Saturday, July 24, 2010

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

You know how it is.  You suddenly become aware something is missing, perhaps your reading glasses or your pocket knife.  You pause for a reflective moment in which you seek and are given the location of the place you last sat when reading, or where the knife might have slipped from your pocket and into its bosomy folds.  Of course, the living room sofa.

Energized by this awareness, you pounce on the sofa cushions, confident they are the source wherein you will recover the lost item.  Sure enough, your memory, in tandem with a sharply honed instinct for such recovery, has served you well.  The glasses or the pocket knife reveal themselves.  But also you discover a trove, a true discovery:  coins, a forgotten pen, paperclips, and, if you are at all like me, shards of dog snacks.

You in fact discovered more than you anticipated--which is exactly the path you have come to expect each time you read or write a story.  In the metaphoric tumble of cushions, paperclips, and interstices within the story, there is the mystery guest discovery along with the sought after target.

In the legal sense, discovery is relevant evidential information which, our legal code dictates, must be available for prosecution and defense.  In story convention--and you will, of course, have noticed the shift from code to convention in my comparison--discovery is more subjective because some readers (and some characters) are quicker on the up-take.  Note also how important vital information, relevant information, has become in both disciplines, a significant difference residing in the underlying principal of fairness. In the law, information must be as balanced between the two parties as possible.  In other words, no surprises, even though fairness as a quality is often little more than an abstraction.  In a story, however, all information is subject to manipulation, not the least of which is point of view.  Information in story is released to create suspicion, wariness, and mistrust, among the characters themselves and between character and reader.  How delightful it is to have deduced from information supplied about a particular character that the individual is devious and uncaring, only to arrive at the discovery that the character is indeed empathetic, concerned, and admirable.  It may come as a disappointing discovery if a character we have assumed to be altruistic and companionable turns out to be self-centered.

We read for discovery in all its nuances.  These discoveries make us more alert to the ways of interpreting our own daily life as well as helping inform us of ways of behavior in which we can become better discoveries to those we care about.

Think of it this way as you go about your daytime job, then return home for a writing session:  you represent enough loose change between the cushions of a sofa to amount to a latte or cappuccino at a first-rate coffee house; you are there, waiting to be discovered.


Storm Dweller said...

Ahh yes, discovery. My biggest discovery has been that my stories take on a life of their own once I begin to put pen to paper. My protagonist/s will enter a scene that I have carefully plotted out, and some new character will inevitably introduce themselves, making their entrance, whether grandly or quietly it never ceases to be something dramatic, as I, the author, politely ask them, "Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my scene?" The response is usually, "Why, I live in this world, and I am a defining force for the journey your protagonist is on," if it's not, "An who are you to ask?" And my thought in response is always, "Well that's a new one on me. Carry on then." Even as my carefully plotted story begins to diverge and take detours from the path I originally intended, and I as the author discover new pieces of the world I so narcissistically believed was my own creation.

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