Tuesday, August 2, 2011

That's Your Story and You're Stuck with It

 You frequently ask two questions in class:  Who's telling the story?  Why?

Even though you place particular emphasis on that last question, you are invariably met by the glare of your own energy being reflected back at you.

It is not as though you hadn't asked the same questions of yourself countless times.  In your own defense however, you thought your response was more focused.

The teller or tellers of a particular story make all the difference in the way it resonates with the reader and some potential for human understanding is released.

Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson brought their own artistry to the David Mamet screenplay of the James M. Cain film, The Postman Always Rings Twice.  A splendid example of the creative teamwork that informs a motion picture.   But even with all these extras, adding to the tone of the finished product, the 1981 version was lackluster when compared to the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner.  Lange is so much more the consummate actor than Turner, but when Turner-as-Cora tells Garfield-as-Frank that she can't stand it when her husband touches her, she has transcended acting and brought an important story point to life.

Sexual tension is a powerful force, but it is not of itself story, it is a trigger.  When Cora tells Frank those words, she has caused the destabilizing event that sends the story careening toward its destiny.  The Garfield-Turner telling set the bar.  Nicholson,Lange, Mamet and the director, Bob Raphaelson, could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.

How to get the right characters as your narrator?  Look for the ones who have the potential to surprise you, to have that instinctive knowledge that they have bet more than they ought on an outcome, or those who are too confident of their plan to achieve their goal.  Better still, someone who has a hidden agenda that remains hidden until it is thought to be safe.  Ah, how we are misled by our thoughts.

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