Thursday, May 9, 2013

Turf Wars

In the most enlightened theory you've been able to develop to date, story begins in the present moment when two forces have a near miss, each stinging from the adrenaline rush, each imagining the might-have-been of an actual collision.

The story may have had its origin in the past, the so-called backstory, where the two forces had established in greater detail their mutual suspicion and dislike.  Past action calls for compound verb tenses.  Funny how a three-letter word, "had" can serve as a wedge, pushing immediacy back, pushing contact with the present-time part of the story into the distance.

Two or more are required to bring story where it belongs, into the immediate present, so the characters and the readers can sense the tension, the chemistry, if any, the rancor.  One character alone can only think.  Some of the better actors can convey thought and inner turmoil with a raise of a brow, a facial smudge, a gasp, a pause, but the reader and an audience need to see the source, the trigger for the moue of response.

Thus at least two characters are necessary to engage in what is a turf war, with the stakes apparent.

Most of the better remembered stories start with two or more characters who set foot on stage with their own internal turf war raging, thus the opposing forces are complicated before the story engages, the tidal nature of emotions in flux, the pressures and chemistry in exponential flux.

We writers, at least those of us who read with the same compelling needs as those causing us to write, are fighting a similar turf war between the landscape of reality and the simulacrum we make of it within the forge of our imagination, heated to combustion point by a spectrum of motives and emotions.  Those of us who have the luxury to compose five or six hours a day, regardless of the number of pages resulting, have a distinct advantage over those of us who can manage to shoehorn in only one or two hours a day.

Imagine having found access to your voice, to your vision of the universe and its inhabitants, and then, like Franz Kafka, for instance, having a family in need of emotional and financial care to the point where he could only spend an hour or two a day in his preferred landscape as opposed to the time with his parents and sister as well as his job.

Imagine having hand-built a splendid tree house study, the workplace of your dreams, then having to fight to get an hour to spare in it, needing the other twenty-three to cope with quotidian things.

In all probability, you'd be spending moments on end within that study, if only in daydream, but it would be time away from real life and real life relationships, thus the waging of a serious existential turf war.

Imagine having found a splendid novel or collection of stories or along, narrative poem, then having the additional turf war of the decision to read or to work on the story burning itself into the soft matter of one's imagination.

These internal turf wars produce within us a sense of tension at once terrible and yet sublime; the sense is the raw material of drama, the sharp pulse of story, throbbing away, informing the length and cadence of our sentences, the snap of our dialogue, the edge and perspective of our characters' visions as they ply their agenda.

The battle for territory has been a focal point during our history as a species, some warring elements being questions of ownership, usage, hunting, agriculture, fence or no fence, and of course water rights.  An adjunct attitude has been the dream of each individual wishing to own a small piece of turf, a place to grow some crops or raise some animals or write some books.  Ownership ties us to the landscape, raising the lure of travel.  The writer travels in his or her mind.  Your argument holds the writer as the better tourist than the traveler or vacationer; the writer makes reality better or worse than it is.  Good or grim or mawkish as the actual landscape, the fictional turf is incrementally better or worse, more mawkish, more filled with tourists and tourist junk than in reality, more productive of sterling characters or truly despicable ones than your average tour.

The great source of emotional story material for the writer begins with the awareness of the internal turf wars, recognizing them for what they are, then bringing them to life as the force fields and bundles of energy we have in mind when we speak of characters.

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