Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best Schemed Lays

complacency--a feeling of smug sureness and being in control; a dramatic fulcrum for characters who are about to be tipped into the froth of story either by action or inaction; a delineation between characters who believe they have sufficiency to suit their needs and characters who are hungry for change.

When the reader encounters a complacent character, said reader receives the literary equivalent of Blue-Screen-of-Death computer warnings; something earthshaking is about to happen, be it a palace revolt, or the reply to an innocently voiced "Hey, what's for dinner tonight?" being met with a "Get your own damned dinner because I'm outta here for good."

Into the story come those commandos Jealousy, Guilt, and Grief, their faces blackened, their knit watch caps pulled down low, invading and occupying the terrain, driving the circumstances and responses. 

 Complacency is metaphorically the best laid schemes of which Robert Burns wrote, and we know what comes after that, they "gang aft aglay," and do so big time.

Show us a complacent character, F. Scott Fitzgerald might have written in his longish short story, "The Rich Boy," and I'll show you a story in the making. A complacent character is astride his or her high horse, vulnerable to the low-hanging branch. 

 A complacent character might ride that high horse into thinking to make a romantic conquest or achieve a dramatic promotion in professional or academic status, only to be met with the reality of the leveling effects of falling unselfishly in love or being forced to recognize that there are others of equal or perhaps higher qualifications.

Hint: take an interesting male or female character. In one paragraph, establish him or her as being on the cusp of an easy achievement of a relatively significant goal, say chairman of a department or starring role in a stage play of extraordinary range. 

Paragraph two presents the character striding into the crucible. 

Paragraph three presents the enthusiastic response the respective characters are accustomed to experiencing. Paragraph four introduces the surprise of reality: in recognition of the male's good work, the dean is keeping the male character on, serving as a minor assistant to the new department chair; the woman is eagerly recruited to play the role of the maid to the female lead. Now the story progresses.

Additional hint: a universal theme is the awareness that life is not fair. (See, for instance, the last few lines of Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery.") How about a story in which a complacent character (as opposed to a truly competent or talented individual) wins. How about it?

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