Science Fiction Topic: Longevity and Maturity

  • by Gitabushi

The other day I shared that I think the Left, and particularly the US Left, are politically children.  This isn’t a political post…I bring it up as an introduction: I identify them as immature because they are only concerned with some power giving them what they want, without costs or trade-offs.

This is from my assumption that with maturity comes wisdom. Chesterton’s Fence is a good example of how a mature mindset plays out in real life. The more times you’ve been around the sun, the more times you’ve seen well-meaning policy changes founder on reality, due to unintended consequences or short-term thinking. After all, we haven’t needed this fence within the last 10 years or so of memory in the person wanting to tear it down…it is only the aged that realize the fence was established to prevent or ameliorate a once-every-twenty-years event.

barbwire fence on wheat field
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Game of Thrones includes the warnings of wisdom in its repeated reminder that “Winter is coming.” Most of the people battling for power and control had lived their whole lives in one of Westeros’ sometimes decades-long summers.

We are creatures of experience, and we doubt our parents. We consider them moribund, hopelessly behind the times, and clueless about the way the world works now.  This is one of the themes of Generation Ships, or even of interstellar colonies in which civilization collapse: the parents have stories of Old Earth, and the Old Ways, and technology, but the children consider them fairy tales and society devolves to a lower level of civilization in ignorance.

So there is a a good story topic, if you want: We haven’t had a new Generation Ship story in generations, I don’t think. Except instead of writing how children dismiss the stories of their parents and civilization devolves, you could write a story of what the on-ship society does to prevent the devolution of technology and civilization. Instead of what goes wrong in a cautionary tale, explore the obstacles and propose solutions. There is still a good story in the drama of overcoming obstacles to retain civilization, and of the people who live through it.

The reason I have been thinking about “generation” ships, however, is because the pace of counter-aging research appears to be picking up. I think this is because Moore’s Law means computing power has advanced to the point that we can actually begin to control for all the variables in the aging process. We can actually track the degradation of cell functioning, and how the decline of one cell, or one tissue, or one system, impacts and affects others.  The human body is so complex, and so the aging process is so complex, it makes sense that the computing power of 10 years ago might still be inadequate.

In any case, there are reports that some researchers are already conducting trials on counter-aging of pets, like dogs.  Researchers already have a better grasp of how telomere length impacts aging, and the problems of artificially lengthening the telomeres. We have enough modern data to know how exercise and learning help preserve and retain youthful health so that fewer years are spent in mental and physical decline…this is important, because with lifespan extension, you want an increase in enjoyable years, not an increase in years spent in a nursing home, or attached to a machine.  Even a few years ago, researchers discovered that you can extend both life and functional youth by at least a decade with just a combination of two substances that clear out senescent cells, which prevent aging damage to nearby cells.  Of the two substances, one is cheap (you can get sufficient quantities by eating a spoonful of capers every day), and the other is rare enough to cost $50k/dose (which I think is every month).  Obviously, the goal is to reduce the cost of the second substance to a realistic number. And even aside from that, there is some compelling evidence that simply getting transfusions of young blood can help delay aging…but I’m not sure if it can actually reverse it (can it cause hair gone gray to begin to recolor?  Doubtful.)

As I like to say, I originally thought that aging, and thus most disease (which if often aging-related, as body systems that prevent disease break down), and even natural death would be fully solved in my grandchildren’s lifetime.  Then I began to think my children might have a shot at it. Now I believe that if I keep myself in good shape, staying as mentally and physically young as I can, they will conquer aging in my lifetime.

I *hope* it will end up as the ability to select the age you you want (and I would probably choose late 30s…just before presbyopia set in), but even if it just ends up at only being able to slow aging to the point that we have extra decades, I have made it my goal to live to age 130, with enough health and vigor to enjoy it.

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But what would that do to society?

Tolkien’s elves live for centuries. He then posited a lower birth rate, or else elves would have choked the world with their numbers, and I think that is probably correct.

Larry Niven had boosterspice in his stories, and it was the key to one of his plots, in that a woman was concealing her advanced age as part of a scam, and had to “pretend” to trip…Niven assumed that with age and experience would come grace that would arise from greater experience on how to avoid things like tripping.  [shrug]. I guess I can understand that, from the standpoint that kids are clumsy…we even call teenagers or young adults coltish, in that they aren’t yet accustomed to new height after a growth spurt.

