Friday, September 7, 2012

Think about It


The more you concentrate your focus on point of view and interior monologue, the closer you find yourself feeling a closer bond with your characters.  This creates for you the sense of knowing what their goals and agendas are, allowing you to fantasize exchanges of dialogue such characters in real life might have.  The results are painful.  Seeing the relationship between characters brings up events, moments of teasing and exchanges of confidence that are tangential to the story but revelatory about the characters.

Soon, you are seeing the nuanced web of relationships that are there, outside story.  You rush to exploit it, creating moments of dialogue and attitude and the intimacy of friendships that greatly amuse you, even as you realize they will have to go.

Perhaps you can tie in some of the material, prompting you to keep it for yet another draft.  Trouble is, you become so fond of it that you begin to see it in a different light, want to hang onto it even though the asides have moved away from story.

Ah, the inner conflicts you evoke between your various toolkit of writing selves, casting a shadowy film over the events that move the story along.  You are reminded of virtuoso soloists in classical music or even the more proficient extemporizers in jazz, wishing to add dimension to the basic framework, wanting to add dimensions to the story.

By some acts of definition and examination, a story is a completed system.  You are in effect trying to take on a mother-in-law apartment, something outside the original design.

This is not intended to serve as a criticism of add-ons or of modification in general, merely a reminder that story is an optimal series of events.  By expressed definition, event is some form of movement or activity, even when the intended activities are thwarted or shunted aside in some measure of frustrating distraction.

The temptation to begin wandering about in thought instead of event becomes more intensified as intimacies and attitudes are brought to the surface.  You find yourself wanting to stop short of outright condemning long bouts of thought in story because you do want the character to have that part of his or her inner life as an intimate experience rather than a foreign one.

The solution appears to be yet another vote on your part for the literal aspects of drama, by which you mean the vision of your characters having to do more than mere action or more than mere thought in order to convey to the reader and to other characters within the story the true extent of emotional involvement.  How would an actor deliver the lines?  What gestures or posture would the actor use to provide a complete and dimensional presence as opposed to a shadowy one?

What combinations of pace and posture and speech cadence can best demonstrate how the character is feeling?  How do you make an event out of a line of thought?

How many of your favorite characters tended more toward persons of action rather than those who were essentially philosophical in thought and contemplation?  What events are there in thought?

The mastery of the old Jack Benny events relating to the alleged frugality of his persona are masterful to the point where, in one famed skit, Jack Benny, walking in a park at night, is accosted by a robber who says to him, “Your money or your life?”

Long pause, followed by a more impatient reiteration.

Silence from Jack Benny for yet another agonizing pause. 

“Well?”  the crook asks.

“I’m thinking.  I’m thinking.”

Thought, transformed into event.  Alchemy.

Story, rushing in to fill the vacuum of silence created by the thoughtful reflection on a character-based situation.

The quick answer here is to learn how to think action, think in physical or decision movements.  A story is often a combination of thought and action, married with the consequences of past actions coming to bear on those who are forced to make present decisions.

How many times have you been instructed to think before you act?  How many times have you listened to those instructions?

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