Thursday, August 14, 2014


Most stories of mystery and suspense elbow three suspects into a clamor for our attention, means, motive, and opportunity.

These suspects drive the story and our suspicions.  If all three are not present, the author will need to provide us with one or more persons of interest, all of whom had some reason to do the deed, the instrument by which the deed is executed, and a compelling reason for committing the act on which the story depends for its shape, its voice, and its resolution.

Stories other than mystery or suspense also acknowledge means, motive, and opportunity as their raison d'ĂȘtre,  a justifiable cause for arguing that all stories are mysteries-in-the-making.  

A character sets out to solve a puzzle?  Check.  Who killed Uncle Fred and why?  Double check.  What does Young Man or Young Woman wish to do as they move into adulthood?  Check.  How will the enterprising individual leave his or her home turf to find the necessary ailment to cure the ailment threatening those at home?  Check.

These scenarios are all variations of the same story, which is that of an individual seeking a solution; every protagonist has a motive.  Without motive, the protagonist, however interesting and worthwhile, is useless as a dramatic tool.  Motive is agenda.  Motive takes the character out of the shadowland of narrative, presents the character with the A-ticket to story.

When a writer listens to motive, the agenda appears; the outline of events begins to materialize, sometimes by waking the writer up at two in the morning, thinking perhaps a splash of milk will help.  But the splash of milk sits unused in the glass when the writer begins to see through those night eyes what the story wants.

Not all stories come at such unexpected times as two in the morning, but their effect is the same.  You're given the opportunity to listen to strangers, arguing, searching for answers to problems, not always understanding one another, perhaps not even discussing the same thing, but believing they are.

These events come about at stranger times than two in the morning, having the effect on you of considering any time a strange time, causing you to realize there are two kinds of time, ordinary time and story time.  Your motivation is to produce story in what appears to be ordinary time.  Your agenda is to disrupt ordinary and/or to commemorate hidden, extraordinary things in it.

Where ever you walk these days, your attention is drawn to volunteers, weeds or plants growing where they ought not, where neither you nor anyone else would look for them.  There are those who will think of any such growths as weeds, will think anything that grows where it ought not is a weed, introducing the irony of hair growing in places where it is not expected, having abandoned growing in places where it once grew with reckless abandon.

This anomaly not only describes an aspect of your physicality, it describes your motive for writing the kinds of things you write, for looking for the kinds of things you look for, and for listening to the persons in real life and in story that you so often find yourself listening to.

There are times, in particular when you are out on your nightly walk, which often seems more like a prowl than a walk, you think you see or hear characters who remind you of things you scurry home to write about, hopeful of finding out what they and you want, wondering if there is some language of prowlers and night people that can talk to your heart.

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