Some vampire stories certainly try to display the increased knowledge vampires have from centuries of experience on the earth.

But for the most part, I am not really impressed with the maturity shown by most of the long lifespan individuals in most science fiction stories.

This is a problem for writers: how do you write beyond yourself? Can you only write at your own intelligence?  Meaning, how can you write a genius character if you aren’t a genius yourself?  I think this is easier than it sounds: most of intelligence is speed.  The more intelligent you are, the fewer repetitions you need to learn and understand something, the more quickly you learn when and where you can take mental shortcuts, etc.  Intelligence doesn’t always mean insight that leads to wisdom. So you can write a brilliant character merely by thinking things through, and having the character able to make leaps of logic or grasp things immediately, that other people would need more time to get.

But maturity….that’s another problem.

Some maturity issues are easy to see and understand. Obviously, children want immediate gratification, so you can write a mature character by having them delay gratification, see the long view.

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I know I’ve matured quite a bit since age 25. But I also think I’ve matured quite a bit in just the last few years. I understand so many more things about my wife, about relationships, and about male/female differences in just the last five years, and I’m over 50.  So what insights will I have when I’m closing in on 100?  Can I imagine those?

One aspect of maturity is because you’ve seen it all before, you have more patience in frustrating situations. On the other hand, with age comes an “I’m too old for this crap.” impatience.  I’d argue the first is mature, the second is merely advanced age immaturity, but that’s an aspect worth considering more deeply yourself.  But I do think if we had leaders with three centuries of experience, there would be an increased willingness to let things play out on their own, to not see urgency in most crises, because intervention too often makes things worse.

The vampire stories posit that with age comes an understand of human nature that makes it easier to manipulate people.  That might be true.

But I’d counter an inability to remember immature mindsets seems to come along often with maturity. The adults cannot remember the angst and worries of youth. The elderly don’t have the interest in keeping up with fashion, and trends, and fashionable thinking. It is possible to keep tabs on modern thought, but is it possible to do so well enough to be master manipulators?  Without seeming out of touch?  I’m not sure.

In any case, this is the science fiction topic you could tackle: if/when humans no longer *must* die (although accident, murder, suicide, and some illnesses will still result in death), how does it change society? Do people suicide when they get bored? Do we finally have the longevity to make terraforming Mars and colonization of interstellar systems possible (imagine a “generation ship” that takes two centuries to reach a Alpha Centauri, crewed/populated with people who fully expect to make the return trip within their lifetime). Do the aged withdraw from society as they grow bored with the immaturity of the young? Does the birth rate plummet?  Or does colonization of the moon, Mars, Jupiter’s moons, and interstellar systems create enough room that we have a population explosion? Do the elderly ensconce themselves as leaders, guiding all of society with their greater knowledge?  Do the young now chafe at the reduced chance of earning key roles, since no one ages out of a prominent position anymore?  Or do they win key positions in corporations and government due to youthful exuberance and innovation?

If nothing in society changes except for everyone alive suddenly having a realistic chance to live for 500 years or more, what happens?  There are a hundred different story possibilities to explore right there.

Go do it. I want to read some good stories that explore this issue, that will help us be prepared for it when it eventually happens.

A Response to a Rebuttal

  • by Gitabushi

This is a response to this rebuttal to the piece I wrote recently.

monster men

First, I seem to be good at offending people with my opinions, and that wasn’t my intent.  What seems to have come across is me saying “These types of stories, including Pulp Rev, are bad stories.”

In fact, my point was that I used to see them as bad stories, but I’ve come to realize that they are actually good stories that just don’t do it for me.  And that’s okay.

Second, I actually *like* Campbellian SF.  I can’t say “Campbell did nothing wrong,” because a quick glance at his wikipedia entry shows that later in life, he got into pseudoscience and alienated many of his best writers.

But I like his demand that writers write an alien that thinks as well as a human, but differently than a human.  And I guess I also kind of agree with his insistence that writers “rise above the mire of Pulp,” except that I really don’t think I’m quite as dismissive of Pulp as Campbell was.

