Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This Changes Everything

Even more engaging than reading a story or watching a drama gather momentum until it achieves escape velocity, keeping track of the logistics embedded in a story is like trying to elbow your way into the lines of individuals wanting the new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

Story is a composite of aspects, starting with characters, then the plot or design into which those characters become involved.  Then such choice parts as dialogue, suspense, surprise, reversal, pacing, point-of-view; these are all part of the recipe for story.

A favored exercise for you to spring on students has them trying to list as many story elements as possible, which serves to inject into their comfort zones a sense of discomfort.  You do this because of your own wish to be out of your own comfort zones when composing.  

Much as you enjoy the process and consider it fun, you do not think it is the kind of fun that comes from being comfortable.  Perhaps angry or frustrated or cynical, but not comfortable.  The edge of the defining emotions pushes and nudges you toward a practiced focus, a state where you feel "in" the process of composition.  Then you are experiencing fun.

When the student(s) list as many aspects of story as possible, you ask them to arrange the aspects of story in hierarchical rank.  Number One is the element they think most important.  The last is the one they think least important.  This is a good way of keeping track of progress and grout or, if you will, individual development.  

For the longest time, you put Characters at the top of your list and Plot at the lowest extremity.  How could you have a story without characters? you asked yourself.  And because you could not, cannot, plot worth much of anything, you put plot at the bottom and in the bargain use the relations between characters to fines a semblance of plot.

All these elements, the ones you've mentioned and the one you now put at the top of your list, continue to remind you of the physicality and immediacy of story, and thus the comparison to the lines of individuals wishing to trade up to iPhone 6 or 6 Plus .  

Your own choice for the top of the list is Voice.  The Voice in which the story is told has a direct effect on the types of characters you chose and those you send packing, telling them not to come back until they have a more pronounced attitude.

The story aspect you and your students are most apt to leave out when compiling the list seems to get lost in the shuffle, yet what successful story do you know of that can get by without it?  This one, often-ignored or forgotten element, drive story in ways other elements cannot.  What other element than Change can you say that of?

Change is the elemental force within story, impatient in its desire to register effect on characters.  Good characters change their ways as, say, Michael Corleone did in The Godfather, going from good to an individual who grew into his darker side as the forces of his Reality brushed against him.  At the outset of Macbeth, our eponymous protagonist was a loyal follower of the king, but soon enough he kills the king and his own dearest friend, Banquo.

To be sure, malevolent persons can and do change, inching their way toward goodness, considerate and empathetic in their packaging.  Mid-rank characters change their loyalties and minds as moral choices are presented to them in the inexorable procession of story points.

Simplistic as it may sound, there is dramatic truth in the observation of story, Something happens and someone changes.  Protagonists and antagonists alike are led to changes in which they are on occasion freed from traditions and conventions or, for the first time in their life, brought face to face with a convention previously ignored.

The changes in you, whether from the Real Time experiences you've endured or the Story experiences you've inhaled, thus making them a part of you, have shoved you to a place in line you'd not occupied before.  The changes in you from the things you have written have flung closed doors wide open in many cases, or, where previously locked, now opened a crack, admitting light and the freshness of contact with others. 

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