Monday, December 3, 2012

Here, Try Some of My Salad


Action and movement lead you closer to the insides of characters than thoughts do.  When the text is to be nonfiction, that is, exposition and development of ideas, action and movement still make a profound contribution because they lead you from generality to specificity and from abstractions to individuals doing or wanting things.

This awareness is not easily come by, nor is it as well retained as you’d like.  On too many occasions, as you read over a draft, you see the clouds of abstraction forming, a word or two here, a modifier there, until you see the concept slipping away from you in much the same manner the balloon on a string escapes the youngster who has not remained vigilant toward his prize.

Editing and teaching are helpful reminders for you, in particular when you reach those moments where each line is being regarded with some measure of suspicion.  The process you once held in such jealous privacy and secrecy has demonstrated to you its lack of appropriate generosity and focus.  You’d managed to stall out at the basic level of selfishness, where all decisions not your own were accepted with a grudge.  When it was your turn to point out a place for repair, for greater clarity and, yes, accuracy, you allowed the inner surge of superiority.  Small victory, Pyrrhic victory, in fact, because you were thinking ego points as opposed to the craft points of being able to see the accuracy of each movement.

Now, whether the work is your own, a student’s, or a client’s, you ask yourself:  Does it belong here?  Does it belong in the narrative in this form or in any form?  Is it coming from the characters or you?  Are you, in fact, in the way, wanting once again to demonstrate how much you know as opposed to revealing how the characters feel?

Who are they?

What do they want?

Why do they want it right now?  (If they don’t, they need to be taken for a walk around the block, made to see they are not desperate enough or eager enough or fearful enough, then returned, their agenda adjusted to a bright, blue flame.)

What are they willing to do in order to achieve their goal?  (If they are too respectful or civilized or reasonable or understanding—back out on the streets again for a heart-to-heart talk.  They need to be told that there are plenty of characters out there who are properly desperate for a story to be in, a goal to pursue, a betrayal to betray, a principal to bend.)

While you are walking them around the block or tracing the perimeters and parameters of their story, they need to be convinced that wanting something is not enough; they have to act on it; we have to see their want as demonstrated in their actions.  This reminds you of a project you really liked in your late twenties, an extension of your own at the time desperate financial straits.

Really wanted to do business with you on this one, the editor from your targeted publisher, Gold Medal Originals, told you, but there were too many tells, too many times where you told the reader your character needed the money.  We needed to see him needing it.

The memory is painful because you were close, but it is made even more painful when you see yourself lapsing into that habit of the tell rather than showing the character doing something as though he or she were an actor playing the part.

Someone you had a romantic interest in for a time had a habit you found irresistible.  Time after time in restaurants, she tugged at your salads or deserts.  On one memorable evening at your favorite restaurant, the two of you tore into a large seafood salad, your forks and fingers all but clanking.  You were caught in the heady atmosphere of the intimacy.  You can still see some of her gestures.  In actual fact, although there was a nice chemistry for a time, she was hungry.  That was her approach to eating.  She ate that way with girlfriends as well as you.  What a lovely kind of mixed message for a story.  Individuals, seen doing things as opposed to mere thinking or interpretation, are the starting points of story.  The message and the responses to these things begin at that point.

Here, have some salad.


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