I mean (third), if I thought Pulp is an inferior story form, I should be able to prove it by churning out tons of pulp stories.  But I recognize I can’t, because Pulp is written better than Campbell (or the literati in general of the time) gives it credit for.

I can’t write anything that matches A Princess of Mars, but I don’t want to. I didn’t really like the first few Barsoom novels.  The change is now I recognize those are good stories, I just don’t like them.

The first Barsoom story I actually enjoyed was Chessmen of Mars.  It explored a little bit of human nature in several aspects, including someone breaking away from a coercive society, the problem of fame/desirability in a woman and how it impacts romantic pursuit of her.

When I read Conan or John Carter stories, I don’t have any urge to write like that.

But, again, this doesn’t make them bad.

A good example is REH’s “The Frost Giant’s Daughter.”  It is filled with lush descriptions. You feel Conan’s desire and determination. You feel the chill.  But ultimately, nothing happens in the story.

Nothing really happens in “The Queen of the Black Coast,” either.  I mean, a bunch of stuff does happen, but it’s like a SitCom: after everything happens, Conan ends up where he started before he met Belit, and hasn’t really learned anything.

In most Conan stories, the only thing Conan “learns” is confirmation of his cynicism toward civilization, that so-called barbarians have more honor and are thus more trustworthy than the machinations and deceptions of sophisticated city dwellers.

But those both have been criticized as not being as well-plotted as “The Black Stranger.”  But even there, while it is a well-written story, I’m left somewhat unmoved. There’s a lot of action, there is clearly a plot, but ultimately, nothing is learned and Conan doesn’t grow in any perceptible way.

 

So what *do* I like?

I guess I like Campbellian fiction. In contrast to the people who say Hard SF is garbage, say that Campbell ruined SF, or those who say nothing written after 1980 (or was it 1970? Or 1960? I don’t remember) is any good, I *like* quite a bit of 1980s SF and Fantasy. There’s a lot of Leftist garbage influencing SF&F in the 60s and 70s…no one hates Heinlein’s later works (including Stranger in a Strange Land) more than I do.

But I see that as the fault of those writers who lost the science as they wrote social science fiction.

I am still moved by Haldeman’s “The Forever War,” and consider it one of my favorite books.  There is a great deal of wise insight into the human experience.  I also really appreciate many of Haldeman’s short stories, particularly those collected in “Dealing in Futures.”  But I don’t like many of his other works, because of the influence of Leftist ideology on his writing.

But that’s okay. I don’t reject The Forever War because I dislike most of the rest of his writing.  I just point to The Forever War as a great book, because there is insight and chaaracter growth. (although, at heart, it is more of a Milieu story than a Character story).

The key point is: I’m re-reading “Cyteen,” and while I’m enjoying the crap out of it and reading slowly so I can digest every nuance, I’m also somewhat inwardly seething because I *want* to write like that, and I don’t think I can, I’m afraid I never will be able to, and I don’t even know how to work towards making a half-way decent attempt.

And in trying to explain, I’ve probably offended other people. I apologize unreservedly.

I’m just trying to understand my own likes and dislikes, and thinking out loud, in hopes that it helps other people understand themselves better.

The Primacy of Character in Story, or “Why I Can’t Write”

  • by Gitabushi

I originally was going to write about how I am committed to the primacy of Story. I crave a story, not spectacle.  I don’t like Hollywood much anymore because they are filming blockbuster movies that can sell well overseas, and explosions don’t need translation.  I don’t like TV very much because they seem to be focused on “shipping” (focused on the relationships of the characters just for the sake of relationships).  I haven’t been able to get much into PulpRev because as much as I want to support it, too many of the stories seem to be merely wish fulfillment: the main character succeeds because they are heroes…because it is much easier to succeed on paper than in real life.

So what *do* I like?

My original answer was “I like a *story*,” but then I realized people who want a relationship story, or a hero story, etc., also just like “a story,” so I had to dig deeper.

I realized I like character stories.

I like stories that show some insight into human nature, that help me to understand something important about life that will help me be happier or more successful.

I want stories that show us humans acting naturally and normally, and at the right time, decide to do something heroic but out of character…and yet, with all the groundwork of the reasons for the out-of-character decision firmly and clearly established, so that it is both believable and inspiring.  Like “Star Wars” works as a movie for me almost 90% due to Han Solo appearing to ruin Darth Vader’s day and ensure Luke’s success.

