Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Those" Days

There are days when it works like this:  You approach either your computer or your notebook, expecting to compose, to work on a particular project.  Under those circumstances, those every day circumstances, you approach note pad or computer with sentences beginning to form.

So far, so good.  You have a sentence forming in your mind with the persistence of your cat, meowing at the front door in order to be let in so that he can storm across the kitchen tiles to the back door, where he sits in a forward lean, expecting to be let out.

On those other days, you pick up your pen, essay a few squiggles to see if there is a smooth flow of ink.  Or you check your computer settings to see your favored font is indicated in the proper point size.  Other days being what they are, you notice a distinct lack of the drive to start composing.  Something is missing.  On "those other days," something is always missing.

The rational you always wishes to know how it can be possible, with such a grand scheme in mind for the story, for there to be something wrong.  This rational sense of you, who is already beginning to chomp at the bit of thematic possibilities, cannot understand why there is, of a sudden, no direction, why you sit, in an expectant posture, waiting for something to happen.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Sometimes for long minutes.

In a real sense the driver is missing.  Yes, this is analogy, but not analogy to any great degree.  The thing you are hopeful of setting in motion is your craft, which also doubles as a vehicle to ply the roads or, to be nautical, the oceans of your project.  You are in effect steering or captaining a vessel, which is setting out on a journey, may in fact already have departed from home port, the din of the farewell party still resonant in your ears.

Hours ago, Emily, your student, is sitting next to you, a sheaf of manuscript in her hand, shaking as though she had early stages of Parkinsons'.  "I can't"  she says, "write dialogue."  

"Let's see,"  you say, taking the manuscript, jumping into a page involving a protagonist and her close friend.  After one page, you are able to describe the focal points of each character, in particular the friend of the narrator, who, you report, feels hurt, left out, because the protagonist has waited so long to tell her something she has been keeping to herself.

"How could you tell?"  Emily asks.  "How could you know all that?"

"The dialogue,"  you say.  "That's how it is when it works.  You can tell by what is said, how it is said, and what is left unsaid.  You can tell because the speaker is often trying to restrain the very things your narrator's friend was feeling, that she was not important to the narrator, that she was being left out of the loop."  

 Because the pages Emily has shown you reflect the huge shape of the elephant in the living room, you know the one, the elephant buried under the living room rug, you are reminded once again of how important the driver of the scene is, and how the driver is always some form of attitude, embedded in such things as sentence length, cadence, vocabulary choice.  

"What's that?"  you say.

Voice, you answer.  Pure and simple.  The driver is voice.  Voice sits at the wheel, the control panel.  However small and humble or extravagant and textured the vehicle, the driver is always voice.

The voice can be anything provided it has a direct link to some readily felt emotional presence, thus it can be anger, regret, recrimination, an elated sense of pleasure, nostalgia, unabashed sentiment.  The voice can be paranoid, naive,  insouciant, suspicious; it cannot be bland, nor should it be impatient with the story or its denizens, the characters.

The voice may be jaded, naive, cynical, cautious in its optimism, or if appropriate, the voice may be extreme in its optimism.  All these matters rest on what you have come to discover and feel within yourself, having written the material.

In other words, your characters have to get into it, mix it up to the extent that you choke back a sob or stifle a guffaw or in some other, tangible way, are being moved.

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