Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Four More

order of awareness--the order in which a character takes in the details of locales, surroundings, and other characters. Differing personalities will consistently notice appearances in individualized ways, according to preferences, experience, and background. Basketball coaches, male or female, are likely to notice persons of height before noticing anything else about them. Teen-aged boys will notice and rate women on the basis of sexual viability. Interior decorators will notice harmonious or clashing settings. Taking note of a character's preference in order of awareness is another way of extending that character's personality and influence as a narrator; does he or she first notice another person's height, weight, hair color, posture, manner of dress? Would a woman character be more likely to notice first about another woman her style of dress or her height or..?

Much of the effect of the order of awareness will register subliminally on a reader, but a writer's awareness of it and consistent use adds to the reader's sense that the characters are dimensional as well as plausible.


kicking a character while he or she is down--authorial judgment and intervention in describing a character's attitude or fortune; usually an adjectival or adverbial attribution accorded a character in narrative, as in "he stood miserably while awaiting his fate," or "he whined piteously when confronted with evidence of his misdeeds," or "she sneaked away from the gathering, shamed by her selfish motives." All characters have some flaws which, if set forth in a non-judgmental manner, will have the better result of allowing the reader to decide who is strong, who is weak, who is worth rooting for, who is opposing the protagonist. Word choice in the depiction of a character's behavior can betray authorial animosity, which is a step toward undermining the authenticity of a character. It is wise to avoid such verbs as slinked, slithered, cringed, snorted, barked, sneered, mocked, and all other negatively charged choices, and further to shun attributions in which the writer may be seen as trying unduly to influence the reader with narrative argument rather than allowing behavior to speak for itself.

In real life, depending on our index of tolerance, we will eventually call a halt to an argument ad hominem directed against an individual we know at first hand or by reputation alone. If a writer transgresses this index of tolerance, directing it against a character he wants the reader to dislike, the reader may very well take up the cudgel on the character's behalf and as payment begin to dislike the writer or characters the writer appears to admire.


character-driven story--a narrative in which events progress because of the effects of characters on one another; dramatic entities where behavior appears to generate from responses and reactions as opposed to the scavenger-hunt mentality of the plot-driven story. In real life, parties and gatherings, particularly sit-down dinners, are planned on the basis of comfort and familiarity between individuals or at least in the sincere belief that guests who are strangers will have friends, interests, and talents in common. In stories, characters are invited to gather with the understanding that there are already manifest differences of background, opinion, goals and morals; equally possible is the understanding that dramatic differences will soon emerge, sending these characters into a defensive mode, a combative mode, or a combination of the two. Character-driven stories are predicated on the notion of disagreement, literal or perhaps figurative strange bedfellows. Agreement causes stories to screech to a halt unless the reader is led to understand that the parties in the story have agreed to things that do not obtain.

moment--an instant of fixed or indeterminate time within a story, a cross-section of a scene, a point in which character forces react in one way or another, which is to say they may react by each standing ground and refusing to give or, conversely, exchanging the warmth of shared goals and purpose, or openly addressing antagonism, or pretending to be in accord while seething with resentment. All stories have an arc of elapsed time; a moment is a segment of that elapsed time which, however brief, should earn its way into the story, either through narrative recitation or the more specific focus of an exchange of dialogue. Thus there should be one or more reasons for including a particular moment in a story, yet other reasons for allowing the moment to achieve its merited significance--and of course the significance is found in the overall emotion achieved by the story and the hint of emotion inherent in a particular moment.

A moment in a dramatic narrative is like a note in an etude or concerto or symphony; it is to be experienced at a particular speed which the writer may control by description, confrontation, intimidation, or resolution. The pace of a story is determined by the length of its moments and the pace at which these moments occur.

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