Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A detailed list

You have read, thought, searched, indeed written at considerable length about the spectral quality of authenticity that may or may not appear in a given narrative.  You are in fact disappointed when authenticity does not manifest itself in works you've paid money to read; you are dismayed when, on close inspection, authenticity does not appear in your own work.

Authenticity, in both the sense of being present in a narrative or absent from it, is the literary equivalent of believability relating to the characters, their motives, and the setting of a particular story.  It is of no matter that these individuals, their agendas, and the landscapes on which they scroll are products of imagination, the writer's ability to recall, and of wistful thinking.  Without the presence of at least the foundations of authenticity, there is no belief possible, only instead the negative inertia of disbelief from which the story has a difficult if not impossible shot at recovery.

In your vision of story and dramatic intensity, authenticity is planted with details relative to the behavior of characters, the ambient mood of setting, the overall grandeur or its lack inherent in the landscape.  These details spring from the writer's imagination and emotional experiences, reminding the writer of their actuality in fact, cementing it in place with an emotional sealant.

One does not--nor do you--pull detail with caprice, as though from the shelves in a COSTCO display; you use them as judicious reminders, Post-it Notes of emotion and reality.  There it is:  Detail represents the props and triggers you use to convince yourself of the reality of persons, their agendas, and the arenas in which they flourish or fail in their attempts to put their agendas into practice.  You write to remind and convince yourself.  Although you respect the reader, wish the reader to accompany you on the journey you initiate, you do not write to convince the reader not argue at the reader.

You do ask yourself at some point in the revision process what things characters know about the world about them and about each other, believing it is as much a point of view violation to tell the reader what the characters know about each other as it is to shift mid scene from the head and sensitivities of one character to the head and sensitivities of another character.  If two characters who have known one another for a long time were to each finish sentences for the other, the reader would not be surprised, because this phenomenon is common under such circumstances.  However.  The reader, seeing two such individuals in the act of finishing sentences each for the other, is more inclined yet to believe those characters are real and that they have a tangible history that exists off the page.

Readers want to believe.  It is important for you to stand aside, allowing them to believe; they most often do not believe when you try to argue them into their belief with a welter of detail.  The next time you are in such a situation, make sure you recall how youngsters are often caught out in fanciful reporting, perhaps extending their embellishments to outright lies.  They become trapped by their own need to supply details, the presence of which might be enough to achieve the tipping point frombelief to outright skepticism.

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