Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Conspiracy Theory

You were close to getting the hang of how to make effective narrative use of detail when you fell into the rabbit hole of Realism.  The mere term, Realism, held an allure for you. a beacon of light cast on the technique of getting believable persons into believable circumstances, then pursuing their attempts to extricate themselves from sticky, untenable circumstances.

Among other things, Realism meant you were looking for ways to make stories seem as though they could have taken place, involving characters who were such strong individuals that readers would have to pinch themselves as a reminder that they were reading a story and not a newspaper report.

Your early encounters with Realism came when you were still in high school.  You were not yet sufficiently invested in your own cynicism, taking too many things for granted.  Your ruling attitude was confidence.  Solutions would emerge of their own energy.  This caused you to be more confident still that your enthusiasm for dramatic solutions would come to you because, after all was said and done, you were working to become a writer.

In retrospect, that sounds like the attitude of entitlement.  At the time, you were too much in the moment to consider entitlement or its implications.  This turned out to be a good thing, although at the time it did not seem so.  Success would come provided one put in one's hours.  

You were more than willing to put in yours, growing more frustrated with each near miss.  Thus you labored for the longest time, propelled by the certainty that each new project would catapult you into a force to be dealt with.

Thus romanticism.

Realism at first meant the exquisite placement of detail, in particular the sense so many writers were able to evoke of mind numbing routine.  Ah, the times you read and read Madam Bovary to see how precise his use of detail was as a setting against which to portray Emma Bovary's sense of being overwhelmed by it, wishing to pursue the skin-tingling excitement of adventure.

You were not quite ready to see Reality as a gigantic loom, weaving event and detail at an industrial revolution pace, where pattern was not so much the focus as event was.  Event, event, event.  Somehow the individuals caught up in this carpeting of everyday life became more vivid when you could see defining details.  

Thus began your trip down the rabbit hole, wherein your  early characters often sorted through their own medicine cabinets, kitchen drawers, desks, and closets, their belongings defining them.  The rabbit hole was detail you plucked out of whim, your own and the whim of the characters.  You were a while, getting out of that rabbit hole, you were.

At least you knew enough to avoid descriptions of your own, allowing detail, what the characters did, and how they did it to define and present them.  You were, alas, well into your early years of editorial apprenticeship before you began asking the question of your characters, What do they want?

One thing they should want well enough is to get beyond ordinary, into the world of individuals for whom Reality was a challenge.  The next question to be asked of them:  What are you willing to do to get what you want?

Realism enters the scene here in the form of The Truth.  This is a different kind of survey, beyond medicine cabinets or the contents to be found in the refrigerator.  The character has some boundary or plateau or standard.  I will continue wanting and doing, no matter how long it takes.  I will make this my highest priority.  I will give up X, Y, and Z to achieve this goal.

You conspire with Reality and the characters at this point, by pushing them at least one step beyond the line they have drawn in the sand.

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