Monday, June 30, 2014

Schmoozing the Characters, or Boarders in the Rooming House of Ego

How well can we say we know another person when, in fact, it is a lifelong struggle to keep up an acquaintance with ourselves? 

 When you are composing story, you like to delegate this sense of self-knowledge to your characters, well aware now that potential surprises await you.  They--your characters--are in about as much of a hurry to take advice and direction as you were then.

Now is different.  By now, you've sat at many sides of many tables.  When you sit to compose now, you're reminded of one of the principal tables your parents had from about their mid-sixties through the end games of their lives.  

This table was a luxurious, eight-sided table, intended for poker games.  There were other important tables in the house, but these were only for poker in an emergency; these were dining tables.  Much as card games mattered to your parents, dining tables mattered even more.  From watching the eight-sided poker table, you learned that you did not care for poker.  From your experiences at the dining tables, you learned that conversations over meals were of an inestimable value.  Over such tables, you learned considerably more about the considerable subjects you were presented in various schools and the university.

A longtime pal, Leonard Tourney, with whom you cohosted many ventures, was quick to take you on about this business of yours, wherein you talk of "listening" to characters, being surprised by them, in any way thinking of them as beyond your immediate control.  After all, Leonard has reasoned during iterations of this dialectic, "they" are your creation.  "They" are privy to all you understand and do not understand about the way drama works and, beyond that, to the denominator of the human condition.

"Well and good,"  you say, which is a nice thing to say during a conversation wherein divergent points of view are being trotted out for inspection.  "Well and good you should argue that, because--" and then you drop your bomb of logic or perhaps it is more a bomb of bombast than logic. 

At any rate, you spell out your theory that each of us is more than one personality.  We are, in effect, boarders in the rooming house of ego (Nice title, that), each of us in a clamor for something different, each of us driven by a different emotion or by a different one of the seven deadly sins.

"That being the case,"  you say with the same drawn-out cadence of "Well and good."  Then you express your vision that the various selves composing you have had a long opportunity to get to know one another, decide on some form of centrist government or coalition.  These differing aspect of you in fact often do form alliances.  Thus at times even the most cynical of your assortment of selves agrees to sit back and watch the spectacle to come, adding no further doubt or cynicism.  You can hear him saying, "Okay, let's get this clusterfuck over so we can set about making repairs."

Your main point here is that the component parts of you do not always know one another with any great certainty.  These aspects of you have frequent surprises for you in daily life, so why shouldn't your characters have the same proprietary rights to surprise in your fiction?

Why shouldn't your characters have the stature to stand up to you and your rules, sending you to search the waste baskets and between the pillows of your imagination for any hint of dramatic spare change?

This is not in any way meant to suggest your arguments persuade Leonard or, for that matter, anyone else, including students or clients.  Agreement works better in the abstract than it does in reality.  Stories are neither abstractions nor reality, only simulacra.  Agreement kills drama.

Your friendship with Leonard and your professional collaborations flourished more because of disagreement and differing points of view; its shape something to consider as a metaphor for story.  Consider:  Story is a quest for a goal, achieved in the face of reversal, disagreement, and change.
If you and Leonard brought equal quantities and qualities of the same thing to the table, what purpose would there be in such a collaboration?

One proof of this theory is the difference between your writing styles and method of delivery.  Which brings you back to your relationship with your characters, how and why you accomplish a working relationship in the context of storytelling.

Your approach to early draft fiction writing is what you call "The Schmooze" Effect.  A character is called for, you immediately stop composing to schmooze the character, find out vital details about that individual, which in turn give you hints of what that character will do in a tight situation.  A schmooze gives you the potential for being surprised.  

One important detail to establish is the awareness that your characters have no reason to trust you, may in fact lie to you.  Here's your role model:  Early on in "King Lear," when Cordelia speaks from her heart, Lear sends her away.  Later, Act V later, Edgar says, "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."

You may not like what you hear, but until that aspect no longer matters, you are little more than a scribe, taking notes.  Until you can see and accept the difference, you are not "in" the story, you are not a writer, you are a contract worker, specializing in description.  And often those who read you will say of your work, "Oh, his descriptions are so real."

Not at all, good sir or madam.  Not real enough.  This sends you back to another favored bit from Charles Baudelaire's "The Flowers of Evil."

The missing piece of the puzzle is the reader; the one who is busy wondering what ought to be said as opposed to the one who feels what she feels.  Thus:

You know him, reader, this delicate monster,

Hypocritical reader, my likeness, my brother!

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