Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Believe it. Or. Not.

 Another important word for the storyteller is "belief," which, as you understand the word, is a frame of reference or conviction about the existence and validity of a person, place, or thing.  Belief may also be a state of mind or an emphatic assumption that a proposition or some aspect of a noun has logical and emotional foundations in reality.

You believe in the reliability of a person, place, or thing; you believe in the presence of tangible things within that person, place, or thing.  In similar fashion, you believe in the unreliability or unsubstantial nature of the person, place, thing, even extending to the object being a construct such as a philosophy.  You believe, for an example to set this material in effect that "I think, therefore I am" is a construct without a stable foundation.  Thinking is not, you believe, the determining factor of your existence.  You would, you believe, exist without thinking.  All too often you have existed without thinking.  And so there we go on the adventure of defining a noun to the point where you believe it is believable, a condition you believe to be of significant importance for yourself and for all who would tell story.

Why is this so?  Even if you are inventing something, you must be able to sense enough of it to believe beyond thought about its potential to exist among the things known to you as real, without being pointed out as unreal, unconvincing.  There is no simple equation here, not according to your belief.  You may see an invention of yours, growing more sturdy with everything you write about it, to the point where you may have convinced yourself of its reality.  This does not assure you that anyone else will believe the reality of your imagined thing.  Others may, however, believe you are deluded, their belief enhanced by your insistence on the reality of your invention.

The best you can do is learn from your own practice, your own writing efforts, and your own thinking efforts to produce events involving invented individuals at invented locales in invented times, producing enough invented details to make the fiction appear real and, thus, believable.  It is your experience that many beginning storytellers use the argument "but it really happened" as a defense against the counter argument from a reader that it didn't seem real.

In real life, during the past few months, you have been involved in a contest of beliefs wherein you presented a scenario in which you were a participant, then heard another participant at the same event disagree completely with your assertions of relevant events.  Had this been a story, you would have gone for another opinion, looking for ways to make your version of the incident appear more universal in its believability, but since this was real life and you believed your version of events with such conviction, your first response was to laugh, which produced the triggering effect of causing a third party to feel you were in effect questioning his integrity.  Fact is, you were.  Added fact, challenged beliefs provoke and evoke strong feelings.

Test case:  You are at a family gathering or a gathering of friends.  Not really relevant if alcohol is being served.  Let's say the more prevalent spirit is the one of reminiscence, fueled by the punch being spiked by nostalgia.  You tell a story in which you recollect a past event, your narrative voice intending affection, amusement.  To add a detail, you even poke a bit of fun at yourself.  Now comes the fun:  another person at the gathering takes immediate umbrage to your account, questioning the propriety of you having told the story in the first place.  Aha, another point of view checking in on the same dramatic information.  You have a splendid demonstration of how multiple point of view can add questions as they relate to reliability and as they affect belief.

You are screwed if the reader does not believe you, even though you believe you've given a pretty reliable account.  Nevertheless, you revisit the material, wondering.  You believe you cannot please everyone, but do you have any real sense of the math involved? In some circumstances, you believe it possible to respond with a particular measure of schadenfreude is someone you do not particularly like has the temerity to take issue with your representation.  After all, what does he or she know?  Look at the things he or she has published.  But on the other hand,suppose that very person, the one you cannot abide, says of your story, it was believable.  Do you take credit for having moved him or her along the path toward sophistication in the slipstream of your invented landscape.

Just this afternoon, you were positing the great potentials for enmity among academics, a subject dear to your heart because you do have a concept floating about that you would like to play with at length.  One individual in your group reminded you that, large, supportive local writing community here in Santa Barbara to the contrary notwithstanding, there are rich veins of enmity among writers, two of whom you have been known to take off on in the occasional venting of spleen.  This caused you to flash on two of the more contentious writers of recent times, Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, their one-time fast friendship having come to the parting of the ways, you believe, because Wilson, not happy with some of the translations Nabokov was doing from his native Russian into English, undertook to teach himself Russian, whereupon he took Nabokov to further task.

Back to the world of accounting:  What do you do when someone does not believe you, your vision of reality, your stories set in your version of reality?



This has made you wary.  You hope your wariness has not made you too timid nor in fact at all timid; you prefer being the elephant in the living room or the salon, not above galumphing about, knocking over the furniture.  It is because you believe.

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