Saturday, April 6, 2013

Damage Control for Characters and Story

Some of your closest friends have observed with incredulity bordering on the astringent about the reaches of your memory.  Thus it is more pride in that capacity than feigned modesty speaking when you recall your earliest memories of the term "damage control."

On occasions, your memory provides you the equivalent of a compact disc or flash drive version of a person, place, or thing that is accurate in enough details to convince you you'd had the experience whether you had or not, whether, in fact, you'd heard or read accounts of the event and moved along the path of that conviction to the point of believing you'd been there and, indeed, done precisely that.  This device is often so effective that you speak of it with utter certainty that you were there, whether you were or not.

The recurring image appearing in your mind is World War II action/propaganda movies in which one of ours, an American ship, runs afoul of Japanese or German marauders, suffers damages, and is forced to the maritime equivalent of vulnerability.  A ship, whether a modest freighter, an aggressive PT boat, or some form of cruiser, destroyer, or battleship, comes off second-best in an encounter with the enemy and now must limp home for repair, having been brought from its former speed and agility to a lumbering hulk, with home port miles, perhaps days or weeks distant.  Some command-level officer offers stern warning, a good many u-boats or super agile Japanese destroyers out there, lurking.

Thus are you sure this was the way the sense of damage control came to you, wrapped and packaged as story.  Some damage control movies became real life events.  Some real life events became movies.  And you'd been witness to them all, even your own invention, as though they'd gone on with you in their midst.

Not all damage control is character specific; sometimes story elements hit reefs and shoals or, to borrow from the war movie trope, take a torpedo or two, leaving elements seem awkward, perhaps unresolved, or maybe too logical in their resolution.  Maybe charactr A would not have done such a thing as you had her do, thus she needs to be listened to.

You'd of course seen other, more primitive examples of the need to make the risky way home,  both in films and the sorts of adventure novels passing before your boyish eyes, the dramatic lure of the sitting duck, the limping hero, the walking wounded presented as dramatic targets of opportunity.  Sometimes, as in the memorable motion picture, Bad Day at Black Rock, the limping hulk was a person rather than a ship or other vehicle.  But the story was the same; only the costume was different.  Sometimes, in despair of ever experiencing adventure in your pre-pubescent life, you'd performed editing activities on stories read or watched, and made them your own, with the imprimatur of your own imagination.

In a real sense, all characters who find their way into successful story, have had as much damage control extended them as possible and are now limping toward some sheltered sanctuary where some forms of repair can be effected and the individual or vehicle once again able to return to pre-injury times at full strength.

This real sense removes some of the bandages and some of the vulnerability, but it does not, and cannot remove the aspects of trauma that are sure to affect the reaction time of the fallen hero. Can the young Western hero, lightning fast on the draw, retain his speed after having killed someone in a duel?  No matter that this individual did not provoke the duel.  And what of the cop who shoots a criminal in a him-or-me situation, but nevertheless is visibly shaken?  How do we feel when this individual is challenged by some punk, mean-spirited sort who has no obvious sense of decency much less any sense of empathy for a fellow human?

Those of us who have wiled away more hours reading than, say, lounging about pool halls, or attempting to calculate the relative speeds of thoroughbred race horses know for certain that the individuals who've experienced damage control are not going to be allowed outside the story without at least once having to experience some running of some gauntlet.

With this unwieldy memory of yours, you recall incidents in real life where you lacked the fortitude to stand up to the intimidation facing you, perhaps avoiding it entirely or using some stratagem to put off confrontation yet another time, a fact, you're sad to report, that often causes the recurrence of the challenge and or confrontation.

The question hovers over characters and, of course, you.  Are those characters in damage control, and are you, when you are in that state, making conscious connections between the state and taking some steps to correct the circumstances?  Are you having enough conversations with yourself to allow you to bring the topic to the table?  An answer of no is best dealt with in some concoction of yours rather than some ongoing situation in the reality of your life.  And thus another example of your characters having the ironic capacity of greater resources than you have.

Go figure.

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