Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Hang of It

Thinking aloud:  If action is a major component of story, driving it to some outcome, there is a strong argument to be made for fiction being a distillation of experience.  You can speak for some writers as a reviewer and interpreter, both of which you have been and are.  

The only writer you can speak of as a writer is, of course, yourself.  Speaking for yourself, you can talk about your job as a writer, which is to dig around in the vastness of possibilities you see, looking for the ventures that seem most fearsome.

Now, the thinking begins to kick in, supplying a logic of the sort story needs to convey if the incidents in the story are to appear real. Story, in your vision of it, wants to capture experience, but not merely to report on these actions, rather to evoke their presence to the point where the reader begins to experience the guilty tang of voyeurism.

Early in your reading career, your goals were to achieve the fun and transportation of being engaged, rather than faced with endless stretches of free time.  Thus you had to learn to be able to use as many of your senses as possible to produce a terrain where things of interest went about their own purposes.  

An ant farm worked better if you could place it in front of a terrarium or ecosphere, filled with tiny fish and plants.  A story set in Africa was more exciting if you could transfer it to the huge lots where you played.  You read and imagined in order to travel beyond physical and parental constraints.

Well into your high school years, your parents trusted you to remain safe and responsible at home while they plied the highway from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.  After one or two of these ventures, you began trying your hand at writing mysteries where your parents might be plausibly away for two or three days at a time.  For what they were, they were okay; the major accomplishment was being able to make it seem plausible a high school junior or senior could become engaged in solving the kinds of puzzle that went with mystery.

At this moment, it seems amazing you were not able to pick up on the next step in the logical progression.  All you had to do was think beyond yourself to the point where being a high school junior or senior did not mean you were limited to writing stories about protagonists as young as you.  

By this time, your reading had begun to pile up to the point where you had a long list of favorite characters, many of them older and, by now, some younger than you.  As well, you had teachers as role models, the adult friends of your parents, and that remarkable parade of individuals who came to your father's luggage sales and repair shop, 516 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, California, by no means to look at new luggage or discuss the repair of old.  Rather they came to invest their capital in contests of speed between and among thoroughbred race horses.

You needed another year.  Then, at about the time you were entering epic struggles with algebra and geometry, the logic came to you whereby you could imagine experiences you'd never had for characters you got to know as you began to write about them, put words in their mouth that you would never say, all they while saying things they would never say.  This was great for your writing, but not so good for algebra and geometry.

Hard lessons to be learned here:  Story is not descriptive.  Hand waving in the back.  "Professor Lowenkopf, can you explain what you mean by that?"  You furl one of your most prominent features, your brow.  Here we go:

If you write it, you're likely telling it, because that's pretty much the way it was when you began your reading.  On the other hand, if your character(s) tell(s) it, the narrative will appear to seep through the cracks between words, actions, feelings, and those lovely details that pin the story to a particular time and place.

More with the waving hand.  "But won't that create ambiguity?"

You smile that amazing smile of yours.  "You can see that, can you?  Beginning to look as though you're getting the hang of it."

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