Saturday, August 9, 2014

Action Verbs, the Steroids of Drama

 From time to time, students and individuals seek office hours, wishing to present you long, rambling, detailed narratives for your commentary and, in a significant sense, your approval.  The troubles begin when you realize some of the individuals are not real, they are your characters.

Most of the students are easy to deal with before much time has elapsed.  You begin to see direct applications of time tested approaches to turning narratives into stories that have the same potential for engaging readers as dogs in animal shelters have for engaging the affections and stewardship of adult humans.

To a lesser but still satisfying extent, you're able to provide individuals with suggestions that seem to infuse them with a galvanic radiance as they set off to put their narrative visions to work.  The difference between students and individuals is often age based; individuals have had time to develop defenses, suspicions, even layers of intransigence you find only in rare occasions among younger students.  The young want to sweep forth in energetic parade, seeking simultaneous adventure and world-changing results.  

The individuals are another matter.  They want to argue, to insist on the aptness of the logic and justice behind their narrative.  You would think the roles would be reversed and somehow the more adult the writer, the more the writer would wish to change the world, in a sense that possibly jumps the metaphor track, to break up the cultural gridlock in which they have become angry, horn-tooting tourists.

Nevertheless, you find yourself able to cope, to slip in direct suggestions as opposed to generalizations and the canned tropes of convention.  One method you employ with satisfying results is to ask the students to consider conventional gridlock in which they feel trapped or to identify conventions they feel have somehow betrayed them.  In a real sense, you've given them a Swiss Army knife for their narrative toolkit.

Thus equipped, the students and some adult individuals are able to lever, drill, pry, etch, chop, and otherwise hew away at narrative beyond the point where it is mere complaint and now heading for the shape of story.

And so you come to the trouble, which, as usual, begins with you, to whom long, rambling narratives, the occasional harangue or heavy-handed satire are no strangers.  They, too, wish the equivalent of office hours with you, wherein to argue, badger, and insist on the scholastic, historical aptness of their complaint.

At such times, particularly after a day of teaching and consulting, your own work may come out lackluster, seeming flat in every dimension except argument.  But you insist:  Story is not argument.  Story is yearning that triggers action that produces results, which produce the ash of consequence.  Close at hand to many of the fire places you have seen and, indeed, have used yourself, there is a broom of some sort and a shovel, tools to cope with the remnants, the ashes.

You quite agree with Robert Burns' sentiment that having the gift to see our self as others see us would, indeed, from many a blunder free us.  In that same spirit, you find yourself wishing for the gift to see your own work and your own characters as you see the work and characters of others.

The sound of clanking on the floor is the sound of a key, fallen from your pocket.  The fallen key is the construct of the action verb.  The key to unlock the troubles is one or more verbs a character can act upon as opposed to ponder.

And there, you have it.  Act vs. ponder.  Instead of considering ways gain entry, he kicks the door in.  True enough, some gifted actors can portray pondering in ways that will cause you to observe, "Oh, he's pondering his options."  But kicking in the door here is more definitive in important ways.

Thinking in this dramatic sense is the equivalent of authorial intervention and/or authorial uncertainty.  Give your characters the steroidal equivalent of action verbs.  So what if they can't pass the urine test.

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