Friday, April 24, 2009

Wired Magazine For Writers

BUT FIRST: My March and April Book Review columns are now posted at

This blog post is reprinted from and on that blog you will find many more even stranger posts than this one.

NOW: You'd think this would be the last blog in the blogosphere to discuss Wired.

You'd think I'd be the last person in the world to read Wired.

So would I.

Guess what? The totally "random" Force behind the Universe has a different opinion. How novel.

Because I had airline miles expiring, the airline pretty much forced me to take subscriptions instead of a trip -- and the magazines they offered were even less of interest to me than Wired.

So I took a bunch of financial items like Fortune and Barron's -- and Wired. If you want to solve a real-world puzzle, "follow the money." If you want to create a plausible plot - "follow the money."

The website is and they have SOME articles from previous issues posted.

The first issue of Wired arrived before any of the others and guess who the guest editor for the May 2009 issue is? The co-creator of LOST and the director of the new STAR TREK MOVIE, J. J. Abrams. Yes, THE "J. J. Abrams" !!! is the database entry with all his credits. I'm sure you'll recognize more than a few.

Yeah. STAR TREK THE IMAX EXPERIENCE is on that database.

So I read Wired last night. Now I'm not recommending you go buy this issue. It's expensive. But do rush to the newsstand and LOOK at the pages I'm going to discuss -- especially if you're writing SFR or love to read it or find out how writers find these crazy ideas. Or maybe you just find the philosophy of love, romance, and pair-bonding fascinating? Why do people come in pairs? Why is achieving pair-dom an HEA experience?

Rowena Cherry pointed out in her blog post of Sunday April 19, 2009 that there is a declining fertility among humans -- (not mentioning the concerns some scientists have about the fertility of many other species on this planet) -- and her observations actually pertain to this discussion.

As Guest Editor, J. J. Abrams focused the May 2009 issue of Wired (you all know the STAR TREK IMAX movie will be out in May -- we all have to see that!) all around PUZZLES, which is exemplified in everything from video games to the puzzle of declining fertility.

J. J. Abrams avoided doing any articles on the techniques and craft of writing, but this issue is the meat-and-potatoes of the writer's craft.

Writing a story is identical to the act of solving a puzzle. Just as with a jigsaw puzzle, for example, you start with a pile of pieces, maybe some assembled chunks, maybe some pieces that don't belong to THIS puzzle, and try to put a frame around it and fill in the images to make sense.

The writer's task is to communicate a pattern to the story-consumer that makes sense to the consumer (not the writer, necessarily), and delivers a magical emotional whammy, which in Romance is the HEA ending, clinched pair-bond.

And frankly, SOLVING PUZZLES has been a subject I've been puzzling about recently. The whole universe is a puzzle. Each novel that uses "world building" such as Jess Granger mentioned in her guest blog is a puzzle solved, with pieces left over for a sequel or maybe a new series.

Jess says the universe itself is "complicated" and therefore the universes she constructs are also complicated to reflect the real world and seem realistic to the reader. That complicated aspect makes telling a story hard.

As I see it, the universe we live our everyday lives in is COMPLICATED (this is the opposite of the view of most truly High Souls, Gurus, Great Teachers, Prophets, etc. (people who really know the answers to the puzzle).

So as Rowena points out, we have a complex puzzle to solve within the complicated universe we live in (or seem to live in), if we're going to keep living in it.

J. J. Abrams' issue of Wired focuses all the feature articles on and around solving the complex puzzle he calls THE MAGIC OF MYSTERY, and I'm saving the best for last here. This issue is replete with fascinating tidbits about the human interest in puzzles (Romance is obviously more than half mystery, isn't it?) even including stage magic tricks and the formula for WD-40 revealed!

Solving the puzzle of what another person is - that's always a driving force behind every Romance, and even behind human sexuality! Sometimes the urgency of solving the puzzle of the OTHER comes from our own, inner need to solve the puzzle of "who" we are - really. A true mate will reflect your identity. If you don't like yourself, you'll never fall in love by solving the puzzle of another person's being.

So on page 32 of Wired, there's a feature called DEAR MR. KNOW-IT-ALL where a reader asks, "My brother swears that the twin towers were felled by explosives planted there by the FBI. I've presented him with reams of evidence to the contrary, but he hasn't wavered. Will he ever see the light?"

And the psychologist answers, NO. Not only will he never see the light, but it isn't the brother's responsibility to force him to. And the article explains why so many cling so stubbornly to ANY conspiracy theory that comes along. "The human brain has evolved to find patterns, which is useful when avoiding saber-toothed tigers but less so when confronted with opaque and complex events."

We solve puzzles by finding PATTERNS. We're hard-wired pattern-finders.

The next question to the psychologist is by someone who "helped" finish his mother's crossword puzzle -- and a later article revisits this issue, concluding that it isn't HELP when you solve a puzzle FOR someone. Crossword puzzle workers in particular find it distressing when someone "helps" without being asked. Maybe it's like coitus interruptus?

Another article points out how bitterly ungrateful humans would be to aliens who dropped down and GAVE US the answers to the puzzle of the universe. It occurs to me to wonder if maybe that's why G-d didn't give us all the answers at Mount Sinai, but rather just more puzzles.

There is some seriously artistic thematic structuring behind this issue of Wired which consists of apparently random tidbits. If you look it over at the newsstand, prepare to stand there quite a while flipping pages. The index is pretty worthless, and the slick pages are full of huge pictures and ittsy-teensy print you can't read on the glossy paper in a fluorescent light.

