Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Piece of the Action

The way such things work for you, a personality steps forth from the shadowlands of your imagination, pestering you either with a "How will I?" problem or a firmly rooted "What if?" speculation.  "How will make the break from the job I hate?"  "What if a man from a powerful and influential family, with unlimited means at his disposal, becomes bored with his privileged life, then decides to venture into archaeology?"

Your solution, which seems to have become thrust upon you, is to create a character whom you then proceed to costume in backstory, defining events, unreasonable fears or tastes, and a singular trait such as impatience, that causes the character to do things that will in the long run alienate most individuals that character is likely to have contact with.

This is, after all, part of a process; call it a vetting process.  Your goal is to cause this character to send off the kinds of pheromones that would repel you.  Now you set that character the task of convincing you his or her goal, quest, or hypothesis is worth listening to.  

In some ways, you got this approach from your years in training to become an editor, your subsequent years as an editor with some kind of stature, and your years as a teacher, reading the writings  of students at the early stages of their journey to become for all practical purposes what you would call a writer.

This process also involves the muscle memory, years in the acquisition, of sheets of paper yanked from the platen of a typewriter or torn from lined note pads, these profligate sheets seeming to ignore your intent of producing keepable pages and instead sending you notes of mockery and scorn at your pretensions of becoming a storyteller.  This?  You call this a story?

Something considerable was gained with the movement away from the typewriter to the computer, but the ability to rip a sheet of paper, often backed up with a sheet of carbon paper and a back-up second sheet in an exquisite act of frustration is lost.  You can hit the delete key on a keyboard, sending words, sentences, paragraphs, back to the limbo whence they came.  You can delete entire files.  You can toggle away from a screen to any manner of procrastinations.  But it is not the same.  What you did when such moments overcame you back in the days of the typewriter was, you note, described with a three-letter word, act.

Most of storytelling is about action, movement, conveying emotions which convey their own descriptions and do so better and with more presence than mere descriptive words can be marshaled to present them.  Adjectives and some adverbs help in much the same way relevant details provide dimension for story.  That said, a story is for the most part about verbs and the most optimal way to convey story is to regard the way story breaks down into action.

Even something as ephemeral as boredom, ennui, or the state of being blasé will soon require action verbs to spur the character into taking some steps, if merely to stand, pace about, all the while complaining about the prevalent thought-verb conditions.

However useful and mighty they are, thought-verbs require explanation or description or both.  Thought verbs start rattling round Macbeth's head as he listens to the taunts (?), prediction/prophecy (?) of the witches, but action, say a few words of praise from his King, get those thought verbs percolating to the point where, after talking the matter over with Lady Macbeth, he is all action-verb.

Too bad you didn't have Shakespeare presented to you as action- and actor-based.  Or that you hadn't the smarts to see it, earlier.  Could have saved you many a ripped-out page.  Macbeth is about to go kill the King, get him started in his own plan to be king (see also Richard III).  

But he sees a servant, carrying the dinner tray to the king, whereupon Macbeth makes the connection with the Last Supper and the king as Christ, chickens out, all visual now, then goes to tell Lady Macbeth, who really gives him something to think about, which leads him back to do the deed.  First thing Lady Macbeth says, when she sees his bloody hands, "My husband!"

Action verbs pull him out of the shadows of ambition, into and past the point of no return, where his fate has been sealed at the precise midpoint, wherein he he has Banquo murdered.  Everything set in motion for the finale.  Banquo was with Macbeth at the outset, to hear the witches prophecy.

Enough of Shakespeare (for now), but never enough of action, so long as you wish to tell story, to understand story, to teach story, and, should it come your way to do so, to edit story.

Actor.  One who acts.  Action.  One of the multitudes of individual moments portrayed, experienced, represented within a story.  How easy the jump from actor to character.  Actors demonstrate what characters want, how they regard themselves, how they manipulate or allow themselves to be used by others in search of some goal.

The more tangible the goal, the more visible the character.  And.  The more plausible the actions/steps the actor/character performs in service of achieving the goal.

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