Previous parts of Theme-Plot Integration listed here:
We've explored finding the correct "opening" or beginning moment.
And we've defined the "ending" as the resolution of the conflict that begins on Page One.
Middles are tricky, and we have not discussed them much yet, but you can't nail a MIDDLE without knowing (at least subconsciously) where and when the ENDING comes.
The middle is the turning point, where whatever is at stake, what the Main Characters stand to lose if they act boldly and aggressively, becomes more important. The stakes are raised, everyone ante's up into the pot, and the final stare-down begins. Is it a bluff? Or can your main character deliver?
Stakes exist in both plot and story.
I use the word "plot" to mean the sequence of physical events, deeds, and decisions that change the situation.
I use the word "story" to mean how the main character reacts to the events, what is learned, and how the main character changes (arcs) because of the Events of the Plot.
Story is internal to the characters, while Plot is external.
Different writing textbooks use these words differently, and identify the moving components of a work of fiction with different terms. But every one I've seen so far, and all the working professional writers I've learned from and taught with, all identify the same moving parts -- by whatever vocabulary.
So Theme is what you have to say with this piece of fiction -- it is what you are revealing to your reader about reality, something that you can see but maybe your reader can recognize without actually understanding it.
A good Theme comes clear near or at the very end of the novel, where the reader stares at the page overwhelmed with a new understanding, a vision of reality that has never come into focus for that reader before.
Plot is what the Characters do, Story is why they do it, and both are derived from Theme -- both plot and story say the same thing but in different ways.
The ENDING is where both plot and story finally "speak" or "chime" in harmony, saying the same thing on different octaves.
For a Romance, you have to keep writing until you get to the Happily Ever After springboard into the future you will not delineate.
When the reader and the Characters understand the Conflict (begun on page one) is now resolved, over, gone, never to return, and the goal is achieved and recorded in the Akashic Record forever, you stop writing.
The trick in crafting an ENDING is to get all these elements to converge into one moment in time.
This is usually done with symbolism
The final explosion of pure, raw emotion that makes your reader laugh, cry, and shout for joy all at once - then memorize your byline and look for everything else you've written - is achieved through the confluence of symbolism.
It is a silent language that triggers deep, unconscious responses.
But the same object or image does not trigger the same responses in everyong.
Thus your human and your alien characters might react very differently to the same visual symbol.
The meaning of a symbol lies deep in the culture, and each culture on Earth has its own language of symbols. We all have a lot in common because we're all human -- but don't expect your aliens to have the same common symbols with humans.
A lot of the meaning of symbols is rooted in sexuality, as is most of the human cultural values and ideas of how humans can live together, depend on each other for survival, and still be independent individuals.
The main conflict in being human is just that -- the personal sense of individuality vs. the absolute necessity to blend into the Group.
The trick to getting both plot and story to END in the same visual event or symbol is The Character Arc -- the story ends when the Character learns his lesson, absorbs the core of the Theme and changes his/her behavior.
The challenge that roared into his life on Page One comes around again, and the opportunity to make the same mistake over again appears in a different (but recognizable) guise. The END is where that Character has changed because of the Events to a point where he/she will pass up that opportunity, and behave in a different way.
The new behavior SHOWS without TELLING that the Character has changed, has arced, and now understands the Theme.
Recently we looked at current trends in fiction in terms of choosing a Character Arc Direction.
One way to create an Alien Romance situation is to bring two characters together on Page One -- one arcing in one direction and the other arcing in another direction. In other words, each of the two characters who will Conflict to generate the plot has a different definition of Good, and a different vision of his own Ideal Self toward which he/she is striving.
The ending then becomes the point where one or both of these Characters changes their mind.
How do you make it plausible to a reader that a character has changed their mind? Really changed, on some fundamental thematic issue. For example, how do you convince a skeptical Character that the Happily Ever After can be theirs -- all they have to do is change their mind?
What would you change your mind for?
What would convince you that you are wrong?
That is, of course, always the question you must ask yourself whenever you firmly believe something. If there is no evidence that could be presented to you that would make you change your opinion on something, then your belief is a non-falsifiable hypothesis.
This mental/emotional dynamic is what the Paranormal Romance depends on -- if you sidestep into a Fantasy universe where Magic is Real but you firmly believe that Magic is Nonsense, what happens when you see Magic used?
The sensation of having to change your mind, to change some fundamental constant of your personal universe (such as God Exists or God Does Not Exist, or Humans Are Basically Good, or Humans Are Basically Evil and must be controlled) is intriguing to the Fantasy fan, and repugnant to the Reality fan.
