Saturday, October 25, 2008

Authors Errors

The two most frequently considered approaches to story telling are the plot-driven story, where most major events are plotted out in advance and characters, accordingly follow the plot as though it were an itinerary on a tour. An apt enough metaphor; made even more remarkable when the author appears to have distracted the reader from being aware of the plot and its distracting inevitability. The other approach is the character-driven story, in which the author plunks two or more individuals with opposite agendas within a crucible that had a built-in shrink factor. The excellent motion picture, Driving Miss Daisy, comes to mind as an example, given an elderly black man who needs a job and an elderly Jewish woman who needs a chauffeur. The two characters have a built-in potential for story, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it represents an explosion on the way to happening, but not in any predictable way.

The reason for my unconditional preference for the latter is my near inability to plot right out of the gate as so many of my friends can and so many writers I admire but do not know personally are able to do. The inevitable question comes forth: what about the middle ground, the final product being something as neatly constructed as, say, any given Harlan Coben, yet allowing the characters some room to swing? Great if you can do it. Dennis Lehane surely did it in Gone, Baby, Gone, and as well in Mystic River.
There is yet another approach to story telling and lest anyone think I'm setting it on a pedestal reserved for beginners, I'll cite two major American authors as practitioners, William Gaddis (see Carpinter's Gothic) and Cormac McCarthy (see everything).

The third approach is author-driven, a narrative in which the author fills in many of the details including the author's ow choices of adjectives and adverbs to describe characters, events, and settings. Unless you are writing novels such as Gaddis' remarkable JR, which is entirely dialog, or a similar approach by Manuel Puig, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, or most of the novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett, chances are you will slip in some authorial direction or herd dog activity.

Although I greatly admire McCarthy's work and even more so admire another author-driven writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, their way grows cumbersome in my hands, leaving me by a process of painful experimentation and exclusion to the character-driven story. To get there, you need first of all to let go of the characters, stop hanging the albatrosses of your adjectives and adverbs about their dramatic necks to weight them down. It is enough that you've investigated them thoroughly, more so than, say, John McCain has so recently failed to do, then allow them to demonstrate your intentions by actions, by their words--not yours.

Ways to trust your characters and in the process learn from them:

1. Why Acting Matters by Uta Hagen.
2. An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky
3. Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner

All three are beginnings to a closer association and understanding of the component parts of yourself that create characters, allowing you to control them in the best way to achieve a textured, dramatic intensity and allow them the delicious luxury of giving the performances of their life.


Anonymous said...

You scare me sometimes. Oh, so much homework to do.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Did you/do you act Shelly? I find I'm considering this more and more in relation to written work ... thank you for the references.

Anonymous said...

Is "author-driven" similar to an omniscient point of view, where the author is clearly and purposefully putting her stamp on every aspect of the story?