Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Complications of Sex Differences

Two articles illustrating the fact that "sexual characteristics exist on a spectrum—not as a binary":

Sex Isn't Chromosomes

Sex identity is far from a simple binary among some "lower" animals, such as fish that change sex during their lifetimes (like Robert Heinlein's Martians). Another example: A male platypus has ten sex chromosomes! Among human beings, there exist XXY men and XYY men. The article discusses science historian Sarah Richardson's SEX ITSELF, which traces the development of scientists' determination (erroneous, she declares) to attribute all distinctions between the sexes to X and Y chromosomes. It's estimated that about one percent of people fall into the intersex range, with chromosomes, hormones, and/or genital anatomy that don't "match." The assumption that simple, binary sexual dimorphism between male and female covers everybody doesn't correlate with the realities of human biology.

Sex Redefined

This article delves more deeply into issues of gender identity in intersex people and also explores chimaerism and mosaicism, in which some of an individual's cells contain DNA of the opposite sex.

These biological phenomena can contribute to speculation about alien sexual biology—will it necessarily follow the "binary" pattern we're used to? Suppose the various functions "normally" divided between male and female among terrestrial mammals—producing sperm or ova, gestating the fetus, feeding infants—are distributed differently in an alien species. Sperm-producing males might get pregnant (like seahorses or the men in the TV series ALIEN NATION) or lactate; three or more sexes might be needed for fertilization (again as in ALIEN NATION); there might even be multiple sexes dividing those functions among themselves.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 2: Creating The Iconic Vision by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 2
Creating The Iconic Vision
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Last week (April 7, 2015) we examined what a writer can learn from a Lego Set:

Remember, in this Tuesday blog series, we are in hot-pursuit of the reasons why Romance Genre is not given the respect it deserves as Literature and Art. 

Two features (or Beats in SAVE THE CAT! lingo) we identified as definitions of Romance are the "Love At First Sight" moment (sometimes manifesting as Hate At First Sight) and the HEA.  At some future time we'll examine the more complex "Boy Next Door" scenario, and "Second Time Around." 

In this 4-Skills Integration series, we're looking at "where you get those crazy ideas" and abstractions (such as why bother to be a writer at all?) made concrete and visible to others -- the process generally termed Art (Icons are Art).  You can say things with Art that can not be stated or conveyed in Words.  Since Words are our medium, we are combining skills to create Art that goes beyond Words, to create Icons.  Some word-icons are one-liners such as the Deepak Chopra quote above. 

You want to learn to write in such a way that quotes like that will be excerpted and danced around the internet over your byline. 

The March 31, 2015 entry was about Binocular Vision, coining the term Trinocular Vision.

Binocular Vision is seeing the 3 or 4 dimensional world we live in, our concrete reality, in three dimensions with our eyes gathering data and our minds interpreting that data.

Our animal bodies evolved to use that eyeball-brain binocular data-gathering to spot food, mates, etc. and attain necessities for survival  -- as well as avoid being eaten and other concrete hazards. 

If you include time, it's 4 dimensions that we "see."  We see in YouTube videos -- movement in space over time, mostly chopped into short-sequences (look both ways before you cross the street then watch where you put your feet). 

The space-time continuum (which is actually discontinuous but our eyeballs/brain can't resolve the definition at that level) is an illusion of our binocular vision. 

Trinocular vision would then be the binocular image with the "third eye" (the spiritual eye) open and adding a "dimension" to what we see with our binocular vision. 

Trinocular vision is not squinting the two-eyes shut to see only with the Third Eye -- but seeing with all three at once while going about working, shopping, cooking, driving carpool, painting the house, unplugging a drain. 

We are binocular creatures who occasionally, sometimes only once or twice in a lifetime, "see" with trinocular vision.  We can, for a moment, look at our regular 3-D world and "see" (apperceive) the Hand of God producing that 3-D image we think of as "reality."

Such glimpses of another dimension rounding out reality generally "change" people.  The person has the same Natal Chart, the same personality, the same memories and life-experiences from which lessons and conclusions and coping behaviors are derived.  It's the same person before and after that glimpse. 

But that person, post-glimpse, now either understands the world in a different way, or merely knows that they do not have a clue what's "really going on" but that there is a Higher Power doing all this.

That pivot point in Character is where you focus your PLOT -- where you find "the story of this character's life." 

Failing to find that "moment" in a character's lifespan is what leads writers to choose the wrong Point of View character(s) for a particular novel.  That pivot point is the maelstrom of CONFLICT -- the defining point of change in a character-arc that signals the presence of "story" and "plot" explicating one, clear, "theme" which is pertinent to that one, singular World in which the characters live, the world you build around them, termed the Setting. 

The story-beat Deepak Chopra pinpointed is usually termed "epiphany" -- an AHA! moment.  Or Revelation.

Writers, especially Romance Writers, deal specifically in that epiphany or revelation moment, the "Love At First Sight" moment.

That moment is the moment in a lifetime (a once in a lifetime moment) when the Third Eye is open, and another Person is seen to exist in yet another dimension - the dimension of Soul - and that Other Soul is recognized as one's own Soul's other half. 

Conflict, in Romance, is usually a conflict between bodies, between Lifestyle, Jobs, Careers, Aspirations, Self-images, but not between Souls. 

In Romance, the Souls slam together like two pieces of magnets, forming a seamless whole, and the real-lives and bodies erupt in frantic objection.  In the vortex of that Trinocular Vision Moment, that conflict is joined.  The Trinocular glimpse may have faded away by the time the HEA is reached.  Inside that vortext, the plot hammers the characters with Events that re-shape their lives.

That moment (usually available under a Neptune Transit), is a personal experience that is a flash of spirituality penetrating the veil of religion.

You no longer "believe" in Souls.  You know. 

You become the three-eyed-woman in the land of the two-eyed.  And there's no way you can explain what you have seen.  But having experienced the flash of  Vision, you are now convinced.  Maybe you don't know what you're convinced of -- but you know that what you see is not what you get when it comes to a Significant Other. 

That three-eyed, trinocular woman, is the definition of what a Woman is -- what female-ness is -- in the Kabbalistic traditions.  The Feminine tends to hold onto the ability to apperceive the world with three-eyes-at-once more tenaciously than the Masculine.  (keep in mind that masculine and feminine exist in both human genders, one dominating the other, but both available as necessary)

This is one reason the Kabbalists insist husbands must listen to their wives.  The Feminine is endowed with the ability to apperceive their child's Potential.  A Mother's trinocular gaze upon a child can reveal whether their deeds will be famous or infamous.  The Feminine third eye sees souls struggling to inhabit the physical body.  That interface of conflict is always complex.  But such gazes are usually just glimpses, like Love at First Sight, and can fade and be replaced by binocular perceptions. 

Deepak Chopra is not a Kabbalist, but there is a Kabbalistic explanation of that Love At First Sight moment.  It's a long, complex, and powerful explanation because it also explains
a) why there is a Happily Ever After and
b) why most readers don't believe such an ending can be "real." 

The Love At First Sight leading to the Happily Ever After "ending" is the Character change from "religion" to "spirituality" that Chopra's quote nails.