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A Pulp Rev story most likely wouldn’t have Han, it would just have Luke doing Marty Stu things until he blows up the Death Star because he can fly better than anyone else.

A modern television show would explore Leia’s relationship with every male in the series, including some of the robots, and probably retcon Luke into being gay C3P0 and keep adding complications until the series was cancelled with none of the major issues being answered.

A Modern Hollywood movies would probably just skip all the stuff on the Death Star as being too complicated and too slow, and replace it with more footage of the Death Star blowing up planets with a few more failed attack runs by various planet defenses.

But Star Wars is good because we care about Luke from where he starts and what he goes through. Han is quippy and dashing, but selfish…a foil to Luke’s youthful idealism and heroism. That’s all Han is: a cynical human, more human than Luke, and just to make Luke all the more heroic.  The Death Star commando raid is necessary to establish all sorts of things about both Luke’s and Han’s character.

And in the end, they only succeed because Han makes an unselfish decision for the first time in probably decades.

That’s what I love to read. That’s what I want to write.

But it takes time, patience, effort, and skill. And I don’t have the time to develop the skill to craft that good of a story. At least, that’s how it seems right now.

I want to write a novel I can be proud of. I think if I write it, it will sell.  But I’m to the point where I don’t care if it sells. I just want to write a *great* character story.

Pray for me. I want this ability.

Episode Six: In Which I Find I Have More to Say About Vox Day

  • by Gitabushi

I recently wrote about my opinion of Vox Day, as part of completing an assignment from a friend to read his book, ‘Jordanetics,” to see if I would be convinced Jordan B. Peterson is a con man.

I ended up convinced that Vox Day is a con man.

However, I now think I have a little bit more to add to that.

To be honest, I rushed through my first response. Partly because I was just irritated with having read what felt like a steaming load of nonsense, but partly because I wanted to discharge the obligation.  But I kept thinking about it, and I think there are a few more points I want to make.

First, Vox Day gives his own “12 Rules.” The most charitable take is that if he’s going to spend a book criticizing JBP’s 12 Rules, he should have his own.  The churlish take is that he wanted to demonstrate his superior intelligence by providing a list better than JBP’s.

Actually, Vox Day’s list isn’t bad.

  1. Embrace the Iron
  2. Take the wheel
  3. Be the friend you want to have
  4. Envision perfection and pursue excellence
  5. Put a ring on it
  6. Set your face against evil
  7. Do what is right
  8. Tell the truth in kindness
  9. Learn the easy way
  10. Believe the mirror
  11. Get back on the horse
  12. Find a best friend

But at best, Vox Day doesn’t realize what JBP’s purpose is; at worst, Vox Day simply doesn’t care.  Because this list is largely inaccessible to the people JBP is trying to reach.  “Put a ring on it,” indeed. One of things JBP is addressing is males who cannot attract a woman, because their life is in chaos.  “Take the wheel.” The whole point of JBP’s teachings are to help males learn that they can take the wheel, and to avoid disaster when they try. You can’t just tell them to take the wheel; you have to teach them to walk before they can run.

So Vox Day’s rules aren’t bad, they just reveal that Vox Day doesn’t comprehend JBP.

This is a problem.

It indicates that Vox Day is criticizing JBP because JBP’s advice doesn’t apply to Vox Day.

It may even indicate that JBP’s concepts threaten Vox Day in some way.

Vox claims to be very, very smart, and expensively educated. We aren’t told exactly what “expensive” means to Vox Day, but based on his writing, he isn’t very highly educated. It seems very likely to me that he never continued past a baccalaureate.

To characterize Vox Day’s fundamental error that underlies his entire book, his choices demonstrate that he has no interest in constructing a compelling argument, but feels it is sufficient to merely make a plausible one.

You see this error in several places.  As I pointed out in the last post on this topic, he comes up with a single plausible argument why Ben Shapiro would get his work promoted over Vox Day’s. Having found that single plausible argument, he assumes and declares it must be true. He makes little attempt to consider other reasons. He doesn’t address all the potential challenges to his theory.  He makes his claim, explains why he thinks that, and stops.

This is undergraduate level thinking: “Here’s what I think, and why.” Period. End of thought.

