Thursday, July 15, 2010

Letters to a Young, Middle-Aged, or Geezer Writer, XII

Story elements often come in pairs, a direct causal relationship emerging that clamors for our attention the way certain atoms appear to cry out for union with other atoms.  One such unwilling-to-go-it-alone element is care, which is dramatic shorthand for Why should the reader care?  This, in turn, is short hand for the more inclusive Why should the writer care in the first place?

You should care because all the dramatic elements and their order of appearance were chosen on your watch.  You have also chosen the tone and theme your work will impart to most readers.  You have in effect held a magnifying glass to the process by which you feel, think, imagine, and represent.  From this representation, the universe as experienced by you comes forth.  It is a vision fraught with competing agendas.  Sunlight caught up in a true magnifying glass will focus enough energy to begin one of the more primal reactions yet known, the combining process known as burning.  Ideas caught up and brought to focus in the magnifying lens of your process brings to life another primal force, the use of imaginative cognition to engage and solve problems large and small.

Care--the concern felt by writer and reader--is attracted to and looking for attachment to risk.  You've probably noticed how certain food combinations--say baked beans and brown bread or rice and beans, or peanut butter and sesame seeds--seem to naturally go together.  This is because these combinations combine to form a complete protein.  Care and risk go together because each element on its own is such a splendid force in story.  Taken together, they form a kind of bonding of concern that makes the story have a lingering, memorable meaning.

Persons in real life take chances to risk a favorable outcome; in story they are driven by an extra measure of caring to take that added measure of risk in order to effect the hoped for outcome.  Against seemingly impenetrable odds, your characters are risking their understanding of the intent of others.  They are risking that their own actions will be correctly understood by all who are close to them.  Similarly, the writer is risking the seemingly straightforward enough result of being understood by readers.

Writing anything, even a grocery list, is a risky business because you are immediately confronted with it as proof of your forgetfulness or your misreading of the amount of laundry soap available.  Worse yet, the grocery list is living reproof that you failed to keep conscious tab on your management of peanut butter or toothpaste.  Writing is a rebuttal of your personal sense of Reality and your perceptions of your own powers of observation.  You thought this was a compelling story, your early drafts suggest with an accusatory snigger.  All the supports holding up that idea have vanished like dispirited lovers, leaving you with this blob from inner space--your own inner space.  You need the very quality some writers seem to have in excess of their abilities to get things down on paper--an outspoken confidence in your craft, your particular vision.

Coming upon a Moleskine notebook left behind by a writer, you might consent to a few pages of scattered reading just to see what the writer was working on, how the writer's process was presenting material, what the writer felt to be of interest, but let anything happen to your own notebook and panic bubbles up to the surface.

Don't ever write anything you have no passion for.  Take whatever chances are available to get your passion articulated to the point where you can apply it to your pages.  No fair writing "The good parts go here."  We get to see the good parts, and if there truly aren't any, you truly need to invent them.  Now.

1 comment:

Storm Dweller said...

Care and Risk, the necessary elements to form a complete engagement between writer and reader, just as peanut butter and sesame seeds complete a protien. I love as a reader being thoroughly engaged in a tale, where I might respond violently should the outcome not be what I suspect. I still recall throwing a book across the back seat of a bus when my favorite character took a suicidal move to win the battle being fought. I expected the win, but not the loss, and yet I still picked the book back up because my care and concern were so great, I had to know what cause and effect the character's death precipitated in the rest of the tale.