the core.  They are good people, too  -- and you recognize yourself in them -- but fail to comprehend where exactly they are weak that you are strong.

 SHE 9:57 am
    I guess that's true. When I fantasize about winning the lottery my first thought is all the swimming pools I'm going to fund for the Town, the half-way houses....

 ME 9:58 am
    OK, so you see what I mean.  Watch for it -- it is subtle, but devastating.  And the origin is at the point where the Fed d of ed deleted the teaching of GEOMETRY PROOFS from HS.
    They just lately promulgated an actual prohibition on teaching geometry proofs in that Core thing they're beating down people's throats.  That core thing rewrites history -- in ways only you would see -- considering that praise from your former HS History Teacher.

 SHE 10:00 am
    Actually, I see in the candidates they put up for office how they have no understanding of how things work.
    I don't mean politics either.
    They don't understand the difference between a law and a regulation. The don't understand what jurisdictions are.

 ME 10:01 am
   Yes, law vs reg -- YES!
    Very important.
    Also I watch a lot of shows about grifters and rackets -- watch for those tactics being used on voters and then the voters do not see it even though they watch the same TV shows.

SHE 10:02 am
    I was at a forum where they're asking businesses to discuss outdated and duplicating regulations, ones that cause more harm than good.
    But none of these people spoke about regulations, only laws.
    They had no idea about the difference.
    These people are running businesses.
    Also, I'm sitting there and I'm thinking, "well, that's a good law because it does standardize certain safety measures and make things easier."
    But, THEY consider it too much paperwork.
    It really is nuts. One good thing that came down from, actually I think it was Obama, was that there had to be a country wide standard of chain of command for first responders.

ME 10:03 am
    'REGS THAT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD'  -- don't confuse the tool with the tool-user when examining the source of a result.
    "Guns don't kill people -- people do"  "videogames don't make children into criminals"  and 'regulations don't cause the harm - it is the regulation creators and users who do the harm'  -- PEOPLE DO THE HARM NOT THE TOOL THEY USE. 
   That's a principle - a theme - in TV shows about grifters and rackets.
  Grifters can only manipulate Marks who haven't the strength of character to ignore their own Greed.  Protection Racket uses the Greed for Safety to manipulate Marks by arousing fear.  The Mark's Greed is the tool the Grifter uses. You can't eliminate Greed from human nature.  That tool is always there for grifters to use.  It's the grifter that does the harm, not the Greed.  
   That's related to what I was saying about CHARACTER.  It's people of weak character who shoot people, become criminals because of their chosen entertainment, waste themselves on the internet, or bully others on Facebook. Facebook is a tool -- IT IS THE TOOL USER WHO DOES THE HARM, not the tool.  A rock can make a meditation garden restful or that same rock can be a weapon to murder someone with or drop off an overpass onto a car.  You can't eliminate harmful behavior by eliminating tools like guns.  The one bent on harm will pick up a rock, which can be even more deadly. 

 SHE 10:06 am
    The Chain of Command Reg is so that CAPTAIN, means the same level of authority and responsibility throughout the country.
    When firemen from New York go to help out in New Mexico and someone says, "ask the Captain," they all know exactly what they all mean.