Of course there are further life lessons that lead from mere spirituality to walking in the ways of the Creator of the Universe.  Those further life-lessons may (or may not) come with the birth of children, or with seeing the eventual Great Deeds of your children (or the Nefarious Deeds of your children).  Or grandchildren. 

So last week we discussed that shift in perception from binocular to trinocular.

And that built on the previous post on Depiction Part 10, Binocular Vision.

In that post, I wrote:
Why does about half of the world believe the HEA is nonsense?  Even in the face of factual evidence to the contrary?  Is that "scientific thinking" or "superstition?"
----------end quote----------

Here's some factual evidence to the contrary:  If The HEA Is Implausible, How Come It Happens?

That "It Is Implausible" contention about the HEA is what we're up against when trying to convince the world that Romance Genre is worthy of the highest possible respect -- that the HEA is real, perhaps even common.

The central question behind the HEA is, "What is Happiness?" 

Where does it come from?  How do you get it?  How do you know you've maximized your Happiness?  How do you stabilize at the peak of Happiness? 

If you can't answer these questions, how can you figure out if you, or another couple you know, are in fact living "Happily Ever After?"  How do you recognize an HEA?

We'll work on defining "ever after" some other time.  Right now, we're doing 4-skill-integration.  "Ever After" needs a few more artistic skills. 

The artist's job is to make concrete and visible (Iconic) that which the Trinocular Glimpse reveals.  Art is about telling others that you know what they know, and therefore what they know is true and real -- and realistic -- even if nobody else they know believes it. 

Concrete and Real require icons, arrays of symbols that depict the Trinocular Glimpse.

The series on Depiction is here:

And Part 10 of Depiction is about Trinocular Vision.

To get to an iconic "The Same But Different" vision, an image, a show-don't-tell, we need a theme to form the central core for integrating Plot-Character-Worldbuilding into a seamless whole.  "Happy" is the kind of abstraction that forms the cornerstone of Theme.

So how do you tell if you're HAPPY??? 

"Happy" is a character trait, however transient. 

"What is the nature of Happiness?" is a theme (big enough for a series.) 

"Happiness is Harmony between Soul and Body" is a theme which is novel size. 

Take the Theme, create the Character who lacks Harmony between Soul and Body at the beginning of the Plot, and then attains Harmony at the End, because of the impact of Events (Plot) on Character(s). 

Character Has Epiphany And Sees That Happiness Is Harmony Between Soul And Body -- is a story.  The Series of Events (connected on a Because-Line) triggering the epiphany is the plot.


Mary Finch sets out to prove to her Mafia Dad that she's the best Hitman the Family has, gets away with Murder/Assassination several times, bids on and gets the job of Assassinating a US President, then finds she can't make herself do it.  Mary Informs on her Family, goes into Witness Protection,  applies for and gets a job as a security officer in WitSec itself, Meets her Soul-Mate, and feels Happiness for the first time.  --- that is a Plot. 

Of course there's a sequel where it is revealed to WitSec that she's a former contract killer - a minor detail that didn't come out at the trials because her father is loyal to her?

But how will the Reader/Viewer know Mary Finch is digging herself deeper and deeper into Misery with her successful Hits? 

How will the reader/viewer know that in Witness Protection she's found true Happiness?  What does a HAPPY PERSON do differently from a miserable one?

The Huffington Post published this article for New Year's 2014/2015.

Here's the headline list:
You don’t sweat the small stuff...
...In fact, you appreciate the little things.
You’re proud of other people’s successes.
Living in the moment is very important to you.
here's a TEDTalk on happiness living in the moment:
You’re in a healthy relationship (and not just with your significant other).
When something is stressing you out, you know how to calm down.
You’ve gotten your “affluenza” shot. (not too caught up in seeking material wealth)
You’re constantly adopting a glass-half-full mentality.
You have a sister.
Making new friends seems to come easy for you.
You’ve reached a goal (and you have more you want to accomplish).
You say cheese. (you tend to smile for a camera)
There’s nothing keeping you tossing and turning at night.

So, we started out with a THEME ELEMENT (Happiness), created whole cloth a definition of Happiness that is a theme (Happiness is Harmony between Soul and Body), used that theme statement to create a character, used the character to create a story, used the story to create a plot -- ended with the outline (remember last week, I pointed you to the items on OUTLINE at the end of the long post full of links) -- we ended with the outline for a series of novels, and maybe a TV series if we detail Mary Finch's hits while working for her Dad.  And there's all her lovers along the way -- no stable relationships, until the end.

We built her entire world with a single word in that outline -- Mafia.  (Finch?  Mafia? Interesting story about how a Finch got involved with an Italian family?)

The word "Mafia" is an Icon - it stands for a tight-knit Family which provides financial and operational Security.  It is safe to be a member in good standing, and very unsafe outside.

Mary Finch's Happiness comes when she moves outside of the Mafia, into danger, into where it's not safe.  What does that tell you about her Character?

We could create a longer, deeper and richer work of art if we challenged the Theme.

"What if there is no such thing as an Immortal Soul, and therefore there is no such thing as Happiness?" 

Well, it is unacceptable that there be no such thing as Happiness.  Even the anti-Romance faction believes in Happily For Now (HFN).

But there is another view that "happiness" is just an electro-chemical brain-stimulus to the pleasure center, which proves that humans are just a physical body. 

In fact, that article from the Huffington Post is predicated on the assumption that God does not exist, that your Happiness is up to you to craft with your own two hands, and there is only the Body that has to be Happy.  The Happiness definition lurking un-articulated behind that list of signs you are happy excludes the issue of Harmonizing body and soul.

Take two Characters - one with a mostly-open Third Eye, and one blind in the Third Eye (reasons could be interesting details to Depict) - set them into a Soul-Mate Situation, add Setting, Theme and let the Conflict unfold.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Crime, Retribution And Punishment (in SF/SFR)

How does a convicted criminal pay "their debt" to society... in our world, or in imagined alien worlds whether they are utopian or dystopian?

"Justice" has several possible purposes, some only subtly different: Revenge, Restitution, Retribution,  Rehabilitation, Incapacitation (or preventing a recurrence),  Deterrence, Social Engineering.

1.  Revenge may be intended to be cathartic, depending on the involvement of the victims, but a civilized society may make the process so relatively "humane" and long-drawn-out and expensive that a death penalty, for instance, most likely fails to provide satisfaction for society or for the victims.

2. Similarly, a lengthy incarceration might cost taxpayers a great deal, but prevent the evil-doer from earning the wherewithal to make financial restitution to his or her victims.

Solon of the ancient Greek world, suggested that persons who could not pay their debts could be sold into slavery, which might be a profitable form of incarceration with hard labor.

Some criminals would be too dangerous to be slaves, and there are reports that ancient Roman homes included safety measures to ensure that house slaves did not murder their masters in the night.  Possibly, some of the most dangerous "debtors" could have been sold into gladiatorial schools, assuming that the barbaric public would pay to watch gladiators' entertaining deaths.

3. Rehabilitation, IMHO, is a bit of a non-starter in fiction. One has to have gross institutionalized unfairness, or an underdog anti-hero is not sympathetic; and if there is no fighting/conflict, it's hard to write a page-turner. Most science fiction convicts are unjustly accused good guys, such as Kirk, Starbuck, Buck Rogers, Spock etc. And, if one was not guilty in the first place, one cannot be rehabilitated.

