Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spare me the details

The devil, widely presumed to reside in the details, is more apt to be discovered lurking in the story, whatever the story might be.  This is judgment, but it is appropriate in its judgment; details do help define the personality of individuals, places, and things, but they seldom lead us awry with a mischievous motive or any motive at all.  We are all aware of being bored to irritation by the sense of being trapped in an outburst of detail.  Similarly, we are at first excited in our distraction if a particular detail or set of details leads us off track.  It is only when we discover the distraction was for naught that we become irritated on that account.  If we read something, then interpret it as devilish--misrepresenting itself as true magnetic reality--we do so with the complicity of our own motives.

Story is another matter, being a collaborative riff between writer and reader in which the former proposes, then the reader comes along to suppose.  If not outright bedeviled, the character is at least surprised.  Your own oar dipped into these waters is that the reader reads for a menu of emotional responses, uppermost among them surprise.

Story--literate, literary story--takes us out of the linear, plunks us into a mise en scene reminiscent of reality, but because it is story, it is a simulacrum of reality that has been given several jolts of causal enhancement; you might even say a bumped-up determinism.  Story is ambiguity, clothed as atmosphere.  This is where the details come in; the writer manipulates them so that surprise is not only possible, it is inevitable.

The best surprises of all relate to you as writer, with your character surrogates out there on stage, being reminded of things you already knew, surprised by the intensity with which they resonate through the hallways of your emotions.  You have known a person to the point of taking a person for granted, then gone beyond to discover even more deep nuances of that person, and so what more surprise could there be?  Whether these types of surprise come in your own life or on your pages, they are the surprises that buoy you up when the plot--which is to say some pass at reality--is not holding up, or when life--which is to say that enormous barge of event being tugged against the current--leaves you feeling the enormity of being.  Surprise does not always mean disaster; it sometimes means a discovery that reaches beyond disaster so that you and your own narrative are, for a few moments at least, where you ought to be in relationship to the shore line.

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