Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reliable Narrator or Writer Pursuing a Story?

Time now to turn the light of inquiry squarely on yourself, reminding you as you do so of the many film noir scenes you've watched at various stages of your life in which one or more detectives was attempting to lead a suspect along the perilous border running between the landscape of guilt and the loftier one of exculpation.  The inquisitor may or may not have had a hunch or gut feeling about the relative guilt or innocence of the accused.  He may also have had the cynicism that allowed the belief that all of us are guilty of something.  Or, as some of my lawyer friends have said as the level in the bottle declined, My clients all lie to me in some degree or another.  The inquisitor may simply be doing a job that runs on the duality of guilt and innocent--suspects are one or the other.  Questioning them will bring you and them to one conclusion or the other.  No middle ground.  

Thus the question:  How reliable a narrator are you?  This followed with:  Can your account of an event be trusted?  Add to this the follow-up: Have you a motive or agenda that will color your narration?

The answer to the latter is an emphatic yes.  My motive is to amuse, to inform, to cause suspenseful apprehension, to surprise.  Much as I admire Stephen King, I do not seek to emulate his intent of frightening the reader, although I do not think frightening the reader to be an unworthy aim.

I write in the spirit of observation, energized by the growing involvement in that observation, finding in it meaning and satisfaction from the truths, untruths, layers of meaning and intent that become apparent as I go.  Of course I present questions to these invented characters and situations, thinking they too should squirm in situations as I have squirmed, sometimes in later recognition of how wrong or foolish I was, other times in amazement at what I have learned from a simple transaction.

Guilt and innocence are neither my pole stars nor my cynical quotas, nor do right and wrong call out to me for representation or dramatization; all these are merely settings within a larger landscape of experience and behavior.  Guilt, innocence, right, and wrong are merely costumes the characters wear while performing their parts in the larger drama of trying to get things done and of their attitudes and composure when confronting the true guiding forces of story--consequence.  Take away their routine, their status, and their dignity, then see how they respond, then start writing because then the story has begun.

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