Friday, February 13, 2009

Right of Way: Behaving with Intent

being right-- an existential sense of certainty of decision and goals expressed by a character in a story; a belief supported by relevant actions exercised by an individual or group; a conviction of moral certainty.

One of the few exceptions to the rule of all characters believing in the moral high ground their actions occupy is the absolute sense of their inability to restrain themselves from acting toward a particular goal they know to be wrong. Example: "I knew it was wrong to compromise my position, but I was desperate for the money." Another example: "I knew it was wrong not to tell her the truth about my past, but I so much wanted the relationship with her that I remained silent."

For writers who claim to have trouble with plot, the formula of each character arriving on stage with an absolute sense of being right is formula enough; it insures a clash of agendas. Characters in stories want in addition to their dramatic goals to inhabit the moral high ground of being right, especially in matters related to the arc of the story; they will go to great lengths to support their decisions and the rightness of their cause, using imaginative stratagems to avoid awareness of any responsibility for wrong-headedness, much less wrongful behavior. The great rallying cry of the tyrant, whether a household, organizational, or national tyrant is, "I did what I did for your own good."

Even though most serial killers tend to see themselves somehow as victims, they nevertheless justify taking lives by an elaborately argued sense of being right, a position one hundred eighty degrees away from the course of the heroic man or woman who uses a refined version of The Social Contract as a pole star.

Hint to the writer: Major characters want major things, are defined by them, wanting the objects of their desire to the point of initiating rituals such as homa fires, novenas, fasts, charms, and spells to enlist supernatural agencies in the rightness of their cause; they also invent rules or bend already invented ones. Macbeth was blown off course a few times, troubled by his conscience, but the mood passed, and Macbeth reasserted his rightness at the expense of Malcolm and, of course, his own conscience.

intent--one of three things a character comes onto the page with, a desire to cause something to happen or not to happen; the most important tool in the a character's toolkit, the others being backstory, and what the character was doing immediately preceding entry into the scene; a character's action relative to bringing to fruition his goal; an implicit sense of what the character will do to achieve his goal.

Equally important in the character- and plot-driven story, more likely to be overt in the latter.

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

Ah, yes, the problem of impulse-control. There is no conscious goal. There are just these primitive impulses that override the mind altogether and control the behavior, a problem for the unfortunate many, including, but not exclusively, your dog and my cats.