Sunday, December 14, 2014

Would. Could. Should

"Would," "could," and "should" are dangerous enough words for the civilian; for the writer they threaten to hijack the story, hold it for ransom until the writer pays an unnecessary price to get away from judgment, then get back to story.

These three words are the Greek chorus of the conditions many writers impose on their characters and themselves.  Would is a sneaky culprit.  If you would have worked long enough to come away with a page, you could have a pretty good draft in a year.  You see how it goes.  You should resolve to do better.  Think of all those writers you admire, turning out the pages in a steady stream.

Under those circumstanced, you'd be competing with them rather than looking at their productivity as another sample of energy and creativity at work.  Under those subjunctive circumstances, you would indeed be placing the wrong emphasis on your admiration for the work of these writers, seeing them as somehow superior individuals because of their ability to turn out pages rather than for their insights, imagination, and world view.

You would soon have even more to wrangle about as soon as you could read their latest work, which should be a lesson to you.  But of course you've worked your way beyond that mindset, haven't you.  If you have not, you should try because this needs doing.  

If you have not coped with this, you should try to do so because you could then become freed to stand in the invigorating tingle of composition where you've had some preliminary meetings with the characters, then sent them into the rehearsal room to improvise with one another, start building a chemistry, each seeing who among the others to trust, like, distrust, admire, tolerate.

Words of conditional possibility have no place in the now moments of your story, the fifty or sixty or seventy percent of the activity taking place in the immediate moment.  To be sure, some of these now moments happen because in the past a character didn't do what he should, or, even if he'd done all he could, that effort was;t enough.  Those are conditions native to them,.  This is not your biography, this is story, and so the things you could have done and didn't do, or the things you did and now regret are only of passing value, things for you to transfer to the characters.

"Want," "yearn," and "need" are good substitutes. The moment a character has revealed to you what she wants, you see her in a different way, at once eager for her to see if she can manage to achieve her goals, at the same time hopeful she will not become so needy that she will make a mess of things.

When you discover she more than wants, she yearns, you're heart opens to her.  Even though you try to maintain objectivity, you remember things you've yearned for in the past, things you thought at the time would cause life-changing developments in your own life.  

Ah, remember those days, when some small object would bring an avalanche of consequence.  At one time, a chemistry set, complete with microscope, would have led you to discovering how the universe was composed, how it works, how knowledge was locked away in the periodic chart of elements.

At another time, a toy caught your interest that had you yearning for over a year to become a sound effects man for radio dramas.  You already had a repertoire of effects, such as crinkling cellophane before a live telephone receiver, which would sound to the person at the other end of the line as though a fire were raging.  And of course, coconut shells to replicate the sound of clomping horse's hooves.

A year later, an Erector set, with which you could build cranes and tractors and buildings.  You needed all these bits of information because the persons who wrote the stories that took you out of your boyhood and into adventures around the world knew these things already.  They did not use would, they already could.  They told stories not so much because they should as because they could.

This part of your life came together when your sister caught you listening to what was called a soap opera on the radio, back in the days before television was as common in a home as a computer is today.  The soap opera was One Man's Family, which was on its way to becoming the longest radio soap opera ever.  The story was set in San Francisco, a place that fascinated and intrigued you. You had more or less of a crush on one of the characters, Claudia Barbour, causing you to wait patiently until she had lines.

The same man who wrote One Man's Family also wrote its polar opposite, a series more to your liking, I Love  Mystery, which was also set in San Francisco, featuring three chums who were called soldiers of fortune, then amateur detectives, who were more interested in adventure than justice.

The author of both series, Carleton E. Morse, because your hero for a considerable time.  He was able to give you vicarious adventure and, at the same time, produce scripts you did not fully understand because they had to do with the sort of life you felt you had at home and wished to flee on the wings of adventure.

All these elements connect as you think about them, leading you to seek the mysteries and adventures within the smaller things rather than the epics, leading you well beyond the would, could should approach to narrative, careening headlong into persons who have passions they are hard put to keep to themselves.

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