Sunday, November 23, 2008

You in the Hot Seat

There are hundreds of things to be learned and otherwise taken in as adjuncts to storytelling technique. While many of these are of significant value, they are early useless until they become assimilated, taken in and understood on an emotional level. One such "thing" is the need to be the first to raise any issue of plausibility that may obtain within the story, whether it is a specific plot point, a character trait, of some physical capability inherent in a character or object.

To illustrate the point, having scant knowledge of guns, I have no specific knowledge of the range of a .22 caliber rifle, much less the impact force a projectile will have at a distance. Thus if I were to have a situation where a .22 were the only weapon available, range and impact were important, I'd of course spend some time on a search engine, getting a sense of parameters, but stories don't take kindly to footnotes with references to Google or Yahoo or Ask dot com, so the solution is to have one of the characters raise the issue. "You gotta be kidding. A .22 won't carry at this range! If you were lucky enough to get a hit, it would feel more like a mosquito than a bullet." And the response: "True dat, but these are hand-loaded bullets, and I packed them with my own formula for powder. Might pick up a few yards."

Another illustration is to have a character, speaking of why a particular act, by all means irrational, was performed, give the explanation, "Because I felt like it. I've always wanted to do something like that."

Yet another vital "thing" it is necessary to assimilate is the need for characters always to be responsive. Even when they initiate action, the action comes from an emotional cue rather than the result of thought. (Thought may have a starring role in the conception of a project and its processes of revision, but while the material is being advanced, it should come from the array of emotions the particular character is feeling at a particular moment. Boredom. Anxiety. Impatience. Lust. Jealousy. Enthusiasm.

Accordingly, characters come on stage with an awareness of where they're coming from and what they think awaits them, possibly even their hopes for what they want to happen. Okay, here they are, but now there are other persons in the scene, people to react to. Perhaps someone unanticipated is there, someone whose presence is a delightful surprise or a serious threat to comfort. Each circles about for a moment until one reacts emotionally, "What are you doing here?" How do you reply to that? Why, of course, "What am I doing here?" "Yeah, that's clear enough. What are you doing here?" "That's it, huh? I live here and you want to know what I'm doing here." And we're off on a conversation that is already laden with dramatic potential.

More important than physical attributes, these indicators of character keep us focused on the need for the plausibility of the characters and their behavior to come from themselves, and the need for the responses of the characters to originate within an emotional landscape rather than an intellectual one.

This can be borne out further when we consider actors in a play, who already have set lines to deliver, prepared for them by the writer. The better actors will know their parts well enough not to be intellectualizing on the state of being of their characters but rather as having assimilated the feelings of the characters at any give moment and having developed a sense of the feel for or against one another these characters have. They will have had rehearsals, too, but then you'll have had revisions. They'll have had a director to guide them toward timing and attitude, but then you'll have had you directing your characters, feeling them out, watching the story unfold about you.

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