Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Permissionless Innovation" and Human Rights.

Every weekend, I mean to write a review of Anne Jamison's excellent book, "Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over The World" (which I highly recommend) and each weekend, something comes up.

This weekend, I received a time-sensitive message from concerning where a draft set of Internet Governance Principles is open for public comment, just for this weekend.

This is the substance of the email sent to me:

Quote: "Discussions are ongoing about the future of the Internet, and it's important that artists' voices are heard.

NetMundial, a global multistakeholder process, is meeting Monday, April 21 to discuss a Draft Outcome Document on Internet Governance. That document, available at  shows no trace of recognition of the importance of intellectual property protection for a healthy Internet ecosystem.  Paragraph 13, for example, says:

“The ability to innovate and create has been at the heart of the remarkable growth of the Internet and it has brought great value to the global society. For the preservation of its dynamism, Internet governance must continue to allow permissionless innovation through an enabling Internet environment.”

Another aspect of the draft that deserves comment is paragraph 2 through 8, dealing with Human Rights, which lists several rights spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but omits any reference to Article 27(2), guaranteeing authors and creators the right to benefit from their moral and material rights of authorship.

The draft is currently open to public comment.

Public comments must be received by Monday, April 21, 8 am EST, to help shape the final document. We think it’s vital that artists and creators speak up during this process.

To post a comment, go to, click on “Internet Governance Principles”, scroll down to the paragraph on which you wish to comment, and click on the comment balloon on the right. You will need to provide your name (which could include affiliation) and e-mail address.
" Unquote.

Disclaimer: I did edit the copyright alliance email for brevity.

After jumping off the deep end, metaphorically speaking, it occurred to me to google "permissionless innovation." Naturally, my understanding of "permissionless innovation" was nowhere to be found on the Google front page, but it wouldn't be, would it?

Google prefers "permissionless innovation" and does an excellent job of convincing judges that scanning authors' copyrighted works and displaying large chunks of the works free to the public and for their own profit is "Fair Use" or "Transformative."

As I pointed out in an earlier blog, this sort of "innovation" is a lot less harmless than Google's apologists would have one believe... at least to those hoping to earn a living from their writing.  It is regrettable that Judge Denny Chin changed his mind about whether or not it is preferable for authors to "opt in" when their works are being scanned, published, and distributed on the internet, rather than "opt  out".

Pirate sites run on an "opt out" basis. The process of opting out is prescribed under the DMCA, and is otherwise known as a Take Down Notice (or NOCI if one is dealing with EBay.)

"Opting Out" is not the same as "Opting In." The "permissionless" innovator profits for as long as the copyright owner is unaware of the ongoing exploitation. Electronic works that have been disseminated across the internet by one bad actor can never be returned or destroyed, and as long as authors (or musicians) are disqualified from being called a "class", most authors and musicians are financially unable to afford justice or compensation. The best they can expect is that the exploitation stops for a short time.

One interesting blog should be read in the interests of fairly interpreting what the tech crowd think of permissionless innovation. Some think of Permissionless Innovation in a sense of being able to just do whatever they wish on the internet without having to obtain a permit from any regulatory body.

If one means "Permitless" when one discusses "Permissionless" perhaps the narrower term would be preferable.

The Internet Governance Principles document does talk about Human Rights, but the definitions of Human Rights omit all reference to any rights of authors, musicians, artists, photographers, movie makers etc to not be exploited. See paragraphs 2 - 8.

As one commentator on paragraph 13 points out, "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27,
(2) states, “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” 

Copyright is under attack, and to those who would tell copyright owners, "Suck it up," I would point out that so far, one does not have a Human Right to free entertainment.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cartoon: A Writer's Journey

Have you all seen this "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip from Sunday?

Pearls Before Swine

Funny, with much truth! I can especially identify with the procrastination part. Particularly since we got the puppy (now eleven months old) last summer. It seems that no sooner do I coax or trick myself into starting a writing session, she wants to go out. And then, since I'm up anyway, I might as well get a couple of other things done. . . .

I sometimes tell myself I should be grateful that, because of her, I don't have to worry about the dire health consequences allegedly caused by sitting still too long at a stretch.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript Part 3, Wrecking Ball For Brick Walls by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript Part 3
Wrecking Ball For Brick Walls
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Last week we concocted a list of 10 questions to answer after you've hit a brick wall and can't finish a manuscript. 

Here are the prior 2 parts in this series on the classic brick wall problem:

The main question in this series is in the title -- "When should you give up on a manuscript?" 

The answer, last week, was never. 

As we'll see, that isn't always exactly accurate - at least not the way a beginning writer looks at the process of "having an idea" and then "writing the story."  Professional writers live in a different world. 

"Having an idea" and "writing the story" are two separate processes.  The Brick Wall that you hit in the midst of writing the story originates in the "having an idea" process, but the solution has to be applied in the "writing the story" process.  So in this analysis we are "working both ends toward the middle" of the problem.

The problem is that you have a contract to deliver a story on a certain date.  But as you blast out the words at your highest typing speed, sure you know exactly what this story must be, suddenly there are no more words. 

You just can't go on.

That's the brick wall.  The "excuses" your subconscious throws at you for your particular brick wall in this particular manuscript will vary from project to project and epoch to epoch in your career. 

You may be bored with the characters (that's fixable).

You may simply not know what happens next (that's fixable).

You may have had ANOTHER IDEA that's ever so much more entertaining to write and you just don't want to write the sold story.  You just would rather write the sizzling hot new story.  Your subconscious is in avoidance mode and wants to distract you.  (that is fixable)

You may have "written yourself into a corner" -- the plot doesn't go anywhere -- (that's fixable.)

Those are all mechanical fixes, pure craft.  It's teachable.  It's learnable.  We're going to talk about how to learn it. 

There's another sort of brick wall the fix for which is not craft.

That's the psychological one, that can take 20 years to overcome. 

That's a matter of the material you are dealing with.  For example, if you sell a story set during a divorce, and you planned to walk your main characters through the angst and tearing anguish of that situation, then suddenly find yourself or something close to you (such as maybe your sister) going through a divorce, you are just not likely to finish your story any time soon.

There is such a thing as being too emotionally "close" (in time) to the material you are writing.  It can be too personal, with too much unresolved internal angst, to make a good novel (yet). 

You "should" not "give up" on such a manuscript, nor should you table it or set it aside, because that's just rewarding your subconscious for presenting the Idea prematurely.

You set it on your desk (or computer desktop) and you just leave it sit there where you must stare at it any time you are not actively doing anything.  You carry it as a monthly reminder on your google calendar.  You put a post-it note on your bathroom mirror about it.  You pick it up and rewrite it at least once a year, or every time there's a lull between book contracts.  It's important to do that kind of tweaking and twiddling, or writing scenes about those characters.  Don't reward your subconscious for refusing to resolve this emotional issue, but don't under-rate the potentency of that issue or the legitimacy of the pain that's causing your subconscious to balk. 

When a dog has been traumatized, it takes a lot of petting and tiny incremental exposures to similar experiences to overcome that wild aversion.  A subconscious responds to similar kinds of approaches.  Don't be mad at yourself; be kind to yourself while applying firm self-discipline.

Self-discipline is not a subject much discussed or taught about in school.  Read up on it, study it, apply it, practice exercises, then apply that process to the brick wall in that novel that's just too emotionally fraught. 

Of course, there is the instance of selling a story idea, then having the core issue of that novel rise up in your life and rip you apart inside. 

In that case, you have to shelve the manuscript and find something else to write about. 
But that's "shelve" not "toss."  One day (20 to 30 years is not unusual for such an instance) it will very possibly be your Masterpiece simply because it's so potent and so personal.

During that 20 years, you must continue to acquire writing craft skills while at the same time working on your personal psychology.

In the meantime, if you have a contract that you can't fill because of a personal issue arising, call your editor and brainstorm another novel she would accept in fulfillment of that contract.  DO NOT DELAY MAKING THAT CALL.  Business is business.

So, given that your current Brick Wall is not one of those circumstantial ones that will likely require years or maybe decades to demolish, what is your next step?

All the fixable brick walls noted above can be demolished with the wrecking ball we started building last week in Part 2, with the list of 10 Questions.


1) Is this story idea salvagable?

   a)if not, what do I do? (shelving the MS is not an option)
   b) if it is, what do I do?

2) Why did I want to write this story?

3) What does this story have to say and to whom (to what market?)

4) Why did I start writing at the point in the life-story of this couple that I did?  Why didn't I have (or stick to) a firm road-map from beginning to end with a dynamite MIDDLE SCENE to pivot around?

