Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eliminate the Middle Man

Not until you find yourself immersed in a progressive muddle of events, where the dominoes of causality have begun to fall in relentless cascade, do you appreciate story as it ought to be experienced.

At such moments as these, the Cosmos has become personified for you.  Events are no longer random or freeway pile-up, they cry out in a chorus of conspiratorial voices, a four-part harmony of the unthinkable, dropping in for a visit.

This is the nature of story for you.  At first, there are questions or attempts to get somewhere or, conversely, attempts to get away from somewhere.  Perhaps there is a quest or some puzzle to be solved.  Individuals in want or fear, in reach or repel, dislodging an unintended chunk of Cosmos that takes on a momentum of its own gravity, careening, bumping, possibly bouncing.

Story brings down the drapes and curtains, trips over telephone wires, dislodges the tangle of wires connecting computers to peripherals.  Story is conspiracy theory, a cascade of events, a—if you will pardon the reversal of fortune—cornucopia of misadventure.  Story is Brer Fox’s Tar Baby, in which all who come in contact are drawn into its sticky clutches.  When such moments happen in life, we say this concatenation cannot be real; when such events happen in story, we say the same thing, pause for a moment when deciding where to cut back for the sake of plausibility.

We use plausibility as some sort of measuring gauge.  How much is too much to seem believable; how much is not enough to be convincing.

If the events of a story seem too managed, we say of it that it is too plot driven, too mechanical.  If the story does not appear to have some personal agenda against one or more of the characters, we say of it that it is lacking in dramatic intensity.

The right amount, then, is exactly the critical amount the principal character cannot seem to bear, the one thing that puts her or him over the edge before allowing that one last thing, the thing we as readers or as writers believe will send the character over the edge.  Of course we require that one additional thing.  We need the character to be over the edge because we are not comfortable when we are not over the edge or feeling precariously close to it.

Our relationship with story is a complex one, half cynical, half an attempt to believe in things we cannot see or rationalize.  We want the reassurance of story to hold Life at bay, at the same time relying on Life to reassure us that story is the distillation of experience.

We are whom we are, individuals stuck on the fringes of life and of story, eternally vulnerable.

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