Studying for a Master’s Degree, providing a single plausible explanation isn’t enough.  You must make a case for why your view is the most compelling.  You must provide multiple chains of logic that support your view, and address competing arguments.  Heck, the first thing you have to learn is to recognize that there *are* competing arguments.

Vox Day rarely take that step, and certainly doesn’t do so in any systematic effort.

For all the problems in our education system with Marxist indoctrination, this is one reason I still recommend people go to college, and in some cases, study for their Master’s.  Education teaches you better ways of thinking, understanding, and arguing.

Elementary education is mostly (or should be) rote learning.
Secondary education is about regurgitation of what you are told, but with more complexity than just memorized tables.
Undergraduate education is about demonstrating that you understand what you are taught, that you can understand arguments that are made for or against something; to research what others think; to analyze and come to basic conclusions.
Graduate education is about synthesizing conclusions: sorting through existing knowledge to find new connections and new conclusions.  Your master’s thesis should result in new conclusions and new understandings of existing knowledge, and learning to make arguments to support your new conclusions, so they can be accepted as accurate.
Post-graduate (doctoral) education is all about creating *new* knowledge: researching, experimenting, and studying to find accurate knowledge that was either not known, or was an incorrect conclusion.

Vox Day’s writing never gets beyond the Undergraduate level.

I can tell he’s intelligent.  But his intelligence hasn’t been trained or honed into useful application.

His argument is, in a nutshell: “I’m smart and accomplished. I don’t like JBP’s teachings. Therefore, no one should.”

But let’s look deeper at that first claim.

One of Vox Day’s claims is that JBP’s advice is for Gamma males. Elsewhere, he says JBP is a confirmed Gamma male.

The last time, I criticized Vox Day as not understanding that the high status/low status lobster is just one paradigm of how life works, and JBP likely was saying to reject that paradigm, and *not* to try to end up at a mediocre status of not being bullied, yet not being a high status lobster, either.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Vox Day embraces the paradigm of Bully or Be Bullied because he fancies himself an Alpha Male, and wants to enjoy that status.  Naturally, he would resist encouraging people to reject that paradigm: what good is it to have high status if people don’t recognize that status?

Look at the things Vox Day points to for credibility to criticize JBP and to claim the right to dismiss Jordan and his followers as Gamma males:

  • National Merit Finalist.  Who is going to know what this means, except for those vying for it (i.e., geeks)?
  • Game designer. Who cares, except for geeks?
  • Member of “successful” techno band. Main claim to fame was being on a Mortal Kombat soundtrack. More geekness.
  • Started a Science Fiction publishing house. Geeks.
  • Nationally syndicated writer.  Okay, this one doesn’t seem related to geeks.
    Hot wife.

These are not things to be sneered at, but clearly aren’t accomplishments most people would recognize as providing credibility to criticize the works of a popular Self-Help guru with a PhD in Psychology.

To be sure, you don’t really need credentials to criticize ideas.  You merely need enough of a platform to promulgate your ideas and criticisms of ideas, and let the ideas speak for themselves.

I think Vox Day provides his accomplishments as credentials for two related reasons. First, he has a sense his criticisms aren’t compelling, and so wants to claim a status that elevates him above JBP.  In a sense, it is a dick-measuring contest. “Pay no attention to his ideas.  My dick is bigger than his. You can tell this because I have a hot wife.” Second, he is signalling to an audience that is actually receptive to that sort of posturing.  What sort of person would be convinced by the “I have a hot wife” argument?  Gamma males.  Which is why I emphasized the geekness above.

So when Vox Day is arguing that JBP is a Gamma male preaching to other Gamma males, he’s actually making a Beta male gambit to maintain his standing as leader of Gamma males.  He can’t understand that a true Alpha male wouldn’t give a crap about JBP, they’d just go get laid.

And this all goes back to Vox Day being the con man in the scenario.  He doesn’t understand the needs of low status males, has absolutely zero interest in helping them improve their lives.  His entire criticism of JBP is predicated on maintaining his preferred world order, with Vox Day as an Alpha Male with a bunch of lower status males in their proper position as subordinate to, and in admiration of, Vox Day.

This is Vox Day’s con. He is attempting to protect the brand that is Vox Day.

I wish him good luck.

