Saturday, March 24, 2012

Got Conflict?

 When you enter the terrain of your own fiction, more often than not, you are dealing with some abstraction of conflicts and issues based on conflicts and what you consider to be moral infractions that you’d experienced yourself, fantasized about, or invented in that limbo crucible between fantasy and imagination.

Next step is to build the participants, which is to say the characters who will demonstrate these abstractions and issues.  If and when you are successful in bringing the work to draft form and, eventually, to a satisfactory fruition, you are often given the gift of seeing yourself as you in some similar situation, having learned from the entire experience in ways that may now allow you to cope with similar situations in reality.

If and when you are successful, you are frequently so because of some accidental discovery, some detail that strikes you as having remarkable cosmic significance, even though there are in fact few things related to people that are significant in that sense.  This evening, you may have discovered the kind of surprise a character in one of your short stories might well discover.  While you were looking for a particular container of detergent you remember having placed in the cabinet under the sink, you came across a 32-fluid-ounce container of a product called Cat Odor Eliminator.  You have no memory of having purchased it; you have no need of it.  You’ve about completed your fifteenth month here with no memory of having brought the product from your previous digs, much less can you recall purchasing the product nor, indeed, can you think of any time in recent history when you’d had provocation to notice cat odor.

You have no cats.  There was a time when you had cats, but not in recent memory.  The probable answer to the quasi-enigma is the maid, Lupe, who frequently brings things in, presumably for her use here.  Although she does from time to time leave you a Post-it note to remind you to bring home laundry soap or Glade, or Pine-sol, or trash bags, she has never left you a note advising the need for cat odor eliminator.

Lupe often brings flowers or fruit.  She has brought you a cut-glass vase and an embroidered pillow.  Now there is high probability she has brought you cat odor eliminator, which may eliminate things beyond the ken of your bachelor disinterest, but in this case your bachelor disinterest has become curious.

Perhaps you will one day learn.  Perhaps one day, in some proper context, one of your characters will learn, or wonder, or relate the appearance of Simple Solution Cat Odor Eliminator to some cosmic relevance.  On such things, story is hinged, devices, compounds, and concepts in orbit about one or more characters, satellites of the fates, if you will.

Another matter destined to become orbital is resident in an event or set of circumstances that took place at dinner this evening, having some relevance to your observations of last night.  Under normal circumstances, you do not recall similar things in these notes, at least not on successive entries, fearful that by doing so, these notes will become diary-like rather than their intended notes for development, re-visitation, and self-understanding.

Last night you were fearful of having your head turned by an excess of esteem from your publisher.  Tonight, you were at dinner with her and your literary agent, whereupon they both became quite voluble about the kind of writer you are and their esteem.  You have been in a more or less similar circumstance with your mother and sister.  Although you were not thinking about this at the restaurant, you are thinking about it now, in a way thanking both mother and sister and now agent and publisher for the awareness of the need to take the regard for a moment or two, enough to enjoy it, then move on.

You did, in a sense leaving the two ladies in heated exchange in the parking lot.

Only now, perhaps an hour and a half after the event, thinking what a remarkable opportunity has been handed you for a story which should have as its fulcrum your own dynamic equation of the unthinkable come to pass.  You first gave enough thought to this dynamic after reading a novel by the English novelist, Kingsley Amis, called The Green Man, in which the protagonist, Maurice Allingham, an ironic near alcoholic inn keeper, becomes obsessed with the notion of a sexual threesome involving his wife and a bar maid.  His stratagem works all too well; Allingham’s wife and the barmaid become some excited by one another that they completely ignore him.

You began looking for other such moments in your reading, finding them with some regularity to the point where you began thinking this was one of the key elements you needed to introduce to your stories.  This was not something you could pre-arrange.  It must come from the circumstances and energy of the story.

At least two of your stories have such moments, one tangential, the other an actual payoff way of ending the story.  In one, a man seeking to adopt a cat at animal shelter is denied the cat of his choice because he is not seen as a cat person.  Seething with impatience, he visits a pet shop, only to have the clerk wonder aloud if he would be more satisfied with a nice dog.

The other has to do with a man who is himself under a certain amount of emotional stress, becoming caught up in a romance with a woman who is afflicted with a quirky tendency toward shoplifting.

Get ready for a writer who finds himself sandwiched between publisher and agent.

This is not to say you are uncomfortable being admired—particularly not when it seems to serve up a concept for a story.

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