Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Street Cred: Reliability of Narrator, Character, and Story

Street cred is the passport to the reader's entry into narrative. Without it, writer, characters, and story are left stranded somewhere between the bookshelf and the remainder table. It is the necessary condition for a tale of any length and for the individual characters who appear in it.

Narrative and characters must impress the reader with the reasonableness of the circumstances and potential for the results inherent in them. If the characters do not strike that flinty spark of being plausible, no splints or crutches of story will hold them for long.

The reader must believe in Jean Valjean's desperation that drove him to steal the loaf of bread and as well in Javert's determination to see justice done according to his vision if it. When George tells Lenny of the life he might have led instead of the life he is leading because of his promise to care for Lenny, we must be convinced of the integrity of George's promise and the ticking time-bomb that is Lenny if we are to have any chance of a stake in the outcome of the Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Men. We must partake of Ahab's rage at the whale and the inexorable force resident in the whale is Moby-Dick is to be for us anything more than a simple, ill-fated adventure.

What better place for this credibility to begin than within the heart of the writer, that metaphoric-rather-than-anatomical place where emotions and dreams reside alongside that remarkable muscle whose job it is to pump Life's blood through the body. Not enough to say the writer should feel the conviction and essence within a narrative and the issues it depicts, the writer must experience the story to the point where the choice of every word is affected. If a word--any word--is to survive the second draft, it must earn its keep in the writer's inner cache of awareness, where the human condition and the writer's personality conflate.

There is more yet at stake; the writer needs to put to work the awareness of rules of language and the love of words with an approach that transcends mere descriptiveness and decorative trope. Language must transport the reader and convey feeling and nuance rather than show off vocabulary, the verbs and nouns revealing the undersides of the text, like stones turned over and examined during an archaeological dig. From the artfully implanted implications of the events and responses to them, the reader is able to glimpse then construct the dark side of the relationships so carefully protected by each character from others.

When such nuance is not present, readers tend to think of the narrative as one-dimensional, which by any account is flat, uninteresting. The moment there is a hint of a character doing one thing and meaning another or reacting in a way that provides the reader with some hint of a rebellion taking place just below the surface, the dimensions of the narrative increase, heightening the potentials for those necessary ingredients, tension, suspense, and curiosity.

In its most remote, academic pose, Street Cred is spoken of as willing suspension of belief. To be willing is to have considered the options, then made a choice. Good enough, so far as logic goes, but to suspend without thinking about it is to begin by caring, them to become concerned, then invested.

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