Monday, November 26, 2012

It's About Time: The Writer as Anarchist

Much of what you use these pages for is to discuss technique with yourself.  This in the hopes you will absorb them to the point where you join forces with brother and sister actors, using technique as muscle memory, rather than intellectual concepts.  You will write without consciously hewing to technique, rather to the depiction of what each character would do, without your own sense of reaching or limitation.

You've probably heard or seen the expression "muscle memory" some time back in the past, but it did not impress you as something worth concentration until it was used several times by one of the most difficult clients you've ever had.  He was the late, remarkable musician, Artie Shaw, of whom you were aware even before you reached double digits in age.  Shaw spoke of repetition and practice of plateaus he meant to reach, then move beyond.  He was not being immodest when he spoke of his ability to get tones and effects beyond the range of his instrument, the clarinet.

One of the few things you and he were in agreement about was the common denominator of time, as shared by writers, actors, musicians, and photographers.  In all cases, the better of these artisans manipulate or control time, whether it is the interval between the opening and closing of a shutter on a camera, the pause between being asked a simple question and the actor's inert knowledge of when to read her line, the one word, "yes," the musician robbing an accent from one measure to cram the note into the following, producing the rubato effect, or the writer, ending a scene on an unresolved note in order to create the need within the reader to read on, to find out what happened.

Through practice, you are able to produce results which appear to emerge from the overall theme and, of course, the individuals "acting" them and "acting on" what they gather from one another.  As you see it, your job is the directorial one of bringing an event to the page, then developing the individuals who turn the event into an incident, which in turn sends you scurrying within your own resources, wondering how you can manage to cope with so much anarchy.

Sounds easy, which makes you aware of how beguiling anything is that sounds easy.  By the same logic strand, things that seem more than a little difficult tend to encourage non-performance, acts of shutting down the process you've worked this hard to initiate.

The product of engaging difficulty with any measure of success is satisfaction.  You work to achieve entry into that landscape of satisfaction.  The longer you remain a resident as opposed to an occasional tourist is enjoyment or fun.

Thus it progresses, degree by degree, until the barrier of seeming difficulty is met and out-maneuvered.  With this kind of muscle memory starting to develop, there are bound to be some sore tendons and ligaments, but they are mere plateaus you practice to achieve so that you are meeting and challenging the gatekeeper of the difficult.

Achieving the sense of satisfaction now and again helps to keep you suiting up for practice every day, looking for an edge, looking for the muscle memory you can rely upon and so much admire when you see actors playing at improvisation, musicians playing improvisation, and photographers seeming to capture lightening in a bottle with a single, inspired exposure.

There have been times when you've seen it, a presence when you're composing, or editing something you've written, or discovered in your reading of another writer.  That presence, the "it" you seek, can only come from the muscle memory you earn by practice.

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