Saturday, July 6, 2013

Revision in Dramatic Writing and Life

Variations on the theme of revision, brought to mind after this morning's workshop session.  A number of persons starting new projects, wise enough to have characters in motion, pursuing event or, in one notable case, having event pursue them.

You come away from the two-and-a-half-hour session with undifferentiated energy and drive to compose.  There is an editing chore for a literary agent that requires a final wrap-up and the prospect of a long, delicious afternoon and evening addressing editorial notes on two of the twelve short stories to be included in your forthcoming collection.  Both projects exciting, in combination using both sides of the brain.

Then the concept comes floating before you, neither editorial or diving back into stories long ago finished, sent off to different journals, accepted, and published.  This is a what-if concept.  What if events in reality were first-draft, much as the excellent first-draft material you heard this morning was.  Combinations of event, backstory, background, and a welter of detail that wants to be compressed.

A significant difference between events in story and events in reality resides in focus.  From your own experiences in reality, you know how possible it is to walk through events, mind focused elsewhere.  Ah, the hundreds of times, for instance, when you drove from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles in order to host your classes at the university.  Even as you drove, you were often elsewhere, already inside the lecture or the agenda for the particular classes.

 The result was a sense of arriving safely but with no active sense of how you'd traversed those approximately hundred miles.  Had you, for instance, taken the Route 1 short cut below Ventura, pulling you onto the Coast Highway just before Port Hueneme, or had you stayed on 101 until it became the Hollywood Freeway, then off to the 110 Harbor Freeway?  Portions of you knew, but not all of you was aware on the level of focused presence you relate to final narrative draft.

To be sure, there are times when you are at high-level focus, here in reality, absorbing detail, looking for entry ways to empathy, awareness, understanding.  How wonderful it would be to live 24/7 at such intense awareness.  For certain, you'd not be bored living in such dynamic presence.

But you are human, meaning you are hardwired for distractions of numerous sorts, conflicted by arguing wishes and concerns, fighting to maintain the equivalent of a King Lear-like presence against the insistent demands of your psyche to pay heed to your innermost pompous avatar, Malvolio.

There are numerous times when you're aware of a purposefulness by which you are able to function at the level of muscle memory, being able to do things well without thinking about the performance, much less the desire to perform at better-than-average level.  But a portion of your awareness sends an IM reminding you that performing at muscle-memory-level can't possibly go on indefinitely; even if you are in fact doing well, portions of you are becoming aware of wanting to do things in different ways, portions of you are seeing things you'd not realized before, thus your desire to take them in and understand them.

And what, after all, is understanding but a dialectic of its own in which you make decisions to keep and enhance certain traits while ridding yourself of patterns that don't work to your expectations or satisfaction?

Now we are arrived at the state of vision where action and event in reality are the dramatic equivalent of improvisation, where free association and ad lib behavior are increasing, moving toward becoming the norm.

Among the things you can say about your apparent teleportations from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and your arrivals at the parking kiosk on South Figueroa, a tad south of Jefferson Boulevard is that you were on some level sufficiently alert that you were in no collisions, caused no collisions or property damage nor broke any traffic laws or violated the social contract.  Even now, well after the fact, you remember incidents when you were wrenched out of your complete awareness to respond reflexively (ah, muscle memory) to some potential hazard.  In fact, in all the thirty-odd years you made the journey, you only once got a traffic citation for speeding and that was at a time when you were focused with deliberation on road and driving conditions because you feared you might be late for an appointment and wished to take some time-saving steps.

This brings you to the point of denouement and summary:  Real time is ad lib, improvised or (and this counts for some points) following a tested formula of behavior where the outcome is not a great candidate for providing surprise.  Dramatic narrative comes as the result of improvisation, replayed with emphasis on ambiguities and flat spots, where tension and/or suspense have been allowed to leak.

Like the parallel lines that meet in geometric infinity or in the dramatic last chapter, reality and drama start as improvisation, competing each with the other for pragmatic prominence.  Just when the worst case scenario appears to be the rule of thumb in life, you see ways to make a dramatic event thought unthinkable begin to come to fruition.  You can regret past actions, attempt to revise them in some compensatory way, sublimate them, bear them as occasions of constant guilt.  You can enjoy past pleasures by trying to provide such pleasures with others, which is to say, share or put on your uniform of altruism.

Reality and drama thrive on awareness, rehearsal, and revision.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

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