Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Truth to Tell

Truth is a record or vision of actuality.  Individuals from various disciplines, not by any means the least of being writers, attempt to define that state with varying degrees of success.  For writers and for philosophers, attempts to define truth are welcomed, the former seeing the attempts as story, the latter as the see-saw of thesis and anti-thesis.


From time to time, in particular when you are composing at top speed, you'll find yourself saying, "Truth to tell..." or "In truth..." or even, "The truth is..."  None of these means your previous words were deliberate untruths or even invented visions but rather as signals that you are about to blow the whistle on yourself for having misread something or having held something back or not having seen a greater actuality that has appeared, seemingly from your fingertips as you type rather than from your brain as it plays its part in the composition.

Many of the actors you've known--especially your mentor, Virginia Gilmore--speak of finding the truth of a particular character, a trope you take to mean that the actor has sought and appears to have found the vision of life and of surrounding individuals and events the character regards as true.

In a way, the actor is attempting to see more truth than the boundaries of the character, including the time, place, and conditions in which the character is placed, and that character's truthful feelings about the other characters in the story.  The actor is, in effect, translating the writer's truth in writing the story.  One actor you know told you only days ago that he regarded the truth of the character Nora Hellmer in Ibsen's play, The Doll's House, as hearing the voices of other characters in her head in the manner of an insane person, hearing voices.  Because this actor was directing that play, his vision of the truth of Nora and, indeed, the entire play, was of vital matter because that truth has an impact on the momentum and emotional release at the end of the play.

Your definition of a story and its basic component, the scene, has its origin in the belief that each is a landscape into which one or more characters enter, each believing he or she is right.  This translates to each character believing in the individual integrity of his truth.  This observation reflects on your earlier vision of story as a clash of characters, each arriving on stage with the insistent assertion of the truth and integrity of his mission.

The actor reads the text of the story, then circles the entire thing, looking for hints that will lead to the assumption of the truth of that character, the amount and degree of it brought forth by the actor, the propellant of that character's behavior, including response and sense of chemistry with other characters.

Over the years, you've read of the dynamic between the actor/dancers in The Westside Story, the Jets and Sharks.  At times, between takes, when the actors were not in character, they nevertheless clashed as an aftereffect of realizing the truth of the enmity between the two fictional gangs.  There were actual off-stage fights, examples of actors seeking and finding a truth.

The actor has to start by finding his or her truth, then a sense of the truth of all other relevant characters with whom there is contact of any sort.

The writer must define not only the truth of each character but work to remove potential obstacles to the reader seeing the potential truth of the story.

In these paragraphs, you see yourself moving from the straightforwardness of declarative sentences into the abstractions arising whenever you attempt to define the truth inherent in the characters and the story.  Words such as apparent, seeming, potential, are all qualifiers, ironic in their injection of ambiguity into the costume worn by the various participants in the composition of a story.

Writers and philosophers arm-wrestle with words, meanings, and actions in their attempts to portray what is so and what is not, trying to portray truth in a venture that is a figment of the imagination.  The story did not happen in reality.  It was invented in a writer's imagination, then honed, turned, and spun until it has the appearance of truth, which is to say a plausible series of actions in response to a plausible series of dramatic displacements, some of which may be arguments.

In the real world, wars have been fought over such destabilizing events and arguments.  One faction revolts against the entrenched order of another.  One word is seen as untrue.  For some considerable time, the Turks have seen a conflict with the Armenians, but have not allowed it to be seen as the same truth the Armenians saw.

The writer has to take all sides, perhaps even to the point of showing greater favor to the antagonistic side, the side against the momentum of the protagonists, because to do so is to give the writer's protagonists a plausible, worthwhile opponent.

In the struggle of writing the story, the writer may well be seized by the greater truth of the antagonist, the worthy opponent, changing his mind.

At times in your life when you have reached this point of trying to make a reduction of story by bringing it to a steady simmer the same way you'd use to make a reduction of some balsamic vinegar, you come away from the exercise more than a little depressed, saddened, cynical over the lack of absolutes.  But you recognize the dialectic within and without yourself and you come away with the self-awareness that you are not by any means alone, your being and imagination are filled with characters yearning to impress you with their truth, the as it were of their splendid, conflicting visions.

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