Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wile E. Coyote to the Rescue

Your personal point of commitment to a story you’re reading comes when a character of some interest to you takes a fateful step toward a goal.  The character puts thought into action, desire and yearning into motion.

This equation allows you to measure your own sense of involvement against demonstrable interest—any kind of interest—coming from a character.  You do not of necessity have to admire or even like the character.  You may, in fact, root for a character to fail, at which point he or she may realize something to the extent of satisfying your sense of dramatic closure. 

You are in effect comparing your reaction to the situation to the character’s involvement in the story.    You want to be at least equal to the character’s interest; otherwise you’re likely to put the book down without picking it up again.

The operant concept here is the character’s understanding of a truth or of Reality.  This is so because at present your purpose in writing is to lead yourself (yourselves) to discovery.  You do not have to enjoy or even like what you discover. You consider the process of discovery of something unsettling or even repugnant as a basis for story.  A character discovers some uncomfortable truth, then sets forth to cope with it, meeting opposition and reversal on the way.

So far as involvement is concerned, you as reader or writer feel some emotional connection with the character setting off on the venture of coping.  If you cannot feel that character’s emotional connection with the discovery and subsequent response to it, you are lost as reader, lost as writer.

An essential ingredient in this business of commitment is time.  All characters earn their way into a story by nature of wanting something.  Major characters move up to the level of being major because they want what they want now. 

They’ve tried being patient, but patience removes a character from being pulled into the sinkhole that story must in time become if it is to remain story and not mere recitation of event without throughline.

See, you said time was of the essence.

The clock is ticking.

The grace period is running down the drain.

Time is up.

Characters with patience are characters in control.  Wile E. Coyote is front rank.  Imagine Wile E. Coyote being patient.  Wile E. Coyote is the ambassador of impatience. Wile E. Coyote is desperate.  The desperation he suffers is in direct proportion to his lack of patience.  The degree of humiliation awaiting him is indirect proportion to his lack of patience.

You see how it works, don’t you? A character who is trying to be patient is immediately vulnerable.  A character who is patient is a character who is in control.  True enough, we, as readers, want to see someone in control lose that control in the Wile E. Coyote sense of losing it to the extent of being humiliated.  Again.

And again.

The formula for a character:  Who is this person?  What does this person want it?  Why does this person want “it” now?  What will this person do to achieve “it”?  And then, what happens to this character after achieving the “it”?

  And there you are as writer.  You are impatient for discovery, pushing character toward the destabilizing event of the discovery that sets story in motion so that you can launch into a response, Wile E. Coyote to the rescue.

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