Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hidden Agendas and Old Wives' Tales

hidden agenda--a secret plan, initiative, or desire nourished by a character while professing loyalty to another cause; self-interest disguised under a veil of piety or moral superiority; a battle between the id and super ego of an individual.

By asking of a character what that character wants, doing so with the persistence of an investigative journalist, the writer may well discover a valuable commodity--the character's hidden agenda. This is not to argue that every character has a hidden agenda, nor is it to argue that most characters don't; it is to argue that characters who appear in stories are generally larger than life and have about them an explosive or impulsive tendency to act on desires. You have particularly to watch out for the repressed ones, who may all along have been fighting an increasingly losing battle of ignoring what they truly want. Similarly, the sybarites may secretly yearn for a moment or two of sincere renunciation. Go figure. But don't pass up opportunities to bring the hidden agenda forth. The censor, tollbooth guard, or other border cop should reside within the character--not the writer, which is to say the writer who wishes to be as effective as possible needs to ignore signs of personal discomfort in pursuing the motives of his or her characters.

The hidden agenda may be temporarily--but not indefinitely--concealed; it is the cat in the bag. The hidden agenda is a catalyst for the combustion inherent in the unthinkable coming to pass, because it is at this point that the story gains an irresistible momentum.

old wives' tales--an ancient source of rural and urban mythology; data purporting to be accurate information, passed along by an elderly generation of women or taken without authentication by moderns as valid; a hearty mixture of what may have once been common sense,home cures, myth, recipe, superstition. Also known as bubbie meistas.

An effective way to write off suggestions offered in a helpful spirit is to unthinkingly call them old wives' tales; some advice is shrewd and turns out to be effective if followed, making the recipient of the advice feel foolish for not following it. Old wives tales are often litanies of the consequences of someone about to do what she or he feels most like doing as opposed to listening to older sources. In many ways, and in many cultures, old wives' tales are operatic warnings direct from the communal super ego, stories of examples of dire fates that befell those who did not follow the conventional wisdom of the time and place. Amusing dramatic ironies take root when old wives' tales, contrary to conventional logic and wisdom, prove out in their accuracy.

In other ways and cultures,old wives' tales are seen as prescient and inspirational. Although they suggest what might be seen as sexist derogation, it might be wise to consider old boy's tales as yet another way of getting facts, intent, and ability all jumbled up, the consequences leading directly to story. In any case, their very mention as well as their use is a reflection of the writer's view of a particular culture and the individuals who inhabit it.

1 comment:

Marta said...

Ignore the discomfort, you say? I'm trying.