Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reader, Writer, Character, and the Three Witches from Macbeth

How easy it is now to see the genius of Shakespeare's spin on the opening of Macbeth, wherein he substitutes for the equivalent of a Greek chorus, those three witches, all of whom have gifts of foresight?  At the time, audiences expected some form of introduction.  Imagine their surprise and delight to discover it was given to them in such a bold, fresh manner.

Story is a trance-like state for all concerned.  The reader is drawn into its irresistible landscape by artifice, a design set forth by the writer, who is manipulating the reader based on techniques learned earlier from admired writers.  

The writer is also manipulating the characters, pretending to listen to them, assuring them their stories and goals matter..  The characters are in their way manipulating the writer, if not outright telling lies.  Characters believe they are right. They act as though they are right, hopeful of luring readers along in their wake.  

The more characters let out secrets in hopes of intriguing the reader, the bond of addiction is begun. The reader wants more of a character, wants sequels.  How, for instance, do you think one of the least of Shakespeare's plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor, came to be written?  Audiences wanted more of Sir John Falstaff.  Why do you think Conan Doyle was unsuccessful in killing of Sherlock Holmes?  Each time he tried, readers were outraged.  

Characters are devious. The more characters let out secrets to the writer writer,the more the writer begins to think he has chosen the wrong one to lead the story.  

In this dysfunctional family of reader, writer, and character, the dynamic shifts from moments of seeming honesty and revelation to individualized  moments of suspicion, distrust, perhaps even animosity.  

Readers, for their part, are no better.  They winnow through the genera, pouncing on those that offer the array of fantasy arrangement they most crave.  Some men prefer blonds, others brunettes or redheads; similar tastes apply to women in their preferences for male types.  Mustaches?  Beards?  Male pattern baldness?  Some readers prefer fantasy, others prefer romance or mystery or historical, or a trendy combination.

In keeping with story being a trance-like state, it is fair to think of it as an opiate.  One or two tries often cause the addiction or, if not an immediate addiction, the promise of one, the actual presence of the addiction not noticed until the reader is aware of the number of books strewn about the habitat or, in another sign of addiction, given the prominence of place in a particular room, displayed for all to see, but held also as a secret--all these titles, all these ventures into worlds beyond reality.

Which of us is the manipulator, which the manipulated?  Since we are speaking of story, we are speaking of changes, of shifts of power.  The alliance may be unholy, but if so, the definition of holy and unholy are forever changed.  We all of us, reader, writer, and character, depend on one another to satisfy the cravings we share.

In some books, as you read along, drawn to the chemistry between characters, you think you can hear those three Harpies from Macbeth, predicting you will be caught up ere you reach chapter two.


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