Sunday, January 1, 2012

Beginning Bluster

  In retrospect, beginnings of stories seem the most difficult because of the hovering need to explain and invent backstory.  The idea presents itself with a vision of one or more persons already caught up in that grand dramatic glue of consequence, trying to accomplish some goal or prevent some internal or external force from establishing a beachhead.  The beginnings of essays, studies, or profiles seem difficult because they must present an intriguing puzzle the reader will then wish to see resolved.

The only certainty in the beginning of a story is that the persons you have chosen to engage this existential puzzle don’t, can’t take no for an answer, will not even accept a maybe; they must seem to follow the path of inevitability.  If they are met early enough in their engagement with the problem or puzzle that awaits them within the causal maze of the developing story, they may not have summoned the resolve to commit.

But it is no surprise when they do; the important factor is that you believe they are in.  If you are fortunate enough to have readers, they may not believe your characters are “in,” which means they can bail at any moment.  You must understand that your people were wired to commit to whatever it is that causes the story to accelerate.  You must believe it with every word you write, removing any and all words of equivocation.  These guys are caught by drives and attractions they did not know they had. Either that or they knew they were vulnerable the moment they saw the story forming, and tried to keep themselves from entering it.

Once you have reached this part of staging the story, the process begins its work for you and you are as “in” as your characters.  When you least suspect it, sometimes on evening walks, sometimes while reading, sometimes taking that extra, deliberate sip of coffee, a bit of background or motivation comes to you.  Fred is new to this business.  Millie doesn’t want to be here.  Arnie wants out.  Dennis is bored silly and when he becomes bored, he is likely to take greater risks than he ought.

In your current nonfiction project, it appears to have become vital for you to be focused as well on a fiction project, the better to help you describe the roar of dramatic information careening about in your mind like bumper cars at a carnival amusement zone.  Read information for story elements.  The nonfiction work is, after all about the dramatic genome, and the genome is stored information.  Instead of physical traits being coded in DNA, story elements are coded in the dramatic genome, the container you are bringing to life and in whom you must be viscerally certain if you are to stand a chance of convincing anyone else it exists.

Elements such as intent, agenda, fear, reflexes, and emotional scar tissue live within the dramatic genome, imparting such “information” as desire, need, and vulnerability.

How often you have used the metaphor of the linear accelerator for dramatic purposes.  You have in a real sense speeded up two projects, a thoughtful study of nonfiction and an irresistible mystery, both predicated on innate qualities you see in nonfiction studies and in mystery novels.  They are whirling about, gathering momentum.  You wish to accelerate the speed of each, then send them crashing together with the risky hope that each will emerge as something you can then press onward with to the middle game, where the projects take on lives of their own, developing in ways that will amaze, dismay, and perplex you to the point where you can then move toward the final third, the resolution.  In the nonfiction, the resolution you are looking for is the arrangement of all the elements in a way that will demonstrate to others how to define their own dramatic genome.  In the fiction, the persons you’ll have created will be able to define their own coming to terms—or not—with what they’ve got themselves into and how well they’ll have coped.


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