5) Why did I choose this Opening?  This first scene?  This first paragraph?

6) What Ending did I plan to use?

7) Why is that Ending unreachable from this Beginning?

8) Which is more important to the FUN my readers want, the ENDING or the BEGINNING -- or maybe the MIDDLE?

9) If the MIDDLE event is the most fun in the story, why don't I make that the ENDING?

10) If the BEGINNING is the most fun, why isn't that the ending?  (meaning, back up the timeline of these characters' lives to the point where their story really starts)

Do you see the system here?  Question decisions that you made consciously, then question the decisions you made subconsciously.

----------END QUOTE-------------

So step 1 in creating a wrecking ball is to answer those questions, all of them, in writing, articulating the answers by pretending you are talking to someone who understands what you're doing -- maybe an editor, beta reader, fellow writer.

BTW this brick wall problem is what all those thank-yous in the acknowledgements of a novel are all about - sometimes it's the person the novel is dedicated to who provided the wrecking ball.  Often, it's the beta readers or writing group supporters who prevent the writer from creating a brick wall in the first place -- and sometimes they prevent the writer from smashing head first into their brick wall and wasting time being stunned.

Brainstorming, emotional support while the writer stalks about the house and snarls at the dog, tickets to the ballet, running commentary during reruns of favorite TV shows, maybe even a "table reading" of the dialogue by a writer's group, are all contributions acknowledged without being detailed or named.  Effective techniques vary, but the point is to TALK (out loud) and detail the answers to those questions (and maybe others these key questions suggest). 

Some writers prefer to just mutter to themselves, and sometimes your problem in life is that you have no friends who understand you or who have time for your frustrations.

Being cut-off like that from people who understand you is common among writers hailed as "Great." 

Very often, friends just want to write their own stories, superimposing them upon what you've written, so their suggestions veer your manuscript in an unacceptable direction. 
Most of the time, it's a waste to try to write someone else's story into your story -- but listening to what they WANT TO READ can give you the essential clue to finding the answers to those 10 questions and the market you really want to write for.

On the third hand, by writing someone else's story as a brick-wall-demolishen exercise, you might discover that you're not a writer but a ghost-writer.  There's more money to be made as a ghost writer, so don't knock it.

See the series on Editing, Part 7, for how to decide if you're not a writer but an editor at heart.

Writing stories, though, may be where life is for you.  In that case, be prepared for a life of learning something every day, fighting through the acquisition of new skills, staying on the cutting edge of technology, and reaching for the depths of human psychology - the brightest and darkest places in creation.

If that's who you really are, then swinging your new wrecking ball at your personal brick wall will not be back breaking.  You will have the strength to BREAK YOUR STORY, to SHATTER YOUR PLOT, to divide your characters or combine them, to restructure the inside of your imagination until it produces material that is comprehensible (and entertaining) to others.


If the story idea itself is salvagable, go to question 2.

If the story idea is not salvagable, pull the plot and the story apart, find the binding theme, analyze it, check each subsequent scene for any deviation from that theme, and delete any material that belongs to, or is generated by, another theme.  (save that material; it's a different book). 

Then take what's left, write the theme on a note somewhere you can't avoid seeing it while you work, and REWRITE each scene to illustrate that master theme.  Just do it.  Nevermind if the result will be publishable. 

You are not writing a novel here -- you are training your subconscious not to produce unusable material.  This is part of that self-discipline process I mentioned above.

During this rewrite, you will very likely stumble upon THE "fix" and realize how to salvage this manuscript.  It may actually turn out better than anything you've ever written.  So it's worth doing this exercise.


After decades of teaching writing, I have found that these fixable mid-point brick walls are caused by errors on page 1, usually paragraph 1, certainly by the end of Chapter 1.

The beginning is where you have to stand to swing your wrecking ball (composed of the answers to those 10 questions). 

The following presupposes you've been reading this blog for a while and understand the nature of THEME -- brick walls generally happen because of errors in THEME STRUCTURE (because that's where the emotional punch of a story resides.)

If you have missed most of this discussion, please read the following post and follow the  links in it to Index Posts, read all those entries and follow the links inside them.  You will see how it all fits together.

They key bit of information to apply to the brick wall wrecking process is the answer to Question 2 -- why do you want to write this book?

The answer to that question is your THEME for this book. 

It is also the reason why any reader would want to read this book.

It is what this book is about.

Veer from that one philosophical point and you lose your momentum in writing and drift off into side issues.

The THEME is what you started out to SAY -- it's what you have to say and the reason you want to write this story. 

Lose that "want to write" and you hit the brick wall where there are no more words and nothing happens next.

Veer away from that theme, and you will get bored (so will your reader) with these characters and just not want to write this any more.  Then some other bright idea will pop up that you'd rather write, and if you allow your subconscious to do that, then you will be creating a life littered with unfinished projects.  Too much of that, and you will become depressed (probably not clinically depressed, just listless.)  If you aren't clinically depressed, you can even come to hate yourself or look down on yourself for not finishing what you start.  Obviously there's something wrong with you.  NO THERE ISN'T.

There's nothing wrong with you.  It's only a craft error on page 1.  Big deal.  Fix it.

Veer from that theme in any scene (do read that Review blog entry), concoct something fascinating or interesting that you just really want to throw into this story but that is not derived from that theme, then you will hit a brick wall of the "I don't know what happens next" type. 

Nothing "happens next"  in this plot because it's not connected to what happened before.

Remember how I harped and harped on the plot being the sequence of events on a BECAUSE LINE -- the story starts with this Event, and because of it, that happens, which causes this next Event because of which another Event happens. 

BECAUSE LINE -- you fall off the because line when you lose sight of your theme.

The "because line" is your plot, and it has BRICK WALLS on either side of it.  It is a channel, a tunnel, a sunken roadway between the beginning of the story and the end.

You fall off the because line because you veered from your theme, and that runs you into the brick walls on either side of the because line.

Same structural problem happens with story.

The story is the evolution of the character's outlook on life.  The story is the emotional because line.  The Events of the Plot impact the characters and  cause them to CHANGE.

That's called character arc.  We've discussed that at excruciating length and detail in these blogs.

If you've judged this brick-wall-work to be unsalvagable and you pull the story and the plot apart, you will find them glued together inside a CHARACTER.  That's where the THEME resides, deep inside the main POV character's sense of right and wrong, idea of what constitutes success, and the difference between pain and pleasure.

If the work is unsalvagable, pull that character apart, analyze the THEME that is the "story of that character's life" -- and make TWO CHARACTERS out of the one character.

The brick wall will evaporate like it never existed and your subconscious will learn how to structure a story before presenting the Idea to you.

But to train your subconscious to do this, you must write that book (or books) generated by pulling the plot and the story apart. 

One source of brick walls is having several competing (not incompatible, but competing for reader attention) themes mushed into one book. 

Here are more links to craft techniques which, if an error in application occurred, result in hitting a brick wall.  If you hit a brick wall, re-read these and do the work over again from scratch, training your subconscious to make writing easy.

The next craft technique to apply to "fix it" if you deem the work mostly salvagable is to look at what you've written, and do a scene-breakdown.

Make an OUTLINE of what you have written. 

Maybe you want to make a printout and write on it, or do whatever method fits your kind of thinking.

But the result has to look something like this:

THEME: Honesty is the Best Policy

Mary meets Ed on a bridge over a river. 
She's considering suicide because she just got fired (again).  She spills her "I got fired" story out to him.
Ed needs (whatever Mary does) and hires her, believing her excuse.

Chapter 2
Mary screws up on her new job -- big time and for same reasons she got fired so many times before.
Ed loses his job because of what Mary did, and so does Mary.
Ed, being an entreprenuer type, is not upset at being fired.  He's planning to launch his own company, but he can't do it alone.

Chapter 3
Mary tells Ed all her "I got fired" stories (that led to her contemplating suicide).  But this is her point of view, making excuses to confronting reasons.  It's always the employer's fault.

Chap 4
Ed is unhappy with Mary's lack of self-esteem (not with her getting fired).  He investigates why she got fired, wondering if she's unemployable and if she was spouting excuses not reasons.

Chap 5
Mary makes Ed a connection with a source of funding for his new business launch -- or maybe a cheap but NICE store or office to rent.  She provides something he needed but had no way to get, thus making Ed's not wanting to hire her for his new business seem churlish. 

Chap 6
Ed discovers Mary's unemployability, and a psychological source for that, and confronts her, telling her how to fix her life but refusing to hire her until or unless she does.


QUESTION: Is it salvageable?  Why do I want to write this?  Whose story is this?  What is the theme, really?  Where did I make a mistake?

