Good morning, Blog Buds. This week’s Enduring Author was the person who flipped the lightbulb on for me, back when I had no idea how to sort the piles of images crammed in my imagination into stories other human beings could understand and enjoy. Besides her massive backlist and huge amount of writing resources, Jacqueline Lichtenberg also pointed me to Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. This is a book on screenwriting, but it transformed my writing by teaching me how to structure a story. I don’t come by that naturally. I still have to work very hard and deliberately.
Search Jacqueline’s name at Goodreads and you get 53 hits, no kidding. https://www.goodreads.com/search?page=1&q=jacqueline+lichtenberg&tab=books
Check out Blake Snyder’s website and you’ll find that I’m not the only author who’s found help there. http://www.savethecat.com/
Pop over to Jacqueline’s website and the Sime-Gen website and find a huge amount of writing resources or directions to writing resources. It boggles the mind.
Jacqueline goes way back. In fact, she goes all the way back to original Star Trek fandom.
And she contributed to Trekkies 2. I love those babies. Aren’t they cute?
Guess that makes Jacqueline Lichtenberg the most enduring of my Enduring Authors. So, I asked her what she’s been up to lately and she offered a guest post on the headaches of writing a concordance. Wow! Gold mine. Here it is-
How Do You Know If You Are A Writer? by Jacqueline Lichteberg
Before you even start writing fiction, maybe at age 5 or 6, those who will write for publication are generally thinking differently from others.
Writer-types are jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none other than storytelling. Non-fiction writers who are successful at it (even writing physics textbooks) are storytellers. Even journalists who take enormous care not to allow their opinions to show, just recounting the facts of what happened, are telling a story.
A “story” has a lot of moving parts, but it does have parts and they come in a sequence.
We live in a linear-time universe – it is one of the few things we have in common.
So, things happen one after the other, though sometimes the motive or reasons (or excuses) for something that was done in January actually exist only in March. We, as humans, “time-bind” or learn from our mistakes and act to cause things to happen later.
That trait gave rise to agriculture (plant now; reap later), animal husbandry, and building sturdy shelter for the winter that isn’t here yet.
So when a writer arranges facts into a sequence for someone else to read in sequence, the writer is “telling a story” by selecting specific things to mention before other things.
Writing is linear. But the truth is, we live in a multi-dimensional world of past, present, future, imagined future, desired future, etc. We make it up as we go along.
But we also absorb much lateral information about every moment. Meet someone, and notice their eye-color before finding out their name. Use one form of address, discover that’s wrong, try another form. We modulate our voices to suit a situation, “he said, gravely” or “he shouted.”
Or he has a bass voice that projects to the back of the auditorium without a microphone.
She refuses to wear yellow. He always dresses in black. Even as a kid, he wouldn’t be caught dead in a skirt.
A good writer discovers or invents these details on the fly while pushing the narrative line forward, chasing the plot and dragging the story behind.
The problem is, writers forget what we’ve established when it is a detail grabbed off the mental shelf to support the mood of a scene or flesh out a character.
20 novels later, we can’t remember if this character ever met that character and if so what form of address did this character use to that character (and was that a protocol error?)
That is actually a real life example. On her blog, C. J. Cherryh is doing what I do — and what my mentors did — asking the FANS if this character “ever” met that character.
Thing is, the writer would remember clearly if there was a large, pivotal, plot-critical scene between those characters, but not necessarily remember a bit of throw-away dialogue or unspoken thought about some prior meeting.
If the two went to school together, were on rival sports teams, or perhaps read articles about each other but never spoke on the phone, the writer might use such a tidbit to flesh out the dynamics of a crucial scene, but 15 years later, having never mentioned it again in print, would honestly not know if that half-sentence tidbit remained through all the rewrites and edits.
Those who have only read the cold printed pages would remember such a detail because that detail made it through editorial to carry a certain implication.
The author, however, knows the initial story idea, the imagined story after outlining, and all the different versions as the outline morphs. The author knows what she wrote, but not what got cut or moved or morphed from “met in rival sports teams” to “never met face to face.”
So what is the writer of a long running, successful series like C.J. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series to do? Ask the fans! And she’s by far and away not the first. As a fan, I was asked by writers for details like that, and as a writer, I ask my fans.
Rewriting, re-arranging the story we originally come up with, is one of the signature mind-functions of writers, even baby writers just learning to babble and scribble.
We modify, rewrite, carve and polish our reality constantly.
So what happens when a writer has produced a series that has been contributed to by other writers (as my Sime~Gen Series has)? The originator may have done a semi-final edit on everything that went into print — but not the final-final as required by the editor.
14 books down the line, how could you possibly remember every detail of every character, and who knows whom, and who calls who what, and what year on the invented calender this or that one was born?
And then what happens when a film or game company comes along and offers a contract to make NEW entertainment items set in your series, involving the descendents of the characters you wrote about — characters who made history and whose lives are an open book in the historical timeline?
In TV Series writing, the reference book for all these details is called a “bible” (which word merely means library).
In novel writing, the reference that presents all these unremembered but crucial details is called a Concordance.
Usually, people first encounter that word, Concordance, when studying Shakespeare or other ancient playwrights.
In the 1970’s, we saw the advent of the Star Trek Concordance which went several editions and was finally published professionally and updated and morphed into a very slick compendium.
Years ago, a series of fans waded in and tried to create a Sime~Gen Concordance — one write an entire book, another created a shoebox full of index cards, and others tried other methods.
Today, with Sime~Gen under contract to become a videogame all about the space war humanity gets sucked into when venturing into interstellar space, where the extant novels are all laid out in History books, in song and legend, and vastly distorted in memory as politics shifts, we have yet another attempt by fans to create a Sime~Gen Concordance.
This monster incorporates previous attempts and adds the new material (the problem being we keep writing novels), and exists for reference on a wiki.
Currently, two of the three professional novelists writing the series are collaborating with two fans to transform the wiki into a printable book.
As the original creator, I have supplied the project with my original notes on characters — but I’m not a great note-taker and there could be contradictions between notes I made and what appeared in print. So we are going by what made it into print.
I wrote the first two novels in the Sime~Gen Series, House of Zeor, and Unto Zeor, Forever (on typewriter), and then Jean Lorrah (a fan who happened to be an English Professor and a professional writer) joined me, and wrote First Channel. Yes, of course I edited, rewrote, and we brainstormed and created scenes together, but she wrote the novel.
I wrote more by myself, she wrote some by herself, and we collaborated on others — sometimes my name comes first because I first-drafted, and sometimes her name comes first because she first drafted, but in the end we both wrote all the words.
That does not mean we exactly remember every detail.
This year, a third professional writer, Mary Lou Mendum, has joined the ranks of professional creators of Sime~Gen by turning a series of tales she did for the Sime~Gen fanzines into professional novels.
Fan fiction is for fans – people who read and paid attention to the novels that have been published The fanfic writer can just assume readers know everything.
We have more words of fanfic posted online (all as well written as any professional novel, just leaving out much background the reader is expected to know).
For professional fiction, explanations are necessary, but exposition is forbidden. Also a novel has to carry the history forward, and show how the story inside the characters inflicted their ideas and shortcomings upon the historical record.
Mary Lou Mendum has a Ph.D. in plant biology, and has contributed the species of the plant much-mentioned in all the novels, Trin, from which a tea is made. And the trilogy (already sold to the publisher) delineates how the battery technology (that eventually powers space flight) was first developed. It is organic using organic compounds instead of copper wire and other metals and minerals.
The first of her trilogy came out in February 2017 in almost all formats:
The cover art was done by a fan of Mary Lou’s fan fiction about these same characters. Mary Lou’s name is first in the list of authors because she first-drafted it, then I edited it, then Jean Lorrah did a polish draft rearranging the sequence of information.
These novels have not been broken down into facts for inclusion in the Sime~Gen Concordance yet. There will have to be more volumes.
So how do you know if you’re a writer?
If you invent things that grab other people by the imagination and make them invent things — you are a writer.
As is often said of Leaders — a Leader is not someone who gathers Followers, but rather is someone who fosters more Leaders.
Likewise a writer whose work will endure is a writer who touches off explosive creativity in other writers who go on to write more.
Thanks, Jacqueline! SimeGen a videogame, very cool. One thing I learned at Enduring Romance is that the best authors always keep learning and growing and going and doing. 😉