Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Blog

What does the "tell" in I'll tell you a story, mean?

For most practical and most modern purposes, "tell" means what happens when one or more individuals step forth with the equivalent of "A funny thing happened to me on my way to work today."

For an individual to say the equivalent of that, such as, "You'll never guess who I saw today," the result is the same as a hypnotist telling us to close our eyes because our lids are growing heavy, or for a shaman to relate and then translate some vision she or he has seen.

In a seamless transition from the critical point of attracting our attention, the narrator character or characters yanks us back in time to the moment they first became aware of being in an out-of-the-ordinary situation.

Our curiosity to learn more about the "funny thing" or the who the narrator saw will make us complicit in one of the oldest conspiracies known to humankind, the shift from the immediate present to the imaginative place where story, already begun, now expands before the reader's sensitivity, beckoning the reader to come closer, closer to the heart of the story.

When we are thus complicit, we are on the high wire of belief, much like those fabled tight-rope walkers who stride their way from one point to another, over some gaping chasm.  Such things as a gust of wind, a darting bird, or some momentary loss of balance make the tight-rope walker vulnerable to a degree of aching discomfort to the viewer.  

In similar fashion, a single word, either added or neglected, can cause the story teller to tumble, just as the wind or bird or slip can doom the aerialist. The single wrong note reminds us we are being fed information we may already know or which we have no interest in knowing.

Like so much in dramatic narrative, "I will tell you a story" has evolved over the years of story being told, moving beyond such transformative introductions as "Once upon a time--" or "In a city far off on the other side of the world, there lived a man named John, who--".  Hearing such beginnings now still has the power to enchant us, but even as we shift into the opiate enchantment of story, we recognize we are being given a story from the past, told in the manner of the old ones, possibly from so far back in time that there was no written language to capture it.

The storyteller was a respected person, part actor, part shaman, or perhaps a group of storytellers, such as the chorus who presented the setup for the ancient Greek dramas..  Perhaps the chorus was reduced to one person, wearing a modern day duffel coat, to introduce to an audience the 1989 version of the Shakespeare play, Henry V.  That "chorus" was the distinguished actor, Sir Derek Jacobi, asking the audience to accept Kenneth Branagh as Henry and to imagine the minimalist stage of the Globe Theater, where the play was first presented, as the fields of France.

We are used to and grateful in our acceptance of a significant presence, "telling" us a story, particularly if the story is a play or film.  Thanks to the proliferation of film and TV drama, we are also aware of stories beginning with no setup, only characters at work, doing intriguing things, conveying the same, primal sense of activity we got as youngsters, picking up large rocks after rain storms had completed their course, then watching the scurry of bug activity.

Today, fifteen percent of the way into the twenty-first century, stories tend to begin with a character speaking directly to us, told in such a way that we feel we are experiencing the events of the story as the person relating it is sensing.  Or perhaps we hear from more than one individual, each giving us accounts of the same incident, leaving us to decide which character saw events the same way we as readers saw them.  

Still another possibility, that narrative approach sometimes called independent discourse or even free independent discourse, where a character is presented to us as a he or she, instead of the I, allowing us to eavesdrop on his or her experiences while going through the maze of events that comprise story.

Wonderful as story has been all along, these newer approaches make us sense something more immediate and close to the characters who are involved with them.  And in a real sense, we are.  Modern story grows less and less descriptive by degree and in consequence more evocative.  When we see settings and feelings having direct effects on characters, we are more likely to add our own judgement and interpretation.  We've always empathized with our favored characters.  

Even though most of us have come upon Samuel Richardson's still-in-print novel, Pamela, more than two hundred years after its publication, we are as amused by the thought of outraged readers when they learned it was fiction.  We may laugh at those innocent readers because we understand the difference between fiction and reality, but for those of us readers of Richardson who also wish to tell tales, there is that connection with Pamela of empathy.  We can't expect the outrage of readers feeling deceived by the discovery that there was no real Pamela, but we can strive for ways to cause the reader to believe, if for only a few moments, how real and lifelike our inventions are.

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