Misbeliefs as Story Momentum

  • by Gitabushi

I’m still struggling with the implications of “Story Genius”, as detailed here, here, and here.

brown haired female anime character figure
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For instance, blog proprietor PC Bushi responded to the last post with:

You had me until you said entertainment should not be the goal of a story. Strikes me that this is like saying enjoyment should not be the goal of a meal. Different meals and types of food aim at fulfilling different goals, just as different stories and types of writing do.

I wasn’t trying to say a story should not be entertaining, or even that a good story cannot just be nothing more than entertaining. My point was that if you are going to go to all the trouble to write an entertaining story, why not *also* make it compelling by adding in emotiona and character development?  If you are going to read a story, won’t you be more entertained if you are more deeply invested in the protagonist’s struggles?  Story Genius shows you how to get that.

The only thing is, the more I consider the book, the less certain I am that this is the only way to make a story more compelling.

I mean, I’m fully converted to the idea. It works. I can tell that it works by analyzing a bunch of successful movies, books, and television shows.  I have also discovered there are a bunch of other successful movies, books, and television shows that are not centered on the crisis of a protagonist’s misbeliefs.

For instance, Star Wars is undeniably a great story. Luke *does* start out with a misbelief that adventure is a grand, fun thing, and preferable to boredom on a backwater planet.

This is a misbelief. In short order, he is nearly killed by Tusken Raiders, his adopted parents are brutally murdered, and his new mentor that promised to teach him a whole new set of skills, is cut down while he watches.

But that misbelief doesn’t come to a crisis. He isn’t forced to abandon his misbelief or face destruction.  He just grows through it.

However, his emotional state *is* important to us throughout.

I think Die Hard is a great movie because as McClane is working things out with the terrorists, he’s also sort of working things out with his wife.  Maybe his misbelief is that his wife no longer loves him.  Or perhaps the misbelief that drives the story is his wife’s, in that she mistakenly believes he loves his job more than her.  But it doesn’t drive the story to a crisis, the bad guys do.  And the resolution of their relationship is more that he goes through all sorts of pain and danger to save her life, and that has a profound impact on both of them…but they don’t exactly work through it together.

However, their emotional state *is* important to us throughout.

All this being said, as I type this out, I don’t remember the author of “Story Genius” saying this is what you *must* use to write a compelling story.  I don’t remember her saying this is the way every story should be written.

And now that I think of it in those terms, I can still fully recommend the book. In fact, I urge you to buy it. I think it still is the best $10 an aspiring-but-struggling writer can spend.

Because my final judgment is:

Writing a short story can be hard. It is too easy to start with enthusiasm and excitement, and still hit a snag that blocks you. It is too easy to paint yourself into a corner.  It is too easy to struggle with developing the plot and not being sure your protagonist’s actions make sense.

Writing a novel is even more difficult. You have all the same problems as above, plus you have to layer in subplots.  You have to escalate the stakes to maintain interest. You have to develop deeper characters than in a short story. You have to handle more characters, and make them all realistic.  All this is too complicated: I can’t hold a novel in my mind. With this book, you don’t have to.  It teaches you how to add compelling aspects to your story that grab the reader from the beginning and never lets go, how to develop and mine the protagonists’ backstory for realistic developments, how to layer in complex and interesting subplots, and how to make the reader see through the protagonists’ eyes instead of through the writer’s eyes.

It all works, even if you don’t want to write a story based on misbelief.

But if you want to get a story written and have it be compelling, it’s a great place start.

The implication (mentioned indirectly at least once) of the book is that this process will become second nature as you grow more familiar with it. You could adapt it to other types of stories, but this book intends to tell you about the easiest way to craft an entertaining, compeling, memorable novel.  I think it does that.

For example, while Luke *does* have a misbelief about adventure, it doesn’t drive the story. If anything, the story of Star Wars says that Luke’s misbelief was only partial: it *was* fun, exciting, and enjoyable to fight his way off of the most secure enemy station in the history of the galaxy, join with other advanced pilots and, without any training, save the rebels from complete destruction.  He is rewarded with fame and gratitude, and might even earn the love of a beautiful princess.  Sure, his Aunt & Uncle and Old Ben had to die as part of the process, but they were going to die, eventualy, anyway, right?

The point is, Luke isn’t confronting the conflict his misbelief has created in what he wants and who he thinks he is.  It just ends up not being quite so carefree as he hoped.

But we still care about Luke’s emotional reactions to what happens, and *that* drives the story.  So what we learn in “Story Genius” still applies. It’s just writing a story in which an apparent misbelief actually turns out to be true.

There are plenty of other exceptions.  But these can be your advanced attempts, after you have a few novels under your belt.

Why am I pushing this so hard? Well, I think better when I talk or write. But more importantly, if y’all write more enjoyable, gripping novels, I have better stuff to read.  Buy the book, and write great novels!

What is a Story?

  • by Gitabushi

I’ve been pushing this book lately, and not just on this blog.   It has the unwieldy title of “Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)” so from now on, I will just call the book “Story Genius.”

I love the book so much. It forced a paradigm shift on writing that excites me and convinces me I will be a successful writer. It also concisely explained much of the dysfunction we see in society, because so many people are laboring under misbeliefs.

For instance, Socialists are laboring under the misbelief that if they can win total political control of all major government and social institutions, they can transform and perfect society so that everyone is equal (at best) or that no one suffers from need (at worst).  There are so many misbeliefs in that assumption.  I think homosexual activists have a misbelief that their unhappiness comes from social rejection, so if they can just force society to celebrate their identity in more and more aspects, they will finally be happy.  The Right has the misbelief that if they just calmly and clearly explain their views and preferred policies, the Right will win elections, enact conservative legislation, and restore the US’ liberty and exceptionalism.  I could go on for days about these misbeliefs, but it is evidence that the book is correct that everyone has misbeliefs.

That’s how it improved my life.

I’ve been mulling on its application to writing for a month now, however.  *MUST* every story be a character development story?  *MUST* every story start with a misbelief that gets resolved?

I’ve really been considering this question. I’ve re-thought this question in light of “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and “A Princess of Mars” and “Coming to America” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jack Reacher novels and even “Game of Thrones”.

My answer is that no, not every story must have a misbelief that causes the main character problems and gets resolved over the course of the story.

But the follow-up questions to that are: Do you want people to enjoy and recommend your story?  Do you want to sell your story?  Do you want to write *great* stories, or merely write stories?

Heroic action stories can be enjoyable.  I don’t think the Jack Reacher stories ever have Jack Reacher holding a major misbelief or learning anything in the course of the story.  He’s pretty much unchangeable (except that the author gives him mental abilities needed for the plot that mysteriously don’t exist in other stories where they might have been useful, but the author hadn’t thought them up yet weren’t needed for the plot).  The interest in and success of those stories is the author starts with a perplexing situation, so you want to read to find out what is actually happening.

In “Game of Thrones”, the misbelief is actually on the part of the reader: George R. R. Martin set out to upend several major expectations of the reader, such as Plot Armor and Deaths Mean Something.  I think he’s struggling to finish and the books are kind of fizzling out because you can only deny the expected tropes for so long. If he wants to finish, he’ll have to resolve the story, and it’s going to be trope-y as all get out.

So from that perspective, even if you aren’t dealing with a character’s misbelief, you are still using misbelief to make the story more interesting.

That admission aside, I think that while it isn’t *MANDATORY* to use the techniques in “Story Genius” to load your main character down with one or more misbeliefs that are resolved in the course of the story, it still is a good idea to do it.

Because the book has convinced me that the point of stories is to learn from other people’s mistakes.  You can be entertained by the story, but entertainment is the bonus, and should not be the goal.  We are hardwired to enjoy stories from childhood, but that doesn’t mean we should focus solely on the entertainment aspect.  If we only care about entertaining, we might succeed, and the story might sell, but I don’t think it will have much staying power.  Sure, it might catch on and become famous, and it might be read for generations, like Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars”.  But that’s not the way to bet.  That’s not a good model to base your own writing career on.  When ERB wrote that book and invented those characters, there was no TV, there were no comic books, there were no smartphones, and even movies had no sound or color.  Many people don’t read at all, and we don’t have a unified culture that allows an iconic character like John Carter or Dejah Thoris to capture the imagination of millions.  Put another way: there is so much mindless entertainment already out there, it is advisable to do your best to find ways to stand out.

I think “Story Genius” gives you what you need to stand out.