4. Incapacitation (or preventing repeated crimes) is vividly demonstrated in One Flew Over A Cuckoo's Nest (not SF). Many SF examples of incapacitation are not successful by design, such as the Superman villains Zod, Non, and Ursa (??) who were entombed alive, to float in space forever... until they were rescued.  A similar incapacitation method was tried in V, also with Merlin --trapped inside a tree--, also with the villain in EPIC who.... spoiler alert... was engulfed in a tree wart.

Historical and futuristic versions of incapacitation might be some of the more extreme versions of exile, to prison islands, prison planets, prison ships, prison spaceships as seen in The Chronicles of Riddick, in Star Trek, etc.

5. Deterrence (and Social Engineering) may not necessarily involve a convicted evil-doer at all, as in Hunger Games where a society is repressed and eternally punished for a rebellion, while also providing an elaborate, entertaining, and possibly profitable spectacle.

Horrific and barbaric public executions also serve to deter would-be troublemakers, but we don't see a lot of that in Romance or Science Fiction. It's the stuff of the Horror genre.

Random and spontaneous executions (Flash Gordon, Star Wars) probably are not as psychologically successful for deterrence, judging by the rebellions they inspire.

And then, there's LEXX.
Criminals and rebels had their useful organs harvested (by machines, without anaesthetic, on a conveyor system), and the rest of the bodies were processed as food for the LEXX. However, since the LEXX was a sentient dragonfly-machine that destroyed planets, it is not easy to categorize the thinking behind justice system. I was too revolted to watch enough of the series to understand whether the harvested organs were transplanted into good members of society.

Please enlighten me!

Science Fiction (and Science Fiction Romance) deals with advanced technology and issues of alternative or shifting morality. Did the civilized Star Trek society send Kirk to a prison planet so that he could fight to the death or be assassinated out of sight, because it would be uncivilized to kill him directly?

If technology means that we can print off new organs or body parts, or create a personalized chemical cocktail to replace blood, then we don't need to use criminals as perpetual blood donors, or one-time heart donors, and cannot use expediency as moral justification. What happens to the motivation of futuristic good vampires, if there is no reason for them to drink blood from a human?

Let me know what you think.

Rowena Cherry

PS  Some interesting resources:

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: ...

Crime and Punishment - The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Sci-Fi on Trial: A Survey of Crime and Punishment in the ...

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Cloning Mammoths

A geneticist at Harvard has successfully inserted woolly mammoth DNA into elephant cells:

Mammoth DNA

The experiment didn't recreate the entire mammoth genome but singled out particular "mammoth-like characteristics," such as ear size and the woolly coat. Although there are still several steps to go before a live mammoth-like animal could be produced, the transformed elephant cells are functioning properly, so it could happen. This is only one of three teams worldwide working on such a project.

Naturally, some people have ethical qualms about the whole idea. One zoologist is quoted as objecting that it doesn't make sense to lavish money and time on reviving an extinct species while present-day elephants are endangered. That argument doesn't seem completely logical to me. Why should the two projects be mutually exclusive? Can't we have both genetically engineered mammoths and campaigns to save elephants? Also, as the article points out, work with extinct pachyderms could raise the profile of modern elephants, thus contributing to their preservation.

Doesn't this kind of research have legitimate value beyond "let's do it because we can"? If we could recreate a living woolly mammoth, couldn't we study that species in far more depth than we can from prehistoric, dead specimens? And isn't knowledge in itself a Good Thing? (Even if it can be misused. We have plenty of cautionary SF tales to warn us about What Not to Do; nobody is likely to set up a Jurassic Park devoid of safeguards in real life.)

Speaking of the negative side of reviving prehistoric species, Peter Watt's SF novel BLINDSIGHT has an accompanying website designed as a multimedia publicity release from a fictional research corporation in the novel. That company has recreated an extinct vampire race through genetic engineering (in the story itself, a vampire commands a spaceship tasked with a first-contact mission). Check out this very detailed and graphic account of the vampire project. It takes a while to watch, but it's fascinating. How could you beat the slogan "Taming Yesterday's Nightmares for a Better Tomorrow"? The deadpan humor—delivered absolutely "straight" by the earnest voice-over commentator—is especially effective.

Blindsight Vampires

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 1: The Writers Lego Set

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 1
The Writers Lego Set
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

The writer's Lego set is bigger than Lego's Sandcrawler set that has 75059 pieces and costs nearly $400. 

A writer needs many more than 8,000 "pieces" or skills, or skill-sets to turn out novel after story after novel.  Thankfully, most of these skills are acquired and honed in early childhood and function subconsciously.  Most writers have no idea "how" they do it, they just do it naturally.  Others have to read the directions. 

We have done post series on integrating two elements.  Here we go diving into 4-element integration, two-elements combined with two-elements, with theme in common.

In this case we'll focus on Theme-Plot and Worldbuilding-Character combinations and cross-terms with the mix changing every chapter or even every scene. 

This first post in 4-skill-integration points to the ingredients we have previously explored, so it is mostly a list of previous posts and index posts. 

Yes, a writer must multi-task, but first one must learn to do each task separately, then two at a time. 

Many writers can integrate two skills, but have no idea how they do it, so they don't know what to do when they see their Manuscript veer off track.  The story somehow seems wrong, but they can't figure out where it went wrong or how to fix it other than to gallop after runaway characters and hope they lead somewhere salable. 

So there are three types of writers -- maybe 6 -- who can benefit from gnawing their way through these long, tedious sets of posts: Beginning, Intermediate, and advanced, each in Amateur or Professional parts of their lives. 

Writing craft is not only about knowing what to do, but also about knowing how you did it (when you just did it by accident).

If you know what happened inside your subconscious, you can undo-and-redo with alacrity, rewrite to editorial spec, or you can disconnect your Lego pieces and make something different out of them.

We've done several series on two-skill Integration so far.  Here are index posts listing some of them.
Actually, the Dialogue index contains more than 4 parts.  (has links to previous parts)  (has links to previous parts)

And here are some relevant to Character:

Notice how the "home-base" or foundation task in each of these sets of posts is theme.

Theme is the main ingredient in Story, Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, -- but it is crucial to Worldbuilding. 

Most of a writer's worldbuilding is the creation of a Setting that includes things like creating a Star and a Planet from physics, to creating the kind of Life that evolves on that planet from biology, to creating the philosophies of all the Ancient Civilizations on that planet from comparative theology, to creating the current Civilization of Aliens by extrapolating from their Ancient Civilizations to the present when your humans will meet up with the Aliens.

You also have to create things such as a stardrive your ships use, how they locate vital resources (water, hydrocarbons, high-energy-particles.)   

It's the same process Gamers, especially videogamers but also board gamers, use to create the environment in which the conflict will happen.  It's being a Dungeon Master.

The choices a Game creator makes (Games are stories, multi-writer stories sometimes) are rooted in Theme. 

Theme is the sieve you pour the real-world through to sift out the bits that showcase your art.  You use theme to select just the pieces of the real world that bespeak your theme, that let your readers see the world in a whole new light. 

