Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Deals Writers Cut with Conscience and Integrity

Of all the types of stories available, Romance, either by itself or in some cross-over context, still remains most popular, even though many of us who compose understand that the mystery is in many more ways the role model for story.

Mystery forces us to focus on solution.  It brings us to an inner courtroom drama in which our own means, motives, and opportunities are brought forth as expert witnesses in Existential argument.

The words Always and Never are the yeast and dough of argument.  Throw a few of these into a conversation, then stand back to watch it rise to the occasion

"You always say that."

"How would you know?  You never listen to anyone but yourself."

And we are off on our merry way to an argument that could accelerate in excited rhetoric, complete with aggressive gestures, arguments ad hominem, sighs of purported martyrdom which in reality signify raw, unthinking sarcasm.

Much, but not all, of dialogue is argument, a number of contending thesis points rushed into collision within the linear accelerator that is drama.  The "not all" part, those aspects of effective dialogue that are not outright argument, are moments when two or more individuals are talking, each confident his or her line of stated presence is in fact the sole topic at hand, the topic others are interested in following all the way to conclusion. Of course there is this added complication:  Each party believes in the utter logic and rational progression of his argument.

Such boundaries and nuances are the parameters of story, which it becomes possible to describe as individuals thrown together to articulate a common purpose, each side seeing itself as the model of rectitude.  No matter if opposing visions are at opposite poles.  

Story is two or more visions of the moral highground, this itself an irony.  The moral highground is often internal and, thus, more difficult for the outsider to recognize, describe, and, thus, argue with.

Note the ease with which dialogue falls off the horse of argument, landing in a patch of conversation.  At such times, story parts company with the narrative, needing a hand up into the saddle again if matters are to continue.

Your take on the matter:  When dialogue and story are meshed and moving along well, the reader begins to understand that the antagonist will prevail.  The reader wants the protagonist to do something, to step forth with a solution.  But the time has not yet come; the antagonist must win the early arguments, whether by force of argument or ruse or a combination.

Some writers and critics use the term "worthy opponent" in discussing such moments.  True enough, these are critical times. If the opponent is too worthy, the reader might be tempted to root for the antagonist, which defeats a major purpose of story.  Yet, if the opponent resorts to too much bombast, the entire set-up seems rigged, even trivial.  

The wise, seasoned writer, himself or herself a devoted reader as well, will find ways to show the opponent's personal stake in the matters at issue, eliciting enough sympathy to keep the opponent plausible.  We like it best when the opponent has the appearances of a nearly good winner.

The protagonist's impending victory must seem remote, its rightness of cause growing in our awareness to the point where we feel the squirt of fear that comes from our knowledge that good guys do not always win.  There are probably more guilty ones than innocent ones in prison, but there is also the probability that somewhere along the way, a deal was made.

Story reinforces our sense that somewhere, a deal was made, adds to our awareness that we, too, have made deals from time to time, plea bargained out of the more dire consequences of our own actions.

There are few types of story to which these sensibilities and sensitivities do not obtain, which in fact makes us as readers more prone to be argumentative when we enter the mode of composition.

Reading and composing, we are in constant arguments with the deals we've cut with our Conscience, hoping to negotiate a settlement we can live with in some measure of integrity.

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