Monday, January 13, 2014

The Cold Pizza Equivalent of Authorial Intervention

The fuse was lit some time ago, by writers you thought you'd encountered by accident.  But when you began to pay closer attention, thinking this was something you might want to try your hand at, you were forced to admit there are no accidental encounters.  There are some encounters that seemed accidental.  But you were still a long way from learning that a major part of writing resided in your ability to make the accidental seem normal.

The writers who stood out most for you were Gustav Flaubert, Jane Austen, George Eliot (Marianne Evans), and Franz Kafka.  By the time you'd got around to Mark Twain, you suspected he'd read these worthies too.  Then, later, you began to see how the purposeful and prolific Sir Walter Scott gave Twain the equivalent of a second career.  He did pretty well from focusing his attentions on the Tom Clancy of the nineteenth century, James Fenimore Cooper, where he performed a significant demonstration of satire in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

All these authors had something you'd begun to envy, a sense of that fuse reaching the detonation point.  This is the fabled sense of something in story preparing for a spectacular explosion.

First readings, by their nature--and your naiveté--are shot through with impatience.  In first readings, you get a hint of what is to come.  You are reminded in mischievous ways of the fuse as it sizzles along its way.  Your impatience drives you toward the point of closure.  If the novel had been assigned in a class, and you were not of sufficient constitution to take it in, you read enough to be able to identify the themes you saw, the devices you noticed being slipped under the door.

True enough, you have become more patient.  Only last night, you wrote of your eagerness to see for a second and possibly third time a film you did not find as fulfilling as you'd have liked.  With patience, however, comes the awareness that there are more things to be reread than you have time for.  This brings forth the question, How can you not have the time if you wish to make up for the wasted times, the impatient times, the times where you saw little or no constitution to merit your attention?

Which brings us back to the fuse you were mentioning earlier.  The technical name for this fuse is free independent discourse.  You first began to notice it in Austen, when it often took you away from a mere description of a character, as expressed by Ms. Austen.  What you prefer to think of as interior monologue is, in face, a combination of a character's inner awareness and a descriptive narrative written to allow the reader to believe the character is telling the story, not Ms. Austen.

Was it accident or a simple sense of you noticing these qualities in Flaubert?  More than likely, you were reading without discrimination (as you do now), thus you were dealing with the likes of Albert Payson 
Terhune and his stories of collies, while you were taking on what was called the canon.

Jake found his attention wandering from his goal of finding a way out of the building.  What he needed was some sleep.  At least an opportunity to close his eyes for a moment.

You could be said to have written that paragraph as total description, but you deliberately avoided such tropes as "he thought," or "he thought to himself."  You've allowed the reader to think you're gone from the scene, which is what Austen often did, what Flaubert did with regularity, what Sir Walter Scott more often than not failed to do, and for which excesses, Twain took him on in multiple ways.

When free independent discourse is being used for the remarkable narrative tool it is, the author does not render moral judgments, whether in the descriptions allowed of the character or of in so many words, saying so.  The author allows other characters, including the focal character, to make the judgment calls.  "The need for any other person to make a moral choice,"  Fred said, "is of no interest to me.  I got all I can do, making my own."  Seeing that, the reader is not left in any doubt about Fred's moral compass.

An understated value of this close approach to narrative, wherein the writer all but disappears, and the characters step forward, is the potential for irony or ambiguity to appear, both qualities cherished by writers in 2014--or any time--as adjuncts of suspense and tension.

A significant reason why you did not connect with August:  Osage County had to do with the sense of actors portraying characters.  There was never a sense of a real person in real difficulty, even though all the cliches of family gatherings were drawn upon.  

With this in mind, you were more able to concentrate on what the actors did, how they conveyed their actions, how they brought some measure of presence to their beats, and the effects this had on the other characters.

This was never a family.  This was a well-cast ensemble group.  There were no real secrets, only plot points.  No wrenching conflicts, only the dramatic equivalent of a cold pizza, being delivered hours after it was ordered.

There is a fine art to making accidental things seem plausible, part of conveying a sense of the Universe or Reality being in a conspiracy against us.

When we reach the point where characters convey their vulnerability through their thoughts, actions, and dialogue, we're closer to being able to anticipate the pizza still radiating warmth when we open the box.


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