On page 122 there's a photo-spread of THE AMERICAN STONEHENGE along with a lot of very small words about the monument. The standing stones were built recently and designed to be a mystery. The builder is kept secret too. It's supposed to contain a clue to how to recreate civilization after everything collapses. It's called THE GEORGIA GUIDESTONES. The first photo shows Hebrew words -- there are many other languages on there, too.

Right before the item on the American Stonehenge is a 3 double-page Star Trek comic book spread where Spock is marooned on a deserted planet and musing on how he got there. It's rather good.

Before the Comic is a spread on solving the puzzle of protein structure. Among the little items on how to do stage magic you'll find an editorial quote of Arthur C. Clark about any sufficiently advanced science appears to be magic.

The whole issue is about magic and mystery, solving the puzzle of how magic is DONE. There are gamers puzzles, and an item on why video game players shun cheating by asking someone who has beaten the game what the trick is. This relates back to the Q&A on solving your Mom's crossword puzzle for her, and to the theme that humans are puzzle-solvers, and that the magic is in the mystery.

The conclusion editorial points out that it isn't HAVING the solution that's important -- it's the experience of solving the puzzle - of living through it all step by step, of doing the conquering yourself. It is the PROCESS that is fascinating to humans -- the process of discovering or assembling or imposing an order on what we perceive. It might almost serve as an answer to the riddle of "what is the purpose of life?" -- to solve puzzles, to revel in mystery.

That's why writers work so hard to arrange a plot into a pattern that will induce the reader to walk through the protagonist's experience, step by step, a mile in their moccasins. That's why "spoilers" don't spoil a novel. That's why some readers read the ENDING first. HEA, Happily Ever After, isn't what the story is about. The story is about the process of getting there.

LIFE IS PROCESS, and the process is apperceiving PATTERNS. Even if the pattern actually does not exist! (as with the conspiracy theorists -- but just because they might be wrong about the pattern doesn't mean they're wrong in their conclusion!)

So LIFE IS PROCESS -- this May 2009 issue of Wired is full of very concrete items, lots of photographs, very visual and very concrete things -- all showing not telling the huge, deep, vast complexity of the universe we live in. The articles are short and single-pointed, not the rambling musings I post here.

Reading the May 2009 Wired is in itself a PROCESS. As with all SHOW DON'T TELL successes, it delivers the reader to a process which lets the reader figure out the puzzle of what the magazine is about. Having arrived at the conclusion themselves, the readers then learn something for themselves, a far more powerful and life-affirming way of acquiring a lesson than merely being told.

But now turn to page 82 (it doesn't have a number - count from page 79) for the one item that might be worth the price of the magazine to you if they don't post this graphic to the web.

The magazine has posted the image to the web here:

It's a double-page spread of 10 circles with words on spokes around them (like sunshine rays), an image inside each circle, and a label on the circle. Lines of words connect all the circles to each other in a crisscrossing pattern.

There is a row of three circles across the top of the double page, a row of 4 circles across the middle of the page, and a row of three circles across the bottom. It's dazzling and dizzying with all the tiny words on the shiny paper.

The title of the article (and this one graphic 2 page spread is the whole article) is THE ENIGMATRIX, "In the universe of puzzles, codes, and games, everything is connected. Here's how." The article is by Steven Lockart, and I wish I knew him! Though he's got me out-classed by a parsec or three. I'm certain Jess Granger would appreciate this complicated diagram!

In Lockart's diagram, the circle on the far left of the middle row is labeled MATH. The circle on the far right of the middle row is labeled MAGIC. It lays out like this (with large numbers of tiny words spread all around).


MATH ----- GAMES ----- PUZZLES ---------------------MAGIC


Now take that array and turn it 90 degrees counter clockwise.

And what do you see?


And the connecting Pathways of Lockart's diagram contain labels pertaining to real-life processes very closely expressing the essences of the Major Arcana that are usually laid along those pathways -- and it all makes sense if you stare at it long enough.

For a simple example the Path from MYSTERIES down to PLOT says DETECTIVE.

The words are concepts humans have assembled with which we attack the primordial soup and create PATTERNS. Or discern patterns. Or perhaps there is no verb for what we do with patterns. The words represent patterns of smaller concepts that we scoop together into that word -- all very abstract ideas, all graphically presented in SHOW DON'T TELL, the hardest concept a writer must master when assembling the bits of a story idea into a pattern someone else can recognize in their own life.

Perception of PATTERNS is the core of what every "soul-mate" attraction is all about. And in fact, it may be the core of what raw sexual attraction is about -- genes needing other genes to create the whole pattern of a new person.

We "see" another person's genes in their appearance (Astrology reveals these patterns in facial structure, body structure, all associated with personality, too.) And we're attracted to the bits that are missing in ourselves, so we can become "whole." One.

So the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, and Romance are all based on or contain or pivot around this side-wise TREE OF LIFE diagram connecting MAGIC as the source with MATH as the result, all through puzzles and games, ricocheting off of CODE, GAME THEORY, BOARD GAMES, CARD GAMES, PLOT, AND MYSTERY.

You gotta see this diagram.

Then drop a comment here telling me what you'd like to discuss next. How to choose a protagonist? The Creationist's view of Dinosaurs? Why the HEA ending is such an ironclad requirement of the Romance form and how to deliver that punch? How to make a recognizable pattern out of a story idea when the whole universe builds itself in your mind?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

HOMEWORK: Throw together a universe background (a discard; not a universe you'd ever want to sell a story in) and WRITE (as a comment on this blog entry) the last page of a story that would solve a puzzle and show Life as Process in a universe that is a giant puzzle.

A lot of writers do the ENDING first. If you've never tried it, this is your chance to find out if you work best by working backwards.