Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Guests of Power

 A dramatic scene may—and often does—reach vibrant intensity with only two characters on stage.  The successful scene is not limited in that sense to only two characters; it may contain as many more characters as you can accommodate without sending your story into a downward spiral where all sense of tension, suspense, and interest are lost.  The culprits in such situations are too many irrelevant details, the anxious author wanting to explain things, and characters being present without being given agenda or expectation.

In addition to the characters on stage in a successful scene, one, two, or many; there is another important presence you often overlook, particularly in early drafts.  When you are reminded that you have forgotten about this presence, you with some frequency need another run through the dialogue amongst the characters, checking to see if there are ways to imply the presence of this important element.

The presence is power—make that Power, the advantage one character has over one or more characters in a scene.  The power may be social, reflecting the status or achievement of the character in power.  By the same calculus, the power may be generational, the older generation commanding and receiving deference from the younger generations.  But this may be in reverse as in an older individual in the care of supervision of children or grandchildren.

Power maybe sexual.  An individual who is sexually attracted to another may be already more manageable to the whims of the person who is aware of this power in the first place and who is willing to use it as a form of negotiation. In similar fashion, power may relate to intelligence, creativity, and/or artistic ability.

It should go without saying (but does not necessarily do so) that life and events in Reality tend to be more episodic and linear than scenic, which is cause for some of the power factor to be vitiated. In many cases, Reality circumstances do not need to be resolved or are mere opportunities for the participants to be polite or perhaps even more than polite, passive.  Cultural and social conventions are then seen as signposts to be observed or allowed to momentarily lapse, with no suggestion of harm being done.

Dramatic situations—scenes—often involve an unthinkable exaggeration of pressures or impulses. The more this “unthinkable” pressure is applied, the more yet another presence is felt on stage, the presence of tension.  Yet another presence can be seen hovering in the wings, waiting for its opportunity to appear.  This presence is Curiosity, a first cousin of suspense in that the reader is at first curious to see what happens next, then steps over the boundary into desperate to know, addicted to know what happens and what the presence of yet another guest—Consequences—will be. All these presences are the guests of power.  So far as the writer and many readers are concerned, they are welcomed guests.  Who does not like to read a narrative wherein But it is wise to consider how many instances you see about you which speak to you of power, instances you are well advised to remember for use in your own fiction, such editorial and teaching circumstances that come your way.

At this stage of your investigation and ruminations here, you are willing to divide your power players into two groups, those who have the power in full awareness and appreciation of it, and those who have the power but are by no means aware of it or, consequently, thinking to use it as a weapon.  This last could comeback to haunt you.

For now, it is enough to consider the effect power can have in a scene, rereading your own work and such work of others that comes readily to hand, for instance the opening scene of the new Denise Mina, The End of the Wasp Season, in which, Sarah, on page one, first paragraph, is confronted by a force that is at first an abstract power, the power of undifferentiated fear, which, by page ten, is specific and exquisite.  “ ‘I’ve got money…,’ she said to no one. “  This is followed by:  “ ‘ Money?’ said the angry boy quietly. ‘You think this is about money?’”



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