Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Great Expectations

Characters enter a scene with expectations.

Readers pick up a book with expectations.

Writers write with expectations stories that have expectations expressed and implied residing within.

Without expectation, there can be no story.

Peoples once referred to as Hunters and Gatherers, now regarded as Foragers, position themselves in strategic places, anticipating the arrival of a herd of some sort or other, or possibly one huge woolly mammoth.

Humans evolved to have expectations. The sophistication of a particular culture or society may be measured by the complexity (or naivete) of expectations.

Expectation is the dramatic equivalent of tinder, which is useful to light a fire under the crucible of story, piling on more expectation until the crucible boils over.

Another high-burning dramatic tinder is misunderstanding. Throw some misunderstanding on the fire, then step back. Characters do not like to be misunderstood they like to think they are making themselves perfectly clear. When readers begin to discern that characters, wanting to be understood--Am I making myself clear?--are in fact muddying the waters, making in fact cowboy coffee of the waters, they begin to have expectations.

The expectations are that there will be conflict.

All you have to do now is make the conflict interesting.

Readers have expectations that conflict will be interesting.

In real life, conflict, even conflict based on misunderstanding, is often boring. Think of how many persons who disagree with you seem boring.

In real life, when you were an editor on the rise, an author announced himself to the receptionist as having a manuscript you would surely want to publish. When you learned his name, you understood that this was no idle boast here was an author with some name recognition, hoping to get an out-of-print title back into print. He had reasonable expectations that you would want to publish this book, giving it new life and no doubt giving him a few months worth of trouble-free living where rent was concerned. The moment you heard the man's name, you had expectations of what the title would be. You also had every expectation that you would not want to publish this book.

Some remarkable things happened in the lobby of that publishing company, which is no longer a publishing company and may well be seeing better days as a purveyor of automobile parts. Yet another adventure was enacted in that lobby when a psychiatrist questioned your sanity because you did not want to publish a book he assured you--correctly--that his book would sell a million copies in hardcover. Your answer for each author was the same. "It is a question of taste. I don't want to publish that book."

The author of the first book was Lajos Egri; the title of his book was and still is The Art of Dramatic Writing. The author of the second book was Arthur Janov, Ph.D.. His book was and is The Primal Scream.

This leads us to one kind of ending, the kind informed by another important element in human behavior and thus in dramatic behavior. The element is consequences. The consequences of my not contracting either book are multifarious, may lead you to have any of a number of opinions of me, for instance. Henceforth, years after the fact, you may well come to think of me as the man who could have published The Art of Dramatic Writing and The Primal Scream, but didn't. The consequences also involved the direction publishing either book would have on my employer.

Expectation. Misunderstanding. Consequences. What more could a narrative ask?

1 comment:

Wild Iris said...

Being that I've read neither of these books, I'm blissfully clueless as to whether this was the wisest career move ever, or your biggest blunder. I expect that you had very good reasons for publishing neither, and regardless of the consequences, it demonstrated that you stand your ground. Blunder or prudent, your post indicates that you are still employed regardless, and that in and of itself says something about what your employer possibly thought of the two manuscripts you mention.