Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Plausible

For much of your life, you've had to work at getting your visions of events and people to jibe with actual events and persons. One possible explanation for this need for effort resides in the ease with which you become impatient with the ordinary.  Another more plausible reason has to do with you having visions and hopes of you being a writer.  You could say with accuracy that you have a strained relationship with plausibility.  

In a real sense, the urge to become a writer carries a built-in adversarial relationship with plausibility, which, after all, is an appearance and thus, by definition, is an illusion.  For a thing to be plausible, the person, place, or thing must seem logical, possible, even probable to groups of persons whom you may never know in person but who, in their turn, might know quite a bit about you.

For a thing to represent plausibility, it should by its very existence point to yet another abstraction, Truth.  Plausible things appear truthful, believable, even logical.  Stop for a moment to think of Plausibility as a magnet, attracting all these equivalents of iron filings, except that they are not iron filings, they are abstractions.  Whoa, a magnet that attracts abstractions.  Oh, please, as they might say in New York, where the most plausible use of someone saying "oh, please" is seen for what it is, an obvious irony.

Here you are, starting out what you hope will be a career as a writer, your goal to perhaps work your way up the ladder to the longform narrative, the novel, yet at the moment, content to think of yourself as someone who wishes to earn his living as a short story writer.  You have at your disposal a Royal portable typewriter, enormous stacks of paper, and a rather large enthusiasm, all these along with the book you are convinced is already in the act of opening doors of publication for you.  

The book is Writing Magazine Fiction by Walter Campbell, which should have been a warning sign, because Walter Campbell is a pseudonym for Stanley Vestal, who, because he is an academic, apparently doesn't want his brother and sister academics to know he is an academic.  

Even more plausible, you came to understand later, Stanley Vestal may have understood that a person wishing to learn how to writer magazine fiction would not be too keen on being instructed by an academic.

Nevertheless, there you are, starting out, thinking how splendid life would be if you were able to make a living from writing short stories.  But you were halfway there, weren't you, because you had a typewriter, a cache of ribbons, large quantities of paper and carbons with which to make a duplicate copy (for your files), and  a shrewd eraser just in case your typing skills were not of secretarial quality?

Yet you weren't there because you had to make your characters plausible, the settings of your stories plausible, and the motivation of these plausible characters within plausible places seem, well, plausible.  After some considerable effort and time, you were on your way to making these things have the appearance of believability or Reality, but by then, you'd gone through the enormous stacks of paper, had an accordion folder with a carbon copy manuscript of at least one short story for each letter of the alphabet.

On your way is only that, a few notches beyond Okay, kid, you've started.  Much as you hoped your characters were plausible, and the landscapes in which they confronted one another pungent with the smell of plausible persons, places, and things, you had to contend with yet another concept that is a vital organ of plausibility.  That quality is Reason.

Take yourself to legal principals for a moment, where such things as reasonable doubt shimmers as a standard along with the metric of the reasonable person shimmers in existential gravitas.  Whether by instinct or luck, you knew not to ask family or friends to read the occasional story, then offer opinions about the reasonableness of the characters or whether the story and its setting held the patina of the reasonable.

Your 2012 work, The Fiction Writer's Handbook, is a compendium of therms and connects relative to story, drama, narrative, and similar topics.  During the edits, you were surprised by the number of times the word "plausible" found its way into the text.  There were too many.  You were still pleased to see them, agreeing with their disappearance as you went farther into the depths of the text, your editorial miner's cap lit to throw light on a missing word, a superfluous one, or, heaven help us, an implausible one.

In the opening sentence as well as the long run, plausibility is a subjective matter.  Perhaps the best way for you to describe it beyond speaking of it as a sense of believability and reasonable outcome is to admit that for the most part, plausibility is a sense of being rather than a description of a condition.  You thus don't know all of what plausible is, but you're content with the knowledge that you will know it when you feel it.

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