Friday, December 18, 2009

A Hall Pass

Not all that long ago,you were thinking about a landscape in which everything was at rest, or to put it another, more dramatic way, in a waiting state of stasis, that is, in a state where things are happening that may not yet be evident. A huge boulder, say, is in the process of becoming a driveway path of small pebbles. The boulder does not know this yet. For one thing, boulders don't even know about the pathetic fallacy; they remain what and where they are, benign, inanimate, awaiting such fates as the elements will provide.

Bring a person into that landscape, with a boulder or two awaiting their fate, perhaps a few trees expressing volition to become newspapers, even a stream, on its way to overflowing its banks, working up a little erosion damage. The character who wanders into such a setting may want nothing more complex than a good rest or a night's sleep, perhaps even a drink of water. The moment a character enters a scene, we have a pretty good sense in general of what's going to happen. Something will actually go wrong or appear wrong enough to cause the character concern. That is, of course, if we're talking story.

A character goes to a landscape to meditate or walk the dog or go fishing or watch the aurora borealis. Not a story. Event. Even intent. But no story. Story doesn't arrive in the scene until at least one other event occurs. Someone is already there. A huge bear appears, looking for food. An unanticipated event that produces an emotional response such as suspicion, disappointment, fear, frustration. Sure, the responses may be more positive in nature, but sooner or later, something has to go wrong in the sense that the things seeming so positive now have huge red tags of consequence tied to their big toe.

So you look at the landscape, wondering what it is about it that will give you the slight hitch necessary to move you from the real world, which has its own set of troubles, to the place of story, which has more sophisticated troubles that date back to the times when we barely had a language, traveled in small groups, and hoped to hell we were following herds of animals who knew a thing or two about how to locate food. The writer likes to think of himself/herself as a tour guide under such circumstances, but it often works out that the writer is the last to know, reinforcing your own belief that you have to listen to the characters and how they read the instructions emitted by the landscape.

Least of all does the writer know, which is the advantage of being a writer in the first place. If you knew, you'd not be all that much of a storyteller. Or to put it another way, whatever you are now as a storyteller, you'd be less than that if you went into a new story knowing what the answers were and what the best route to follow is. You want to be misled, to make wrong turns, to have your preconceived notions stood up on end.

In the long run, it is even better for you if your characters don't all think you have such great people skills, instead telling you egregious lies or saying things to one another behind your back. Your characters remind you of yourself when you were a kid, eager to move away from parental oversight so that you could go forth to screw up big time, then come back to write about it.

Watch yourself, kid; it's a story out there.


Tom Bailey said...

"You want to be misled, to make wrong turns, to have your preconceived notions stood up on end."

Fail your way to success?

I like it.

Very wise words

Kindest regards,
Tom Bailey

Lori Witzel said...

I think I found such a place last week. Stop by when you get a chance.