Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Juggling Act of Story

From time to time you pause to consider individuals who work in disciplines other than yours, trying to imagine them at the forms of play and practice you indulge in your attempts to understand and be a responsible partner to your sense of craft.

Your favorite targets for focus are musicians, actors, photographers, and artists, seeing the common thread between all of you as time.  Each of you is presenting something in a framework of which time is a part.  Now it comes to you that you can with justification include the juggler, the individual who is using time in ways you have studied without giving the matter conscious thought.

The juggler's concern is with keeping an increasing number of objects in the air at the same time, practicing the craft to keep muscle memory well exercised and as well to develop various dramatic aspects related to how the audience who watches these articles being kept in the air at the same time responds to the number of objects, the possible variety, and the persona the juggler presents to the audience.  Is the juggler calm, nervous, harassed, seeming to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

You believe it possible an individual would wish to become a juggler only for the personal satisfaction of owning the coordination.  More likely, the juggler wishes to do to an audience what you hope to do, which is to manipulate it, evoke one or more feelings in a specific pattern.  The juggler who makes the task seem easy might appear to be showing off coordination, balance and inventiveness.  The juggler who appears always about to drop one or more things enlists the audience's concerns, worries that the surrounding area will soon be filled with broken china or a  pile-up of fallen wooden pins.

Your major goals in presenting story or essay are to amuse, entertain, evoke laughter or disturb, sometimes in that order, other times in an order you've thought will produce both laughter and tears, but always some form of identity with the characters or ideas you have placed in what you hope appears as motion.

Preferable ways for you to begin projects are ways in which you are feeling the tug of too many things up in the air, the need for focus to keep track, lest things do come tumbling down about you.  Another cherished way is to be disturbed by some situation in which someone has been manipulated into a tortured condition where there is no clear or easy solution.  You are comfortable enough with your ability to come to terms with single-focus problems that you are not as troubled as you prefer being before you undertake composition.

You like the equivalent of a turf war between rival gangs being waged within your sensibilities and, of course, your irrational sides.  Such conditions produce the primer of despair that offers your work an eventual jump start.  If there is only one thing concerning you, time to introduce another, then set it loose, hopeful of creating a crossfire.

The comfortable writer--thus you when you are feeling comfortable--needs to watch the juggler deal with reaching the limits of things that can be juggled.  You've heard from one source you trusted that the limit of things that can be juggled is eleven.  You've lived long enough to see individuals run the hundred-yard dash in less than ten seconds, then gradually trimming the tenths of a second off the result until its current plateau at 9.2 seconds.  You've seen the four-minute mile reached, then breached.  If eleven juggled objects is a contemporary limit, you expect you'll live to see that barrier broken.

True enough, a story with too many characters or elements or a combination of characters and elements becomes diffuse, perhaps even boring in spite of all the tension.  You think juggling in more metaphoric terms because you believe story must contain more than a single level of inertia.  Characters must be hit by some consequence at almost every step.  Your own reading and writing preferences involve the presence of characters who are in the spot directly between Scylla and Charybdis, only to have their cell phone ring with another emergency or pressure, and another moral choice being required with added consequence.

You're well aware how the point arrives where more pressure, more tension, and more choice turn a potentially splendid story into a screed or a propaganda tract.  You're aware of writers on both sides of the political divide who've allowed their narratives to run from story to polemic to ridiculousness.  You have no wish to enlist in their armies, even if those armies were lined up on the left, where your sympathies appear for roll call.

You are not watching jugglers with the thought of strengthening your narrative to the point where it can bench press propaganda.  You want instead characters who represent the fraught nature of life within this society where hegemony holds sway.  You want choices and their effects on characters who are motivated some how to make them.

You can juggle those choices and recognize the excitement you see illuminating the pages of authors you admire who seem to have that ability well under control.

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