Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Soft Spot in the Heart Is Not a Soft Spot in a MS

A soft spot, when found in the heart, is a delightful place of openness and receptivity, a visiting or revisiting with something or someone treasured.  A heart with a large number of soft spots is the measure of an person engaged in the business of living in and about the universe.  

A soft spot in the heart is a potential for vulnerability because openness works that way in humans, signifies that a heart can be broken, but also that the broken heart can be repaired.Having soft spots in that sense is being open to risk.  

Soft spots and risk seem to spend a good deal of time together, working their symbiotic relationship on one another and enriching the life of their host.

Soft spots in stories is another matter, more an affliction than a genome for happiness.  A soft spot in a story is the equivalent of a speed bump in a city street, slowing down the progression of emotional evolution from desire into yearning, which prompts action.  

If we've given any thought to the effect of Newton's laws of motion on story, we know in tangible levels that story is based on actions set in motion.  In a mechanical sense, motion continues until it becomes impeded by a force of inertia.  Easy enough to reckon inertia in fiction as opposition, provided the opposition is a personalized social force of some kind.

In story, inertia can become and often does become an analog of consequence.  If the story progresses without speed bumps, we are lost in the awareness of consequences the story triggers within us on a quite individual basis.

Soft spots in story equate to ruptures in its fabric, places where the structure is not taut enough or close enough together to provide effective transmittal of emotional and dramatic energy.  You could very well say--and have said--that emotional energy and dramatic energy are congruent since each is a compression of yearning, action, and consequence.  The yearning provokes action in the characters, which produces consequences.

Sometimes consequences can become apparent diversions, which, later, are seen as directly applicable.  This is an important nuance because of an analogy to another aspect of mechanical behavior that also obtains in story--the law of conservation of matter.

In the ideal story, there are no random events or details.  One of the more emphatic demonstrations of this hypothesis is John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men.  Readers who have read other of Steinbeck's work, say East of Eden, or The Grapes of Wrath, are aware of his ability to construct a larger, more intricately braided narrative.  These, as well, do not overindulge the use of detail for its own sake.

There are no soft spots of the mechanical sort in Of Mice and Men; you've looked any number of times.  The two principal characters, George and Lennie, demonstrate emotional soft spots, which become apparent to the reader, not, as some critics have argued, in demonstration of Steinbeck's sentimentality, rather in demonstration of his having removed clutter and unnecessary description with the result of leaving a stirring, inevitable force of causality as the driving force of closure and resolution.

You've been hired to seek mechanical soft spots in the narratives of others.  Friends, editors, and literary agents have indicated to you soft spots in your own work.

In the sense of being able, you can and often do catch soft spots in your own work.  How nice to think you might at some time be able to catch all of them.  But you don't believe this is probable.  You are still enough the idealist to think some writers are in fact able to catch all their soft spots.  The best you can say of yourself on this August evening is that you hope to develop the skills and concentration that will allow you to see more of them.

Some, but by no means all soft spots:

1) Chatty dialogue
2) Not enough tension
3) Not enough opposition
4) Not pushing one or more characters over their pre-set behavioral boundaries
5) Trying to arrange too happy an ending
6) Infusing the narrative with gratuitous description
7) Making your characters too nice
8) Making your characters too awful
9) Authorial intervention
10) using Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century omniscient narrative filters
11) Being too vague in consequences or outcome
12) Being too specific in consequence or outcome

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