 ME 10:08 am
    YES - CHAIN OF COMMAND FOR FIRST RESPONDERS -- yes, but it is the tool USER who sees that wondrous powerful tool of Chain of Command and decides to use it for harm (maybe because they don't see the harm but just the personal gain). 
   "Too much paperwork" complaint is because the weak character of the people involved in a long chain of command makes the whole chain REQUIRE SUPERVISION.     They aren't individuals who operate on individual judgement calls made on the spot.  Ordinary, normal people aren't considered smart enough to act on personal recognizance and take the consequences of their actions.  All decision-making must be centralized and "accountable" to others -- no individual judgement allowed.  If we'd done that in WWII, we'd have lost. 
   Today people think personal, on the spot, judgement calls must be eradicated because of the "danger" that the judgement call won't be correct and the person who made that call (or their supervisor) will be legally liable.  In a world where kids are raised to have increasingly strong characters throughout life, they automatically mature to make correct judgement calls (mostly) no matter how fast-moving events may be. 
  Developing strong judgement is the main side effect of developing strong character.    Since we have deteriorating strength of character, we think it's better to have "tight supervision" and "chains of command" (long ones) so responsibility can be escaped as long as you don't act on your own judgement. 
   Once supervision is in place, then the "power-seekers" (who are always of weak character) will flock to the control point of central command and use those regulations to DO HARM (whether they realize what they are doing is harm, or not).  We appoint certain people to become Users of the Tools that we make others into -- but those "power-seekers" are not of stronger character than the "tools" they are appointed to use.
   An entire chain-of-command composed of individuals of weak character will not perform nearly as well as a single individual of strong character -- e.g. a Hero. 
   The source of all the problems making headlines (I'm seeing hot novel-topics all over the place!)  today that all seem unrelated to one another is WEAK CHARACTER. 
    Don't blame the tool (gun, Law, Regulation, or Bible) for the tool user's bad judgement stemming from weak character.
 ----------END TRANSCRIPT--------

So the character trait that you can base a long, interesting episodic series upon lies within that element quoted in the song from FIDDLER - "when you're rich, they think you really know."

Fame, Glory, Riches

Those of "weak character" look upon those traits as something to be desired, something which can solve all their problems, alleviate their emotional pain (about which they will not speak because it's an emotion). 

Those of "strong character" look upon those traits as undesirable because they cause more problems than they solve.

Today's audiences seem to want their fiction to solve all problems without the agony of increasing character strength (that teen-angst-agony used to be called Growing Pains).

The solution to most problems that avoids all Growing Pains, or character Arc, avoids all strengthening of character, is violence -- sometimes substituted for by sex.

Only those of weak character "...kill only when I have to." 

Those of strong character don't kill because they never "have to." 

Writing Exercise

Create a Hero and an Adversary -- imbue one with a strong character and one with a weak character -- then convince your reader that each one has a "project" they want the other to "invest in" which is "right" and "righteous." 

Pit them against each other, let the explosion blow apart and reassemble each of the characters -- let the characters ARC, each becoming stronger in character and thus less prone to use force (of law, regulation, grifter-trickery, or backup Authority such as Religion) to get the other to do what they want.  Get the characters to "invest" in each other (that's the core of the Buddy Story from Save The Cat!). 

Relationships between Lovers who happen to become Buddies are the essence of the kind of Springboard that can propel an episodic plot.   

If you want a model for this, check out the TV Series Suits,


and look carefully at the characters of Jessica and Harvey and their Relationship.  I think of Mike Ross as the Star of this show, but he doesn't have a love-relationship with his prime Adversary.  Louis Litt, however, just may be the mirror of the Harvey/Jessica relationship.  Look at the "strength" depicted in Harvey (who now has an old love-relationship returning to his life), and watch how he mentors Mike into similar strength -- how he clashes and meshes on values.

Study that show for the almost-but-not-quite tease in these Relationships. 

Watch all the shows in close order to capture the "off-the-nose" discourse on ethics and values -- stating the ideal, then not-quite living up to it, then taking the consequences of that failure. 

You might want to do a contrast/compare study between Suits and The Incredible Hulk TV series

In HULK, the Hero and the Adversary are the same person. 

Some of the episodes were written by my Facebook friend, Allan Cole, and he has told that story in "My Hollywood Misadventures" which is now in paper, e-book and audiobook:


If you can trace the character arcs in your own story in a way that reveals the Poetic Justice behind all the events of Life, The Universe, And Everything -- it is very likely that the publishers you submit the story to will view you as a Strong Character worth investing in.

Your strength will be revealed in the path, the dynamic arc, of your characters because the characters will be fully integrated into the theme. 

For a book editor, "investing in you" can mean sending you a contract, then sending you rewrite orders.  The editor will consider that the investment has paid off if you send back a rewritten manuscript that now comes up to the publisher's specs.  Profit comes when the product actually markets easily. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg