Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Boundary: Where No Good Character Fears to Tread

A boundary is a demarcation of limit or extent; it is the edge of a terrain, landscape, attitude, or principal. In dramatic narrative, boundary is a limit of behavior a character sets for himself or which is imposed either by other characters, conventions, ethics, legal principals, or a combination of these. Significantly, boundary in story represents the terrain beyond which a character resolves not to venture, but of course there would be no story if he or she remained true to his/her word.


Boundary represents the grown-up version of a child being limited to a specific yard or block or neighborhood which must not be transgressed without parental approval or guidance of some sort. Boundary may be physical, moral/ethical; it is often the place where story begins, with a character having just defied boundary limitations in action that represents breech of authority, faith, convention, or ethic. In such cases, a significant layer of the story is the dramatic consequences the character faces, particularly as pangs of conscience or lack of such pangs have influential effect on the subsequent behavior of the character.

Some of the more basic instances of boundaries being ignored would involve a young girl of a particular religious faith sneaking off to date a boy of another, proscribed, faith, a sort of Romeo-Juliet situation in the making; perhaps of an individual resorting to shoplifting or some behavior coming under the general heading of white-collar crime. A more sophisticated violation of boundary would be an occasion in which an individual of either gender required a form of heart surgery in which one or more valves needed replacement. Make the patient an orthodox practitioner of Judaism or the Muslim faith and factor in the replaced valve coming from a pig, thus transgressing boundaries in a significant way. What are the consequences? Would the individual be banished from synagogue or mosque? How would the individual self-esteem hold up? What would such a person then do that the same person would never consider before the scientific intervention?

The mere mention of the word boundary opens wide the portals of story potential: an individual who is seen beyond his or her boundary may be seen variously as an adventurer, a fool, or someone who is hopelessly lost; an individual who strays from the boundaries of convention in which he was raised may be seen as a rebel or a lost sheep. A boundary in fiction is set up or already exists to be trespassed upon or stepped over or completely obliterated; it is a challenge of culture, type, convention--anything that restricts behavior, knowledge/understanding.

If we begin with two characters--your personal argument for openers--then add conflicting agendas and social or moral boundaries, story is bound to happen; the twenty-first century equivalent of the free-range chicken.

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