Sunday, September 7, 2014

I'd Love to Stay, But I'm Already Late for Another Story

When was the last time you had time do do something you wished to do without thinking you were in effect performing an act of defiance?

Most of the television drama you've been watching this year is cable rather than network, most of it crime or suspense related.  The few variations are apt to be one-off dramas or a specific miniseries with a specific number of episodes.

Your avowed purpose is to watch the behavior and performance of the actors rather than the quality of story. This has to do with your book project underway, which you've more or less begun to outline or do riffs in these Blog paragraphs.  The quality of story is high at one end, with some drama such as Fargo, Longmire, and Ray Donovan, and True Detective notable for the quality of writing as well as acting.

One thing you've begun to notice in such material has you convinced you are getting unintended results.  The thrust of your book in progress is to help writers of books gain better understanding of their characters through a close examination of acting techniques.  The results you're getting work on a scene-by-scene basis.

In basic terms, two or more persons gather somewhere to pursue their individual agendas, in the process revealing textual and emotional data which the viewer will put in a more holistic process.  This is no surprise or revelation to you.  In fact, the only surprise or revelation for you comes should there be scenes where the story does not convey hidden layers of meaning and intent.

The thing you've noticed is that at least one of the characters is in a hurry to leave the scene because he or she has to be somewhere else.  A minor variation on this theme is that at least one of the characters wishes he or she were elsewhere.

Stage-trained actors know to look at a larger picture.  If their character is in a particular scene, the actor "knows" or invents where the character "was" previously, then comes to understand as well where the character is going next.  This kind of knowledge has the potential for effect on how the actor delivers lines and what body language and gestures are to be used while delivering these lines.  Developing fiction writers need to be more aware of this approach.

Even in the more laid-back genera of comedy and romance, there is still a need for a focused sense of the present moment, which conveys the awareness that these are characters involved in the midst of a story rather than hanging out in Real Time.  The background for any story is this sense of immediacy.  Within this immediacy, someone wishes to leave, is in a hurry to leave, is expected elsewhere, perhaps even to the point of having a romantic tryst somewhere else, right after this present scene is over.

Story is growing more visual as the years of this century click off.  The narrative is becoming more hyperlinked and intense, reflecting any number of contemporary pressures and conventions.  For many viewers and readers, drama and story are exquisite forms of entertainment.  They become transportation away from the world of the need to work two or more jobs.

Drama and story give us temporary respite from the sometime social pressures of social media, the sense of being tracked by telemarketing drones.  They insulate us from the awful sense of having scant time to pursue any meaningful personal activities that do not contribute in some way or another with what we consider our chores and duties as we seek to make a living and be a responsible individual.  In this sense, they serve a healthier alternative to narcotics and denial.

All the more reason why dialogue--the dramatic information characters exchange--does not have the luxury of going on for extended paragraphs, in the manner of Ayn Rand, taking on with that odd Randian duality of antipathy for the state and the evangelical zeal to float that antipathy.

Scenes can't go on for too long.  Someone is late.  Someone is being summoned out of bed to come to a crime scene or a board meeting or an appointment with a marriage counsellor.  Someone is thus becoming frustrated because he or she does not get quality time from the significant other they pursued in order to have a Life's Companion.

In an interesting and lovely irony, sometime when you have finished a class or a meeting with a client, and see a restaurant sign that intrigues you, you experience a kind of Cosmic heartburn.  There is no one waiting for you, pissed she has not heard from you all day.  The sign is a large, flamboyant neon, Noodle City.  You can already taste the slide of a well-brewed bowl of pho, running down your throat, or a bowl of noodles with sliced vegetables, swimming in a succulent lagoon of soup.

No one for you to rush to see, no one to get pissed at you for forgetting to call when you'd got caught up writing the chapter you'd been struggling to meet up with for weeks.

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