Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When Your Inner Felix Unger Leaves a Note for Your Inner Oscar Madison


At what you’ve come to think of as an intermediate point in your attempts to understand story, you reached a point of self-evaluation where you were forced to agree with a number of editors who’d encouraged you but eventually said no to a particular project.

You were of course curious to understand why projects you were pleased with and which got you some ink of encouragement were, in the long run, not for “them.”  You’d already run through a few necessary tantrums as a result of which you’d invited all of “them” to go be fruitful and multiply themselves.  The second half of that rant always has to do with relying on your own vision, which is in real speak a great idea but in real write wants some added attention.

You spent considerable time examining opening sentences, concluding after some time that those were indeed things that got you read at least through the first paragraph.  Your discovery relating to the first and second paragraphs was an eye opener.  

Many, many verbs of thought, consideration, possibility, competed with scant verbs of action.  Many were the instances when your narrative ventured forth in the passive voice.  Er, we seem to have a problem here.  Worse yet, such tropes as “This could cause trouble down the line."

By degree, many of these nice persons, those rathers and somewhats were squeezed out of the text, transmogrified into no nonsense equivalents of dramatic self-interest.  After all, if a story wishes to remain polite, how far will it get in the world of drama?

One by one, the thought verbs were offered buy-out packages.  You had casting calls for verbs on steroids.  Action and event, formidable presences to be sure, elbowed their way into your consideration.  You said some insightful things to your narratives, but you freighted them in an inciting manner.

The scenery trembled with the force of your verbs and accusations.  Although you are a fan and devotee of the so-called hardboiled school, there was still something missing.  Some shows closed after a scant week or two.  Meanwhile, editors were applauding what you were doing to the scenery, but obdurate in their continuing sense that, in the final analysis, the work was not for them.

All the while, you came to a grudging awareness that action could not carry the entire load.  In the most Shakespearean of Shakespeare’s plays, which you venture to the histories and your one favored comedy, Twelfth Night, action alone does not bring the audience to care.  There is a missing element.

What better element could that be but consequence.  Actions need consequence.  Consequences produce more actions.  Try, for instance, arguing that last sentence with any of the authors of the various versions of Antigone.

The dance between event and their consequences is the ballet of story, making high, spinning leaps, seeming to remain aloft in defiance of gravity or common sense.

This is not to say you have found the balance you need.  Nothing could be at greater odds with the facts.  You can, however, see the need for event and consequence as partners, sometimes as graceful as ballet dancers, other times as quirky and self-absorbed as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison in Neil Simon’s expert vision of the contrary forces within each of us.

In fact, a balanced event is something that when seen through the eyes of a principal character is often a threat, a sign or sense of an opposing force with overwhelming stature.  The balanced event becomes in time that character’s enemy personified, the force and symbol that character will have to engage.

And why is this so?

It is so in order for there to be the consequences that will supply the outcome.

Thus consequences cannot for too long without outcome, just as events themselves cannot merely proliferate without consequence.

Long, driving series of events cannot sustain themselves without other props, certainly not without a throughline.  If there are too many events and no suggestion of throughline or tangible presence of consequence, we tend to call the result episodic.

Episodic worked in the magazine and movie serial, but even they had a tangible path toward an outcome.

We might not like the outcome, as indeed many at the time did not like the outcome of Conan Doyle’s early attempts to kill off Sherlock Holmes.  But many of us know how that turned out, which is to say once again, we are aware of the consequences.


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