Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'll pass

passivity--not in motion or operation; grounded in the inertial state of rest; a condition of lack of will; inert; lacking agenda or goal,thus reliant on outside energy or influence; having little or no motivation.

As a quality or characteristic, passivity is an attitude a character can least afford. Except for brief moments when a character may be stung by defeat or grief or fear,passivity precludes the energy and directed motivation toward goal that a character needs to sustain story. Dramatic narrative cannot proceed without a tangible vector of goal or a plan set in place to implement a goal. Characters have to want something; they need to want something with enough passion to be driven toward achieving that goal--either that or they need to be shown as they respond to the frustrations preventing them working toward that goal.

A frustrated housewife is one kind of story, finding significant numbers of readers. Add to the housewife-as-Sisyphus (See) the element of that housewife being a musical genius, capable of extraordinary composition and concert-level performance ability on an instrument, and the inherent story takes on yet added dimension and significance.

The Golem of Prague represents an example of a mythical character who was created from mud, given a mission, which it achieved, then was deactivated or rendered passive. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (appx. 520 BC--=/- 430) is best known for the episode in his life where he was yanked by circumstances from relative passivity to the surpervisory operation of maximum leadership to accomplish one goal, whereupon he retired from his leadership position, returning to a passive, contemplative life.

Characters are best identified by their goals. Those who seem to lack ambition or drive do not inspire empathy from the reader--unless the reader experiences the revelation that a seemingly passive character has shifted inertia for a particular reason, a reason that immediately is seen as an obstacle to be overcome.

One of the best obstacles to set before a character is frustration (another is guilt); the unquestionably worst obstacle to confront a character is passivity.

Compare and contrast: Oblomov (1859)by Ivan Ganchorov, and Ragged Dick (1867) by Horatio Alger. The eponymous Oblomov was an affluent member of the Russian landed gentry, a nice enough fellow who was given over to sloth and procrastination to the point where he remains in bed for the first hundred fifty pages of the novel. Author Ganchorov was clearly using him to make a statement about nineteenth century Russian nobility. The protagonist of Alger's novel is also a metaphor. Dick is a poor shoe-shine boy who, through unceasing hard work, clean living, optimism, and determination, rises from the ranks of poverty into the middle class status held forth as The American Dream. An immediate point of difference: Oblomov was passive, Ragged Dick was the very opposite.

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