Note how I illustrated the bare-bones format to extract from what you've written after you've answered the 10 questions in that list.  No locations, description, character sketches, -- no DETAILS. 

Now, with that bare-bones outline in front of you, answer those 10 questions again.

Compare both sets of answers. 

Do a new outline of what you have written, this time including not just what plot-points advance during a chapter -- as I illustrated -- but also a scene-by-scene breakdown within each chapter.

Include opening situtaion for each scene begins, and the situation is at the end of the scene, and what changed during that scene. 

Once done, make a new FILE, give it a different title or draft number, and save the original version just in case.  Go back over your new copy of the manuscript, and delete every scene that does not ADVANCE BOTH PLOT AND STORY by changing the Situation (where situation is a technical term). 


Romance readers are particularly enchanted by ACTION (just not necssarily the fist-fight type). 

Romance readers want to see the situation between the principle characters CHANGE in each and every scene (espcially the sex scenes). 

You'll end up with a swiss cheese manuscript, but don't fret.  The brick wall is GONE, and you don't even have to know what exactly caused it.  Your subconscious knows, and has learned not to do that any more.

Take the scenes that are left, and test each one against the theme. 

Delete any scene that does not explicate the theme.

Go to the beginning, the opening scene, write down what HAPPENS there.

Go to your original outline, and see what ENDING you planned.  Check the MIDDLE in that outline.

Lay out those 3 story/plot pivot points next to the THEME.

Ask yourself again why you wanted to write this story.

Start with the first sentence, and SHOW (don't tell) the reader WHY THEY SHOULD READ THIS STORY. 

The ending is where the conflict delineated in that first sentence, the conflict nascent inside the theme, is RESOLVED.  At that point, you have delivered on your promise to the reader on page 1 about why they should read this story.  That's the very last sentence.

Make sure the ending you are targeting is a resolution of the conflict begun on page 1, preferably in paragraph 1.

Remember paragraph 1 contains the entire novel -- but only symbolically.  You will unfold those symbols until the 3/4 point where you will explicitly state the theme.

With the opening and the ending in mind, construct the middle.

If the opening is a high point (two lovers meeting for the first time), the ending (an HEA) is a high point, that means the MIDDLE is the lowest point, the point of utter loss, complete discouragement, total defeat.  In other genres, the highs and lows come at different percentages of the manuscript.

In a 3-act structure, as preferred by Hollywood today, that DEFEAT point is the 2/3 point, the middle is the TURNING point or pivot where fate is sealed.

The typical novel is a 4-act piece.  That's why the movie made from a book is never quite "right" in a satisfying way.

So, with a new beginning, middle, and end laid out under a sharpened thematic statement, you are ready to rewrite this thing, without a brick wall to stop you.

You may create a new detailed outline -- taking each of the scenes that is left, and filling in the gaps between where scenes had to be dropped.

Or you may go with a more sketchy outline because now you really know what you're doing. 

In either case, write with an eye on that final scene where the conflict of Page 1 is resolved. 

If you don't know what the ending is, you don't know what the beginning is.  So expect to have to rewrite the beginning to fit the ending you actually write.

No two writers do this the same way.  But the end result is always the same.  The beginning, middle and end are a matched set -- Black Snyder calls these "beats."

If you get stuck again, go read SAVE THE CAT! (all 3 of them) by Black Snyder.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Hobbit And The Dragon (Random Remarks)

Last night, I watched "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug" and I will probably watch it again today, and maybe tomorrow, too.

I enjoyed it very much.

That said, a few things struck me. What strikes me is probably not at all remarkable, and some of my remarks echo comments made by others about the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy.

1. The X-Box/Nintendo elements. It is very "gamey".  It's over-the-top in the way the fight scenes are prolonged, excessively athletic, creative, fast-moving, and altogether implausible.... but fun to watch.

Whether one is watching Bond, Lone Ranger, Iron Man, LOTR, or The Hobbit every director seems to try to outdo his predecessors in the stunt department in running/riding/driving one mode of travel on top of another mode of travel while fighting and dodging obstacles and missiles.

Does it matter any more if the audience "notices"? 

For a while, in fiction writing, it was considered preferable if the author effaced himself or herself, and did as little as possible to draw attention to the process of narration.  Has the etiquette surrounding the suspension of disbelief changed?

2. Thorin is a hunk. In fact, I counted at least three hunky dwarves. Gimli in LOTR is a decided throw-back. Of course, if some of the dwarves weren't sexually appealing, the romantic elements would not be acceptable in a fast-moving, wide-ranging epic, where the heroine wouldn't have time to notice an ill-favored enemy protagonist's sense of humor or world-changing intellectual stature.

Why, though, in this day and age must there be a romance at all? And, if there must be a romance on an  epic journey saga where all the original fellow travellers were fellows, why shouldn't there be a bromance?

3. The villains are beefed up. It's good entertainment, but in a prequel that is part of a story arc about a rising danger to the world, it seems to me that the villains should not be as numerous or as excessive, and the danger should not be greater in the prequel than it is/they are in the end.  

And, what's with the ubiquitous rotten teeth? Wild wolves may have an occasional broken or missing fang, but the carnivorous --if not cannibal-- diet and the vigorous use of dentition should not produce the tooth rot that all too many villainous Orcs sport, surely.

4. Not to give anything away, but some of the elaborate equipment and machinery used by the dwarves to fight ....well, Smaug...  did not fit well with my understanding of the dwarvish nature, and outraged me so much that I could not go with the flow. Those who have seen 'Desolation Of Smaug" will know what I mean, perhaps.

My final thought is nothing to do with The Hobbit in particular. Just as there are a finite number of notes in sheet music, and therefore a finite number of note combinations, which has led to "sampling" because it is probably impossible not to duplicate a riff or refrain that someone else played before, will we reach a point where all stunts and fight scenes become derivative?

Off topic: Don't forget to change all your online passwords, and to check all your bank and credit card statements more carefully than usual. #Heartbleed. Here's someone else's list of the sites that were most likely affected, so you can prioritize.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Anybody Can Die?

The season premiere of the TV adaptation of GAME OF THRONES brings to mind its reputation as a fictional universe in which anybody can die (and probably will)—justified, as I know from having read the novels. Once upon a time, major continuing characters in TV programs didn’t die. If an actor died or quit, either the character vanished without comment or a new actor assumed the role, e.g., “the other Darren” on BEWITCHED. When it first became possible for characters to die, the event was still rare and noteworthy—Edith on ALL IN THE FAMILY, Tessa on HIGHLANDER, Catherine on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Dr. Greene on ER. And when the deceased was one of the stars as in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the series itself didn’t long survive her. A couple of secondary characters died at the beginning of the second season of FOREVER KNIGHT, but when major players later started dropping like flies, the show was doomed, rapidly accelerating toward a series finale that wiped out all but one of the stars (apparently). By the way, I wonder whether the gradual acceptance of the possibility of character death had some relation to the shift from the old pattern of isolated episodes that could be viewed in almost any order to the prevalence of well-developed story arcs in contemporary TV series?

With such programs as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL, audiences became hardened to the premise that “anybody can die.” This possibility adds suspense and imitates the unpredictability of real life, in which status or virtue doesn’t confer immunity to death. In print fiction, we see how poignant this approach can become through the loss of central characters in the Harry Potter novels. However, I wonder about fictional universes in which not only is nobody immune to death, it’s a near certainty that any character the reader gets attached to is doomed. The major character death at the end of GAME OF THRONES (the first novel) shocked me because I mistook that character for the series protagonist, who by normal literary conventions can’t die until the climax of the series (if at all). Does the “anybody can die and most of them probably will” approach take “realism” too far in the other direction? Granted, protagonist status shouldn’t necessarily give a character a charmed life; yet does repeatedly killing off characters after luring readers into becoming emotionally invested in them also run the risk of becoming predictable and clich├ęd?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript Part 2, Troubleshooting by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript
Part 2
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Face it, humans make mistakes; even writers make mistakes.

Writers have an advantage, though.  If discovered before anyone else reads the manuscript, an error can be corrected, and nobody will ever know how fallible you are.

The problem though is that structural errors are even more elusive than typos.  A writer who knows and understands her characters, who can hear them talking (well, yelling) at each other, making out, flirting, getting to second base, will have the worst time with structure.

That's correct -- the very best writers who produce the very, very best fiction, are the blindest to their own structural errors.

This is easy enough to understand if you've been following this blog for a few years.  You know how much of what the reader loves most about a Romance Novel is created in the writer's subconscious.  So when the subconscious gets cute and clever and decides to have fun at your expense, the writer can't see what happened because it happened outside of the conscious mind. 

