Saturday, May 11, 2013

The no-risk risk

When you find yourself wondering why putting characters at risk in story is vital in the first place, then accelerating the risk is even more important, you often end up with the same answer.  Because you are at risk much of the time.

From the get-go, you're at risk of not liking the work, of needing who knows how many more drafts to get the matter to the point where you do like it.

You are at risk that the process will start afresh with the next scene.  Your risk accelerates when you realize your subsequent drafts here might cause the need for significant revisions there.

You run the risk of your characters getting along, which is several steps worse than their not generating much in the way of chemistry.

Talk about accelerating worseness, you run the risk of discovering you are not as nuanced and evocative as you thought.  This risk can have you paralyzed for days, diagramming scenes in which you attempt to bring forth plausible and entertaining philosophical visions.  Nevertheless.  Worse things can happen.  You may have arrived at a splendid range of narrative, so evocative and plangent that you allow yourself to believe you can replicate this feat again.  To prove your great crescendo of confidence, you attempt another large venture, some narrative bravado, which upon rereading exacts its revenge upon you by requiring more than your customary number of revisions.

You've come to believe there is some golden ratio between the number of times you have to rework or revise something and the point in revision where you see some connection between two or more things you hadn't realized before.  This sounds mystical and metaphysical but is, you believe, only an exercising of the link between the conscious part of your process and the submerged, the so-called unconscious or perhaps intuitive.  There has been an agreeable number of connections, equivalents of your conscious and unconscious mechanisms working together.  Each time you set forth on a project, you know the arrival of a connection or a discovery are the signals you await to let you know the project is nearly done, on the cusp of being ready for submission.

Each time you set forth, the risk appears before you, taunting you:  You will revise hundreds of times, it seems to be telling you, and perhaps you will be reworking and looking for new approaches, and these will not come.  In realistic terms, the risk is asserting itself against your counterdefense of the matter being muscle memory.  You may, you rationalize, have already made the discovery and moved beyond it.  There is risk in believing that, risk in taking things for granted where your craft is concerned.

There is a risk that you will one day make the connection between your need to rework or revise things until you discover something and the labors of King Sisyphus, doomed to push a rock to the top of a steep hill, whereupon it will accrue the downward inertia sufficient to bring it down the hill and at a rest on some relatively flat surface.

There is a risk that you, having attained this insight, will consider the connection as an invitation to share Sisyphus's doom.

There is a risk that you will as a result grow self-piteous, a condition you achieve from time to time at the great expense of watching your writing become anything other than play and fun.

There is a risk that you will stop advising your students and yourself to stop thinking before going after a first draft, and an equal risk that you will not take the time to listen to the material, hopeful of finding out what it wants from you and how you are to set about it.

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