Friday, January 16, 2015

An Unlit Fuse Is a Challenge, A Lit Fuse Is a Problem

The unlit fuse and its polar opposite, the burning fuse, have become favored dramatic metaphors for you, thanks to the way they draw your attention to the immediacy they convey.  

In the simplest of calculus, the unlit fuse becomes a reminder of potential combustion.  The lit fuse sizzles and crackles along to take the place of such visual and audible  prompts as pages turning in a calendar, a clock ticking, or the grains of sand falling from the filled sphere of an hour glass into the empty one.

You can scarcely think of the fuse without being aware of its consequence, which is ignition and all that term means--a most probable explosion or, by way of surprise, a dramatic fizzle, coming along as a dramatic trump to the expected explosion.

In this imagery of fuse and ignition, vital elements of story lay before us, reminding us of the urgency of circumstances, of forces set in motion to produce fire, which in its turn produces explosion.  Story requires some form of combustion.  Depending on the type of story. we are enticed by our curiosity of what will happen next.

What will happen next is something you've gone on to describe as The Unthinkable, Come to Pass, which is to say a dramatic combustion, threatening to destroy any plans the protagonist in a story may have made toward achieving the goal or prize of the story.  

The combustion forces our awareness of the protagonist's frustration, another volatile, and thus important, element in drama.  Readers enjoy sharing the protagonist's coming to a dead end; this is a delightful moment between the Scylla of apparent defeat and the Charybdis of curiosity to learn what the protagonist, back against the wall, will pluck out of the cobwebs of imagination.  

For your tastes, this is a supreme time, simultaneous in the gritty taste of apparent failure and humorous with memories of Wile E. Coyote, undaunted by past humiliation, forced to even more desperate extremes.

Because of your ongoing interest in the story of mystery and/or suspense, you're acute to the kinds of frustration that  get in the way of the protagonist's search for still another vital element, a defining vision.  This is the necessary vision by which the protagonist can see the entire pattern of wickedness by which the antagonistic forces have destabilized the status quo, tipping it over from the ordinary and unremarkable into story and an urgent need for some kind of awareness.

You've begun a small notebook in which you list the possible ends of the equivalent of Act II in mystery/suspense stories:

1.  The protagonist as private detective is fired by the employer.
2.  The protagonist as private investigator is warned off the case by some form of intimidation
3.  The protagonist as a private citizen is not believed by law enforcement agencies and is driven to take up the story as a lone individual against some system
4.  The protagonist as sworn law officer is:
          a) given twenty-four hours to close the case
          b) replaced by a hated rival
          c) given some humiliating demotion
          d) put on administrative leave from the law enforcement agency and thus forced to continue in the story as a civilian
5.  The antagonist is released from custody
6.  A confession is made by a character we know can't have been complicit in the true defining vision

You continue in your belief that these aspects apply in large measure to any story, crime related or not, with some of the specifics more than available for a slight transformation. Once the fuse is lit, story is underway.

In your composing mode, you know by now to write until you work yourself into the emotional state of the protagonist, which seems while it is happening to be an act of self-inflicted torture.  But when you've been on the other side, where the pressure and frustration slip the answer to you in unsuspected ways, you know you'll be back again, listening to the sizzling fuse.

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