Monday, November 23, 2009

A Table for Two

The driving force in narrative is curiosity.
Reader and characters proceed to peer beyond what will happen, into the territory of what information will be revealed in the unfolding of an event.

Two individuals are having a conversation somewhere--or so the reader thinks at first blush.  Each of the two characters has come into the scene bearing the baggage of explosive previous encounters.  They have come to THIS place because it is neutral, with no associations for either of them.  They have brought with them the gifts of a resolve to be patient with one another, each purposeful in the intent to let the other finish thoughts, sentences, ideas.

We don't know the names, gender, ages, social rank of either and yet look at how much we already know about them.  The "Go-ahead" card is down on the table; each is determined to let the other go ahead and/or finish what is to be said.

We can begin to wrap other relevant data about the armatures of these two, data that will find its way with a snow-shoes-through-a-mine-field purpose and caution, learning more about each of the characters and feeling the tangible emotional climate as they proceed.

So long as we have been triggered toward suspicion, we can suspect they will once again escalate toward combustion because they have done so in the past.  WE may also feel the mounting tension because timing and pace have become important factors in the meeting.  

Though neither has an abundance of time, each is constrained by the be patient rule. Whatever the subject of conversation, we sense the control and deliberation being exercised to the point where it becomes a tangible tension.  

The subject may never be directly articulated, as with the conversation between the couple in the Hemingway story, "Hills Like White Elephants."  The subject at hand may also be--writer's choice--carefully spelled out to the point where the reader will wonder, What is it with these two? because there is a subtext shimmering there over the conversation like the ghost of a former lover.  

We may, of course, set off with a conclusion already in mind.  They are heading to combustion, perhaps to the point of not speaking again for some weeks or months to come--perhaps not ever again.  Having opted for this approach, we can set the conversation in motion with an agenda or agreed-upon result:  Did you bring the papers for me to sign?  

What a lovely, evocative line.  "Of course I brought the papers for you to sign.  That was the entire purpose of this meeting, wasn't it?"  What a lovely lagniappe to tack onto this simple sentence:  "What do you take me for?"  And now, the attitude-tinged response.  "Well."  Or, if you are the sort who prizes greater clarity:  "Well, I thought..."

The thing has evolved; we want to know.  Reader and writer, we want to know.  Let's start with the first thing we want to know:
"What's that supposed to mean?"

There is absolutely nothing unusual in this conversation, yet it carries agenda and implication crackling between the two characters much in the manner of the electricity between Richard and Anne in Richard III, Act One, Scene Two.

What will they do?  When and how will they do it?

We still know precious little about them.  Does it say anywhere that they are analogs of two trains, speeding toward one another on the same track?  So long as the conversation is on the table, a tension begins to grow until none of us, reader, writer, or characters can endure it.  And this is the point where we begin looking closely for the optimal point in the text to end the scene, a deed that may mean leaving out a line or an exchange that has become memorable with the texture of wit, but this is not about wit; it is about two unnamed individuals of indeterminate age, gender, and moral clarity, meeting to exchange dialogue.  

We barely know enough about either to determine who they are or what they want and what they might do to us.  They could be man and woman, woman and woman, man and man.  They could be former lovers, present-time lovers, parent and child.  The choice is entirely ours.  

We have set them loose to work their way across the whiteness of page, of computer screen, of the stage of the mind.  They are nameless but they are armed with two weapons that may pierce us to the quick, drama and dialogue.

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