Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Risky Business

When calculating who we are as an individual or whom the characters-as-individuals we create are, the word "risk" orbits about like a pesky fly at a picnic. Whatever else we have to know about ourselves or the characters we have to create for an invented story or the focused attempt to replicate a real-time event, we need to know something about the existential status involved.

Let's start with the rhetorical and borderline accusatory: How well did we do the last time we created characters? Were we satisfied with the results, or did we allow the laziness of picking one or more of them from the 99-cent store of cliche, where there are large piles of them on display, one looking suspiciously like another? Did someone call us out on our characters, say an editor or critic, questioning their psychological wiring? Were we in some way allowing a particular dimension of bigotry to shine through?

All the while assessing the last time we created characters whom we were in premeditated fashion placing in some form of risk, we do well to consider what mood we were in or what attitude clung to us like a parasite, influencing how we felt about the characters we created and indeed how we felt about ourselves.

Of the many ways we may look at characters, there is this salient one: the way that character will behave as we pile on the consequences and pressures in dramatic fashion. Of course the more we know about the character, the more individualized the response to risk will become. And the more we know about ourselves, the more we are able to put particular spins and interpretations on the risks we hand out so freely. Depending on our mood, placing a character in the pathway of fast-approaching love speaks volumes in the implication that we think love is a risk as opposed to, say, a healthy, engaging step away from loneliness and disconnection with our species.

Not a large puddle of logic to skip over with the suggestion that the forgotten element in character as related to story is spontaneity. The more present-moment oriented a character, the greater the chances of that character having to take an action that will move beyond mere reaction and into revelation. As we see that character's response to risk and that character's speed or lack, preparation or lack in coping with it, the more we are allowed to establish a sense of knowing that character, feeling the most valuable thing of all we can feel to a character--empathy.

Creating characters is a risky business in many ways, not the least of which is the revelation of ourselves they can convey every time we look at them or, alas, don't look. Eager to get myself aboard a train that may already have left the station, I try to position myself to be less judgmental of them and more of the opinion that they are neither evil nor virtue incarnate but rather individuals who are embarked on behavior patterns of which they are already painfully aware and have to live with as best they can. True enough, some need to be kept under supervision or assisted toward some theraputic vector, likely to be overwhelmed to the point of falling off the local bus of conventional behavior, but to write them off as having only the dimension of their deviation from the perceived norm is to write off the norm and most of humanity.

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