Friday, July 3, 2009

The unthinkable

unthinkable come to pass, the--a condition in story in which the worst-case-scenario in the mind of a character is played out; a crucial point in a story where the writer discovers the true site of mischief and energy; the meeting point where the worst fears of the writer and one or more characters meet--and circumstances up the ante.

It is more than a drug deal gone sour (No Country for Old Men) or the sudden resignation of one of the team of bank robbers (Dog Day Afternoon) or the protagonist of Vanity Fair thinking she had married her way into a modicum of respectability. Llewellyn Moss, while out hunting, chances upon the money in No Country, where things become even more unthinkably inevitable when Anton Chigurh enters the story. The two remaining bank robbers in Dog Day become enmeshed in a stand-off with the police, which was more or less expected. The unthinkable element was the revelation of why the bank was robbed in the first place. Thinking she has achieved some measure of respectability and security in her marriage to the equivalent of a low-echelon civil servant, Becky Sharp is given the following proposal: "Come back and be my wife," Sir Pitt pleads. "Birth be hanged. You're as good a lady as ever I see....I'm an old man but a good'n. I'm good for twenty years. I'll make you happy, zee if I don't. You shall do what you like; spend what you like; and 'av it all your own way. I'll make you a zettlement. I'll do everything reg'lar.." At which point "the old man fell down on his knees and leered at her like a satyr."

For an opportunist such as Becky Sharp, how is this the unthinkable come to pass? "Rebecca started back, a picture of consternation. In the course of this history, we have never seen her lose her presence of mind; but she did now." Author Thackeray reminds us how the tears now forming in her eyes were some of the most genuine she ever wept. "'Oh, Sir Pitt!' she said. 'Oh, sir-I-I'm married already."

You would not want to be around at dinner time, when her husband came home, with a sporty kiss and a "Hey, Babycakes, what's for dinner?"

Invention begins in story after the unthinkable has come.

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