Saturday, May 10, 2008

Boundaries and Surprises

There is a line of boundary beyond which a character will not go; it is up to us as writers to discover this line, then use our wits and whiles to push the character over that line, at which point we may safely begin to think we have set story in motion. We all have boundaries and it is up to the writer to recognize how this fact applies to writers as well. But to be truly effective, the writer, at least on the page, must give up boundaries. Neither writers or actors can avoid characters who seem unpleasant.

There is a pattern of familiarity within which a character lives, fantasying an unfamiliar or taboo variation of pattern. It is up to us to understand the character to the point where we understand what that variation is and, if possible, what it means to the character. Once we understand this aspect, our character is up and running. If we follow closely, we may even see how that fantasy becomes a pole star, a stella maris which informs that character's navigation. At all costs, we must respect that fantasy, neither patronize the character for having it nor look down upon that character, mindful of "You! hypocrite lecteur! --mon semblance, --mon frere!"

Boundaries and surprises become key elements to constructing a narrative that goes beyond fable or teaching device, entering the realm of true cultural examination--the story. The surprise should seem plausible and yet come like the snap of a wet towel in a locker room, playful but with a teasing sting.

And of course the writer needs to be surprised before the reader can be. In fact, if the writer isn't surprised, how can the reader be? This is no formulaic contrivance.

Stay off the main, well-traveled highways. Ask unlikely persons for directions.

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

surprise - essential fare for both the writer and his "hypocrite lecteur", yes.

As Baudelaire says in his poem the worst vice of all is neither debauchery nor rape, poison or arson.
The worst vice ? "C'est l'Ennui" (Boredom.)

Quick! Where's the nearest unmarked backroad?

best, Shelly