The resulting World that is Built by worldbuilding will be coherent or not depending on how Theme is handled.  The resulting world, the "Setting" for a novel, will have artistic integrity or not depending on how the ingredient of Theme is handled.

The resulting novel will reach certain audiences depending on how the Theme the writer uses "resonates" (seems real, realistic, valid, mistaken, or maybe "off the wall") to the reader/viewer. 

In other words, the way theme is handled during creation of the setting determines the commercial viability of the piece both as a Work of Art and as a money-maker.

Think about the Lego set for the Star Wars Sandcrawler.  Just ponder that image.  That single image, together with all its associations you have absorbed from watching the films and reading the books, explicates the overall Theme of Star Wars.  Look what's included in this Lego kit. 
----------from Amazon --------------
Includes 7 : Luke Skywalker, Uncle Owen, C-3PO and 4 Jawas, plus R2-D2, R2 unit,R1-series Droid,Gonk Droid,R5-D4,Treadwell Droid
Weapons include a light saber for Luke Skywalker,Also includes stock for old droids and droid parts
Sell droids to Luke and his Uncle! Keep your droids well maintained! Pretend to suck R2-D2 up into the Sand crawler - just like in the movie!
Relive classic moments from Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope! Own your own iconic vehicle from the classic Star Wars universe
----------end Amazon quote----------

Do you see that?  "Iconic" -- the entire visual array you saw in the films was deliberately fabricated from THEME.  That's what Iconic essentially means - an image that represents a thematic statement.

We discussed some of the aspects of writing iconic images:

Is a prime example

And this

That is a single static image that makes a Statement about a Situation, just as the Sandcrawler and its surrounding figures makes a statement about the Situation in the Galaxy. 

Situation is a component that straddles the Plot/Story division line.  Situation resides in the action-sequence as well as the character's flaw that is being discussed in the narrative.  Why is this happening to this Character?  Where does the Character start and where does that initial action eventually lead the Character?  The Ending is the New Situation.  Personally, I favor Situations that are Predicaments.  Sometimes the HEA is, itself, a predicament.

Most writers make these Worldbuilding choices unconsciously, at least at first.  On second or seventh draft, ferreting out inconsistencies and logical contradictions, revealing character motivations using "Show Don't Tell" methods, the writer may be led into narrowing and focusing the underlying thematic statement.

The precision of the thematic statement at the foundation of the worldbuilding often determines the saleability of the manuscript, especially for a writer's first excursion into professional publication.

Look back at the posts on structure and note how plot, story, scene structure, character creation, character-integration, and the basic tools of Description, Dialogue, Narrative, and Exposition (yes, the deadly Exposition that kills story momentum is a legitimate but difficult task to master) are each items to study separately, then in combination.

Look at the Reviews posts to find novels and non-fiction that illustrates these skills, both in high expertise and fumbling beginner levels.

I don't review books here at random, but rather these books are chosen because I am driving at a point, either a point I've made recently or a point I intend to make and these books illustrate those points.

If you want to see all my reviews:

Or 20 years of monthly reviews columns (paid for by a paper publication in the New Age Field) are here:

ReReadable Books went from 1993 to 2013 and focused on books worth reading more than once. 

These writing craft posts enumerate a lot of tasks and their component skills designed to create a book worth reading, and then worth re-reading, and even passing on to your grandchildren.  Any beginner would be wise to just boggle at the list and maybe think about not bothering to learn it all.  After all, why bother trying to write a classic that stays in print for 20 years like my novel, House of Zeor. 

It has been said that professional writers are people who simply can't do anything else.  There can be many reasons for this. 

Usually it is just that the person simply spends so much time writing that other life-building tasks don't get done.  But also there is the point in any life when all the doors slam in your face, and you still need a way to earn a living.  If "life" is preventing you from holding down a job, writing is an alternative.

Today some writers blog and social network to get hits in order to get paid for Google ads. (this blog) is a co-blog with professional writers contributing on assigned days of the week.  I do Tuesdays, and my posts are keyworded with Tuesday so you can find them by search.  Because this is a co-blog, we don't go for income (because how would be split it?) so we post on the right margin clues about where you can find our work if you want to know more about the author of a blog post.

Some beginning writers self-publish with great success -- and I foresee a lot more of that coming.  Whole industries are forming around writers driven to write for a living.

Some just dive into trying to sell their writing without more than having read a few books on the craft, perhaps way back in their teens.  Others take courses.  Others go to Romance Writers conventions and take seminars or acquire a mentor.  Some sign up at to try to get Patrons (a kind of Kickstarter for artists).

Those posts are indexes to posts about the Business Model of the professional writer.  They don't cover things like income tax, incorporation, Agents, amortization of equipment, and other issues covered extensively in any number of books how on how to set up a small business, sole-proprietorship.

That's what a writer is - a small business sole-proprietorship (or sometimes a partnership).

You have to think about yourself as a business with a product to sell.

Then put all that on a shelf in your mind and concentrate on producing that product.

The difference between a professional writer and an amateur writer (fanfic writer maybe) is not just that the professional has the life-goal of making a living from royalties, but also that the professional writes what sells.

Sometimes, the professional takes any work-for-hire job that comes along (Journalists do work-for-hire, as do screenwriters) and in their spare time they write just what they want to write, just for the fun of it. 

That's what amateurs do -- work a day job for income and write on the side, writing what they want to write, sharing it maybe on fanfic sites or self-publishing, getting joy as the only payback.

The difference between professional and amateur is not skills but goals.

After you've done a few million words for amateur purposes, you may get bored with writing, or you may decide to acquire more skill, perfect skills, or perfect integration of skills.  You may raise the bar of your own expectations of your product.

These are the people who will benefit most from these multiple-integration posts.  Professional or amateur, with or without experience, polishing skills creates joy. 

When you get right down to the core of storytelling, (writing, verbal, speech-making, journalism, whatever form), the product being produced is sought and consumed for the ultimate purpose of JOY.

If you don't put JOY into your work, your client won't get JOY out of it.

Fiction is a JOY-DELIVERY-PRODUCT.  Non-fiction succeeds best when it contains that element of relish that transmits JOY, too.

Relish, zest, admiration, love, romance, appreciation, intimacy -- these are components of JOY.  They make life worth living.

I have had a large number of readers of my novels come to me privately and say with immense gratitude that reading this or that novel of mine gave them a new lease on life, either from the brink of suicidal thoughts or just from despair and depression. 

Star Trek had that effect on people, too -- and to a large extent, I learned to do it by studying how Star Trek did it.  The rest of what I know, I learned from studying older writers I grew up reading, meeting them, asking questions, and in some instances being directly mentored by them.  I also learned a lot from my editors.

That Part 7 has links to the previous parts on What Exactly Is Editing.

Note how bits, pieces, and parts of the components we are assembling in this 4-skills sequence have turned up under various topics previously.

Everything is connected to everything -- and in the world of Art, there is no such thing as a "topic" or a "subject" to keep to.

Everything is actually everything -- one, single, indivisible Whole.  Any division we impose on our Vision of Reality (our World that we Build) is an artifact, a Fallacy.

