Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What's in It for the Story?

It has become difficult to stray too far from the subject of duality; each time you have separated a pair of them from the human genome, then tracked them down to some point where you felt you either knew them well enough to take sides should the matter arise or write a story in which each was objectified by a character, then watch them duke it out to a negotiated settlement, another pair arrives at the doorstep, asking for a sandwich and a bottle of ale.

This time it is the duality of caring or not caring.  If you care about a thing, you tend to invest it with hopes, expectations.  You in effect assign it a nice in Reality where it will often reside because it will have taken on a life of its own.  No matter what the thing is, it will have assumed an importance to you, thus may you become fearful of losing it, having some harm befall it, having someone else care for it to the point of wanting to take it from you by stealth, stratagem, or purchase.  Similarly, if no one cares for it, you are at another risk in which you may be seen as a fool for thinking it of worth, or somewhere in the rat-tail of the bell curve known as the mediocrity tail.  You may also wish to feel undervalued, dumb, lonely, desperate, none of these being essentially validating feelings.  Poor Shelly, the mourner's chorus will wail; he had so much invested in X, which has effectively turned into a handful of ashes.

It is your belief that another X will come along, perhaps when you least expect it, to wrap itself about you, sway you with it's Siren's songs.  In fact, when you have invested heavily in X and it has failed to produce anything resembling your anticipations or expectations, your next step is to either wait for the next X to come forth, curtsy, then identify itself, at which point, sadder and certainly somewhat wiser, you are hit smack dab in the receptors with plans for Y, which of course turns out to be the "other" X.  By the time you have followed such X's through your twenties and thirties, you will have developed a duality of sorts, the emotional muscle memory of being lured forth by the curiosity of the new X.  Your mentor expressed it well in a short story of hers in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, "The Next, The New, The Promised."

The other possibility is not caring, a precarious path you attempted when your interests brought you into the sphere of television drama wherein, it seemed to you, that the most money came your way from the things you cared least for and were thus willing to accept what you called the Producer's Girlfriend's Dog effect where, to stretch a metaphor, you might be in pursuit of a drama along the lines of Richard III, about succession of one wily individual to some seat of great power.  The producer, who paid for your efforts or, alternately, did not pay for them, might suggest your story contain a plausible part for his girlfriend's dog since she, the girlfriend, had visions of her own, which included her dog appearing in a television drama.  You, with some degree of cynicism, would struggle to find a way to include a dog in the dramatic activity, only to be told on subsequent reading that you had ruined a previously promising story by adding a dog.  When you would object that the dog was the producer's idea, the answer was invariably, "Oh, her!  We broke up weeks ago."

Caring makes the most tenuous of ideas seem within reach, suggesting an array of relevant details and sensual information that has a feel of fizz and clamor about it.  Caring, because it involves risk, brings out the audacity in a story and in the writer's feel for it.  As the story progresses, caring increases to the point where it does not matter if the work is published or not; that becomes secondary to having produced it.  Publication/production are splendid rewards, but they are not as shimmering and effulgent as the act of completing X with care.

Not caring diminishes the craft, makes it more difficult to get into a story and do things to it that will give it upward lift.  The ghost of a thing one did while not caring comes back on one the way Banquo and Fleance came back to haunt Macbeth.  It is no small thing to roust such ghosts from the psyche.  Even in dire, melodramatic extreme, using a manuscript one has written and not cared about as a fire to warm one's self will produce the recrimination, I could have got so much warmer had I cared about this story.

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