Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Horse d'combat

What must a character do to get our attention?

The character must behave in some thematic way that appears motivated by feelings and social pressures to the point where the thematic behavior becomes less apparent to us and the character's own inner feelings resonate within us, either in a positive and identifiable manner or in a negative and repulsive manner.  We must not be allowed to remain neutral; neutrality unhinges us when it appears; how would it be otherwise when transferred to a character.

It is the literary equivalent of a sauna or a cold shower to begin writing while in a neutral frame of mind and emotion, then pursue a path until the mind takes over or an emotion begins to overflow into some unrealized behavior.  You could score points were you to declare that story, in its most generalized form, is unrealized behavior, true for the writer, the reader, and the character.

When the writer, the reader, or the characters become too much involved in realized, expected behavior, a fog of numbness begins to set in, dulling the desires in all three species--writer, reader, and character--to reach forth for some goal beyond the ordinary.

Writers write--you write--to keep the numbness at bay.  In earlier times, before you were able to articulate this strategy, you found some solace in reading.  A work that stunned you brought you forward with purpose into the inertia of your own unrealized behavior which, at that earlier time, was to dream of having the strength a writer of your imagined maturity had.  Your heroes were men and women thus mature and prolific.  Their lives might be going to hell around them but they were able to write their way through the hell and seem to you luxuriating in the kind of comfort you wished to have.  A work that stunned you by its awfulness, its simplistic, formulaic attack on the reader's interests, much like a battalion of ants advancing on a blob of spilled jelly, nudged you over the edge of what were the limitations on your own imagination.  If only, you thought under the constraint of wanting to learn, you could write what and as you pleased, you could share in that comfort you sought in your own bearing.

It is not so much that you are all that serene now as it is that you have had those moments of having written from the numbness of neutrality to the edge of your imagination, then trespassed on the unthinkable.

You sit among friends or even by yourself at a coffee shop, scribbling some detail on a note pad, an as yet unskilled horseman, trying to saddle the great romping steed of enthusiasm and daring so that you might get in as much as a paragraph or two before the horse throws you and you are left, amazed to have been brought along this far, amazed there are no bruises or aches from your precipitous departure from the saddle.  A few sips of coffee, a look of appraisal at a young woman much too young for you, and you are back, willing to mount the horse once again.

There are ages when the ordinary is attractive, an irony because even though you strive for the uniformity of your own age group, the awareness is growing within you that unless you do something soon, there will be long stretches of numb time for you to cope with.

It is a relief to be here now; when you see the clouds of numbness and ordinariness gathering on the horizon, you can pick up your pen and begin somewhere.

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