Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Choices


On any given day, you make thousands of decisions based on your perceptions of reality.  You might also make any number of decisions based on the perceptions of others that have convinced you to act or withhold action.

Many of these decisions, say what to have for breakfast, a second cup of coffee, the green-striped shirt or the brown check, stop with you.  They have no immediate effect on anyone else.  To shower or not might have an effect on others.  Ditto, wearing the green-striped shirt with a clashing sports jacket.

Other decisions will have direct and indirect effects on others, occasioning a downstream chain of events.  A direct effect could be the simple decision to meet a particular friend for coffee or to dine in or out.

Indirect effects might come tumbling down the line from your decision to review a certain book, your eventual determination to find more fault than virtue with the book, then detailing your reasons in a review.  The downstream effects begin with your removal from an association of some thirty years and the effects and responses of others,

Occasions for decisions present potentials for success or neutral results, which in turn is to say they were neither “good” choices nor “bad” ones.  They were merely choices, offering neither advantage nor disadvantage.

The decision to embark on a particular vector may seem good at first to the point where it even provides positive energy of enthusiasm to assist in the task.  The tide may then turn.  The project may fizzle, at which point the decision will be subject to review as not having been farsighted enough.  In retrospect, then, the project will be classified as well-intended but poorly advised.

In similar fashion, a project in the planning stages might be set aside as not being viable enough to proceed.  As some projects on the back burner do, this one may simmer to the point where its aroma reminds you of it and, at last, you proceed, wondering as it takes shape why you’d delayed its enterprise.

For story, characters exist to embody choices, decisions, and their downstream effects.  Every character, even unnamed ones, must have gained entry as the result of some choice, whether the choice was the mere one of needing a particular job, having found it, and thus being the one to deliver the pizza or drive the taxi or fire the character who has not only a name but a commanding presence in the story.

We take decision for granted, you among them.  Seen in this particular light, your day may be reduced to a series of decisions.  No wonder stories based on decisions characters are required to make have such resonance.  We—you among them—relate to individuals who must make a decision.

Borrowing from the poet, William Carlos Williams, So much depends on—not a wheelbarrow but a decision.

Actors essaying a role they’ve been assigned to play need to know who the character is, what the character wants, and why the character wants it now.  The last part of the recipe follows the weight of the character having made the decision to want whatever it is now as opposed to being patient.

Patience has no place in story.  Story begins when a character has decided he has been patient long enough.

When the talented actor, Sheldon Leonard, portrays a robber, menacing the acknowledged master of comedic timing, Jack Benny, offering him the choice, “Your money, or your life,” the dynamic is set in motion.

Benny, the miser, cannot answer; he hesitates.

“Well?”  Leonard forces the issue to combustion.

Still hesitating, Benny tops our expectations.  “I’m thinking,” he says.  “I’m thinking.”

William Faulkner’s vision of the agony of moral choice is dramatized here, and the combustion of Benny’s answer is the roar of dramatic effect.  It is catharsis made humorous.

It is a perfect demonstration of how and why choice must be considered.  If we have no choice, we have no story.


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