Sunday, April 8, 2007

Making a Scene

A few readers of these vagrant entries wondered aloud to me at a recent Friday morning coffee klatsch at Peet's. Their wonderment had to do with my commendations of the blogs of photographers, notably Liz Kuball, Ben Huff, the remarkable Aussie who calls himself pod; and the European combo who call themselves Mrs. Deane.

Thus were we launched into a heated and productive dialectic on craft, in which more questions are invariably raised and left unanswered than those answered. The result is that we are haunted by the persistent nagging of the unanswered questions.

All the photographers mentioned above have posted on their blog sites intriguing photos of buildings, many of these photos having no people, some having people on the periphery, as though an afterthought. Net result: These photos encourage me to seek the personality in the buildings. True enough, in some darkened recess of my personality, I relate all buildings to people, and thus pod's moving shot of the roof of what appears to be a factory or warehouse evokes the dust jacket art for any number of Dicken's novels; Ben Huff's quonset huts in the Alaskan snow evoke visions of the types who work inside them; Liz Kuball's buildings in the Salsipuedes--what a lovely name: get out if you can!--industrial tract evoke the gritty quality of work, work being done, work left undone, the intrinsic neatness of industrial workings, the intrinsic jumble that attends my own work. Mrs. Deane, currently on a technical investigation of color and color separation, produces shots in which color literally and figuratively colors the emotional impact.

Johann S. Bach once wrote a treatise in which he set down the emotion evoked in every key, advising, for instance that a mass be rendered in one key, a celebration in another, a lamentation in yet another, and so on down the emotional spectrum.

I maintain that every work has at least one resident emotion. It is the task of the shooter, the composer,the writer, the actor, to convey those emotions as cleanly as possible.

Yes, yes; I know. We have all seen those tests in which people are photographed in the emotional equivalent of mug shots, and we, the viewers, are asked to identify the emotion we think the individual is registering. Looking at the "results" we see how what we supposed a smirk was really a suspicious glance, and don't mention that full-on smile; that character was in actuality registering feelings of superiority.


What we learn is to come as close as we can to getting our own feelings in the range finder--the emotional range finder.

We writers need settings that by their inherent nature, and the words we use to fine-tune them, induce an atmosphere. That atmosphere becomes the crucible for the basic dramatic unit, the scene. Buildings have personality. Seascapes and landscapes have a resident genie. Motel rooms. Offices. These are the settings for our stories. We have to give them as much thought as Mrs. Deane gives gradiations of color, as pod emphasizes mood by use of shadowy darkness, as Ben Huff removes a coating of snow with a splash of bright sunlight, as Liz Kuball emphasizes the presence of personality of an unoccupied building by her inclusion of a shadow from a nearby telephone pole, the photographic equivalent of an eye liner emphasizing the roundness of a model's eyes.

Especially when I have been writing reviews of late, it seems a natural order to favor the words "gritty," "spiky," "notional," and "driven" in connection with characters. This in large measure is because I am all those plus, I might add, impatient, curious, and irreverent. No accident then that I think these are excellent traits for characters, both the characters of which I write and those of whom I most enjoy reading.

Put them into a setting with personality--an abandoned building, a stunningly fawning architecture such as the Fess Parker Doubletree Inn in Santa Barbara, a Zen-like loft in Tri-Beca--then turn them loose to have at one another. That is the beginning of a scene.

Apply the pressures of chance, misadventure, and the chaos theory. Heat until they combust. Heat until the unthinkable comes to pass.

John Coltrane. Wayne Shorter. Bill Evans. Carmen McRae. J. S. Bach. Daniel Woodrell. Nicole Krauss. Zoe Strauss. William Butler Yeats. Frank Ghery. Mark Twain. Alice Munro.

The unthinkable, come to pass.

And now, the most difficult but necessary condition: Go thou and do likewise.

Cuand' arrive, scrive. When you get there, write.

My book review for the week beginning 04/12;

1 comment:

ben said...

thanks for this Shelly.