Monday, April 13, 2015

And Now What?

The one-two-punch combination, moved from its home in boxing to story, is desire and loss.  When a character recognize the need for a particular goal, an arena pokes itself into the calculus of drama, much in the way the volunteer flower intrudes its way into the cement of pavement.  

At such a moment, readers becomes alerted to the potential risk, to the character and the volunteer flower.  This is the moment where the writer pounces, often with insights gleaned from friends who are actors.  

The writer understands the value of a character wanting something and of the volunteer flower, daring to position itself at such a vulnerable place, where it might be stomped into oblivion.  With this understanding in mind, the writer borrows from the actor portraying a character who wants something by increasing the urgency with which the character desires the goal.

What did Michael Henchard, soon to become the eponymous The Mayor of Casterbridge, want when, after several bowls of a pungent and potent concoction of  gruel and home brew alcohol, begins an auction in jest that turns serious to the point where Henchard sells his wife and infant daughter to a sailor?  

Thomas Hardy, a product of nineteenth century narrative and telling techniques, was also a thoughtful and insightful teller of tales.  In this case, he was shrewd enough to leave enough ambiguity in Henchard's motives for his drunken behavior to allow the reader to fill in some blanks.  

For all its nineteenth-century orotundity, this opening chapter remains one of the most disturbing and gripping beginnings of a narrative in the long history of the novel.  For a number of reasons not relevant to the intent of this essay, The Mayor of Casterbridge, published nearly one hundred thirty years ago, remains a) in print and b) a classic.  

Not all contemporary writers have read Hardy, nevertheless his influence can be found in their works because of his general influence on story and because of his ability to portray a plausible sense of the reality of the time and place of which he wrote.

Perhaps Michael Henchard, twenty-one in the first scene, regretted his early marriage.  Perhaps he felt trapped by his circumstances as someone who had difficulty finding steady employment.  Perhaps, like another Hardy character, Jude, of Jude the Obscure, Henchard had dreams of education.  Based on his subsequent behavior, he cherished his marriage and his child.  Now we see him as he responds to the incredible loss his behavior has brought into his life.

With urgent desire and subsequent loss, a character is plunged into story in ways that remind us of the times and circumstances of our own vulnerability.  To the extent that some of us are conspiracy theorists, urgent desire and loss in a story cause us the uneasy fear of the things we are yet to lose.  Even if we are not fond of conspiracy theory literature, most of us have experienced enough loss to remind us of the way loss hovers above us like those hated spy drones, targeting us for the person, place, thing, or cherished condition that may be the next target.

Allow yourself the opportunity to think to the instance of an individual whose guiding principal is the renunciation of as many material things as possible with the ultimate goal of achieving the state of unity referred to in many philosophies as samadhi.  Add a little spice.  Make that individual a Buddhist nun or monk.  Show that individual working toward the goal of Ultimate Unity, nirvakalpa samadhi.  Now show that individual experiencing in some dramatic way the loss of any potential to achieve that goal.  

Good luck with your efforts in finding a plausible resolution for that story.  Nevertheless, it is no longer a concept, it is an activated story.  Make the character vulnerable enough and, whether or not we like him or her, we will follow to see the effects of the loss and what changes the loss makes on that character.

What happens next?  This is the pull on our sensitivity that causes us to move from story to story, from novel to novel, the most distinguishing difference between the two forms residing in the degree of awareness visited on the characters as individuals and us, as readers, individuals, and, oh, yes, as writers.

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