Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Comforts of Story and the Icy Randomness of Reality

For at least the better part of this year, you've been reminding yourself in a variety of ways why story is more attractive and comfortable for you than Reality.  Your preferences are more related to time management and boredom than they are to fantasy.

Even stories you would tend to skip over have a greater care for the passage of time and of event within that time frame than Reality does.  The equivalent of a janitorial service comes in to sweep up and remove the waste materials of Reality, those long, sometimes languid moments where nothing happens but reverie or an endless, meaningless repetition.  The names for this service, depending on who performs them, are revision and editing.

Stories with too much give-and-take between characters, chatting one another up, tend toward chattiness, which is in its way another metaphor, an appetizer wine or a desert wine or cordial, sipped in some relation to a meal.  Such sipping is more often than not spent in the company of friends or under the umbrella of some spirited, convivial setting.  

Even so, chatting tends to be laden with opinion or reflections of personal taste. These exchanges are among the hallmarks of friendship, wherein too rigorous a sense of agreement begs the issue of friendship.

Here we are then, arrived at an analogy.  Chatting is to leisurely exchange as dialogue is to story.  Dialogue, not chat, elevates much narrative from mere passage of time, up to the level of story.

Depending on an individual's dramatic preferences, the individual is attracted to stage plays, the growing plenitude of well-wrought television drama, and motion pictures, or to the printed formats such as short stories, longer stories, and novels.  All these media can be said to have a common denominator of pace.  There may be a moment or two of opening leisure against which to slam the destabilizing event, but such moments are short, often laden with some thematic element that will play out over the arc of the story.

True enough, individuals from Reality often save up time and money for vacations from the incessant nature of Reality, their goals an attenuated leisure pace in which to pretend to be things with less structure than their working hours.  The fact of these leisure activities becoming fraught and intense nevertheless make them seem leisurely because they are a different fraughtness and pace than the working hours.

Story wants to convince you of the plausibility of the characters, settings, internal goals, external goals, and potentials for the success or failure of the dramatic arc within the narrative.  In fact, story so much wants to convince you of this that it has evolved away from a chorus of individuals setting the stage or of opening paragraphs that bring the reader to a more vivid appreciation and experience of the setting. 

 Story has evolved away from the author as chorus or narrator.  Even such complex quasi-narrators such as Joseph Conrad's Charles Marlow, who becomes Conrad's story-telling surrogate in The Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, and the short story "Youth," is first introduced by an omniscient, authorial presence, creating the effect of the play-within-a-play.  Today, Conrad might start interior with Lord Jim, himself, or Kurtz, from The Heart of Darkness.  

Today, story grabs your attention by forcing you to watch a character grapple with an external problem while coping with an interior one, or by confronting the opposite, making a moral choice while fending with a meter maid and her book of parking tickets.

A comparison between Reality and Story will tend to show a greater presence of the random in Reality, making it possible to introduce story to students and to wannabe writers by showing how Story is the laser beam--light amplified sound emission radiation--of Reality.  You could take a segment of time or a simple incident or, for that matter, a noun at random, extracted from an undifferentiated era.  This segment could well have a framework for a story.  Even simple incidents may be probed for traces of a dialogue of some sort.

Your ongoing comparison between the two conditions, Reality and Story--emphasize your wish to see the Human Condition presented in dramatic terms, which are multifarious, nuanced, braided, rather than the relative flatness and literalness of the description that is journalism.  

In Story, the honus on you is to evoke these things we think of as human nature, personality, ego, and complexity.  Not to forget complexity.

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