Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reality, the Playground for Story

In much the same way the sand box, playground, and games are preparation for grown-up activity in Reality, Reality itself is a training ground and jumping-off point for many forms of art.

You could say story is reality on steroids.  However difficult, threatening, dangerous Reality is--and there are many harrowing examples of Reality meriting all these attributions--story, by its organic nature, is always a step ahead.  Someone, a character chosen for some particular vulnerability or some personal goal or, indeed, a combination of these traits, is set in motion, spring wound to the most tight position.  The wound-up character is then set loose in something resembling a maze, where there are not only obstacles but obstacles eager to impede the striver in its midst.

'You are beset with examples for story set in motion, a lab rat turned loose in a maze, a rodent trying to escape from a predator, a cartoon roadrunner trying to avoid and evade a cartoon coyote, to name a scant few.

With this observation in mind, you are programmed to look for events in which story can be implemented by making a few tweaks to a more quotidian situation.  Sometimes for the fun of practice, you take something of mind numbing ordinariness, such as deciding what to have for breakfast, then see how quickly you can tweak that situation into a story that progresses toward a point which, having been reached, then passed, cannot be called off.

Such exercises seem fair in the same sense of moral fairness that a musician practicing for two hours a day seems fair, a basketball player shooting seven hundred fifty free throws a day seems fair, an artist sketches the human figure or the figure of some animal or perhaps still life every day seems fair.

We practice to excel at something in Reality in order to be able to fictionalize the outcome and very possibly the consequences of the outcome.

In some cases, the writer is asked by admiring fans how story ideas are arrived at, as though the writer comes equipped with some genome that allows a constant access to story.  Whether the writer is aware of the related performance, the writer is in essence tightening the screws on the protagonist, inventing obstacles, enemies, and legions of individuals who are opposed on some basis of logic, religious belief, or aesthetic.

However grueling life may be for a particular person, it is rarely as relentless in its regard to the principal character, he or she who stands in the forefront of a story.  However vexing the consequences of running the gauntlet of Reality, the consequences must in one way or more be worse in story in order for the reader to be able to distinguish between the two.

How is this possible?  If the story does not in some convincing way resemble reality, it is seen as improbable, fable-like.  Yet if it seems too fanciful, readers will be able to say that this narrative could never have happened in Reality.

High school debating teams, taking on the clash of the dramatic as opposed by the fictional, produce entry-level drama, which is in its way necessary if only to help us along the path to more sophisticated plateaus.  Story is sinewy, its tendrils able to reach for us when we least suspect because of the way it applies stress in such a generous, evenhanded way.

At the precise moment we arrive at a place where one of the characters pays tribute to misfortune, which cannot, the character insists, push matters one additional degree toward the disastrous, we are seized with the awareness of yet another tsunami of disaster on the way.

When suspense and tension no longer have effect on us in a particular story, we are still not out of the woods because there is always one more disaster.  This disaster arrived in the guise of surprise.  After we've read to the equivalent of act one, we are imbued enough in the story that we read ahead, awaiting a disaster coming from somewhere.  Surprise and disaster have run off to marry.

If that isn't enough, there is always discovery.  Something is found, which is often a surprise discovery, revealing something that shifts the potential consequences to a different level.

Just when we thought we had a clear picture of the characters and their motives, discovery arrives unannounced, bearing the worst news for one or more of the individuals in the story, and much the best news for the readers.

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