A well trained subconscious can be trusted to present great stories already formatted for the genre where the story will sell best.  The most fun you can give your subconscious is a best seller. 

We've gone through many exercises to train the subconscious, so we won't repeat them here.  For the most part, the way to train your subconscious to produce publishable stories with a clear genre signature is to trust your subconscious.

When your subconscious yells, "Here's a Great Idea!" just sit down and write it. 

OK, the first scribbles should be what you use for an "outline" -- whatever notes that capture that initial burst of creative vision and configure it for a market.

Here are some entries that discuss this process:

The objective is to hit the springboard of the idea with all your weight and leap for the sky and even for orbit.

Make a habit of taking that leap the instant your subconscious delivers an Idea, and you train your subconscious to deliver more Ideas because you've rewarded it with FUN. 

Here is the index post to Story Springboards, how to create and use them.

If the idea is really hot, you may be 1/3 to 1/2 the way through typing the novel at top speed before you come up for air. 

But then you might hit a brick wall -- even at the 3/4 point you might hit a brick wall.

What does it mean to hit a brick wall? 

It means there you sit staring at a blank page and you don't know what happens next.  Or worse, you suddenly realize nothing happens next -- i.e. you're at "the end" but the story or the plot isn't over yet. 

Maybe you suddenly understand that the ending you had in mind just won't work -- it's not satisfying, or for some reason you don't want to write it that way.

Perhaps you just sit there exhausted and without any further interest in this story.

That happens, even when you've already sold the novel on the basis of a 1-paragraph description, signed the contract, cashed the check, spent the money -- and you have a deadline you suddenly realize you can't meet.

What do you do?

One obvious tactic is to abandon that entire manuscript and start over from scratch, crafting a story that actually fulfills the contract requirements. 

I'm sure you've read many such novels.  Ordinarily, they don't rank with a writer's best work, and you as a fan of that writer, may be so disappointed you don't buy her next book.

So abandoning a nearly done manuscript is a last resort, something to be avoided.  We'll discuss what to do with abandoned manuscripts in another part in this series.

In any event, no matter what, tabling a manuscript in midst of first draft is not an option.

It simply is not an option -- if, that is, you intend to become a professional writer that editors can depend on to fulfill contracts.

If you find you've hit that brick wall (and it's not writer's block, but a totally different phenomenon), and you just shrug and pick up some other project, you are training your subconscious to create un-writable stories, unpublishable, un-usable work.  You're rewarding bad behavior. 

You are rewarding your subconscious for sloppy work if you let it get away with a half-assed idea like that.

It's like allowing your teenager to walz off to a party leaving their room and the bathroom a tumbled mess, and the kitchen a dysfunctional disaster zone, all for the sake of having a little fun.

Dogs, teens, and even writers, really do live for the fun of it.

Fun is the main objective of life.  FUN is what it's all about, and it is your stock in trade.

FUN is your product.

If you aren't having fun, you have nothing to sell.

Your subconscious is short-sighted like a dog or a teenager.  The more you reward your subconscious by letting it off the hook, by letting it go off to play a different game instead of cleaning up the mess it made, the more messes it will leave littering your life.

And that applies not just to unfinished (or un-finishable) manuscripts, but also to every other aspect of your life.  The detritus piles up around you until you can't move, can't do anything because of all the half-done things you didn't finish.

The only way out of that kind of depression, that paralysis amidst unfulfilled obligations, is discipline.

The inspired productivity of your imagination is symbolized in Astrology by Neptune and Jupiter.

Management of what you produce is symbolized by Saturn -- ruling Capricorn the 10th House of career. 

Saturn is a manager.  Saturn doesn't produce, but reduces, tames, and takes the product of imagination and turns it into something useful.  I Use is the keyword of Capricorn.

Here's an index to my posts on Astrology Just For Writers.

Saturn is the tool you must use to Troubleshoot a failed manuscript.  Mars is the source of the energy to make it so.  But Saturn is the key function.

Everyone has all these planets, signs and Houses somewhere in their personality makeup.  You can draw on, activate, or strengthen these personality elements in yourself and you will then find them turning up in your characters with a lot more Show and a lot less Tell. 

Shifting your "mood" or mental function mode from Creativity (Neptune/Jupiter) to Productivity (Saturn) is a trick unique to your specific personality.  Nobody can teach you how to do this.

Each writer (or other sort of business owner) has a methodology that works for them.  It may take some years to find the one that works best for you.

Some techniques include going shopping, chocolate ice cream, going ball room dancing, maybe horseback riding, playing tennis, cleaning house,  -- anything physical, and especially things that take a bit of courage. 

The principle is to break out of Creative mode.  Running full tilt into a brick wall in a manuscript might do that, but rarely completes the job. 

So after you take a break, then you come back to the manuscript with your head in editorial mode, distanced from the story, absolutely clinical.  Maybe you print out what you've written and take it out on the back porch to sit and read and scribble in margins.  Or maybe you bring it up on your tablet and go to the park to eat popcorn and read it over. 

For more on "editorial mode" here's the link to Part 7 of the series on "What Exactly Is Editing"

It has links to the previous 6 parts on Editing.

So once you have caught your breath after hitting that brick wall, you shift your mood to clinical distance, and discipline your subconscious into cleaning up its mess before you allow it to rush off to play with a different toy.

You have to discipline yourself to break up with one boyfriend before you can allow yourself to go out with another -- if you don't, then your life will get harder not easier.

This is very hard to make yourself do. 

So here are some of the questions to put before yourself as you pick up a Brick Wall Manuscript to Troubleshoot it.

1) Is this story idea salvagable?

   a)if not, what do I do? (shelving the MS is not an option)
   b) if it is, what do I do?

2) Why did I want to write this story?

3) What does this story have to say and to whom (to what market?)

4) Why did I start writing at the point in the life-story of this couple that I did?  Why didn't I have (or stick to) a firm road-map from beginning to end with a dynamite MIDDLE SCENE to pivot around?

5) Why did I choose this Opening?  This first scene?  This first paragraph? 

6) What Ending did I plan to use? 

7) Why is that Ending unreachable from this Beginning?

8) Which is more important to the FUN my readers want, the ENDING or the BEGINNING -- or maybe the MIDDLE?

9) If the MIDDLE event is the most fun in the story, why don't I make that the ENDING?

10) If the BEGINNING is the most fun, why isn't that the ending?  (meaning, back up the timeline of these characters' lives to the point where their story really starts)

Do you see the system here?  Question decisions that you made consciously, then question the decisions you made subconsciously. 

The principle behind this is to LOVE YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS, but treat it kindly as you discipline it.  A "spoiled brat" subconscious will tear your life apart just like a teenage kid driving drunk can kill someone and end up in jail turning his parents' lives into hell for the next 5 years of court litigation.  Don't let the drunken spoiled brat have the car keys. 

You love your subconscious by treasuring the brick wall it created to prevent you from wasting more time writing garbage.

Your subconscious stopped you for a REASON.

Your job as a professional creator of FUN is to find out what that reason is.

It will be a Good Reason (saving you from wasting time) if your subconscious has been well raised under firm but not cruel discipline.  It will be a Bad Reason (causing you to waste time) if you have a spoiled rotten subconscious. 

A spoiled subconscious can be housebroken and civilized, but it takes time and many instances of cleaning up the mess it made. 

A well disciplined subconscious will produce stories that tell themselves, characters that take control of the plot and veer it in an unplanned direction, and the writer will discover delights along the way.

A spoiled brat subconscious will produce characters who yank the plot out of the writer's hands and cavort along drunkenly to nowhere worth going.

If you have a spoiled brat subconscious, you are writing emotional therapy suitable for your eyes only (which might be converted to publishable material later when you've disciplined your subconscious by sending it to Military School.)

If you have a well disciplined subconscious, you may be creating publishable material but you ran into a brick wall because you've made a mistake.  Your subconscious recognized the mistake and stopped you -- returning your kindness for stopping it from spoiled brat behavior.

If your subconscious needs more discipline, then you must rewrite this manuscript, brick wall or not -- to discipline it, and show don't tell it the kind of story you will accept from it.  You must be firm about what is unacceptable behavior.  It will be a difficult job rewriting this mess, and in the end you will not have a publishable manuscript -- or at least not one up to the standards you want for your primary byline.

See these blog entries on Pen Names:

Part 2 has a link to Part 1 on pen names.

If you market the results of a training exercise for a fractious subconscious, it is usually best to create another byline for that material.  That's not the main reason for creating a new byline (or brand), but it is a compelling one.  As noted above, it is most probable that fans of your better work will be disappointed by an exercise in discipline.  But a byline you create for this reason can create fans of its own!  You may just have "found your voice" and a whole new way of writing.

