Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life on and off the Page

There are times when novels you've read or dramas you've watched make such an impression on you that you can't let the characters go.  You in effect imagine them in scenes and situations beyond the vehicle in which they appeared.  

The last two seasons of the TV series, Justified, often left you with the uneasy sensation of watching skilled actors performing rather than deep characters behaving.  That said, you appreciated the efforts in the final episode, with one exception.  You wanted the character Raylan Givens to find a lasting relationship with the character Ava Crowder.  Thus, in your mind, you can see him, one day soon, driving back to her remote ranch house dwelling near Gorman, and asking what's for dinner, perhaps even bringing a pizza along, just in case.

What you've done here, with a well-regarded TV series, bears a close equivalence with a genre called fan fiction, in which the fans of book or dramatic series write their own adventures and cast their own outcomes to materials over which they have no thought of ownership or creative participation, but do have a respect for and love of a concept you've begun calling "life off the page."

You were a "writer for hire" on three occasions where you were signed to write three novels for the Nick Carter series, knowing the series carried no by-line, knowing also you were grateful for the pay, and even more amused by the fact of turning the department chair of a program at which you taught into a super spy who gave messages to operatives at AWP Conventions and poetry readings.  What fun it was to turn this blue-collar James Bond character into a person who had life off his series pages and into a denizen of your own landscapes and agendas.

As a concept, life off the page has a profound importance to you, as a reader and also as a writer.  Difficult to tell when you first met the Dickens-era writer, Wilkie Collins, but say it was around the time you were studying Dickens with a significant Dickens scholar, Ada Nesbitt (1907-94), which would have you in your early twenties.  Thus Collins's great villain from The Woman in White, Count Fosco, has been with you, on and off the page, the greater part of your life, influencing your judgment of the villains of other writers as well as exerting standards and qualities you attribute to your own antagonists.

To start naming others from the protagonist and antagonist pools would lead to laundry list, but to nod in recognition to their general effect leads you to a previously unarticulated goal.  You've always striven to create memorable characters and memorable situations, those two abstractions of character and situation growing in some tangible pace with your own awareness of the world about you and such inner workings of the Self as you are able to identify.  At the same time, perhaps without even noticing, you are working toward individuals who will return to your imagination with plights, problems, and projections they need your help in solving.

As relatively little in the way of facts you know about the original Globe Theater, you know it was plain, spare, almost devoid of such thing as sets or scenery.  You know it was the content of the plays and the characters who performed them that led the audience to see props and settings as well as story.  You know that so far as your own imagination is concerned, you have the equivalent of a Globe Theater in your head.  The characters you create come to this theatre for their auditions, whereupon you collaborate with them in fitting out landscapes, speech and dress styles, mannerisms, and goals.

In the most practical sense, characters must be created then rehearsed in this interior Globe Theater first, in improvised rehearsals, before they can be transferred to more distinct settings in more distinct stories.

Small wonder then that these thoughts of the Globe Theater remind you of the opening of Hamlet, where the guards, about to change their watch, speak of the apparition:

Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,

He may approve our eyes and speak to it.

In this case, the apparition is the ghost of King Hamlet.  Walking about the battlements of your Globe Theater are the ghosts of characters from your reading and your own work, wishing recognition and placement, eager to be out of the shadows for a long cup of coffee or walk with you, where they can work their wiles on you to get some suggestions related to how they should best go about their purposes.

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