Sunday, April 5, 2015

Instructions in a Foreign Language for Assembling Your Ikea Domestic Chair

Writers by definition have a vivid, multifarious sense of imagination.  Let us say this sense of imagination clocks in at about an eight or nine on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest. Some writers have a range of imagination that goes right off the chart.

In comparison, most of the rest of us are given less pressure and/or opportunity to use our imagination sense, thus we max out around five or six.  This is by no means a relegation to such euphemisms as "imagination challenged" or the more hurtful ones such as "dull," "thick," or "dumb."  Nor is this attempt to examine the reaches and potentials of imagination as etched in stone or lacking in the potential for development and later enhancement.  

Muscle builders are able to develop greater, more articulated muscle mass by pumping iron and supportive exercises.  Artists, inventors, mathematicians, engineers, and the like have it within their power to develop imagination by studied, purposeful exercises and focused lifestyles.

Bottom line: unless there has been trauma or birth defect, we all of us have a potential for at least a five in terms of intelligence and imaginative powers.  We also have the power to enhance intelligence and imagination.

Writers use their imagination to devise vivid patterns of activity, decision making, and the ability to influence desired outcomes, such patterns widely received as story.  Writers also use their imaginative qualities to explore ways of presenting story through other ways than pure description, which is to say the "once upon a time, there was a" approach to the portrayal of narrative.  

Among such other methods are implication, by which is meant that the various actors are allowed to interact, content, and have effect on one another without any kind of direct explanation of what these interactions and effects mean, much less overt clues to the author's intentions.  Characters themselves may question or incorrectly interpret the motives and responses of other characters.

Another, closely related approach is subtext, in which characters say one thing but do an opposite other, leaving the reader to pry out the most plausible meaning.  This approach is a first cousin as it were to an inherent irony between the characters, the text itself, and the reader, best described by Tennessee Williams' significant drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, in which the major character, Blanche Dubois, for all her moments on the stage, is of a fragile emotional construction.  As the final curtain falls, Blanche is being led off to an insane asylum.  

One of the more memorable portrayals of Blanche came from the British actress, Vivien Leigh, herself of such emotional fragility that her portrayal of Blanche took her deeper into her own trouble areas to the point where the writer and director began to fear the actress had gone so far into the vulnerability of Blanche that Vivien could not make a complete return.

This brings us to two of the more prominent ways for presenting the dramatic narratives we call fiction in book or journal form.  The first is by description, wherein one or more of the characters become obvious stand-ins for either the author, him-or-herself, or as a metaphor for some Cosmic Overview.  

A splendid example of such an approach is Thornton Wilder's play set in the fictional Grover's Corners of early twentieth century New Hampshire, Our Town.  The teller of this tale is The Stage Manager, a dramatic equivalent of a Managing Editor, the organizer, the one who has the accepted vision of the story.  It is he who calls our attention to the sentiments, themes, and smoldering yearnings of the depicted characters.  

You have heard classroom discussions of Our Town in which The Stage Manager was likened to God. Until you'd heard that interpretation, your wish had been to perform the role of The Stage Manager.  The possibility of him being God was enough to make you reconsider.  Not until you and your pal, Digby Wolfe, were in a close series of meetings relative to writing a miniseries based on the Bruce Jay Friedman play, Steambath, set in a steambath, where a character known only as The Attendant was, in fact, meant to be God, had you come around to seeing and believing story situations of such depth that you were ready to commit more time to television and away from books.

The second prominent way for presenting story is by evocation, where your choice of character is so specific and individualized that the character can be seen in dozens of interpretive ways.  Thus the very specificity of locale for such so-called regionalism writers as Cather, Faulkner, Steinbeck, and McMurtry injected their work with universal appeal.  You're reminded of a film clip you once witnessed on YouTube, wherein a production of The Fiddler on the Roof was rendered in Japanese by an all-Japanese troupe, illustrating yet again the way the smaller focus becomes the unintentional large focus.

This is in a sense the kind of instruction sheet you get with some electronic device, presented in several languages, with enough pictures or drawings to lead you to set-up, install, and use the device.  Your goal, in direct terms, which you are trying to make as unambiguous as possible:  remove any dense of description from your work, particularly those Ikea-like instructions coming from the author.

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