Here are a couple on Voice.

Nothing a writer creates is ever useless.  It's just a matter of finding its proper market.

If your subconscious is disciplined, then you must FIX THIS MANUSCRIPT, and it shouldn't be very hard to do.  The result will be saleable and will please your readers.

No matter where your subconscious is on the road to professionalism, Fixing This Manuscript is a more profitable option than setting it aside, shelving it, or trashing it.

So go to a movie, have ice cream in the park, go jogging or mountain climbing or whatever you do to shift mental gears.  Then work through that list of 10 Questions until you have discovered where your mistake was made, and why.

Armed with that information, go on to read Part 3 of this series on When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Explaining Marriage To An ALIEN

Someone must have written an explanation of how to explain marriage to an alien from another planet (my apologies for the tautology) but my cursory Google search gave me explanations for children and for idiots (their word, not mine).

No one seems to address the obvious question of why the Government gives benefits to persons who get married.... in an age of no-fault divorce, remarriage, dual incomes, single mothers, etc. They focus on the unfairness of the Government giving benefits to persons who are assumed to have penis-vagina sex from time to time.

Why does the Government do that? My alien thought process doesn't mean to ask for an historical account of how and why marriage came to be.

My romance-minded alien would understand that --presumably-- society benefits if persons who wish to cooperate to raise well-adjusted, healthy, sociable, useful members of the next generation, are encouraged to do so, or at least not penalized financially and socially for the unpaid amount of time and effort that goes into parenting and also making a lifelong commitment to take care of each other, and also of their aged parents.

But what about persons who have no interest in doing all of the above? Why does a government allocate status, respect, and rewards funded by taxpayers to people who shack up? suggests that "marriage" today means two different things, "marriage is merely the public recognition of a committed relationship between loving adults" and "marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union."

If procreation, childbearing, child-raising/parenting, permanence are no longer an essential part of the marriage contract, what benefit is it to a government or to a society?

My alien might suggest that sexual exclusivity ought to be encouraged, even if it is temporary, to slow the transmission of various epidemics. What, then would my alien suggest as a remedy for the concept of "open marriage", which he would see as surely a form of tax fraud.... if not a pyramid scheme.

Perhaps, an alien with Spock-like dispassionate logic might suggest that the tax code should be revised, so that every person --married or unmarried-- should be obliged to file their tax returns separately, excepting only cohabiting parents who can demonstrate that they are actively supporting and rearing children of school age (or younger) and that those children are meeting or exceeding academic goals.

That would benefit the Government and Society.

My alien's solution would not take care of issues of wills and inheritance, death taxes, visitation rights, next of kinship rights. He'd probably abolish the taxes, and suggest that marriage contracts should include Living Wills and limited Powers of Attorney. He would suggest that, if the Government values marriage, the Government should provide one-time, free legal services to draw up comprehensive marriage contracts for all citizens (optional, not compulsory.... but required reading, and mandatory for couples wishing to file joint tax returns.)

alien djinn romances

Thursday, April 03, 2014

What's Unrealistic?

The most recent issue of RWR, the official magazine of Romance Writers of America, includes an article about realistic and unrealistic writing, with a discussion of what kinds of unrealistic features readers can be induced to accept in fiction and why. As an example of what not to do, the author describes a scene in a novel where a pan of scrambled eggs burns to a charred mess in seconds when the heroine turns her back on it. This incident violates what all readers know about the physics of cooking eggs and adds nothing essential to the story. In contrast, the author mentions various examples of “good” unrealism for which readers readily suspend disbelief because they’re built into the premises of the works: Stephanie Plum manages to keep her bail bondsman job despite being hilariously incompetent at it. In the TV series MURDER, SHE WROTE, a small-town writer stumbles upon and solves a new murder every week. (We might apply the same principle to any of the classic cozy mystery series, such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels.) Another example I could add is, as Isaac Asimov points out somewhere, P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves series. How can the dimwitted first-person narrator, the amiable nincompoop Bertie Wooster, manage to tell those stories so well?

The RWR article, however, also cites the Harry Potter saga, in which Harry and his friends belong to a magical subculture alongside but mostly invisible to mundane society. In my opinion, the author is mixing up two different types of “non-realism” here. What would be “unrealistic” in the Harry Potter universe would be Snape suddenly becoming affectionate and indulgent toward Harry or Voldemort repenting instead of fighting to the death. The characters in Rowling’s books don’t violate the attitudes and behavior we would expect from their personalities as created. The magic in this series, a “given” of Rowling’s fictional universe, isn’t “unrealistic” in the same sense as the ostensibly “realistic” worlds of Stephanie Plum and MURDER, SHE WROTE, which require us to accept as foundational premises that people behave differently from the way they would in “real life.” (Stephanie manages to keep her job and catch the crooks despite her bumbling; the local police of that town in New England don't suspect the writer of being a serial killer even though victims constantly drop dead all around her. In the new TV series HANNIBAL, by the way, we similarly have to accept Dr. Lecter’s preternatural skill at escaping detection despite all the victims he has killed and eaten parts of over the course of one season.)

It’s an established principle of fiction-writing that the author can get away with one unlikelihood or impossibility (or, as in the case of a magical world, one cluster of related phenomena) as long as it’s built into the story as a foundational premise. “Unrealistic” elements dragged in ad hoc to spice up a scene or solve a problem, on the other hand, destroy the reader’s suspension of disbelief and wrench him or her out of the story. Where do you draw the line?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript?: Part 1 Hitting a Brick Wall

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript?:
Part 1 Hitting a Brick Wall
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

So there you are staring at half a page of text and it's page 130 of your novel, but not one single WORD will appear in your mind or flow from your finger tips.

This is an occasion for sweating bullets if you have a DEADLINE looming, a check you cashed and spent, and a dire need for the on-delivery check.

Not only that, but your credibility as a writer depends on making this deadline -- you'll never get another contract if you don't deliver, and it had better be publishable material. 

But every single suggestion that swirls through the edges of your mind is just crappy, cliche, artificial, hollow.  The characters won't talk to you and the plot just won't MOVE.

If you write anything, it'll be a chronicle of a character going from one setting to another, arduously describing every stain on the public bus seats, every taxi that splashed by and left him standing, every red light, every drunk sleeping in a doorway.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch. 

The character is bored and the plot is stuck.

The difference between an amateur and a professional is knowing what to do when this happens -- when, not if.

Here are some previous posts where such problems are mentioned in passing, though this collection is not specifically part of a series:

You may have mastered all the techniques, elements, craft skills, and tricks of the trade discussed in previous posts on this Tuesday blog series -- and that can make you into a writer (maybe a great writer).  Your stories will be solidly crafted, and entertaining to your readers -- you might even be drawing hoards to your blog or selling a lot of copies on self-publishing platforms. 

But that's not what it means to be a professional writer. 

Being professional is not just a matter of getting money for what you do, but rather of doing what you do for the sake of getting money (not JUST money, but without getting money you won't do it at all.)  That's the difference between a hobby and a profession.  A hobby is what you do when you're not doing your profession.  (for the astrologers, that's 10th House vs. 6th House -- getting the rulers of those two Houses into harmonious cooperation is a major trick in living an HEA ending.) 

"Professional" anything means that's what you do for a living.  It means if you don't do that, you'll die (literally.) 

A profession isn't what you do when you feel like it or when you're inspired, and it may not be what you do best, but it is what you do, day in day out, slogging through the snow, faithfully delivering to your customers as promised, do-or-die and at high quality.

You do it not because it's what you want to do.  You do it because if you don't, you can't buy food.

Desperation is what has produced the greatest novels of all time.

Go read some classics, then read the biographies of those writers.  From bards slogging from village to village hoping for a free meal at the tavern to starving musicians and acting troups and writers looking for a Patron in the middle ages, to the "commercial artist" of today, what has sparked the production of Literature that lives through the generations is desperation for a meal. 

In the last century, the entire business model of the writer has changed drastically. 

Since "mass production" appeared, and the printing press was exploited (the Dime Novel -- look it up) to mass produce fiction, a new profession has evolved.  Commercial Art.

"Commercial Art" is a contradiction in terms -- Art is personal, Commercial is impersonal. 

Art is all about what makes you unique.  Commercial is all about what makes you the same as others.

Putting these two together and trying to blend them is an ongoing experiment that may be about to fail or morph into something new.

Why is that?  Because the Internet and electronic self-publishing allows for smaller readerships to make a project bring in a living wage.

We are very far from that point at this time, but it is definitely the direction things are going in.

