Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Capts. Kirk and Picard Held Hostage by Star Trek Fans

As a writer, you show up for work every day, pass through the portal, glance nervously at the time clock, swipe your card, then make for the desk, where you bring out your Thermos of coffee and any other relevant tools, not the least of which may be books with stories from other writers, both from past times and contemporary.

Through an array of rituals and habits, you set off, either reading or writing, your goal to get past the warm-up stage and “into” what you are reading or writing as quickly as you can.

If and when you are truly “in” a story or Reality-based situation, you demonstrate your participation through expectations, anticipation, and a willingness to speculate about future outcome.

By its nature, “in” means the opposite of passive.  In fact, if you do not have expectations, you’d not be reading a particular type of book, say mystery or science fiction or fantasy, in the first place.  In Reality-based situations, you may go so far as to have expectations of boredom or other forms of results that are distasteful to you.  In some Reality-based situations, you may do what individuals bored with their books do; they put the book down or turn off the reading machine.

Sooner, rather than later, you begin to root for or form responses to a lead character, as in the case of Tom McGuane’s remarkable short story “Casserole” in a recent New Yorker.  You were building a sense of wariness about aspects of your own behavior, wondering if you were not overstepping boundaries between not suffering fools, and being a touch cranky.  Perhaps the better word is impatient.

There are times when you read certain writers not for the same pleasures you experience when you read other writers but instead because these writers quickly send your cholers racing upward.  You read for the expressed purpose of being outraged, outrage being a powerful force to bring to your own work.

You enjoy developing anticipations and expectations in the things you read, particularly if you are wrong in the sense of having been led to expect one response or reaction, then given another, at once more imaginative while remaining plausible.

You are not pleased to foresee some outcome.  You in effect want to be wrong, at least surprised.  In the otherwise powerful and absorbing novel Gone Girl from Gillian Flynn, you were so hopeful that the throwaway cell phone buzzing in the male protagonist’s pocket didn’t mean he had a secret girlfriend.  This was not a deal breaker, stop reading, put the book down, but it was a disappointment rather than an enhancement.  Part of your enjoyment from reading the novel was asking you how you’d have supplied the clue that the character had a secret girlfriend.

Part of your near addictive following of the television drama Breaking Bad, comes from the concept, which is in its way as simple and straightforward as the driving force in William Faulkner’s outstanding venture into stream-of-consciousness, As I Lay Dying.
A high school chemistry teacher, diagnosed with a Stage Three cancer of the lungs, wants to provide for his family.  Thanks to his background in chemistry, made more plausible by the backstory, Walter White has the ability to prepare a high quality methamphetamine, which commands a premium price in the market.

Addie Bundren is dying.  The arc of the story is to provide a casket for her, then transport her body from the family farm to the nearby town of Jefferson.

In both cases, the straightforward goal produces what Faulkner himself has referred to as the agony of moral choice.

Breaking Bad unceasingly throws complications at the ensemble cast to the point where we expect the complication but are nevertheless surprised by the nature of it.  This is a good time, you tell yourself, for an unexpected complication.  That of itself may be redundant.  If a complication is expected, there’s bound to be some reflection on the wits and resourcefulness of the characters.  A surprise complication is a more engaging complication.  A surprise complication that makes one or more of the characters vulnerable from unexpected consequences is even more a part of a web of intrigue that maintains emotional involvement.

What do you look for in story? You look for the chance to care enough about the circumstances to the point where you find yourself making choices and assumptions for the characters.  You see yourself imputing motives that may or may not exist.  You see yourself confronting the characters in similar circumstances.  You are not only “in” someone else’s story, you are taking that story down the road of fan fiction, where readers make up their own adventures of characters they have brought so deeply inside their own imagination that they overstep the boundary between the character as presented by the author and their own wish for continued contact with the character.

Captains Kirk and Picard are in a sense held hostage by Star Trek fans who have found the portal into the imagination through which myriads of writers pass every day, on their way to work.

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