We've dealt with some common Fallacies and how a writer can leverage the existence of these Fallacies among readers - how holding to a particular Fallacy can define a Market which is hungry for re-enforcement of that Fallacy as well as markets determined to stamp out that Fallacy.  Hold vs Stamp Out defines a Conflict, so the subject of Fallacy integrates Theme with Conflict while Conflict is illustrated in Plot and Story.
On misnomers and how to use them in fiction construction.

A few on Fallacy and its usefulness to a writer:

This Tuesday writing craft blog series has been posted weekly since 6/16/2006.

We have covered a lot of ground, ranged over a lot of subjects, gathered inspiration from historical sources, current events Headlines, and disparate sources ranging from Atheist to Devout (Pagan to Monotheist), from Mainstream to far-out-Fringe (I mean, I even mentioned Glenn Beck). 

A writer knows no bounds in where to search for material, and questions must be asked boldly, audaciously, and without limitations.

Once gathered, the raw material of a story has to be winnowed, distilled, focused, isolated and clearly stated.  Some writers complete two or three drafts before attempting to distill a Theme, then do another re-write to discard everything that does not explicate the chosen Theme.

Prolific professional writers who make a living on volume output rather than Best Sellers often hammer out a method of distilling theme before first draft -- that method often involves the dreaded Outline.  We've discussed Outlining.

So, assuming you've practiced and mastered all these various techniques and given deep thought to all the issues, conflicts, misnomers and fallacies that define your intended readership, we will go on to doing 4 things at once.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Living Longer

TIME magazine for February 23 / March 2 focused on longevity. (Unfortunately, their website doesn't allow non-subscribers to read entire articles, only short teasers.) The caption on the cover proclaims, "This baby could live to be 142 years old." They base that estimate on an experiment with mice; an antibiotic called rapamycin extends the lifespan of a mouse by about 20 percent. The longer-lived mice suffered some undesirable side effects, though, such as an increased tendency to develop cataracts and diabetes (not to mention loss of testicular function in males—begins to sound like the immortals in the third book of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, who don't die but keep aging). So the hyped-up headline on the front of the magazine proves to be a bit misleading. We have a long way to go for an elixir of youth and immortality. The article itself, however, does contain interesting information about how cell division and growth relate to aging, such as an explanation of telomeres, "the timekeepers of a cell's life." Other articles in the issue expound on such topics as the best locations for old people to live in, which parts of the body typically wear out at what ages and how we can delay those effects, and how brain exercise and the right attitudes help to keep people "young."

The articles, or at least the headlines, seem to conflate two different things: Enabling more people to survive in good health to the human maximum age of a bit over 100 and extending the maximum lifespan. The former seems more likely than the latter. In Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, and TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET, the Howard Family project extends human life by breeding together people with genes for longevity in their family trees. But, contrary to what the first book seems to assume, it doesn't appear likely that this method would produce offspring with super-long lives. To select for an age span of 150 years, human DNA would have to include genes for living to the age of 150. We've seen no evidence of such genes. In Heinlein's series, Lazarus Long is an exception. He carries a unique mutation that allows him to live a phenomenally long time before needing rejuvenation treatments. And, as you may recall from the novels, even Howards eventually die of old age unless they get those treatments—which ordinary Earth-human scientists developed because they imagined the Howards were hoarding the "secret" of longevity and tried to duplicate it.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Depiction Part 10 - Binocular "Vision" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Depiction Part 10
Binocular "Vision"
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

The previous parts of the Depiction Series are:

Trolling through my twitter feed, I came across this:
Scott Myers ‏@GoIntoTheStory
Character Types: Use archetypes to inform and inspire your character
development  #screenwriting #scriptchat

I've discussed "archetype" usage at length in a wide variety of posts, always assuming writing students have absorbed things like The Hero's Journey and other such studies, perhaps from astrology.


And yes, the widest selling writers use this character-building technique whether they know it or not (mostly not). 

As I've mentioned before, fiction writing is largely a subconscious process which everyone does, but only a few acquire the skills to formulate a string of words that evoke their inner stories for other people.

To communicate what you "see" in your inner vision to others, you use the points of similarity and congruence with their inner vision, then lightly lace it with items unique to you.

Last week we discussed the value of unique vision -- the commercial fiction writer's personal stance against giving others what they want, and instead giving them something new, unique, different that changes the other person's view of reality.

That, in essence, is the definition of "Art."  It doesn't matter what medium is used for this Art.  It does matter that the Art portray a recognizable world -- with a twist.  An Artist is in the business of showing their patrons and clients (your editors, publishers and ultimately your readers) what the reader's world would look like from a different point of view.

The attraction of artistic views is simply the Artist reveals a dimension of reality that the consumer didn't see before.

The ability to do that -- to see and express what others do not -- is gained in childhood by refusing the instructions in that post on The Writing Prompt:

The defiance of "Authority" is the essence of Science Fiction because "Science" means an organized body of knowledge or the process of organizing knowledge.  People do the organizing, and willful blindness is an element of human nature.

Willful blindness is necessary to keep humans alive in this world.  Our brains can't process all the data we can gather, and to stay alive one must react swiftly (more swiftly than predators can attack).  So we use shortcuts to thinking.

Martial Arts leverages this shortcut tendency by training you to react before your brain had "thought" (i.e. distilled knowledge out of sensory input).

The defiance of Authority is also the hallmark of all Great Romances.

Romeo and Juliet, Helen of Troy, all the archetypes for The Romance, illustrate how when Neptune Transits set in on a matched pair, all normal, practical considerations that Authority and "Science" impose just dissipate.

In the grip of Romance, people do stupid, idiotic, insane things, apply a value system that puts The Other and The Relationship above life itself, above the high regard of kin and even The Law.  In the grip of Romance, people are "insane." 

Our Science Fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, and Supernatural Romance genres illustrate how it can be that the insane expectation of an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending to the story is perfectly reasonable (if not logical.)

Why does about half of the world believe the HEA is nonsense?  Even in the face of factual evidence to the contrary?  Is that "scientific thinking" or "superstition?"

Why can't writers -- who can see the reality of Love, of the HEA, of Life -- convince this rejecting half of the world?  Maybe it's more like 3/4 of the world that disbelieves in the HEA, but that segment of the readership is able to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy a whopping good Romance combined with any other genre. 

Could it be that the Willful Blindness described last week (imposed by training or chosen freely) --

-- can't be articulated and addressed because of the training in "writing" via Writing Prompts and a formula for how to "answer" a "Writing Prompt?"

Do writing prompts themselves limit us, or is it the just the imposition of the taste, the likes and dislikes, the rights and wrongs, by the academics who refuse good grades to people who say crazy things?

We acquire these Willful Blindness spots in our psyche from our Native Language, from parental training, from schooling, and from the school of hard knocks.  The animal spirit seeks to avoid pain while the soul seeks Love.

Maybe that's simplistic, so take it as a writing prompt and answer with something creative, not what I would expect.

So stripping back to the animal simplicity of what a human being is, think about the evolution of binocular vision.  Depth perception is often cited as a survival characteristic for humans (or Great Apes, or just all primates). 

Why don't we have three eyes, so if one gets damaged the others still provide enough information? 

