Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Writer: Flasher or Flash-drive

For the longest time, your own familiarity with tools was focused on jumper cables, those long pairs of wires that end with color-coded claws which allow you to connect the positive and negative aspects of your car battery to similarly polar claws on someone else's battery.  You became aware of this only last week when a forlorn young woman in the Loreto Square parking lot asked if you happened to have a pair.  You did, but they were miles away, in your garage, there because your year-and-a-half-old car has been mercifully free of need.  The jumper cables were a gift from someone who similarly felt the relative age and maintenance history of her car precluded the need for such primitive tools. You have been of a mind to carry the jumper cables about with you, but there is a kind of snobbery that comes with the faith of newness and coherence related to a young car.

Somewhere close-to-hand is a twenty-five-cent piece which works wonders at opening the access to the battery on your MacBook, the battery tube on your wireless keyboard, and the soft underbelly of your wireless mouse.  A Phillips head screw driver, which came with a pack of AA batteries for said keyboard and mouse, also waits service, and although you don't really think of it as a tool, a small, two-blade penknife with wooden side panels accompanies you When some mechanical matter demands its attention with the insistence of a cat wanting to come in or perhaps go out or perhaps both at the same time, most of us have some immediate sense of which tool or combination of tools will help set things right--back to working condition.  

The most important tools for the writer are often ignored, not thought of as tools because of the notion that tools are mechanical, a notion that means all persons who use tools are thus doing mechanical things.

Fact is, writers have tools, entire kits filled with them.  Unlike plumbers who love to brandish wrenches or electricians who are mindful about wearing protective gloves, ours are such things as pace or suspense or even that one tools that seems so foreign to beginners, dialogue.  But most important of all, the ones we keep closest to hand of all, emotions.

With these tools we are able to portray individuals in the various states the reader will have been in at one time or another or in situations the reader fears as imminently forthcoming, things such as death or lack of bravery or purpose under fire or of being alone or of misunderstanding or of causing others to misunderstand.  These tools are hard come by, well beyond the tools we can purchase at Sears, well beyond the ones usually displayed on shelves at Home Improvement or, worse, Wal-Mart.  As many of the masters of the various crafts have had to do, we have served an apprenticeship in which we have taught ourselves how to use these particular tools.  We have watched patiently as students and dedicated beginners have learned how to use these tools, so that their characters no longer recoil in horror or say "Oh, God," every other paragraph, no longer feel the sweat of fear erupt on their forehead or drip down shirt and blouse, who no longer shiver involuntarily nor gasp, but rather act as men, women, and children do when they are in emotion-laden circumstances.

Like any craftsperson with a decent set of tools, we keep them honed and oiled and ready to evoke for the reader what forces may be tugging at a character, not with the notion of describing to the reader how he or she should feel but more importantly how so many mammalian feelings are shared, and thus of the common humanity of which we are all a part.

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