Friday, May 10, 2013

No Trespassing Signs in Story

Story should and frequently does take us places where as readers and writers we do not wish to go.  These places, these landscapes of discomfort, differ from the places in reality we do not wish to visit.

The undesirable terrain in reality often relates to boredom, to the resentment of having to be gracious about some social or ethical obligation, perhaps as well to the professional and personal positions where we are only too aware we are not being accepted or treated with the kinds of respect and admiration we feel we've earned.

In other words, we have either not lived up to the high reach of our dreams or, having done some, we are alone in our recognition of the fact.  Without much thought, we call judges Your Honor.  Doctors merit our recognition each time we address them.  But if we are a writer of little or no repute, the first thing someone wishes to know, discovering our calling, is where we were published, as though the mark of a writer is a publication record rather than a trail of written material.

These reality-based attributions relate to status, ourself as we see ourself and our perception of how others see us.  You believe the healthiest landscape in such matters is the place of self-acceptance, self-admiration, and self-determination. qualities that could help you not only achieve the personhood you seek but enjoy it to the point of sharing its benefits with numerous others.

Story forces us to visit with some regularity places where we spend more time with darker aspects of the self, aspects where the potions of us who want things beyond our reach taunt us into behavior that is nonetheless beyond our reach.  Story causes us to reveal places where we lack restraint we've worked to build up, encourage, adopt.  Story causes us to consider unorthodox solutions to current problems.  These solutions amaze us at first, we who'd had little or no awareness of a seemingly intimate association with them.

You sometimes need to stop what you're writing and either make coffee or go out for it, propelled by the reach you've made into territory beyond the conventional limits.  If the coffee doesn't help, perhaps a swim or a long walk, both excellent exercises for zoning out, allowing the mind to wander.  In such mind frame, you may return to your unorthodox approaches for getting a thing done at the best price as price relates to public awareness.

The matter has already been a subject of introspection to the point where you are no longer surprised by your ability to devise larcenous characters or, indeed, to trace that individual back in some ways to your earlier days when you were closer in some of your behavior and attitudes to these gritty, edgy characters than you are now.

In some ways, asking those parts of yourself to acknowledge the connection, then volunteer to help this emerging writer who is still at the state of depicting characters as black or white in the moral sense.


The most significant problem with not taking negative characters, antagonists, and purveyors of mischievous behavior deep enough is the diminution of the necessary sense of opposition in a specific story.  Keeping your opponents civilized is one thing, keeping them too cavalier, too accommodating, too moral and understanding undercuts the story but it also undercuts the integrity of your own thematic material and the protagonist's ability to get things done without resorting to violence.  Such behavior makes it easy for you to remain at some level of high civility as opposed to some reality-based horse trading and bargaining.  You are at your best when you reach for these get-out-of-jail-free cards and pressure points because you are now dealing with the downstream effect and the implications of your own boundaries.

Pushing at your boundaries will not guarantee you any moral high ground or successful publication, but doing so will earn your characters visas.  Thus warranted, they can impress their goals, their plight, and their conscience against conventional boundaries, bringing their plight to an instructive and dramatic life.

You cannot write yourself to acceptable morality, but you can understand and represent convincing, plausible depths that will resonate with untold thousands.  In the bargain, you'll have some serious soul searching and self-examining to pursue.

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