Some people love roller-coasters, some don't.
In Depiction Part 30,
During a lifetime, we change.
We looked at a research article about how people are different as they become older -- fundamental personality and attitudes differ. Character traits such as reliability can change drastically with age.
So as you grow and mature as a writer, so too your audience (and editors) grow and change. What matters to you changes.
But how do you change? From what to what? In what direction? And why is it that there's always an exception to every rule?
Here's another bit of research that may give you a clue to what makes the difference between "the masses" or "the peasants" and "royalty" or "the rulers."
This article says only a small percentage of people alter their "first impressions" according to new hard-fact data, while most humans form opinions to "blend in" with their friends, associates or Group identity.
Unless all your characters die at The End, you leave the reader with the impression or expectation that the Characters will continue to change after absorbing the change necessary to survive this novel's Events.
If you are writing science fiction romance, you might need to craft a Series of novels about the same Characters.
In that case, you'd have to map out (consciously or subconsciously) the sequence of changes your characters will undergo.
If you are writing for TV or Video Production, you must expect many writers to be crafting stories featuring your characters. To do screenwriting for a series, you have to map out these Character Arc changes consciously so they can be verbalized in creative story conferences and meetings.
But if you are writing a novel of your own, you don't have to know so much consciously -- so you are free to let the Characters run and just watch what they do.
Still, you need a Theme to drive the Plot to an Ending.
Look at the real world around you, study humans around the globe and through hisstory, and you will never lack for a Theme. Just ask yourself, "What is the truth? What would change my mind?"
Note the article
makes it clear how small a percentage of humans change their minds to accomodate new facts.
Writers are very likely to be among that small percentage -- especially science fiction writers! And the truth as I see it is that Romance writers also bring a lot of flexibility to their craft.
Readers can pick up the knack of re-assessing fundamental assumptions from reading widely in these genres -- and about 10% of the readers will bring that knack to bear on their real lives.
Take, for example, the notion of "What is Government?" What is government for and why do we even bother? Do humans need government? Or does government need humans?
If humans do not need governing, then why do tribes keep re-inventing (around the globe and throughout pre-history to history) Chieftains, Bosses, Leaders? Chimps and Bonobos exhibit tribal organization and pecking order -- and humans are primates, so we do it too.
Where "government" fails (e.g. the Inner Cities) then "Gangs" rule. Or some other organization structured under a "strong man" or leader or boss.
This social organization is vividly depicted in Marshall Ryan Maresca's world called Maradaine.
The sociology behind the worldbuilding Maresca shows without telling is absolutely fabulous -- it is thematic core material used properly.
The overwhelming force of Culture to define the scope of the Character's choices is pure Art at its best. This is a world where Magic is real, but has a very realistic cost. Morality is likewise real, and has a vast cost. No one Character's story begins and ends with him or her. Everyone has ancestors and is where they are because of what ancestors did (or did not do).
Interesting, these characters don't think a lot about how their Ancestor's deeds defined their reality -- or conversely what they can do to redefine the possibilities for their children's futures.
I love Maresca's work, and highly recommend it. It will make you think.
Jean Johnson's First Salik War novels give the long-ago, far away, historical underpinnings of what will happen in the novels set later on the timeline.
The Blockade shows us how the vast Evil got penned up onto their own planets. Prophecy (yes, a sort of time-travel, astral travel premise makes these novels work well), shows that this Evil will escape and eventually destroy itself.
The plot, conflict, and character arc dynamic behind all these novels pivots on the themes that question what humans need government for, and why we keep re-inventing government in various forms (from Aristocracy to Democracy and everything in between).
We yearn to be governed, or do the governing, but keep overthrowing government because (at least for humans) "absolute power corrupts absolutely."
So Jean Johnson is exploring what sort of humans could work in governing without making everyone want to overthrow them. She introduces telepathy and various ESP functions to Earth's humans -- and even humans elsewhere in the galaxy. And she peoples her galaxy with a wide variety of non-humans with a loose association. The non-humans all seem to crave government, too, but so far I'm not clear why that is.
The thematic assumption in both Maresca's Fantasy and Johnson's Science Fiction seems to be that government is necessary.
We all know how Ayn Rand founded a career laying out an epistemology questioning those fundamental assumptions.
To create fiction about something as fundamental, pervasive yet invisible as "government" takes real genius.
One of the Theme-Plot Integration tricks is to take the nebulous, non-verbal concepts we call Theme and state them clearly in a this vs that format.
