Monday, December 23, 2013

Parallel Lines

Begin with two parallel lines, each of which includes a pair of opposites.

Say, Literal and Figurative.

And, why not, oratorio and opera.

Literal is What You See Is What You Get; no metaphor, no implication.  Each word, sentence, and paragraph convey a single meaning.  No left turn.  Stop.  One way.  No parking between 9:00 a.m. and 6 P.M.  Go fuck yourself.  Open for business.  For rent.  Free estimate.

Right away, Figurative opens the door.  No single-meaning phrases accepted here.  Double meanings welcomed.  Implications, inferences, suspicions preferred.  Go multiply yourself and be plentiful.  A wise horse knows its own fodder.  

Oratorio is a musical composition for orchestra and voice, involving characters, and choir.  There are two venues in oratorio, the orchestra pit and church pews or a pew-like arrangement on a stage, where the choir and characters sit.  No moving about and interacting.  To preserve the spirit of paring opposites, Oratorio was likely begun during Lent, a season of austerity.  Oratorio is significantly religious in theme, perhaps at an eight-five to fifteen percent ratio, the fifteen percent involving mythical characters and themes or perhaps folk tales.

Why have Oratorio, then, when you could have opera, where there are characters, dramatic themes, and as well expectations of characters mixing it up on stage?  To get figurative about an oratorio, you could have some fun by calling the genre Protestant (Puritan) opera.

When you began trying to make your way as a storyteller, impressed and aware as you were with the figurative, you felt unable to operate on that level yourself.  You are now relieved that so many of your early efforts are no longer available, in particular those notebooks where you sought to invent your own metaphor, your own figurative use, your own ventures into synecdoche and its potential antonyms.

Fearful of yet another flaw (your major one at that time your apparent inability to deal with plot or in any way articulate for yourself a dramatic pattern for the generic format known as story), you undertook to be as literal as possible.  Poor lad, you began many sentences with one of the least specific words in the language, "it."

It was raining.  It was growing dark.  It remained to be seen.  It was time for dinner.

What was raining?  What was growing dark?  What remained to be seen?  What was time for dinner?  And, Why should we care?

Some writers had and now have the gift of being able to imply, much without thinking of the power, merely executing it.  You spent years beyond junior high school in hell, trying to figure some of the implications in Ernest Hemingway's short stories which, to this day, you favor over his novels.  In this hell, the best you could do was compose in a linear manner, beat by beat, struggling to keep your narratives afloat, until one day a friend observed that you had more things going on in the background of a story than you did center stage.

With a little deconstruction, you were able to determine what your friend meant.  You were producing subtext without realizing it.  Of course you overindulged with this discovery to the point where first teachers then some kindhearted editors observed that you seemed comfortable enough with metaphor and simile and thematic traction but, sad to say, had failed to latch the corral gate, which allowed story to go riding off into the sunset without you.

Now that you are mindful of the long lines of unemployed figures and figurative speech hanging about your work area, you make some accommodation for the subsequent revisions and drafts to come after you've begun to get a saddle on the story, perhaps even staying on without being tossed for the first few drafts.

Somewhere between these parallel lines, there is the sweet spot, where neither you or such readers as you may have move through your story in a state of being engrossed, in the dramatic moments, a continuing sense of endorphins seeping into their awareness as all of us with investment in the story--reader, character, and you--experience this fragile but lasting membrane of story.

Begin with parallel lines, each of which contains that vital pair of opposites, the literal and the figurative.  When they blend well, they produce an extraordinary cocktail of ambiguity.  In this ambiguity,  the characters individually believe they are right, the reader has that same sense of understanding the implications of the outcome, and you are more prone than not to a sense of the outcome being alchemy you only understand in part.

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