Mystics hold that we do in fact have a "third eye."  It is the eye that provides not the depth-of-field of the 3-Dimensional reality around us, but the addition of another dimension to the objects viewed by our two eyes.  That third eye perception is often depicted as energy fields, color, ghosts, glimpses of the past and future (a time dimension).

Some mystics hold that the human being has this dimensional perception added to the usual binocular vision in order to be able to perceive God active in the world.

The forces, colors of an aura, shifting veils of unreality, are actually an astral plane dimension.  As when you look at a cube corner-on, you can see two "faces" and the top, and with something to compare it with, you can estimate the size of the cube, whether the unseen back of it is near something that is behind it.  You see in 3-dimensions.

Actually, your eyes don't see in 3-dimensions.  Your brain interprets the incoming data and arranges it so that you can calculate which way to dodge to avoid being hit by that hurtling cube.

Your survival depends on accurate estimations of physical distances, speed, and relative position. 

People who have an open, or squinted partially open, third eye are often thought to be "crazy."  Psychics, Artists and Lovers share that reputation among those who accept the Writing Prompt training. 

For those who have read my series on Astrology, the significant planet to study for  psychic and romantic behavior is Neptune.

Here are index posts to Astrology and Tarot

Because they are viewing the world through a squinted third eye, and perhaps have been trained by that Writng Prompt training to put walls around their data processing to filter out information from that squinted eye, they don't see clearly and thus do not seem to be getting correct answers.

Very often, in real life, people fall in love, get married, then get divorced amidst much vitriol.  So that proves there's no such thing as the HEA.

Or does it?

Does it just prove that binocular vision is inadequat to the task of assessing a fellow Soul and that Soul's relationship to yourself?

Does it take Trinocular Vision to guide one through social interactions into an HEA?  (Or perhaps just blind luck?)

For example, suppose trinocular vision -- incoming data from 4 or 5 or maybe 6 dimensions (3 spacial; 3 spiritual?) -- could be processed accurately?  What kind of person would that be?

How could you tell a crazy person from a sane one with a squinted or astigmatic third eye?

If a person had 20-20-20 Vision, what would he/she be?

Would you believe any of the "truths" such a person would impart?

Look back on history, read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, study the Golden Bough, and pay great attention to the history of philosophy and the history of fiction (from campfire Shaman, through nomadic Bard, to modern Journalism). 

What sort of craziness that has propagated down through history stands out in high relief?  What people are remembered for sort-of making sense even today, and are believed in even by those who do not model their lives around what those writers revealed?

The still-towering figures I see are:

1. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses

2. Ozymandias,  Hammurabi

3. Helen of Troy (long thought imaginary; Troy's remains were found!)

4. Kings and Prophets of the Old Testament ( David and Bathsheba   Tradition says the Messiah will be of the line of David via Bathsheba!)

5. Jesus, Mohammed (and similar around the world, Confucius to Gandhi - certifiable nut jobs all?  Or those of trinocular vision?)

6. Various Popes, and Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and religious leaders like The Rebbe

All of whom transformed whole religions and/or social orders or technology.

Months ago on a news story regarding an interfaith Event I heard a mainstream reporter casually refer to Chabad as "the largest Jewish denomination."  I'd have given that appellation to the Reform Movement if you include all its subdivisions.  I have no clue where that reporter got that information or impression, but it was not challenged anywhere I saw. 

Are all these giant figures of history whose works are still known today just good grifters, just scam artists selling us religion to extract money from us or gain political power?  Or are they our few humans gifted with Trinocular Vision, artists depicting reality in 6 dimensions instead of 3?

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob weren't writers.  Moses was.  Ozymandias probably had his publicist write that inscription, Hammurabi (quoted in a ST:Tos episode) may have written those words but scribes cleaned up the text, Helen of Troy being a woman probably wasn't allowed to publish, etc. But the stories told about these people, and some of their written works, are still considered authoritative today, and definitely influential. 

Ozymandias expressed a materialistic philosophy - the works of his hands would establish his supremacy in your mind.  Hammurabi is perhaps the best example of an early Humanist - giving a code of law that has a chance of working despite human nature. 

All of these people are "visionaries" -- but each one saw something different from what the others saw about "reality," and chose to do different things because of of what they "saw."

Did some of them "see" trinocularly the Hand of God organizing human affairs?  Did some of them see Souls seeking Mates? 

Why do the things these people expressed still resonate (get repeated, echoed, distorted) in our internet based society? 

If, in The Blind Men And The Elephant, all the blind men decide the one-eyed man is correct and it's an elephant, do the blind men "believe" it's an elephant or "scientifically determine" it's an elephant? 

What cognitive mode depicts what we know of our Soul, and our prospects for finding a Soul Mate?

What does "Love At First Sight" mean -- sight with the eyes, or sight with the Third Eye, or Sight with all Three? 

Is that well documented phenomenon of Love At First Sight actually the one point in your life when your Third Eye opens and you See trinocularly instead of binocularly.

Do Third Eyes only open (or only focus properly) during a Neptune Transit (when "reality" gets blurry?) 

Is that trinocular glimpse of your Soul Mate the reason why you, and Romance Writers, can't articulate "What You See In Him?" and "What He Sees In You?"

Is astigmatism of the Third Eye the reason we marry the wrong person? 

Does trinocular vision reveal the 6 dimensional universe so we can "see" the Finger of God creating and sustaining, shaping and reshaping the Universe?

Is that Vision of God (both distorted and accurate) what makes the Legends of that list of Ancient Figures "resonate" in modern culture?

I love the John Denver song, The Potter's Wheel.

Get a little hint how God must feel when Soul Mates finally join, then depict that joining and make your prose into poetry, prophecy and song. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, March 26, 2015

ICFA 2015

As usual, I had a wonderful three and a half days at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and not only because of the warm, sunny Orlando weather. We were very lucky with the weather this year, no rain at all. I walked outside frequently between sessions but still have not glimpsed the alligator that lurks in the adjacent lake. This conference focused on the theme of "The Scientific Imagination," with James Morrow, Joan Slonczewski, and Colin Milburn (guest scholar) as guests of honor. The lunch talk by Morrow, author of such novels as TOWING JEHOVAH and ONLY BEGOTTEN DAUGHTER, elaborated on the concept that science fiction works are "thought experiments" analogous to imaginary scenarios such as Schrodinger's cat. In SF as opposed to real-world science, however, a single thought-experiment question can evoke an endless number of different stories from different authors. The author discovers the "answer" in the very process of writing, and, as Morrow put it, at best the result displays a "surprising inevitability." In an evening program, Slonczewski discussed experiments with bacteria and showed slides of dazzling photos she took on an expedition to Antarctica. Milburn gave a lunch talk about hacking, which included images from an early video game, created on a mainframe computer long before home PCs.

I delivered a reading of a light fantasy tale called "Dusting Pixie," which can be found here:

Sorcerous Signals

Unfortunately, that session started at 8:30 in the morning, so we didn't have a big audience. Of the other two authors in the session, one re-imagined KING KONG in the giant ape's voice, and the last read a surrealistic story called "The Cat in the Helmet Comes Back," which, as the title implies, alluded to Dr. Seuss but in a terrifyingly alien mode.