We love simplification, especially of the diffiult and complex. The simplification of a complex matter makes us feel as if we understand something way above our intelligence level - it makes us feel powerful when someone smart explains what they understand in a way that gives us the illusion that we understand it just as well as they do.
So finding your Theme is one part of the writing process -- and may in fact be the easiest part. Simplifying what you know on a non-verbal level so that it can be stated in a very simplified way in words and symbols is a different part of the novel crafting process.
THEME: What is government?
CHARACTER: Government Rules - humans must be ruled or they will misbehave. Government is the power above.
CHARACTER: Government Serves - civilization requires clean water, sewers, sewage treatment, electric power, garbage removal, recycling, paved streets, street lighting. Government is the foundation below the feet of free humans.
CONFLICT: I Rule vs. Don't You Dare
ENDING: A Throne Toppled - exultation and triumph
SEQUEL: so what kind of government will this revolution revolve to the top of the heap? Who Rules Now? Somebody's got to rule, right?
In modern Science Fiction Romance, we have only to hark back to Orwell's 1984.
In our prevailing reality, we already have concrete examples of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things - the evaporation of privacy, and a rising necessity to identify each individual human and track their deeds microscopically.
So the vision of Skynet popularized in the Terminator movies is no longer "far future fantasy" but actually a possibility. We will build it to defend ourselves from ourselves!
We might build it to "serve" -- but will that prevent it from "ruling?"
Would an Artificial Intelligence like Skynet be able to "change its mind?"
Would the people about to throw the switch and light up such a neural network be the sort (the 15% or so) to change their minds when presented with new facts?
And given the state of "fact" acquisition today, will we create a Skynet to determine and decree what the "facts" are?
Where there is government, some humans (probably 5-15%) will be criminals. Depending on the form of the government, it is probably a different 5-15% that will be deemed criminals.
A lot of (great) Romances have been written about falling in love with the bad boy from the other side of the tracks (i.e. the Alien!). And in many of them, marrying a 'good girl' tames the 'bad boy.' We saw the science indicating that, with age, with time and experience, human personality does change.
What makes a person change like that? Does government and law hammer humans into the 'correct' shape? Or is it Love that conquers All? Maybe a good theme would be, "Patriotism Conquers All?"
Love of Country could substitute for love of another human?
If humans must have government, then humans must have criminals. What does a stable civilization do with criminals?
Obviously, jail does not "work" to change minds. I would theorize that the few who do get out to become law abiding citizens probably got jailed wrongfully, or maybe just made a very poor decision or a stupid mistake rather than intentionally violating a law because it is a law or because it just does not pertain to them.
So if jail does not change criminals into good citizens - what would?
What system would your Aliens use?
The ancient Biblically prescribed method is to sprinkle the miscreants among a large population of very well behaved people.
As noted in the article
Most people don't make up their own minds -- and thus can't actually change their mind on any topic. Most people just absorb the prevailing opinion of their Group in order to validate their membership (and thus safety) in the Group.
If that is an innate trait of all humans (except that pesky 15%), then thinly scattering miscreants among a well behaved population will eliminate most criminal behavior. Miscreants will absorb and practice the prevailing culture.
But there is always the hard-core miscreant, the really annoying ones who think for themselves and have consciously and deliberately chosen to oppose civilization (or at least "that" civilization, if not the "other" one).
So the alternative to jail, to just drown the criminal in polite society, would still leave a percentage of ill-behaved people running loose.
Many great novels have been structured on the Adopted Child -- making the main character someone who grew up on foster homes, or was adopted and didn't know it. Great themes can be crafted around the idea of the Adopted Criminal -- who changes their own mind with age.
Putting those two scientific experiments together, you can generate a wide variety of themes, characters and plots.
"Going Native" is always a great theme. Acculturating the non-human into an Earth society, then taking that alien back to his home planet to see how much he's changed, gives you the background against which to tell a very steamy Romance story.
Imagine if non-human criminals were sent to Earth to be rehabilitated by this method of living in a well behaved society. Or maybe, vice versa, and human criminals were sent to another planet to live in well behaved families.
There is more to be said on this topic. As you watch the world develop around you, keep in mind one of the oldest sayings: "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with facts."
So always remember most people don't make up their own minds but absorb opinions from the ambient culture -- therefore they can't change their own minds for themselves. Since they don't know why they think what they think, they can't imagine what fact could come along and falsify their opinion, forcing them to find a new opinion.
Could you write the story of a Character who has no opinion?
Live Long and Prosper,