Sunday, December 21, 2008

Four Thought

irony--a condition created when a character says one thing while feeling an opposing urge; a deliberate, emphatic expression made by a character in the explicit belief that the recipient will conclude the exact opposite meaning; any lurking space between what is said and what is meant.

Irony is the stage manager for most human drama; it is the genome of crossed purposes, misinterpretation, and expressions of things being taken as other than what we intended. The marvelous prank letter inflicted on Malvolio in Twelfth Night demonstrates irony in a never-to-be-forgotten manner. Through a ruse, Malvolio, the steward of the attractive young Countess Olivia, is led to believe Countess Olivia has a romantic interest in him. When Malvolio appears before Olivia, dressed as the prank letter suggested, the disconnect plays forth, with irony taking the winning hand, one on which the writer double downs when Olivia finds herself drawn to a handsome young man, Cesario, who has undertaken the job of commending to her the interest of Orsino. But of course the reader will already know the irony of Cesario not really being Cesario, but rather Viola, who wishes nothing more than the affections of Orsino. Irony truly trumps in this exemplary drama.

As its inherent condition of a person, place, or thing being opposite to our expectations makes itself known, irony causes us to understand that we are in a rigged game, a drama called Life in which we are now cast in a Road Runner cartoon, then informed by the director that we have been cast as Wile E. Coyote.

Omar Little--a front-rank character in the HBO novel-for-television, The Wire; a gritty, magnetic character who is openly gay, whose major source of income is robbery, a man who has in fact killed in defense of his beliefs, Omar Little never robs from people who are not directly involved in the drug trade, has a strict code of ethics which follows it, emerges as one of the few uncorrupted characters in the mise en scene, remains likable, admirable throughout his tenure in the sixty-episode series. When presented with moral quandaries, Little can be seen considering them as a prelude to determining his course of action. His senses of humor and irony are manifest; he is the only front-rank character who does not use profanity nor does he in any way suffer from not doing so. On occasion, Omar Little's purposeful focus is reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote, although Little is more likely to use irony instead of becoming its victim; Little and Coyote represent polarities in character force that merit study. Omar Little is a reminder that dignity is a major factor to consider in the creation of character.

Where would they rather be?--a question to ask of characters before introducing them into any scene. It is quite possible for them to want to be in the current scene, agendas and ambitions burning brightly or fearful of potential consequences. Also it is likely they would prefer to be elsewhere, doing things other than those required of them in the instant moment.

The answer to the question informs what the character thinks, says, does, keeps the character on track moment to moment. The action or overwhelming needs of a scene may mercifully prevent the writer from listing too much detail about the character, but nevertheless will influence the choice of words used in rendering the character and the pace with which the character performs.

It is important to realize that the character's preference does not operate on a right-wrong basis but rather on an opportunity-providing basis. The waiter working the dinner shift may want instead to be attending an acting class or, better still, be a character in a performance, providing the temptation for that waiter to behave at the present task of serving cheap or expensive meals to pensioners or CEOs in ways that produce a chemistry to the scene and perhaps even a consequence.

backpack--the tools, history, emotions, and baggage a character carries when setting forth into a new scene. Characters may or may not behave like tourists in a new setting, craning their necks to look at the sights or, contrarily, being blase to a fault. An actor may show up for a performance, thinking he knew his lines, but this time, in this scene, there is doubt. A housewife may return home from grocery shopping, thinking she has three hours of free time to work on a short story before her son returns from school, then notices her husband's car in the driveway. Or an ambulance. An actor leaves her afternoon AA meeting to attend a cast party at which she knows there will be several bottles of champagne.

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