Thursday, September 16, 2010

Conventional Wisdom

Some of the conventions associated with storytelling are mutable, changing every century or so.  In the eighteenth century, for example, it was not unusual for an author to directly address the reader, perhaps even slip in an occasional cautionary essay or discourse that veered sharply away from the developing line of story.  Point-of-view became another convention, moving more toward the epicenter of a narrator-character's innermost thoughts.  Yet another convention is the use of a two-line space break or some other visual device to signal to the reader, just as an indent signals to the reader, a shift in time and setting.

One particular rule of thumb is less a convention than it is sound dramatic physics:  Each character presumes and believes himself/herself to be right, even in the throes of indecision and dithering.  Such is my way, the theoretical character will argue.  I am powerless to stop it from possessing me.  A character proceeding with this belief is bound to cause story, this discovery being a gift, a boon to you who could not plot his way out of a boring party.

Even when you are at the low end of the ego supplement scale, thinking some real or imagined weakness has doomed your chances to attract Ms. Right or get The Job, or have a particular manuscript accepted, you yet consider yourself right to have behaved as you did, pursued such a goal, entertained such a notion (entertained, hell; you took it out for a night on the town).  It is no surprise then that with such a deeply held belief, you push characters and situations around.  But you are sufficiently experienced with the behavior of individuals within the quotidian world that you are often surprised you characters do as requested.  You continuously expect some display of spontaneity or outright rebellion; you in fact expect to be surprised.  Thinking about the matter, you reckon it probable that there is a direct ratio of relationship between your expectations and you being surprised by any given outcome on any given day.

There are, you suppose, individuals who would say such a vision makes you a cynic, perhaps even a pessimist, but the joke is ultimately on them.  You get too much pleasure from the surprise to be cynical for any length of time at all.

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