Personalization, customization, -- watch the video game RPG market (yes, I'm in it).  You have stories in which the "reader/viewer/player" creates their own character by assembling attributes from a set list -- and eventually technology will let players contribute attributes for others to use.  That is already happening in some venues, and that is where the  business model is churning.

So that point of utter desperation will rarely be reached by those specializing in the e-book and/or self-publishing market, and it will become even more rare as the writer's business model continues to evolve beyond "Commercial Art."

However, the trouble shooting process called for by either business model is the same, is easy to learn (if you've been reading this blog and doing the suggested exercises), and yields definitive results with very little effort.

When you hit that brick wall at the 1/4 or 2/3 point in a manuscript (or the half or 3/4 point, which is only a bit different), you have a series of decisions to make.

Regardless of your business model, that series is the same, and ought to be done in the same order.  If you get the decisions right, you'll finish the manuscript and it will be a solid piece of fiction designed for your market. 

Keep in mind that, no matter how depressed you are or how shattered you are by hitting that brick wall in a story you were so fired up about, the solution is routine, well known, and easy to do.


1) Was this story worth starting?  Does it have a market?  Was it worth all the work done so far? 

2) Should I work on something else, and shelve this project indefinitely - or until inspiration strikes? 

3) What would it take to fix this story?  How much time do I have to fix it, and can the specific fix needed be done within that time limit?

4) Should I junk this into the shredder, delete all files, and just start from scratch to fulfill the contract?  (is that even possible, given the time limit?)

5) Is what I'm being paid for this worth the time/effort/angst necessary to turn out a finished product?

6) If I just scrap my original vision and craft this manuscript into something publishable that will fulfill the contract, will the result be "good enough" to put my primary byline on it?  Will the editor who paid my advance accept this with a different byline?  (contracts usually specify byline, and if a byline has a track record, they won't allow a change.)

7) If I scrap my original vision and just fill the contract competently, can I then use the scraps to create something that would showcase that original vision? 

Note that these questions are somewhat like a game of chess (or a war campaign) -- they focus more on the future, on the next 4 moves, than on the present problem. 

The Beginner's Defeat usually starts with an inability to foresee a future for the project in question.

The focus has to become (and this is an emotional turnabout when you're stunned by hitting a brick wall at full speed) -- "So Now What Do I Do?"

So let's start with the assumption that 1) has been answered with "Oh, just wait until they all read this!  It'll be so good!"  -- so yes, the project is worthwhile, but it's just that you can't do it right now.

So then what?

#2 indicates that the choice is to leave this project aside and work on something else, OR to just sit there staring at a blank page. 

That's not the choice, but it's always what the subconscious produces when it's stunned by that impact into the classic brick wall.

Framing a question incorrectly invariably leads to ineffectual swipes at non-existent solutions.

So let's examine what's wrong with 2) -- Should I work on something else and wait for inspiration on this? 

Well, the first error in that question is that it's way premature in the process to resort to such drastic measures.

It skips steps.

Beginners often do that, no matter what craft or skill they are beginning to learn.

The #2 question should be something more along the lines of, "What will I be teaching my subconscious if I shelve this project at this point simply because I hit a brick wall?"

And the obvious answer is that you will be teaching your subconscious to formulate and present you with IDEAS that have an inherent design flaw such that you will keep running into brick walls, no matter how marketable the basic concept might be.

As I've pointed out any number of times in these Tuesday blogs, writing is a performing art -- like dancing or playing the piano or driving a car.  You don't LEARN IT -- you TRAIN TO DO IT.

If you quit on a project just because you ran into a brick wall (or over a cliff, which is a different sort of problem), you are training your subconscious to take the easy way out and ignore everything you've been training it to do.

In a gym, we know "No Pain: No Gain."  The same is true for writing -- it's training, muscles, sinews, flexibility, speed, endurance, all the athletic parameters have an equivalent in writing.

So when your characters punch you in the nose and take off for the hills, what do you do?

You train harder.

You take the pain and make the gain. 

What pain is it that you are avoiding by wanting to shelve the project?

It's (not always, but often) the pain of facing facts. 

The part of you that refuses the pain of facing reality is your subconscious -- which is the part that does all the heavy lifting in fiction-writing.

So the objective of this exercise (picking yourself up and surmounting the brick wall) is to train your subconscious not to produce structures with brick walls in the middle.

You teach it, "You don't like brick walls?  OK, don't make any."

How do you do that?

Well, remember when you were learning spelling?  To learn to spell a word, you write it -- over and over and over.  If you make a mistake, you write it a hundred times, preferably on a board in front of the class, and believe me you will never make that mistake again! 

That same process is how you train --- not learn -- to do anything.  Repetition, and some kind of incentive like public embarrassment.  Whatever works for you - no two people are exactly alike.

But whatever process you use, to be successful, it will have the same attributes that all successful training has. 

1) STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING -- a dance instructor calls STOP.

2) CHANGE POSITION -- a dance instructor takes her cane and pushes your leg higher, scolds when you fall over.

3) DO IT AGAIN -- and do it right this time

4) DO IT -- DO IT -- DO IT -- over and over with the correction integrated, until you do it smoothly.

So applying this to the writing process, what do you do when you hit a brick wall?

1) STOP WRITING -- just freeze in place.  Leave your desk, and go stalk about the house screaming your head off (then pet the dog you upset).

Some writers just slam out of the house, jump in the car and go shopping.

Some go to a movie, then have chocolate ice cream.

Some go trap shooting.  Or to the gym.  Or sailing on a quiet lake.  Or to a concert in the park.  Or jacuzzi. 

Whatever you choose, it's YOUR blow-off-steam activity. 

2) In an hour or two, back at the desk, you CHANGE POSITION.

You slammed into the brick wall on page 133, so you go to another page.

#3 in this process is DO IT AGAIN -- so what the writer does is REWRITE. 

But rewrite what into what and how and why?

After you figure that out, you go on to #4, and do it and do it and do it until you can do the moves smoothly.  Practice is how you get to Carnegie Hall.

Note though that I used the dance instructor analogy.

You don't have a "writing instructor."  A beta reader is not a writing instructor.  An editor is not a writing instructor.

There are no writing instructors because no two writers are alike enough for the processes of one to work for another.  No two people do this the same WAY.

But the end-product of professional writers is all uniform enough to fit into the delivery channels their marketers have designed. 

So keep your eye on the end product you are aiming to produce, and let that end product be your "teacher." 

The best way I know of to envision such a "teacher" or end product goal to shoot for is Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! trilogy of books on screenwriting.  He has created a list of examples of big selling story forms -- not formula, but a creative understanding of what makes a certain kind of story "work" for large numbers of people.

So when you hit a brick wall, you STOP, (blow off steam), and come back to your TEACHER.

One useful way to do that is to find the story-type you are working on in Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES, go to the bottom of the page and read the list of movies that are prime examples of your type of novel -- then dig one up on Netflix or Amazon Prime or wherever, and watch it.  Sometimes two or three times over -- taking notes.

Now go back to your desk and CHANGE POSITION -- as if your dance instructor had jabbed her cane into your knee to move it just so! 

Go to PAGE 1 of your manuscript. 

Check that page against all the elemental lists I've given you in these blogs and against the "beats" Snyder lists, and against your notes on the film you saw.

This works equally well with novels.  If you hit that brick wall in your novel, go reread another one that is like yours, or from the same publisher and editor, or by a writer you want to emulate.

You may want to write a contrast/compare essay between your first page, and your model novel's first page -- or the first 5 pages of a screenplay. 

The question -- the PAINFUL STRETCH of a question that your subconscious drove you into a brick wall instead of asking (because it's way too painful to ask it) is:


If you shelve this project and go work on something else instead before you ask that question, you are training your subconscious to spur you into starting projects that can not be finished.  You are training your subconscious to force you to fail at your profession. 

If you shelve a project after you have asked this question, answered it several different ways, evaluated all those ways and chosen the best answer, then looked up HOW TO FIX WHAT YOU DID WRONG, and attempted to employ that fix (duck tape works sometimes), and found that the fix is beyond your abilities -- then you will not be training your subconscious to produce unfix-able projects strewn with brick walls.

It's that numbered process that does the trick here:

2) CHANGE POSITION (to correct one; it does no good to practice mistakes)
3) DO IT OVER (correctly)
4) DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN (practice until it's a smooth performance).

So if you shelve a project that is irretrievably flawed, but instead of just going off to write something else on another whim, you rub your subconscious's nose in the mess it made and discipline it to FIX THE MESS one tiny, painful-boring, repetitive step at a time, you will be becoming a professional writer -- a writer who can write anything for any market at the wave of an advance payment.

