Monday, December 14, 2009

I felt like it, you felt like it, he, she, it, or they felt like it

Doing something or, conversely, not doing something because we felt like it is a valid excuse in that it has an emotional base, but it is not enough, not for a story, not for any kind of dramatic narrative.  "Feeling like it" is a convenience for not digging a bit deeper to find out why you felt like it.  In other words, you can be lazy in real moments, but if you are lazy within a story, your laziness will come back to haunt you.

Even though story in general has moved incrementally toward the slice-of-life or vignette or mere episode construction, story is still precedent-based, the dramatic equivalent of stare decisis in American jurisprudence.  It is deterministic.  This doesn't mean that the history must be shown as though coming from authorial POV or from the POV of one or more characters, but nevertheless, the history must be known.

The catalyst for this arrived mid-morning this past Saturday as you sat in your workshop, listening to S., reading a segment from an excellently convincing work in progress.  Her protagonist, a young woman who was adopted nearly at birth by a WASPish family from Central Coast California.  The protagonist is a Native Alaskan who has gone from the sunny clime of Santa Ynez Valley to the Arctic realities of Fairbanks, in search of her biological heritage.  After a series of failures of research, the protagonist has given up in her search, believing her biological family must be dead.  Hearing this resignation over a phone conversation, protag's grandmother catches the next flight for Alaska to say, Don't you dare give up.  A lovely move, but not quite enough.  Welling up within you was the very thing that anchored Granny into the story as a vibrant presence:  She, too, was adopted, and she gave up looking for her real parents until it was too late.  Now there is a tangible bond between the protagonist and her adopted grandmother, and the grandmother has a more convincing reason for coming to visit her granddaughter in Fairbanks.

This sense of interconnectedness nicely dovetails with your ever growing awareness of story as being a meeting point, even a clash between individuals driven by some agenda, even the simplistic-sounding one of hormones.  In this sense, story is everywhere, waiting to be triggered, by which you mean given that more basic emotion that will cause it to react to things everywhere.  Story is a landscape that has been beset with land mines, through which characters must tread, aware to some degree of the dangers, but not quite able to articulate all of them, at once suspicious, naive, cautious, casting safety to the winds.

When you find yourself doing something or not simply because you felt like doing it or not doing it, take that extra moment to ask why you felt that way--why you really felt that way.  Doing so is not likely to make you a better person.  Besides, it has become too easy to look about at the better persons and wonder aloud why they are so bent on bettering themselves.  And there it is again, come around to confront you full-on.  Taking that extra moment to examine feelings will add to the necessary tool kit of being a better storyteller.


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