Monday, December 9, 2013

Shorty, or Not-So-Short Anymore

Whenever you take the time to consider what story means to you now, you recall the younger you who was somewhere around five feet seven inches in height, wondering how much of your father's six feet you could expect to inherit.

Unlike the youngster who is taken to the framework of a door to have his height measured with a pencilled line and a date, you were the initiator, impatient for results, a bit impatient with your then nickname of Shorty.  They could call you Shorty all they wished, after you'd hit six feet.

You were and are every bit as aggressive in tracking your growth in terms of narrative and story, thinking at the outset that the only two understandings of necessity were that this was what you wished to do, and that you did so on a regular basis.

What a shock to learn these two things were only the ante that got you in the game.  The output could be regular and measured by the growing stack of what you considered completed manuscripts.  But were they story?  Were they, in fact, narrative, even by the most permissive of standards?

Of course not.

You needed to work your way through a basic wave of equating the construction of a joke to the construction of a story.  While it is true that the better jokes have a dramatic construction, the focus is still away from character and more directed toward the last line payoff.

From there, you needed to work your way through the sense of you as the describing filter, you as writer, setting forth the events, dialogue, and interior monologue as having been seen by you.

And oh, those long months in which you gloated to yourself about the strength you had in rendering dialogue.  You did no such thing, instead, you rendered conversation.  You knew something was missing.  In order to supply the missing something, you moved your conversation to the reader feeder, the discussions of convenience, wherein things of importance had to be led up to in plausible ways.  

Then, when you got that squared away, there came the return bout with story.  You had some way to go there, meanwhile collecting your necessary share of rejection slips, those printed reminders that you were still, in literary terms, Shorty.

You are far enough along in the game to have some perspective on what you previously considered mere things to be learned, to be dealt with on a regular basis to the point where you could be said to have earned your way to the front of some imaginary line where, henceforth, you would be recognized by cadres of editors in a manner similar to regular customers being recognized and appropriately seated at strategic tables by maitres d' of appropriate restaurants.

True enough, you've outgrown your father in height, but as you sometimes look at family pictures in which you and he are in close proximity, you do well to wonder if you have in any way reached his stature.  True enough, he did not set out to be a writer or an editor or, for that matter, a teacher, as you did.  But he did remind you, by asking you, from time to time, if you were good at what you were doing and if you could see ways to be better at what you were doing.

Both your parents had things to say about what you should bring to parties, gatherings, dinners, and other social events.  Your mother spoke to the notion of bringing some gift to the host or hostess other than you, fresh from shower and shave.  Some gift of tangible respect as well as the gift of your alert, engaged, positive presence.

Your father took the matter a step beyond.  If you go to enjoy yourself, you are going with selfish intent.  You are going to be a presence.  If you are enjoying yourself, you should be taking others along with you.

On your own and with indirect help from him, you carried your father's approach to story.  You often write for the sake of enjoyment, but that is not quite enough.  You are not writing for an audience, you are writing beyond and away from yourself, deep into the crevices of your characters.  Yes, it is true, your characters are manifestations of you; they are squatters in the spare rooms of your personality, waiting to remind you there is more to this game of sharing story than you'd once imagined.

As your parents reminded you, you at some point are reminding your characters; bring some gift, some quirk, some talent or dream or quest.  You'll run the risk of being mistaken for selfishness or intolerance or intemperance, but you will say something or do something or, in more symbolic fashion, not do something that will define you as a palpable dimension rather than a mere type.

In a narrative sense, you are no longer Shorty, you are perhaps Not-So Short Anymore.  But you still have room for growth, and it is to your advantage to check in on yourself from time to time, pencil in hand, to mark your progress on the door jamb.

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