Sunday, February 13, 2011

When Your Characters Plot Against You

It is as close to the Big Literary Cliche as you will ever find:  a character sets out in search of some tangible goal such as a person, an item, or an explanation/meaning.  For some years now, it has ceased to matter to you that you do not know how to plot because you know this bit of universal vision.  It is as though you found after years of trying the thing you are talking about, which is the understanding that the play of story begins after a search followed by some unanticipated realization or discovery.

You had been reading books of all sorts, fiction and nonfiction, tearing novels apart, scribbling in the margins of nonfiction books as though you were one of the commentators in the Talmud, thinking somehow that the next book--fiction or nonfiction--would be the one that would impart the answer.  At that wondrous point, you'd be able to tell stories without having to go through the labyrinth of learning how to plot.

Your discovery was the essence of simplicity:  you didn't have to know how to plot so long as you brought in characters who thought they were right on a particular point, then made that contested point the crux of the narrative.

What you hadn't expected was the added realization that there is at least a beat, maybe even more, after the discovery.  What you also discovered was that there are no simple discoveries.  You'd have to find a way to bring that extra beat or two in, not kicking and screaming and obvious, but in a plausible way.  You also discovered that however well that extra beat or two of recognition or realization or action might work, it would not work the same way in the next story; you'd have to reinvent the wheel every time.  It cannot be, you tell yourself, a formulaic situation  because it will then produce stale, flat-dimensional travesties of story.

You also learned what a glorious process it is, under any circumstances.

But you already knew that much.

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