Friday, February 5, 2010

Oh, no; not Manderley again

You dreamed last night not of Manderley again, although you did in a real sense return to a scene of drama. There was a person in the dream, let's call her C. and in dreaming of the landscape in which she appeared, you were taken where you did not particularly want to return. You were aware even in the discomforting atmosphere of the dream of an amusing aside with an old friend, Sol Stein, who has corrected or perhaps argued with your memory that it was he who said "Never take the reader where the reader wants to go." It is his memory that you said this. Thus do you slide some nervous humor into a dream that tingled with discomfort for you because in it , even though you eventually knew you were in a dream, you were fearful of saying or doing things relative to C. you would not be proud of in waking life. You were fearful you would act on the propellant fuel of anger combined with frustration. This awareness spared the dream from being a nightmare, which is propelled largely by fear. This was too complex to be mere fear of the moment; it had a larger grip on your attention.

Even there, in the dream, you were aware that when you have a character whom you see as all minus, that person has yet to achieve useful entry into your story, remaining instead an albatross.

Very much as C. came to you in the dream, characters arrive as a plus sign or a minus sign and you need to take some time to develop the other side of the emerged presence. For one thing, doing so gives them a dimension. For another, it gives them something from which they can depart, change if you will, grow.

This is more than a mere Love your enemies and rivals, reach across the pew to shake the hand of your neighbor after mass has been celebrated; this is more specific: See the good and the bad in your characters, the strength and weakness, either aspect of which may emerge at the most surprising moment. Characters who gad about doing all splendid things or all despicable things are on the express track to the most dreadful destination of all, which is boredom or, if you will, predictability. In rendering a character with the burden of evil or slipping helium into her saddlebags, you are robbing that individual of humanity and dimension and authenticity, from which point you are robbing your story of any thought-provocation, allowing it to sit on the reader's sensitivity like a frozen meal from a supermarket, quickly defrosted rather than having had to take the time and spend the effort to prepare something more substantial.

It is perfectly logical and effective to introduce opponents, rivals, competitors, antagonists, agents provacateurs. In fact, not doing so is a signal of something being wrong with the narrative. It is at that point only a narrative and not a story. It becomes perfectly necessary to spend some time with these individuals, these hard-nosed opponents, giving them some injection of quirk and humanity that brings them beyond the hastily cobbled replica of Dr. Frankenstein's monster, and into the direct light, where they may for a time wrest the attention away from the reader and/or have a significant effect on the protagonist.

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