Friday, April 16, 2010

I've got a feeling

Start with any event from your past and you will have a story for the future. Most events you are likely to remember are in effect given the same kind of protective wrapping you find on packages at the supermarket except that these events are not shrink-wrapped in plastic but rather in one or more emotions. With the collaboration of time, these emotions are less likely to resonate, but many of them do not settle down for a long nap; instead they are shouted down by the clamor of new emotions arriving with the onset of new events.

Early in the day of your approach to the mechanics of writing stories, you were given the conventional wisdom from so-called and self-styled experts who observed that all stories contain a measure of suspense and where actual suspense was impossible then, at the very least, there should be tension. Suspense, you discovered from within and without, is anticipation, perhaps even dread, of outcome. Tension is more a matter of which person within a cast of characters will first become so taut and pressured as to be driven to some precipitous activity that produces an emotional and logistics landslide. Story, you read in available texts from such experts, was driven by suspense and tension. Not a problem, so far as the advice goes--but it did not go far enough.

It took you to discover for yourself that emotions drive story and in fact create the suspense and tensions of which the advice spoke, which is by no means to say that you were the first to become aware of this or, indeed, that you recognized it as a fact earlier than you did. The emotions from past events have half lives. A half-life in this case is the arc of time an emotion requires to reduce itself by half. We do not ordinarily measure emotions the way we measure the likes of earthquake or wind velocity or even hardness nor temperature. We do know that some events from our past still haunt us and we wish we could undo them or at least the lingering effect they have on us. Often when we write, it is to undo such events entirely or to revise our individual performance in them to the end that our past feelings are assuaged or entirely discharged. There are times when we engage our emotions experimentally, even tentatively, curious to have the invented experience of them as dramatized in a story. A number of these provisional scenarios deliberately cross over lines of convention, wherein we are able to appoint agents of self into forbidden situations we may enjoy by proxy.

Nor is this to say that all emotions are embarked on a half-life course. No matter how old they are and how occult, the moment their recall brings them crashing into the present, we are as angry or sad or happy now at reliving them as we were experiencing them for the first time.

Emotions are the planets and asteroids in orbit about an event, they are the major players in the stories that are you and us. They influence the characters, edging them toward the actions that provide the outcomes we can live with or brood upon for as long as we shall live.

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