Saturday, October 3, 2009

Little things mean a lot, but in story they mean everything.

How many times do we fall down the rabbit hole of going for the big, important theme and in the process missing entirely the small, suggestive details?

No matter how difficult it may be to quantify the answer, nevertheless we do tend to miss the explosive potential for story within the smaller details without which the larger seems mere hyperbole, exaggerations so grandiose that they are done in by their very size.  Take the simple example of dinner and a man rushing home to it, mindful of a habit of dinner at six o'clock most evenings.  The fact of dinner at six is already a defining detail of the man, his social class, his life horizons.  What will he do at, say, seven, when dinner is eaten?  Will he surf the channels on TV, rush off to bowling or a night of poker with the boys?  Will he read to his kids, help with washing the dishes, whisk his mate off to a movie?

Add the detail of the man being hungry and the added detail of dinner being late, to which we add the detail of the man's responses to these turns of event.  Wait, wait; we're backing this man into a corner from which he will emerge as a dreadfully insensitive cliche, a man whose expectations have led him into a trap from which he might not emerge marriage and illusions intact, subsequently bitter, insensitive, insulated by the beer-induced  negativity toward women and notions of "what they expect."

See how closely the use of the details of this character's expectations applies Post-It labels to his exterior, defining him in ways no mere adjective nor adverb could.  Such significant dimensions as the degree of intimacy between characters or the extent of devotion of one character to a belief system are the small things we tend to ignore when setting them loose in a scene to pursue their intent.

In most dramatic situations, we are where we are not because of some divine plan or the workings of Fate or Kismet but as the consequence of a number of related and unrelated previous events.  We are where we are in pursuit of a goal which we began some time back in the past.  We may be accordingly fortunate to be where we are or unfortunate to be here at this moment.  Homer knew this while in the act of composing The Iliad.  Beginning as he did with the wrath of Achilles and the play of that subplot, he was passing up on the need to began with the beauty contest where it all began, and Paris was chosen as the poster boy for the three goddesses who sought to win his favor.  Whether it is The Iliad or something more restrained, we are interested in story because it indirectly intimates to us that event in our life are not random, they are conjoined in actuality or by the tie of interrelationship.  We go to story not so much for the inevitability as for the removal of random movement.  We go also for the curiosity that surrounds our awareness of our own past movements and the wonder of what events they will bring down upon us.

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