Monday, November 24, 2008

Reality Check

In our personal lives we interact with friends, family, associates. If we are of the writing bent or the teaching bent, we interact with students and readers, wanting to exchange with them on yet another level than the level of friend, family, and associate. To these students or readers, we want to convey, to pass along information, to encourage. As well, we want to entertain. There is no expressed or implied hierarchy in the listed order of these things. It is not wrong for instance to want to entertain our students or encourage our readers.

There is yet another level at which we interact, offering many of the things we offer to our friends, family, and associates; in the bargain we add the things we wish to offer our students and readers. This level is, of course, the level of the self. I surely have moments where I wish to entertain myself or encourage myself. There are also moments where I wish to pass along information, moments where I am reminded of the process I go through when I wish to offer a sales person a check or credit card but cannot find my wallet, which is to say I cannot always locate the encouragement or entertainment I hope to offer myself, much less the information.

This laundry list of associations and associates and relationships is multifarious depending on my mood in a given moment and my target of intentions. Whether knowingly or not, I draw on this swath of associations, responses, and agendas while informing the interactions between characters, either in short stories or longer works. This point is a border crossing between countries; it is easier to get into Mexico or Canada than to get out of them and back to the U.S.; the Brits seem to want to know what took me so long in getting there in the first place and at least during the gurgling administration of George W. Bush, they seemed to wonder why I would want to return to such a place.

Going from relations between self and friends, family, associates, and the like to relations among characters is going from arithmetic progression to the exponential--because there are so many of them and relatively so few of me and friends, family, associates. One of the first things I notice when crossing the border is that spoken language becomes different; it is no longer conversational, thus such conversational tropes as I might use need to be harnessed. "How are things going?" innocent enough, needs to be countered with "You're asking how things are going?" Of course I could render that response "You're asking how things are going?"which in fact does add an edge of attitude to the response somewhat different than the mere repetition.

As things stand, the mere repetition, "You're asking how things are going." suggests/infers/implies the respondent being absorbed in another task and the possibility that a request for a progress report about the respondent's mental or physical well-being borders on a distraction if not an imposition.

Or look at it this way. An individual utters another character's name, punctuating it with a question mark. "Marta?" Which may be taken to mean Is that you? or Are you there?

Add one word, an innocent enough word. "Now,Marta." Suddenly an edge is there, possibly impatience. And by adding one more word, "Damn it, Marta," we have seemingly exploded possibilities for dialogue as opposed to conversation. Yet there is more to come. Look at the possibilities of mere repetition. "Marta. Marta. Marta." How quickly such a repetition yanks us by the collar into the dialogue, curious to see what happens next as opposed to hoping the characters will conversationally reveal some dramatic tidbit.

When we are in the dramatic arena, our characters are seeming to converse but are conversing with their emotions instead of their minds, sending us readers signals by which we interpret the dramatic cloud over the arena that is scene. In such cases, silence is not silence but rather the characters playing on what their feelings are whispering to them.

Imagine yourself trying to please someone, say a work-level superior or a teacher. Allow yourself to feel that emotional agenda. Put an identifying sticker on that in order to come back to it when you need one of your characters trying to please another character. Imagine you, trying to please yourself.

Now, shut up and listen. Even the pause or silences are valuable.

Next week--or maybe this week, the tennis game of truth.

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