Friday, March 6, 2009

I Only Meant to Warn You

intent--a purpose for performing or not performing an action; a governing motive or reason for a character doing something in a novel or short story; the desire to do or become; the planning and performance of an act or the planning and performance of an opposition to an act or behavior.

A character may step forth in a story without intent, only to be drawn into a crisis point is reached and a decision--you're either with us or against us--is required.

A character may step forth in a story with intent, only to have that intent abruptly and directionally changed.

A character may intend to remain neutral through some crisis point, only to find the position of neutrality beyond his grasp.

Each of the previous three examples places a character in stress, which may evolve into jeopardy. Each example also places the character well within the landscape of story.

a danger, risk, or peril existing as potential for a character; the state of vulnerability a character experiences before, after, and during the making of a decision; enhanced possibility of complication or danger a character lives through while navigating toward solution of the problem that landed him in the story in the first place.

The jeopardy may be the internal one of losing faith in a person, discipline, plan, even a philosophy; it may also be the risk of falling in love, getting into further complications, causing more damage or being caused more damage; it is the consequence of trying to move through the literary equivalent of a mine field while wearing snow shoes.

Many stories begin with the spirit-of-the-stairway comment of the narrator to self--I should have known better. The more productive characters never know better, rarely know enough beyond maintaining the status quo before being mired further in some activity or attitude where they become even more firmly stuck without traction.

In ways, jeopardy is cousin to risk, a state where additional things, worse things, can arise as a consequence of a character having taken some step, whether to avoid a problem, cope with it, or entirely flee from it. A narrative without some front rank character being in jeopardy of some consequence or in some risk-free circumstance is yet to be a story.

Jeopardy becomes the return of the pigeons, the consequences of the thing that should not have been done in the first place. Now it is worse; the character could have opted out (but there would have been no story). Now there is a price to be paid.


Kate Lord Brown said...

Hi Shelly - Just looking at your tags: story, stress, vulnerability ... had to comment. Isn't jeopardy the position every character should be in, and every writer places him/herself? (First publisher's rejection back tonight - one down ...)

Querulous Squirrel said...

Wylie E. Coyote has put you in jeopardy in a sentence in my current post "Tongue in Cheek." I have faith in you. It's the wiley part that counts, not the stories as old as the hills.