Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Your Inner Stage Manager

A frequent question, often asked of you or by you.  "What's your story?"

With the same measure of frequency, the question is often asked in some degree of pique or, to use a word you admire for its sense of nuance, dudgeon, of which there can even be high dudgeon.  He asked in high dudgeon.  He fucking took offense.

The question is often a response to the aura or vibe cast off by the individual of whom the question is asked.  Why are you, he, she, they, or them so pissed, and at what?

You've seen the questioned asked, have in fact asked it yourself, of another person about whom there is curiosity.  What's her story?  Why is she acting the way she does?  When the question is asked among a group of writers about another person, you feel justified in thinking there is an additional nuance to the question:  "What is her backstory?"  By this trope, the individual's past history is being called into reference as a means of establishing some means of approach to that person.  

Not all answers to the backstory question are complementary.  "He's into martyrdom."  "She's a control freak."  "He's a special needs person--he always needs to hear about himself." 

On the other hand, sometimes the answer to the backstory question is the social effect of a visa:  "She's a good listener."  "He's funny ha-ha (as opposed to funny weird)."

We are all of us story incarnate.  Some among us, you included, talk the way you think and think the way you talk.  Thus, when you are alone or in company, the narrative theme you're aware of is supplied by your Stage Manager, a description you pulled from Thornton Wilder's iconic play, Our Town,  in which a character known only by that name provides the actual narration for the drama to come.  You take note of the place, the time, the persons present, relevant and irrelevant details.  

You interpret what goes on about you and if not on a direct, translation basis, provide some kind of subtitle, even to such seemingly straightforward questions as the one you were asked this morning when ordering your coffee.  "Medium or large?"  "Nonfat or regular?"

Your Stage Manager calls your attention to things of interest, defines them for you, reminds you of tasks you had on the daily agenda, stopping at the bank, for instance, to deposit a royalty check, deciding whether to do the banking before or after your one o'clock meeting and, thus, which branch of the bank.  Logistic stuff as, indeed, narrative in story is logistics.

Your Stage Manager also deals with elapsed time.  This is taking too long.  Or perhaps losing track of time as some remarkable narrative in stories, say in John Cheever's remarkable short story, "The Swimmer" compresses and deals with elapsed time.

You are your story incarnate, striving to become in general story incarnate, a working plan that will have you as aware of the stories of others as possible without giving up on your own narrative.  At the same time, you will not be so exclusively immersed in your own story that you will be insensitive to the needs, ideas, and boundaries of others.

There is a certainty that you will be attracted to stories quite like your own and equal in your curiosity of discovering similarities between individuals with whom you have no apparent connection.

In a discussion you had this morning, you said, to your surprise and ultimate delight that the thing you hope to bring to story is surprise.  This hope is based on your belief that there are not all that many basic stories, two or three, perhaps four, but not many more, thus the need to bring yourself into the stories you compose and the great likelihood of you bringing your interpretation fanny pack with you into the reading of the stories of others.

Saturday, in a discussion with a student who works days as a psychiatrist, and who is workshopping an interesting novel of suspense, you noted the falling off of tension toward the final chapters.  You were struck with the notion that a possible solution would be to kill off a major character.  The psychiatrist blinked, took in the information, then nodded.  "That could make a great deal of sense, dramatically speaking."

You were, in a sense, asking for and getting permission to enter his story, therein to make some radical suggestions.

In similar fashions, you have influences on the stories of those about you, and they on you.  Your favorite stories are mysteries, thrillers, speculative fiction, and alternate universe.

Until earlier this evening, in a conference with your Stage Manager, you hadn't realized how much you favored ghost stories, until it came to you how, at this stage of your life, you are haunted by individuals fictional and real who appear before you, causing you to imagine conversations, adventures, and to recall past conversations and adventures.

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