Thursday, February 26, 2009

conversely: a stasis report

stasis--a state or condition in which process stops or rests in balance; a situation or series of situations in which dramatic inertia pauses; passages in story where there is no action.

The battlefield for writers is populated with two armies, the army of background and explanation and the opposing army of action. The timid writer worries that the reader will not have enough guidance or information to understand the implications of the story, thus slowing it or completely stopping it with backstory, description, and explanation. The more active writer keeps characters in constant movement, sometimes to the bewilderment of the reader. By most accounts, the reader is more likely to continue with the latter rather than the former, hopeful of occasional squirts of information.

One truth emerges: if nothing happens for too long, the reader will set the work down with little probability of returning. The culprit is not so much bad writing as stasis, poor management of movement with necessary development and explanation. Another truth awaits just below the surface: most readers of fiction enjoy the process of active reading, a process by which they use their imaginations, their ability to deduce, their complete willingness to be led astray. Readers want things to happen; they want complications to attach themselves to the lives of individuals they have begun to care about.

Stasis is the enemy of fiction. In successful stories, even when nothing appears to be happening, something at some level is advancing the inertia of agenda, intent, and motivation.


conversation--communication and discussion among two or more individuals; possibly meaningful exchanges between friends, family members, co-workers, extending to complete strangers; sometimes mistaken for dialogue.

Conversation should not be mistaken for dialogue; dialogue doesn't work well in conversation--it is too focused. Although conversation may have some theme or agenda--Eat in or go out, What movie to see, What'll I wear today--it is more an expression of momentary feelings, ideas, questions. Conversation can and often does edge into discussion, which moves toward argument in the theoretical or moot court sense before tipping over into argument in the argumentative sense.

Being another matter entirely, dialogue exists more in the territory bounded by contention, clash of agenda, and the subtext of the space between what a character says and does and what the character thinks and feels while doing it. Use of too many conversations in a story leads to stasis.

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