Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Politics as Usual

politics--approaches to the use of power; systematic applications of problem solving; means by which divergent groups or individuals attend ethical, moral, and social issues; points of view regarding group and individual governance.

All characters have politics, whether they know it or not. A basic approach to determine a character's political views comes from investigating that character's family background, both in terms of the character's general political views but also from an assessment of that character's gender, the number of siblings, and when that character arrived in the family. Individuals who are adopted may have yet other political dynamics including a curiosity to learn the identities of their biological parents. Orphans or characters who have broken relations with family have yet another political as well as psychological dynamic.

For the writer, knowing the political Petri dish of the character's psyche is vital, providing information about the character's attitudes, responses, and readiness to form alliances and enmities. Of equal significance, a writer needs to consider his or her politics or lack of interest in the broader sense of politics, then investigate personal senses of awareness within family, friend groups, workplace associates, and ties with former classmates.

Of all the many influences likely to emerge in the themes of a particular writer's work, the writer's personal and broadband politics rank close to the top of the pyramid, influencing choice of characters and the types of conflicts in which those characters engage. As examples of writers whose politics or political interests seem to shine through their pages, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, John P. Marquand, and Margaret Atwood inspire close study.

quest--a major goal for any character; an intensified apprenticeship undertaken in hopes of achieving virtuoso ability; a search, study. or other organized pursuit with a goal in mind; a systematic and insistent research; an attempt to find a meaning, relic, or understanding.

Sometimes a quest is for a tangible, physical place, other times it is the means by which a point of view or personal commitment is achieved. Everyone in fiction is on a quest. Often, relationships in fiction are abrogated because of conflicting quests, thus the importance of knowing what each character in a story wants, how seriously, and to what lengths the character will go to achieve the end results of the quest. Murder? Perhaps. Betrayal of principal? Perhaps. Treason? A likely possibility.

A popular add-on to the quest being achieved or realized can be found in the irony of B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Was Charles Rider's quest in Brideshead Revisited any the less ironic? And what about the payoff of The Maltese Falcon? For a writer, knowing what a character wants is a major step toward realizing a memorable story; it is no less important for the writer to know how the character might behave having seen the quest through to completion. Would Gatsby have been truly happy with Daisy? For that matter, would Daisy have remained content to be with Gatsby? And while we're on the subject, Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy each appeared at the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice to have arrived at a goal of a companionable, partnership-type marriage, but would they remain so ten years down the line?

Thus quest, the dramatic boulder of Sisyphus, poised at the peak of a hill.


Anonymous said...

It's like you knew my main character is adopted.

lowenkopf said...

More to the point, does she know?

Marta said...

Yes. Hence the story.