Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Dark Side of the Moon

When Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) said, "Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art." he was primarily addressing actors and in some major the actor he wished to become. We can take his admonition to our writing heart as well because of the way each discipline--the written and the acting--are wrapped about the armature of the creative self, the person who wishes to convey stories, attitudes, behavior, agendas, ambitions through the creation of plausible characters.

In order to engage either craft, you need some basic tools, primary among which is the point of view you have of the world. This is not as simple or simplistic as first blush may suggest. Suppose for instance that your choice of story to tell is the fantasy or the alternate universe. To make your fantasy or alternate universe emerge from the shadows of your imagination into the articulated stage of your story, you must have some sense of the laws of gravity, chemistry, morality, attitude, and spirituality of the landscape, and you must understand the effects such traits have on its denizens.

Supposing you are an unrelenting optimist and create a world (this one, an alternate one, or a fantasy one) in which all are equally optimistic. Trouble arises immediately because there is no story when all are of a similar mind. Thus you must, for all your optimism, be able to create a plausible pessimist, a creation you'd expect to find lurking somewhere within the darker side of the moon that is you, a creation you don't often bring out in public. Not only must you do so, you must invest this person with qualities that will make him or her attractive enough to be a threat to the optimists in your story and perhaps to your readers. If you merely go scouting about in the market where you shop or the school where you teach or the office where you work, you will find second- or third-rate pessimist, a copied pessimist. You will be reminded of all the times when you watched reputedly hard-nosed investigative reporters on television letting some bigot or politician or publicist go without asking probing questions. You felt somehow cheated, which is what your readers will feel with a second-rate pessimist. By creating a first-rate pessimist, you will have brought an entire range of potential to your story, rendering it at once more tense, exciting, thrilling, and threatening.

You will have created a character whom your protagonist optimist will eventually defeat in some degree, allowing your reader to feel that your protagonist was in a serious, threatening contest instead of the sort of warm-up game many sports teams engage at the early days of a season.

It is not enough to merely say I want to tell stories; you need to be more specific than that, focusing on the types of stories that touch you on some basic emotional level which will be transported into the stories you write. Even if you are the sort who watches the market and picks stories based on your judgment of which kinds of story sells the most copies, you will still need to give something of your hidden or darker side of not something of your special technique with which you feel confident. If all you have to bring into your story is a statistical ability to replicate all the other commercially successful stories about you, there is still not enough in your toolkit to cause an editor to encourage you, a publisher to take you on, a readership to embrace you. The editor, publisher, and readership already have available the things you would imitate; what they want from you are the things you originate; they want from you your take on the real world or the fantasy world or the alternate world or the romantic world.

Ball's in your court.

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