As always, we had a meeting of the Lord Ruthven Assembly, devoted to vampires and other revenants; we discussed screening a classic film (probably NOSFERATU) with commentary next year. I attended a panel on Terry Pratchett's Discworld, which of course had been planned long before his death. Therefore, the session developed into a retrospect and memorial as well as a lively discussion. The most exciting presentations I heard were a paper session on "Disney Body Image" and a panel on violence and nihilism in contemporary fantasy. Our panel on "The Millennial Age and the Vampire," with Amanda Firestone, Jean Lorrah, Owl Goingback, and me, had a great audience and a stimulating discussion, which culminated in speculation about immortality and the future of aging and death in our real-world society. This conference uniquely brings together scholars with authors and editors in fun, thought-provoking encounters every year in the same location. I encourage you to attend if you can. Information here:


Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript Part 5 - The Writing Prompt vs Creativity by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript
Part 5
The Writing Prompt vs Creativity
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This series of posts is about Writer's Block and what to do about it.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

This series is about that "taking stock" long-view we do several times a year -- Holidays, New Year's, Birthdays, Anniversaries.  When can you just "quit" (a job, a marriage, a drive to get your kids to behave, a small business you've started and failed at)?  And when you do decide to quit, what's next?  Feeling depressed that time of year, every year, for the rest of your life? 

This "When Should You Give Up On" series is about making that decision in such a way as to open new possibilities, new avenues to pursue with the confidence that the same thing won't happen again (and again, again etc).

So this Part 5 in this series is about the mistakes and blind-alleys we all pursue on some projects, and how to back out of a blind alley manuscript and use the bits and pieces that are worth something to generate future works.

This is a multi-stage process, though it may surface in one snap-moment, all completed.  Mostly, it's your subconscious that makes the decision and redirects your life -- not so much the conscious mind.  If you do creating writing, as a hobby or as a living, you are mostly subject to your subconscious decisions.  (not everyone is like that)

So there is a reason that you do not know for your diving at warp-speed into a black hole, hitting a brick wall, and being defeated, quitting, and leaving your life littered with half-started projects (writing projects as well as other sorts).

This post is about ferreting out that reason, then reprogramming your subconscious to create and present you with projects that can go to completion, to publisher, to publication, to sales, to reprints. 

Projects that can go through the brick wall like that bear a certain signature that other projects do not.  For the ones that can go through, you need to gather persistence, stubbornness, and strategy.  For the duds in your life, you need to just junk them. 

So what if you have to junk a project?  In essence, what you do with a brick-wall creating disaster of a manuscript is toss out most of the blather you wrote, distill out the essence of what you wanted to say, and then write yourself a "Writing Prompt."  Yep, just like in school or on a job application.  A writing prompt, only with a twist. 

Writers often get asked, "Where do you get your crazy ideas?" 

With Science Fiction Romance, or Romance in general, the "crazy idea" is the HEA, the Happily Ever After ending.  Half the world doesn't believe in the HEA as a reality.  Where we get our "crazy ideas" about things like the HEA is very simple -- we get them from Writing Prompts. 

Only the writing prompts a writer creates as a springboard into a story come from the version of "real life" that the target reader holds dear.  You will find a comprehensive sketch of that version of real life in sources such as ABC News, CNN news, news stories of today, yesterday, and all time.  The annual New Year's roundup, the lists of Forbes Man Of The Year, the Best City for Raising Children, etc.  Each and every datapoint coming out of these sources can be a writing prompt given a good twist.

Sometimes you start out using a Writing Prompt as a Springboard into your story --

--and then hit that brick wall we've discussed. 

Somehow you fall off the "because line" that we have established in early posts in this Tuesday section on writing craft, creative writing, story, and story writing.

We have maybe two generations of graduates today who have been trained to respond to the Writing Prompt, but not to "color outside the lines" and give the prompter something that will just plain blow their minds.

Why have we raised a generation of school-essay-writing graduates to "give the promter what the prompter wants?" 

You don't think that's true?  Scroll down this wikihow page:

How to Answer a Writing Prompt

Three Methods:Expository Prompts, Narrative Prompts ,Persuasive Prompts

Students of all kinds, from elementary school to those applying for post-graduate educations, are tested on their writing ability through writing prompts. Successful students are able to understand what kind of essay the prompt is calling for and answer it with what the tester wants to see.

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

Isn't that the saddest, most frustrating thing you've ever read? 

To succeed in school, and then in job applications, one must conform, one must "understand what kind of essay the prompt is calling for" and then "answer it with what the tester wants to see."

That's the secret of success, and the main source of writer's block. 

As you are trained in childhood, so you will continue.  As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.  Well, humans being human, we do have the capacity to chuck our childhood training and strike out into the wild world, hacking our own paths.  But only a few do that, and only a few of those survive it.

We are training creativity out of our children.  We are training maturation out of our children.  We are training children never, ever, to dare to write creatively -- never to do creative writing, never to invent new ideas. 

You will fail in school and in life if you do not give people who have power over you what they want. 

But real success is giving people who have power over you something they never considered might exist. 

Real success is doing what a Hero does in a story.  A hero does not "do all he/she can."  A Hero (by definition) does what he/she can NOT do.  A Hero pays no attention to limits, especially not those set by others, by rules, by regulations.  A Hero gets the job done, no matter the personal cost. 

Yes, Villains share many of those traits, grit, guts, determination, obliviousness to cost. 

That's why Hero and Villain characters come in matched sets -- the villain is fabricated out of the substance of the Hero's character.  That's what it means "nemesis."  Matched sets of characters insure that your story will reflect your reader's reality, sucking them into the story.

That entry on How To Answer A Writing Prompt clues us in to why and how the plausibility of the HEA, the Happily Ever After ending, has eroded away. 

The last few decades of schooling has churned out a couple generations of adults who see daring to do something other than what is expected as a path to Failure. 

I started this series on "When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript" in response to a twitter discussion on #litchat and #amwriting threads. 

Dozens of people participated in discussing, with serious worry, whether it is ever proper to trash a manuscript before finishing the first draft -- or even after several drafts.  When do you quit?  How do you know it's right to quit?  They were seriously worried -- and I didn't know what they were worried about until I saw this wikihow entry on how to respond to a writing prompt.

Now, remembering a few of those tweets, and a couple of items on Google+, I can see clearly why they could not deal with the issue of a false-start on a writing project.  Had I seen this instruction at the same time as the tweets appeared, I'd have realized what thought process was behind the phrasing of those tweets.

The brick wall these tweeters were running into trying to answer each others' concerns was simply their training in never, ever, under any circumstances, answering a writing prompt with something unexpected or uncalled for.

In other words, you are not allowed to think and express original ideas.

Originality itself is disallowed by this kind of training in how to answer a writing prompt. 

If you read that page on wikihow, you will note that I never -- ever -- follow any of these "rules" -- not in my fiction writing, not in my novels, not in my short stories, certainly not in my non-fiction like Star Trek Lives! and not in anything I've sold to publishers -- and never, ever in my professional review column, nor in this blog series on writing craft.

My business model is original ideas expressed in original ways -- delivering "the unexpected" with high-impact. 