“Story Genius” requires more prep-work, but in the end, it saves you time.  It’s right there in the title “(before you waste three years writing 378 pages that go nowhere)”.  It keeps you from getting stuck.  It demands you consider every development in terms of the character’s misbelief, which provides a motive force for the story, and only then write the scenes…which keeps you from wasting as much time writing unnecessary filler that you’ll cut anyway.

The book helps you to add layers to your story via subplots.  If everything ties back to both the misbelief driving the story *and* the visible plot developments, your story will have depth.  I thought I might not be able to succeed as a writer because I couldn’t hold an entire novel’s plot in my head.  With this book, I don’t have to.

I have a dozen stories that have foundered on the rocks of painting myself into a corner, plot-wise, or not knowing what to do next.  Thinking about them in terms of misbeliefs resurrects their viability, because it gives me new ideas of how to make them compelling.

“Story Genius” tells you that the misbelief has reached a crisis in the character’s life.  The character has kept the misbelief up until that point because it worked more or less. The misbelief perhaps kept the main character from enjoying life more, or from fulfilling some aspect of life, but it also kept the main character from disaster.  But now the misbelief’s impact on the character’s life has come to a head.  If the character retains the misbelief, their life will be destroyed.  But if they accept life’s lessons and give up the misbelief, their self-image will be destroyed. Everyone thinks they are correct.  Giving up a misbelief is not only admitting you were wrong (very hard for anyone to do), it also is admitting that you damaged your own life for years by not realizing it sooner.

People double down on mistakes. That’s how we hold onto misbeliefs.  That’s why we hold onto misbeliefs.  Only if everything you hold dear is threatened by the misbelief are we forced to actually confront the fact that what we beleived, what we thought kept us safe, was wrong.

Doesn’t that, as a writer, excite you?  Wouldn’t you love to be able to write a story with that sort of impact, that level of import?  “Story Genius” will show you how, and walk you through it.

If the main reason we like stories is because it allows us to safely learn from other people’s mistakes, then yes: underneath and on top of whatever else your story is, you should include a character development aspect. You should make your main character’s misbelief the driving force behind the story.  It will make the story better, and will attract readers.

The only possible downside I can see from this is that it makes it harder to develop a character and setting and write an infinite number of stories in your “franchise”.

Frankly, I don’t see that as a downside.  With the possible exception of Lois McMasters-Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, and the actual exception of the Jack Reacher and Matt Helm series, I don’t want or enjoy series focused on one main character.  There can only be so many self-image-threatening misbeliefs in one character.  Most authors don’t use the same character over and over.  They invent new characters, and new settings.

My favorite author, CJ Cherryh, is my favorite writer because she was good at this.  She had her universe, but she made new main characters for new stories to reveal different aspects of her universe, and it made it better.

Now she’s written an endless “Foreigner” series and I lost interest after book 6.  No one learns anything. The main character is always right. I mean, maybe that’s not completely true, but it’s true enough around book 5 or 6 that I lost interest.

Same with Steven Brust’s Jhereg series.  Same with the Miles Vorkosigan series, but only after book 10 or so, and that was because McMasters-Bujold used different viewpoint characters, allowing her to play off of the new characters’ misbeliefs.

Your fans may want an infinite number books with the same main character. I say, don’t give that to them.  Make new, fresh characters.  Wow them with your ability to create new compelling viewpoint characters, and stun them with your insight into human nature. “Story Genius” shows you how.

Two final thoughts:

No one enjoys message fiction, i.e., “Now I’m going to teach you something I think is true.”  I think “Story Genius” helps you avoid that, by letting you put a misbelief into the main character.  If I wanted to write something against Socialism (and I will), I would make my main character believe that humans are perfectible if they just have the right rules to follow and the right people in charge.  And then I’d show that character how that misbelief will threaten everything they hold dear.  Result: a great story that doesn’t seem preachy.

I haven’t finished my short story, and I haven’t started my novel (waiting to finish the short story).  So maybe I’m wrong about all this.  I don’t think I am. I’m stuck on some mechanical aspects of the short story (what traps or threats can I put into the underground crypt that will drive and highlight the main character’s viewpoint changes?), so I might just drop it for now and start another short story from scratch using this process.  If so, I’ll let you see the results and let you judge if it results in a compelling story.