In future installments in this WHEN SHOULD YOU GIVE UP ON A MANUSCRIPT series, we'll look at the individual trouble shooting steps for finding out what you did wrong, and either correcting it in this manuscript or creating another manuscript project specifically designed to acquire, polish or practice the precise skill set that caused the mistake.

Brick walls are caused by skills-failure. 

Writing professionally is a skill that does not depend on inspiration, is not random, and does not leave the writer as a victim of subconscious vagaries. 

It's harsh.  Nobody wants to hear it.  But it is true.  I didn't make this up.  I didn't discover it all by myself.  I got it from the best in the field.  They got it from their previous generations of writers. 

If your skills fail you, you will not eat.  Build strong skills that don't fail when your spirits flag, when "life" hits and knocks you over, when disaster threatens, and when the baby cries. 

You can't learn this stuff.  But you can train and train and train until your core skills are strong enough to keep you going no matter what.  Best of all, you can train your subconscious (by making it do-over all the failures) not to produce brick walls. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, March 27, 2014

International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

I spent last Wednesday afternoon through Saturday night at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando. Even though I had to change planes both ways, I was lucky enough to have all the flights proceed on schedule. The weather stayed sunny and warm throughout the con, a delightful change from home (where it snowed again Tuesday—less than a week before the first of April!). The Lord Ruthven Assembly, our vampire-revenant-Gothic-paranormal romance division, presented its annual awards for vampire-related books to NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (fiction) and FANGED FAN FICTION: VARIATIONS ON TWILIGHT, TRUE BLOOD AND THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (nonfiction) by Maria Lindgren Leavenworth and Malin Isaksson. I highly recommend both of these. The novel by Joe Hill (one of Stephen King’s sons) features a child-snatching energy vampire with a sentient car. FANGED FAN FICTION displays a respectful attitude toward fandom, with voluminous, varied reading and research.

I appeared on a panel titled “The Relative Merits of Exsanguination and Dismemberment in the 21st Century,” on the theme of vampires versus zombies. We mainly discussed why zombies have replaced vampires as the dominant popular culture monster (if they have—books and movies seem to differ in this regard). We also considered exactly how to define a zombie and how much a revenant can advance toward consciousness and free will before it no longer fits into the category “zombie.” If vampires still remain recognizable as vampires despite all the transformations they’ve undergone since emerging from their folklore roots, can’t zombies do the same? Some of my other favorite sessions were a panel on Disney as global corporate empire and one on “hybrid publishing,” presented by Ellen Datlow and other distinguished editors.

As usual, I came home with a book-stuffed suitcase and a list of reading suggestions.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reviews 6: TV Series "Elementary" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Reviews 6: TV Series "Elementary"
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

A writer does not "watch Television" -- or "see" what ordinary viewers "see" in a TV Show.

So this blog entry is not about whether I think ELEMENTARY is a "good" TV show, or what's wrong with it as a TV Show, or even about whether you should or should-not watch it.  This is more about "how" to be a writer watching TV rather than a viewer watching TV.

And I'm onto my hobby-horse about THEME again.  By Blogger's count, I've done 34 posts relevant to THEME in this writing series. is just one, and it has some links to others about theme. 

Here's a link to an index of one of the various series on theme:

So today we're going to look at this episode of Elementary with a microscope focused on theme and what happens when the theme is not reticulated:

Season 2: Episode 12 - Internal Audit
    Jonny Lee Miller
    Lucy Liu
    Aidan Quinn
    Jon Michael Hill

When a hedge fund manager who was also running a Ponzi scheme is murdered, Holmes and Watson must determine which of his clients is guilty.

Study that "logline" -- you have to learn to write a logline for your own novel's pitch or query letter.  This one is an excellent example. 

We're looking at the cohesiveness of the script of this episode to discern the theme and the NETWORK (CBS) opinion of the audience the show is aimed toward. 

A Network gets their opinion of their audience for a given show by studying numbers, statistics, focus groups -- and applying the principles of "PR" (Public Relations and/or Advertising.)

As I pointed out many times, but closely in the series on Marketing Fiction ...

... TV and Film (and News) delivered by Airwaves, Cable, or Internet is a business using the business model where the product the studios make is sold to advertisers totally on the number and demographic composition of the eyes glued to the screen. 

Commercial fiction and now (as pointed out in the Marketing series) non-fiction is all delivering you (the consumer) to the mercies of the advertisers. 
Understanding the attitudes, concerns and opinions of that audience is what PR is all about -- but today it's being used in reverse to create that opinion. 

As any Math Major will explain, "Statistics" can not be used backwards.  Statistics can accurately predict the behavior of large groups of people (thousands) but Statistics can tell you absolutely nothing about any individuals even if you know what Groups they belong to. 

PR is trying to become a science which can determine the behavior of an individual -- and one tool being experimented with is the use of fiction (and news) to shape public opinion. 

A writer who has studied my previous blogs on THEME will see this experimental process playing out in stark, high relief, when watching this specific episode of the CBS drama ELEMENTARY linked above titled Internal Audit.

Now, fix firmly in mind that I'm a Baker Street Irregular from the git-go.  I absolutely love the entire Sherlock Holmes mythos, in all its variations.

Elementary is a worthy entry into the canon, via the alternate universe approach (I mean, NEW YORK!!!  But, oh, well, good is good.)

This episode which clearly illustrates many of my points about THEME. 

You can't choose elements of your story at random, because they're neat, or good, or popular, or ripped from the headlines.  If you do, you may get it right, but more likely you will get it wrong and make a big mess.

"Internal Audit" is a neat, clear example of a big mess.

A couple episodes previously, the cop that Sherlock liked to work with got shot and hospitalized.  It appears now there's nerve damage to his dominant arm, and there is no way to say if it will heal or if he must be retired to a desk job.  He's a good Detective to have earned Sherlock's respect.

Sherlock feels guilty for having put this cop in that dangerous situation, but reviewing his choices, he finds no error that he committed.  It just happened.

NOTE: as most TV shows, this one never allows any of the characters to include spiritual elements of "right and wrong" in their decision making.  So the reasoning always seems to be two-dimensional and over-simplified.

The theme of this episode is GUILT/INNOCENCE.  It's all about how responsible an individual is for the consequences of their actions, and what that responsibility says about the choices a person must, should, or could make. 

In this theme element, the connection between Cause and Effect is highlighted.

But it's a TV show, so nothing so profound as cause/effect appears anywhere in this script. 

It is SHOW DON'T TELL -- a story in pictures.  And an excellent script, too. 

ELEMENTARY is one of the very best produced shows on TV.  Elegant! 

This episode, however, doesn't measure up to the usual standards. And that is what's so starkly revealing to make this episode worth study. 

Remember all we discussed in Story Springboards and Episodic Plot structure linked above.

The END of the Internal Audit episode gives you a "springboard" into the next "chapter" of the injured Cop's career.  If you are trying to master springboards or episodic structure, study that last bit of dialogue carefully. 

The cop's story-arc for this episode ends in a scene where the injured cop is offered a different job opportunity in a different law enforcement division.  That offer (unanswered at this point) is a "springboard."  It leaves you with a question that is not answered, and an array of possible developments to stimulate your curiosity.  How curious you are depends on how well you know and like this character.  (Theme-Character Integration is an essential ingredient in Springboards.)

The "mess" I'm talking about in this episode happened because, though one element appears to have been changed by perhaps Network Administrators who are not writers, this final scene was not changed to MATCH THEMATICALLY with the changed element.

I suspect that's because they want to direct this injured cop into the other department which is called "Demographics" but is a surveilance program looking for terrorists before they attack the city. 

The offer is to keep working to "keep this city safe."  We know this character is dedicated to that concept. 

The point of the entire episode is to redirect this one character's career -- presumably to later come back and involve Sherlock in Homeland Security and anti-terrorist activities.

Note that "point" is not indicated in the logline.  Never let your theme show in your logline.  Logline is about plot and genre -- about who will watch or buy the story.

The logline here is about the "mystery" (genre):

"When a hedge fund manager who was also running a Ponze scheme is murdered, Holmes and Watson must determine which of his clients is guilty. "

This is a TV Series with a "story arc" structure, but it is episodic.  So here we see the Springboards used in Episodic structure -- all the gear-wheels of a plot structure are visible and clear and cleanly delineated.  That's why it's so obvious what went wrong to create this mess.

That POINT of having this "episode" as part of the arc is what determines the THEME of the episode.

Each episode has to have a theme that is some sub-set of the master-theme of the Series, and that master-theme has to be a sub-set of the genre's master-theme.

