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.


ozambersand said...

Interesting article Jacqueline. I read what I could of Wired on the web. Not sure if we can get that version in Australia. Will keep my eye open for it.
If I get time I will try your exercise. Have to get straight in my head how Life is a Process first!
Still only 2/3 way through my WIP and is alrady 38000 words. Looks like it will be too long for a Novella! !
You ask about discussion for future articles. I'd like something about writing for different age groups.
My big rant at the moment is the definition of the YA market. (Would be interested in Kimber Ann's views on this too).
My beef is the definition that it is for the 12-18 year olds. In my view that is the teenage market and there is nothing wrong with that.
To me the YA market is the 18-25 year olds. They don't seem to have a category all to themselves and they should.
They have definable characteristics that differ from general adult: vast majority are single and many have never had a committed relationship (but are looking for one); many are virgins (often wish they weren't); many don't know what they want to do for the rest of their lives but are thinking about it. They often lack self confidence. Don't have their own condo or house so lack a "nest" or feeling they have their roots in the ground.
I have 22 year old twins (boy and girl) so see both sides.
Both would be uncomfortable reading about sex at the graphic level most Romance writers have it nowadays.
The age group like angst (they live with it daily) - hence the popularity of Stephanie Meyer.
This is the market I want to aim for. Is there a category out there?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

There may be age category differences between countries around the world. The cultures vary widely in what is acceptable, and how much parental supervision is needed at what age.

In fact, there are a lot of different cultures just here in the USA!

The 18-25 group is the target audience of my Sime~Gen novels, and most everything else I've done up to Boxmaster which is for 40+ and just can't seem to get published because of it.

I keep intending, and not quite accomplishing, to do the task of writing a blog post about how to choose the age of your protagonist and what that choice does to the whole rest of the story.

My blog post for Tuesday April 28th for touches lightly on the subject of the choice of SETTING for the story and how that affects the whole rest of the composition.

While these are marketing choices made almost before you have the idea for the story -- they are also artistic choices.

By and large, the classics in any genre will be those stories that are built around solid artistic choices for the age of the protagonist(s) and the Setting.

Art will speak across generations and down the centuries, but you may make more money by going for the purely popular.

If, however, you can do like Shakespear and do both with the same story, you can accomplish both.

As a rule of thumb, young people want to read about protagonists who are at the NEXT lifestage (not the step the reader is on, but just a bit older) but have the same attitudes and problems that the reader does (younger than age group).

You'll see that illustrated I think in my discussion in my April 28th blog post about the TV show REAPER. It is so much a case in point. Have they exported that show yet?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

ozambersand said...

Not sure if Reaper is being aired in Oz. I don't watch TV! Willwatch out for it.

"The 18-25 group is the target audience of my Sime~Gen novels"

OK if you say this is your target audience. What do you describe them as when getting them published? Are they marketed as being YA?

According to Wikipedia:
Young adult fiction (often abbreviated as YA fiction) is fiction written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents, roughly ages 12 to 18.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...


I included the links to the websites for the TV shows in my blog post on today so people who don't have access via broadcast or cable can go look the shows over.

Very likely, the people who follow me won't really love these shows. They're not actually aimed at me or my usual audience.

But my tastes are eclectic and I find something good in almost everything.

I read a blog post on what to write on your blog, and the only advice I found relevant was, "Address the elephant in the room."

So I address the elephants in the Alien Romance room -- TV shows.

We had concluded some months ago on the Alien Romance blog that what the field needs is a TV series, or at least Movie of the Week. Perhaps Reaper and Supernatural may be leading the audience in that direction.

If so, they're the elephants in our room at the moment. I'm hoping other readers will come up with analyses of other TV shows going our way.

Now to write and post that Alien Romance blog post.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...


Classifications of fiction audiences:

I really must do a whole blog post on this.

The key is the age of the protagonist. You PITCH your book to a publisher or editor describing the protagonist's age and main problem, and the resolution.

Within those facts lies the defined edges of the target audience.

For example, House of Zeor was nominated for a YA Librarian's award (didn't win) the Newbury Medal.

The protag in Unto Zeor, Forever is in the midst of his first Saturn Return and the whole book describes those parameters. It's for 25 year olds because THAT is what they're facing.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

One More Thing:

Is an article about TV ratings on a domain that tracks ratings and demographic appeal.

Look at the article and the age-ranges of the appeal and ratings. Books are now being sold the same way TV shows are.

Perhaps eventually, books will carry advertising. This is especially possible with e-books, even video clips can be embedded between chapters of a book!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

ozambersand said...

I suppose what I find confusing is that as you say, television segments its market quite specifically:

Yet according to Wiki:
"Most genres of fiction may also be segmented by the age of the intended reader:

* Children's fiction
* Juvenile fiction
* Young-adult fiction
* Adult fiction"

Maybe my problem is that the BOOK publishers and marketers probably have these segments in their head but I haven't been able to find them defined.

Age Group Audience (Nielsen)
18 - 24
25 - 34
35 - 49

So writing has four age groups (three under 18) while TV and radio has these three age groups in the first group.

I understand that TV etc do it purely to sell advertisments based on those age groups and as you say we could get ads in books (but I hope we won't)

I am also not saying that we want splits to be enforced or marketed to as such or to be seen as signs of "maturity".

However it would be a help if there were some labels we could use when trying to target publishers who may be interested in our books!

It also possibly reflects why people over the age of 18 stop reading. There are not enough books targetted to their age range.

That's why Stephanie Meyer is so popular. Maybe publishers will catch on soon.

(Hope you don't mind me taking up your blog space. I respect what you have to say and don't know how else to discuss it with you!)

ozambersand said...

I found a couple of pages in Library websites that define YA well.
I'll admit to defeat in terms of the defintion of it. (It's still a pity - pre-adult would be better)
Michael Cart at YALSA: "whether one defines young adult literature narrowly or broadly, much of its value cannot be quantified but is to be found in how it addresses the needs of its readers. Often described as “developmental,” these needs recognize that young adults are beings in evolution, in search of self and identity; beings who are constantly growing and changing, morphing from the condition of childhood to that of adulthood. That period of passage called “young adulthood” is a unique part of life, distinguished by unique needs that are – at minimum — physical, intellectual, emotional, and societal in nature."

OK, I agree with all that. I don't know about you but I did a lot of changing in the 18-25 age. When a lot of the things I thought about and wondered about in the 12 - 18 age were actually acted on.
It's the age most people leave the nest and find out who they really are.
Maybe 12-18 if the "searching" and "developmental" age whereas 18-25 is the "experimental" age where things are tried and often abandoned. Work, drugs, sex, relationships etc.
It is such an important time but it doesn't seem to have a recognised market segment. (Unless I was a late developer and everyone else sorted out all these things by the time they were 18!) Maybe I should have read more YA literature. lol

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...


While chronological AGE matters in targeting Commercial Art, it only matters because large segments of the population reach a certain emotional age at that chronological age.

It is, however, the usual bell curve distribution. Some 30 year olds aren't as mature as some 19 year olds!

The bell curve distribution matters commercially because of the way our marketing and advertising system works. Marketers chase the peak of the bell curve.

However, where that peak is in the age-groups differs from culture to culture and country to country -- and now it's become a prominent feature of the GENERATION GAP.

Marketers hit a wall of confusion and now mostly younger people are marketers and are solving the puzzle of what their generation wants in entertainment.

The trend is for younger people to be exposed to and jaded by ever more intense Adult experiences (sex being only one of many such -- tragedy, war, PTSS, ugly street drugs in bright suburban HS's, neighborhood murders, kidnapping -- all this stuff the prior century sheltered children from.

Even child molestation -- maybe the rate hasn't gone up, nor the rate of kidnapping children to serve as sex slaves -- but NOW children know about those things happening much younger.

The impact of knowledge at such a young age (plus access to the internet, social networking, etc) has begun to produce 20+ people who experience the world and life differently.

The change is still happening and happening faster than marketers can trace it.

So I think your search for the magic numbers of age-group definitions is bound to be fruitless.

The key to understanding what sells to which age group is understanding what their experience of the world has been, is not and will likely be (or what they think it will likely be) in the near future.

Produce something that resonates with an age group that has MONEY TO SPEND (pocket money) or upon whom parents will spend, and publishers will recognize the size of the market by the resonance of the subject matter.

There are many clues about what life experiences impact whole generations at what age buried in Astrology. We as a society and civilization do indeed march to a drummer we all hear, but we're each playing a different instrument while we march.

All the editors will tell you that you only have to write a good story to sell to them. But they can't tell you what a good story IS.

What they're looking for is what Blake Snyder calls the PRIMAL element, and which primal element a given generation is focusing on can be found via astrology, or sociological statistics (doesn't matter what tool you use.)

I'd say forget the age group numbers and focus on the experience of life. Today that experience of life (that causes the main character to grow and change) may hit the 18 year olds on the nose, and in 20 years it might be hitting the 25 year olds on the nose (or the 50 year olds).

Explain that experience and what to do when having that experience, and whatever the age group that's interested, they will find your book (or movie.)

You just have to make it clear what the experience is.

But it does matter what age your protagonist is -- publishers still think people only read about other people who are their own age or older.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...


I've thanked you for these comments in my October 2009 review column (being filed I hope today), and as I was reviewing the books for October, I found a letter from a Senior Editor at Putnam that I'd like to share with you.

It could answer some of your marketing questions.

Send me privately an email address where I can send a pdf attachment and I'll send it to you maybe with some reviewer's promo sheets.

Use my ambrovzeor eddress at

Jacqueline Lichtenberg