I don't respond to writing prompts that others create.  I take the writing prompt and rewrite it, then explore areas that rewrite opens to show connections between the narrowly defined topic-sentence material and much broader, Big Data sources such as statistics. 

In other words, I find the rules -- in order to break them.

I break the rules only after I've demonstrated that I can follow that rule.  Then I break the part of the rule that is preventing original thinking, not the part of the rule that facilitates originality. 

The part of the rule cited on this entry on how to answer a writing prompt that prevents original thinking is the part that says

what kind of essay the prompt is calling for and answer it with what the tester wants to see

The alternative rule, that prompts editors to buy your story for Mass Market distribution is:

find out what your reader wants to see, and give them what they'd never expect.

That's Hollywood's rule of "the same but different." 

Perhaps the reason we get nothing but remakes out of Hollywood these days is that kind of training in answering prompts with what the tester wants.

The Expository Prompt, for example has to be answered with an essay that explains or describes -- not an argument or an opinion. 

But any true explanation will be nothing but an argument supporting an opinion -- to omit your own opinion and your argument for it when explaining or describing is to use the opinion/argument of someone other than yourself -- regurgitating what someone tried to teach you.

How do you know if you have what it takes to be a commercial fiction writer? 

You know for a fact you can make it in fiction writing if you are the sort of person who can not be taught, who always questions, never believes your teachers, and refuses to give them what they want or expect. 

So when you are deep into a manuscript, and just hit that brick wall, how do you create a writing prompt to spur you through to completion of the project?

Look at this page and list the keywords for the 3 methods of writing prompt.

Remember, we have to find the rule and analyze it in order to break it with useful original thinking.  And remember that novels have a structure as precise as school essays or news stories such as you find on

1. Expository Prompts
Explain or Describe
2. Narrative Prompts
Tell, Time, Event
3. Persuasive Prompts
Persuade or Convince

All of these are very useful in breaking through writer's block in narrative fiction.  Story writing is done just like this -- with each of the 3 types of writing prompts delineated here representing a genre and/or a style.

The writer's block creating element in these instructions lies entirely in that first paragraph at the top of the page -- give what they are asking for. 

The creative writers rule is never give what they're asking for.  Do the unexpected.

You will find a version of that rule in the screenwriting books I keep pointing you to, SAVE THE CAT!, SAVE THE CAT! STRIKES BACK, and SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES.

All screenwriting books dwell on this element at great length,  many using different terms for the process.

It is the "twist" or the "great reveal" or any term that designates delivering the unexpected.

Part of the technique of the unexpected is laying down the "foreshadowing" -- the bits of detail, suggestive glances, the red-herring in the mystery, that leads the reader to expect one thing while you plan to deliver another with a twist.

Here's an example, ripped from the Headlines last year (and now a tradition of sorts), of a mundane news item built on a twist.

The news story has a picture of newborns swaddled in red Christmas Stocking baby blankets to present to new parents taking a baby home on Christmas.

Study that for how to design a twist into your failed manuscript.

You have the standard (ho-hum) image of the red plush Christmas Stocking (a blatantly commercial invention; nobody wears such things in their boots).  That leads the reader to imagine the image of them hanging from a mantel. 

Then the "reveal" or "twist" -- the stockings are laid in bassinets with newborn babies inside. 

Stumbling across this ABC News item online, the writer with a manuscript they want to abandon can create a writing prompt to impel their narrative over that brick wall.

It is very possible that the story has failed to crystallize because that "Christmas Stocking" item has been omitted. 

Try letting your protagonist who is not moving forward with the story come upon an image of this sort (not a baby in a stocking, but something from your worldbuilding ) -- cognitive dissonance.  Maybe they phone home about it, or write a poem, or shout out on twitter, or whatever -- and stir the plot-pot to a boil. 

The misleading image you are later (say at the 3/4 point) going to twist to surprise the reader should appear in some form, maybe symbolic or iconic, on page 1.

It should reappear a number of times, especially at major turning points.

And then at the point in the plot where you need the "twist" the reader has been set up to expect one thing -- and you deliver another thing entirely.  This will fail if the reader does not see that it is "right" and "fitting" and poetical.  It will fail if, in retrospect, the reader does not say, "I knew that would happen." 

And it will fail if it is what the reader expected or wanted. 

That's one reason the whole Romance field is discredited by a lot of readers.  Since the Romance genre reader expects and demands an HEA, writers don't introduce other possibilities, then twist into the HEA. 

Real life is full of such twists.

You twist the Christmas Stocking into a swaddling blanket.

You twist the Tall Dark Handsome Hero into the Arch Villain -- or vice-versa, and the Villain comes to the Heroine's rescue.

You twist the friendly, crime-free small town into a Den Of Vampires. 

You twist the popular Cheerleader into a Vampire Slayer or time traveler.

Well, all of those have been done to death and are now expected.

Your job is to create new unexpected twists, but first you must understand where those classic twists came from by studying good novels that use them. 

Study writing prompts carefully because they do telegragh the answers that are expected.  Just as the "Leading Question" is forbidden in examining a witness in court, so too is the Leading Prompt forbidden.

The lawyer's rule is never ask a question you don't know the answer to.

But when it comes to fiction writing, the rule is never ask a question you do know the answer to.

In fact, that is the essence of Science, and thus Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Romance.  Ask questions nobody has ever asked before, and therefore questions that nobody knows the answer to.

It is the fiction writer's job to formulate new questions and postulate answers that will work only for the particular character who is the hero of the story.

Such unique, new questions are the writing prompt you need to formulate for yourself to break down the brick wall that is blocking you from finishing a manuscript.

But at the same time, your personal writing prompt has to be composed of the classic questions, just as the stages of creating an essay for school are laid out in this item on writing prompts.

Those questions are the ones many of my Tuesday blog posts have been about.

1. Whose story is it? (twist - not the person the reader expected)
2. What is the story about? (theme-character integration; twist with past-life experiences haunting and motivating)
3. Where and When does the story begin? (where the two elements that conflict to generate the plot first collide -- twist by using symbolism like the Christmas Stockings in the ABC News story )
4. What is the Conflict? (this vs. that -- twist with a resolution that creates another conflict)
5. What is the Resolution? (the last page solves the problem; twist with a bitter-sweet loss, self-sacrifice, poetic justice)
6. What is the Plot? (the series of Events on a Because-line - twist with hidden character motivations that are later revealed)

Fill out those 6 points for your failed manuscript, then construct a writing prompt with a question that you do not know the answer to.

For example, my breakout novel, Those Of My Blood was written without knowing the ending.  The writing prompt was something like, "Will Titus Kill His Father?"  or "What Would Make It Morally Acceptable For Titus To Kill His Father?"  We have a lot of vampire novels where the younger vampire kills the elder who "made" him -- Those of My Blood is built on several "twists" of that standard trope.  Is it ever right to kill your father? 

And you might want to read:

Ask yourself, do you want to read something that says what you want, or something that asks a question you could never have thought of?

Would you pay money to read something that is what you expect?  Or something that surprises you?

The measure of writing ability is not the ability to guess what the author of the writing prompt wanted, but rather the ability to express an insight beyond the capability of the author of the writing prompt.

To express such insights, you must develop such insights.  That process is what being a writer means.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg