Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Quantum Physics of Fiction, or Those Devilish Details

1. This tale begins with an orange tabby named Dodger, which in addition to its orangeness and tabbiness is coated with charged particles of authenticity.

2. I learned about Dodger by accident; Dodger is by no means my cat. I have never seen Dodger, but I feel Dodger's presence, and just as you will have to take Dodger's creator at her word that she has never had an orange cat named Dodger, you will have to take my word that for me Dodger lives, does things cats do, and perhaps even some things cats don't do.

3. It is something in the way that Dodger's creator wrote about Dodger that made me immediately see the cat, leaping after a fly at the window, a sleepy ball of fluff in the sun, an insistent pawing for affection and recognition.

4. The cat belongs to Square 1, the charged particles of authenticity that reside about Dodger's orange coat come also from Square 1. The dynamic is the same with the details we set loose in our fictional and nonfictional terrains--if we are doing our job properly.

5. The right detail makes me believe a story because that detail validates the reality I am trying to create, allows me to imagine other details as though they were real.

6. 'When I believe the details, the story has a life of its own, a world I no longer have to describe or defend but rather to investigate.

7. Sometimes the details come from flashes of memory that are given to me; sometimes these flashes of memory explain mysteries I didn't even know existed, but now appreciate as not merely a flash of detail but a snippet of a history under construction.

8. These snippets come about as a product of muscle memory. Some subjective choice is being made each time I isolate and use a detail; each time I make the choice, the muscle memory is strengthened.

9. Each time the muscle memory is strengthened, my sense of belief in the story enhances itself.

10. Details make the venue come to life.

11. Details make the characters and their goals come to life.

12. With luck and the constant use of muscle memory, I will be able to see the gap between what the characters say and what they feel.

13. As a boy I often had either a yo-yo (Duncan, of course) or a string-wound spinning top or one of those gyroscopes advertised on the back of comic books, stored in my pocket. There was often a small magnifying glass to examine things and start fires. Licorice cigarettes.

14. Some things don't change. As an adult my pockets remain bulky. The pocket knife is still there. So is a Leica Delux 3 camera.

15. Neither of the above pocket contents is better than the other; each is to help take the measure of details, to store them away in the kind of memory that is the writer's tool kit.

16. A conventional proverb of convenience attributes the devil to being in the details, meaning among other things that complexities may be vexing but necessary. Flaubert had his own take, that God was in the details. All well and good, and take your choice if looking for a proverb. But consider this as well: Story is in the details.

17. Blessings on thee, particule-charged orange tabby.


R.L. Bourges said...

Excellent post. And a well deserved accolade for square one.

Unknown said...

Dodger is sitting regally in my mind, noting that he is worthy of every lofty word you have spoken, being the finely groomed feline that he is. I may yet do another post about Dodger, though I realized this morning when I was thinking about it, our family once did have an orange tabby cat... I couldn't have been more than three or four years old, and the only thing I remember about him was that we named him Morris after the spokes-kitty in the 9 Lives commercials. I can't believe I forgot that! So in any case, I will have to at least go back and correct myself.

Oh, and Dodger finds it insulting that I compare him to the sell-out spokes-kitty.