Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Fourth Ammendment

obstacle--an attitude, force, or condition that prevents a character from completing an agenda- or goal-related task. In plot-driven fiction, obstacles are best friends of the construction, adding to the readers' sense of conspiracy theory. Will the mystery be solved? Will justice be done? Will the good guys win? In character-driven fiction, obstacles are the best friends of the characters because they allow the character wiggle room via memories, self-doubt, sucking it (whatever it may be) up, and the greatest luxury of all--action. The manner in which a character deals with obstacles becomes a truer definition of that character than any descriptive narrative; it allows the reader and the other characters to witness this individual at work.

In his last, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald noted in capital letters, action is character, by which he meant that the reader is called into judgmental play by being given the power to assess the depth and stature of individuals through observation of their behavior.

This observed response is particularly valuable to actors, who speak openly of being to work off one another, a condition that translates to chemistry or synergy. Such chemistry defines the difference between modern drama and the earlier, more emotive drama. Characters in modern fiction seem increasingly focused on "playing off of" one another, uniting against common obstacles or regarding one another as obstacles to be coped with on an immediate and ongoing basis.

Obstacles may be internal or external, a pang of conscience (as in Macbeth, losing his resolve to murder Malcolm) or a tangible disappointment (the eponymous statue in The Maltese Falcon proving to have been case in lead rather than gold). An immutable truth is that obstacles appear with regularity in reality, earning them appropriate venue in story. One such obstacle is time-related; there is ever enough time. Another obstacle is money; there is never enough. Room is often an obstacle as are crying babies, noisy neighbors, allergies to cats, sullen teenagers, vegan relatives, visiting relatives, romantic exes, in-laws, stinginess, and departmental meetings.

Obstacles stalk us, cling to us like limpets, slip ransom notes under the door, insist on having the last word.


truth--a perception of reality held by a character; the sense of the accuracy inherent in a transaction; a vision of events and their outcomes considered to be actual and unbiased.

Truth is a fertile medium for writers who lack confidence in their ability to plot or create plausible story. Put two or more characters into a setting, all of them carrying a vision of a past event or circumstances which each considers to be accurate. Have these characters enter a conversation.

Truth may also be described as the battleground between what a character says and what that character means.

emotive gloss--description, often narrative, that tells the reader what to feel; attributions to dialogue or character description that emerge as unintended footnotes. Emotive gloss is the unnecessary wrapping intended to make sure the reader understands how wonderful or awful a person, place, or thing really is; it quickly becomes an albatross that drags the story into bathos. The Latins have a mantra for materials intended to convey emotion or judgment: res ipsa loquitir. The thing speaks for itself. "If you come any closer, I'll shoot," she said menacingly.

reader feeder--information the writer wants the reader to know and which indeed may be vital to the story, but which the writer is too lazy to dramatize; long chunks of background or character information shoved into the story at inappropriate places; the literary equivalent of dancing with a writer who steps on your foot.

The overall effect from experiencing reader feeder is the sense of the author, not trusting the characters to disclose the material, wrenching point of view away from the characters to make a statement about the content and intent of the story, then patting the characters on the head before telling them to go ahead with what they were doing.

Dialogue becomes a particularly vulnerable target for reader feeder, beyond such obvious giveaways as "As you know perfectly well, Fred, I was saving that for later." to a convenient forgetfulness about the degrees of intimacy between lovers, friends, and family as opposed to, say, office workers, classmates, and complete strangers. In such cases, repetition of information plausibly known by both parties is reader feeder.

Reader feeder also includes detailed repetition to other characters of information we have seen dramatized earlier.

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