Friday, May 30, 2014

But It Really Happened That Way

There are any number of reasons behind your decision to put down a book or story you're reading with the certain belief that you will not return to it. When you shift the focus to a play, the point of departure comes with the decision not to return after the first act intermission.  If you find yourself turning grouchy or tired or, worse yet, bored, at a motion picture, there is no need to wait.

Over the years, and in direct proportion to your sense of familiarity with the craft of composition for your own work, you've built up an impressive list of "things not to do." In your reading of other writers or your presence at a play or film, you eager to enter the story, otherwise you would not have picked up the book or magazine or entered the theater.  

When beginnings cause you to become aware of, then start score of the things not to do, you have begun to question something the eighteenth-century critic and poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred to as the willing suspension of disbelief.  You are, in effect, thinking things about the story you ought not to be thinking.  You are in fact shifting from suspending disbelief to the point of bringing it on.

A writer you have learned a great many things from in one epic meeting, where you were trying to get him to shift from his current massmarket reprint publisher to the publisher you represented, was not an eloquent writer, which would have added even more weight to his ability as a storyteller.  

Because he was such a gifted storyteller, he could leave eloquence to lesser storytellers.  You've read a number of his Westerns.  You read them because you believed him.  And because of the one, long, epic meeting, you believed you would learn things about storytelling from him.

Belief in the characters, their goals, the setting, and the outcome is an essential to story.  With no reason to believe, all you see is an endless tide of events, most of these told or described rather than being dramatized and evocative, two qualities you're able to identify in story that engages you.

Your experiences as an editor and teacher have been enhanced by your reading of legions of manuscripts where your belief was altogether lacking or missing to a noticeable degree.  Your experiences as a reviser of your own writing added weight to your impatience with your own lesser drafts, eager for those editorial meetings with your writing self, where it was necessary to ask you what was going on here in the most literal sense.

You've had a good deal of experience with pointing out a scene or motivation or goal for which you had little or no belief. And your experience continues with being told one of the things that causes you to cringe, "But it really happened that way."

The only time you want to hear that is when the matter at hand is a documentary, a dramatic narrative, but not a story.  If the event or person is being yanked from actual history into actual fiction, there is bound to be some disconnect because the writer is describing rather than trying to capture and encourage the growth and multifarious nature of the character.

Because an event took place in reality, there is no guarantee that the event has story elements, nor is there some contractual agreement with the fates that the element will be believable.  Thus we come to the irony of a made-up event being as much or more apt to convey a sense of being real and believable.

From time to time you'll hear a few exchanges of conversation that send you scurrying for your pen to record those lines, the words and their intensity causing you to imagine scenarios at some remove from the individual speaking them.  This is a good thing because these real persons would likely get in the way of the patchwork quilt characters you could make of your own creations.  The less you see of the actual sources, the better because you are not at all likely then to be influenced by the real thing.

Real is event.  Story is a domino, tilted on its end to make its center of gravity higher and less stable.  Story is a finite number of dominoes, but the number cannot be known until the story is finished, looked at with a  critical eye, then checked with great care to make sure the characters do not do things from passionless logic.

You could and have taken this inherent irony one step more by wondering how you are affected when what is real is not believable and what is invented seems more in keeping with what seems true.  One result is that you tend not to see individuals in terms of non- causal relationships, where they exist from one event to the next and are less easy to take in as real.  Another result is how you see most individuals as in some kind of deliberate or helpless motion, borne onward by what happened in the past as it triggers causal and immediate consequences.

This would suggest you see most individuals as Sisyphus surrogates, destined to meaningless and repetitive circumstances.  But for you this is where story begins.  Someone wanting out.  Someone saying  No, I believe I'll try it this way instead.

You believe it begs the issue to stop the argument at the point where the writer must believe the character or the event.  Doing so makes the writer too literal minded, looking for things that really happened.  Story you can believe in is story that has not yet happened.  That is why you read.  That is why you write.

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