Monday, July 22, 2013

What's going on here?

"What's going on here?"

Intriguing way to begin a scene, even more intriguing if the scene happens to be the opening scene of a short story or a novel.  Not too shabby a way to begin a chapter in a novel.

The question throws an immediate challenge at a reader.  As the dialogue and relevant dramatic activity develop, the reader begins to understand on some non-written, non-verbal level how this question and its answer are metaphors.  The reader not only wishes to find out, the reader becomes aware as information is given a slow trickle onto the stage how much is yet to be learned about the essential details, how much may be buried within details not yet presented, agendas not given full disclosure.

The reader is alerted to watch for revealing clues, which may be buried everywhere, within sentences, with casual references--"Oh, that old business again?"  and a suspicion that things have gotten out of hand and may--no, not may, will--reach the bursting point.

Life has any number of bursting points up its sleeve:  relationships end, jobs are terminated, individuals fall ill and die, minds become confused, other minds change.  Thus do things burst.  

Life has many surprises up its sleeve, thanks to its intensity of agenda.  Life doesn't set out to make you fall in love or become curious, but because you are a product of a process of evolution, there are things and sounds and tastes and, yes, of course, persons with whom you experience attractions.  These have evolved even as you have evolved.

Sometimes these attractions seem on a level with the attraction between two elements, say hydrogen and oxygen, or perhaps corn meal, some oil, a touch of cinnamon, and perhaps an egg.  Sometimes the attraction is between you and stories.  This attraction has also evolved from rather straightforward, linear stories to ones where there is more implied than said, more in the interstices than in the action scenes, more in a shrug from a character than a long explanation.

Most successful stories are about something going on, about some one or ones, reaching the point of combustion at the potential of something going on beyond the ordinary, the normal, the accepted, the acceptable.  Such stories remind us to be suspicious of explanations that are too glib or formulaic.  

Most successful stories are about someone trying to do something they consider extraordinary because they want something beyond the conventional or easy.  Such stories are often about someone being upset by the energy of the character trying to do something, such as stepping out of a mould and attempting to define or achieve individuality.

What's going on here?  Someone attempting to find individuality in a bustling, crowded, polarized world is what's going on.

You could also ask the question about the stranger arriving on the scene, the new kid in the class room, for instance, or the new worker in the office, or the new editor in the publishing house.  What's going on here is the new person bringing the aura of suspicion and change, of the unfamiliar.

Go back  to Madam Bovary, opening paragraphs, when the new kid was brought into the schoolroom, wearing that strange-looking cap.  You'll see how the new person, the stranger in town, the unknown quantity has effect on the locals.

How often do you ask of your dreams or your stories in progress or your waking life, What's going on here?  How often do you give straightforward answers?  How often do these answers help you move along to the next plateau and perhaps the next story?

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