Monday, April 27, 2015

The Chicago Cubs Approach to Story Telling

"Down these means streets," the splendid mystery writer, Raymond Chandler, wrote, "a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid... He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."

You believe this to be a pretty good definition.  Since you've read all of Chandler more than once over the years, this definition has to some significant degree influenced your own vision of the protagonist/hero to the point where you have given realistic effort to incorporating your vision of his hero into your own inner and outer behavior.  

In fairness and in mitigation, you have tried to build in some of your own, over-the-top qualities which you recognize even as they begin to make themselves known in a situation, and in a real sense take over from the more temperate, moderate you.

You are not temperate and moderate most of them time, nor are you mean.  Perhaps some traces of tarnish not yet buffed away, nor, as was your wont in earlier times, fearful to the point where you are frozen into action.

The mean streets down which you ply are often nothing more than Santa Barbara traffic jams, which, in comparison to Los Angeles traffic jams are teen age acne to a hard-drinking adult's acne rosacea. Nevertheless it pleases you to see these Santa Barbara streets as mean in the sense of potential adventure-needs-solving challenge, thus do you even when not concocting story pretend yourself to be of a Joseph Campbell heroic sort, on a journey, even if the journey is to a coffee shop whereupon to read or compose a page or two on a note pad.

This is in recognition of you being late middle aged knight errant, arm wrestling with the inner suspicion that you might instead be that other middle aged knight errant of La Mancha.  To bend the metaphor to your own pleasure as you pursue your mean streets, you do so not with a lance but a fountain pen.  

True enough, you're accompanied by Sancho Panza, but your Sancho is no mere factotum, he is your inner guide, whispering to you of your excesses whenever you stray too far from the thin line within your own mind of an individual on a genuine heroic journey and a pompous ideologue with an inflated ego, funny not by his own design but rather by his seriousness of intent and behavior.

Against the persons who are not mean nor tarnished nor afraid are the men, women, and young persons who are present because their own purpose and agenda runs counter to your own creations.  And by this stage of the game, for you to propose that you are anything less than your own creation is to deny a vein of responsibility you have come to recognize over the years as one of the celestial bodies by which you may track your inner and outer directions.

Protagonist:  He or she who, in the quest for information or goal, causes things to happen that effect others.  Antagonist:  He or she or they who oppose the goals of the protagonist and some if not all the ramifications of the consequences caused by the protagonist's desires or quests.

Whatever the protagonist shall be, even though he be you to some measurable degree, the antagonist must be brighter, with equal or greater abilities than the protagonist.  Neither of the two types are passive, for story will not allow passivity at this level.  As a stark-but-simple example of this observation, Melville's iconic scrivener, Bartleby, of whom the question, Is he a passive character? is a trick question.

The Antagonist or adversary presence in story is best served by making that character brighter, more spontaneous in humor, quicker on the uptake.  Making such an individual evil for the sake of evilness is to undermine the confrontational aspects of the story by making it seem artificial.  If in fact we are to win because of our wits or our strength of body or a combination of the two, there is no real contest of the Protagonist is favored by the gods from the beginning.

Your own moments of enjoyment come when, as you read, you have not only begun to wonder how the protagonist can possibly gain anything from the tumble of events protagonists often cause, you may have even begun to question which party you have found yourself sympathizing with.

To give the matter a sports metaphor, the protagonist could well be a Chicago Cubs player with a desire bordering on desperation to earn a World Series ring, entering an inter-league game against the New York Yankees.  This at once gives the reader a sense of what might be, were the Cubs to win the National League pennant, then on to play against one of the historical icons of World Series play.  We begin this story with the subtext knowledge of the Cubs ongoing, heartbreaking ways of losing.

There is more to the matter than saying the Protagonist is good because we empathize with and root for his or her goals, or that the Antagonist is evil personified, turning any particular story into a fable or sermon when it could well have remained a story.  We as readers are better served if we are not always filled with absolute certainty who the Protagonist is and which character is the Antagonist.  Might it not, in fact, be that we've got them reversed?

Now, we are getting somewhere.

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