For example: the master-theme of the Romance Genre is "Love Conquers All" -- so all the sub-genres, different settings, times, or alternate-universes, can't change that master-theme.  Each setting can generate a series of "episodes" -- or series of novels.  But always the main theme requires the plot to display a problem and show how love conquers it.  Everything else is decoration.

Thus in a Mystery/Detective series like ELEMENTARY, there has to be a CRIME as a problem, and Sherlock and Watson have to conquer it by sifting details into a pattern that reveals motive, method, and opportunity (all of which hinge on character). 

The master-theme of Mystery is "Crime Doesn't Pay." 

So back to this Elementary episode titled Internal Audit.

Up until that last scene where this job offer is made to the injured cop, I thought Internal Audit was a perfectly fine episode, nicely written, well acted, very engrossing mystery, and contained everything you could want from an ELEMENTARY episode. 

I thought Sherlock becoming a Sponsor was what the episode was about. 

Then BOOM - everything fell apart at that scene where the injured cop gets a job-offer.

Clearly redirecting this injured cop's career into anti-terrorist activity (referred to euphemistically as Demographics) was what the episode was about. 

Sherlock becoming a Sponsor for an AA member is not as portentous as a cop going into anti-terrorist squad duties.  Think about "springboard tension" -- which issue is more likely to uncoil and "spring" into higher drama?  Will Sherlock be drawn back into drug use -- probably, because the original character was a cocaine addict, so what's so dramatic about that?  But a homicide detective drawn into the world of international espionage, covert-warfare, and massive financial schemes -- border security -- wow, that's huge.

So springboard-wise, this episode is about redirecting a cop's  career.

One big messy problem is that nowhere in this episode prior to that final scene in the cop's story-arc is there any hint that he will be drawn into anti-terrorist task force work.

The writing on this series and even in this episode is so pristine, so perfect, that the lack of foreshadowing of this truly epic scene in the development of a minor character that will affect the life of the main character is horrifying.  No writer of this caliber would have done such a thing.

So I saw in my mind's eye the original script submitted (which may never have existed, I have no inside knowledge of production of this show), and the rewritten script that was produced.  And I saw the non-writer's "hand" behind the decision to replace one Perpetrator with another. 

The aired episode used the crime of Money Laundering to be the motive for 3 murders.

There was an Art Gallery involved as a "front" for the money laundering scheme run by the Ponzi scheme hedge fund manager.

Tracing back from the Art Gallery, Sherlock discovers a Holocaust Survivor charity (retrieving money from the  Nazis) is involved in the money laundering -- an international charity. 

That seemed perfectly reasonable to me -- they used veiled references to Bernie Madoff by using similar names etc.  It was well done.

At first the Holocaust Charity didn't seem intrusive -- didn't seem to not-fit.

Only when that final scene on the injured Cop's plot-thread came up did I realize the script was distorted.

I guessed they couldn't change that scene with the injured cop because there are plot-plans for subsequent episodes locked in.  As I said above, it's an obvious springboard. 

But someone decided they had to use a Holocaust Charity as the source of the guy who did the murdering. 

But the entire episode is about morality's dictums regarding personal responsibility.

It makes thematic sense that the source of this murderer would be a CHARITY, and money-laundering made perfect sense -- white collar crimes.

It had to be an International Charity because the job offer to the cop is to become a guardian of the city against invaders from abroad who want to kill people.

So thematically International is the only choice.

But what are the HEADLINES chattering about now? 

Not Bernie Madoff (who invested for charities, mostly domestic.  Currently a trust is paying a portion of the invested capital back to the investors). 

Right now the headlines (most buried deep behind our scandals de jour) chatter about US based Islamic Charities funneling money to terrorists who use that money to attack us here and abroad.

This is HORRIBLE NEWS -- most Islamic charities are as good as anyone else's, and they do the job very nicely, thank you!  But with humans, there's a rotten apple in everyone's barrel.

And of course rotten apples make headlines (that glue eyeballs to advertisers).  Stories about upstanding charities don't attract the exact eyeballs advertisers pay big bucks to access.

There are a number of really effective, efficient, completely honest Holocaust Survivor charities in the USA -- so I assume there must be a rotten apple in that barrel somewhere, humans being human.  I didn't see anything wrong on first viewing with the choice of a Holocaust charity.

Collect a lot of money or power in one location and like turning on a light bulb at sunset on your patio, you will attract flies, moths, and things that sting.

The lesson is don't turn that color light on -- don't collect money or power in one location under the control of say 6 or 12 individuals who only have to agree to keep quiet in order to make them all rich. 

Now take a close look at the underlying structure of that episode's script considering our discussion of episodic structure and springboards.

The point was a) Sherlock becomes a sponsor, b) injured cop gets involved in anti-terrorist activities.  c) Sherlock's protege, Watson, faced down a temptation to reveal one of her prior clients -- so the entire episode was about morality, responsibility, keeping your word of honor.  That's why the cop didn't answer right away -- as an honorable man, he had to be sure he chose correctly, and that he would give his Word and keep that promise (like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain vampire character.)

The Holocaust Survivor charity broke "word of honor." 

It was an international charity dedicated to doing something all viewers would like to see done, and it betrayed the Holocaust Survivors by retrieving their money but not passing it on to them or their heirs.

Does that fit the theme?


There are some brilliant writers involved in this show.  Watch those names on the credits.  Grand careers are being launched here.

But what is the natural, obvious, and thematically perfect type of international charity to be the source of someone stealing money and WILLING TO MURDER?

Did Bernie Madoff shoot or stab people?  No.  That was pure "white collar" crime.  Did he deal with people who then turned around and killed him?  No.  Why?  White Collar Crime (like embezzlement ) doesn't go with murder. 

The kind of person who runs a Ponzi scheme is not the kind of person (study criminal psychology) who murders or associates with people who would. 

What sort of people run their lives on a morality that makes it OK to shoot, stab, burn, behead or otherwise murder people who disagree with them?

You have to find the sort of people who fit into the episode that ends with a cop considering a redirection of his career into detecting terrorists. 

In other words, the money laundering that goes with the cop's career redirect is international and run by people who believe murder is OK at least under some circumstances.

All of a sudden, when you see that last scene with the injured cop, you understand the thematic ERROR made here -- and because the intrusion is smooth, subtle, and almost correct, you have a quandry to resolve.  Is it the Holocaust Charity that is the intrusion or the Cop's career choice that is the intrusion in this script? 

Which piece of this script was wedged in by non-writers?

Then ask why non-writers would mess with a script.

The answer (all the way back to the 1960's and STAR TREK which I do know a lot about) is ADVERTISERS and their assessment of the audience they want to reach with their products.  Or more specifically, it's what the network execs think the advertisers think.  (consider the Duck Dynasty flap from December 2013 and audience plus advertiser responses to the flap.)

The decision to change a script element has nothing to do with the thematic integrity of the story.

That's the big problem you face if you want to work in TV (where the money is).

The decision is entirely a PR (math turning an art into a science and not quite making it) decision. 

Some non-writer exec decided they could not use the obvious Islamic Mosque supporting an Islamic charity funneling money to terrorists in other countries.

Given that final scene with the injured cop, it is vividly obvious the International Charity had to be Islamic in the original script.  If it wasn't -- then it would have had to be changed in rewrite because that's what has to go into the cop's plot-thread springboard. 

But Islamic Terrorism is a hot-button issue that would distract viewers from the commercials, and therefore forbidden.  Any non-writer can see that instantly.

So what sort of international charity could they use instead of a Muslim one?  Red Cross?  It would work thematically, but no, can't attack the Red Cross -- too many people approve of them.

So who?  What charity?

A Jewish Charity would be acceptable to the CBS audience as a source of an embezzler turned murderer.  Despite the fact that Madoff wasn't a violent criminal, despite everything mystery fans know about criminal psychology, despite all the facts everyone knows, it is plausible enough, so use it.

But the script already called for 3 murders to lead to the solution -- and that's air time. 

So these (really great) writers had to leave out the character development that would have let the audience understand the Perpetrator as a "rotten apple" -- a distinctive, unique, strange individual criminal with both White Collar and Violent Crime in his makeup. 

It must have pained them greatly to leave such a paper-thin character as the perpetrator.  They could have made the Holocaust Charity element work if they'd had maybe another 4 minutes of air time to develop that individuality. 

But even so, that would not have been the platform upon which to hinge the springboard of the injured cop's new career decision.  There aren't any Jewish terrorists planning attacks on New York or London. 

I've detected similar "messes" made of other TV shows, but none so clear and stark and easy to see as this one.

Given this problem with this script, what would you do to fix it? 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg