Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Confront, You Confront, He, She, or It Confronts

Confrontation may well be the head-on meeting of two or more opposing forces but it is also the spine of story and in the ironic bargain the navigation system by which most of us maneuver the reefs and shoals of our daily reality.


A sophisticated balancing act begins when we set forth to tell a story, putting onto a collision course the same forces we claim to observe in fiction while at the same time pursuing any kind of civil citizenry. We manipulate characters into irresistible situations of stress, moral confusion, and the just-beyond-arm's-reach realization of heartfelt agenda at the same time monitoring, controlling, and restraining our own behavior in the names of consideration and social restraint.

To the extent that we inject our own sense of tension and temptation into the story at hand, we invite the reader inside the raging dialectic between teller and reality, between observer and actual participant, between character and temptation.

Conventional wisdom whispers into our ear the encouragement to focus on conflict as the engine of story, an encouragement we fall upon with the eagerness and recognition of fleas discovering a long-haired dog. But our results of following such a course are fraught with the misplaced energy of thin, one- or two-dimensional characters who barely hint at the conversation to be had between writer and character, between characters and readers.

If the reader is led to feel the tension the writer experiences between story and reality, then and only then has the story succeeded in becoming more of a portal to interior conflict than a mere traffic report of conflicting agendas.

Confrontation is the meeting within each and every character, however front rank or humble walk-on, of the character's core agenda and what the appropriate behavioral dictates of that particular character--what is felt internally and desired as opposed to what is said and done in consequence. Accordingly, confrontation is present in every stave of dialogue, a simmering, bubbling catalyst that may explode into a force that causes the character to say and/or do something that betrays the protective covering, the Kevlar vest of reality worn by the character. Most characters will not willingly betray secrets of agenda until the collision with the stress of urgent confrontation, knocking at the gate like the porter in Macbeth, demanding to be let in.

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