Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Revenge of the Network People

 Some many years back, when you were actually an active member of The Writers' Guild and financing a VW Bug with a FM radio some of your friends considered a decadency, in attempts to improve your status in terms of jobs, you found yourself in the office of a producer you quickly began to dislike.  

The reason for the dislike was multifarious, but centered on his reaction to--and you still recall this--Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, and Sir Walter Scott, each of whom he dismissed with a "Fuck him. And then he said something that made you realize all the more you were in the wrong office.  "Those,"  he said, "are the only writers I can think of."

"Shakespeare,"  you said.  And he said, "Right.  Fuck him, too."

Over the years, you've found yourself in the office of various department chairpersons at various universities, more often than not reminded of the producer of your earlier paragraphs, the producer you'd begun to dislike. Nevertheless you learned something that day, something you've carried with you, building on, something you now, in retrospect, hope you knew on some sub-surface level, reminding you over the years not to ignore the potential for learning things from persons you do not care for.

You were describing a project you wished to write.  You'd set the producer off by mentioning Robert Louis Stevenson's portrayal of the betrayal of Jim Hawkins, the young protagonist of Treasure Island.  Thus delivered of his invective against the only other writers he knew, and of Shakespeare, he turned his attention back on you to ask of one of your characters, "What does he want?"

For a long, painful moment, you had no answer.  Producers at that level and department chairpersons at that approximate level enjoy such silences, seeing them as opportunities to lecture further.  "You have to fucking know what he wants so the network people can see it.  You can't have characters lurking around, you understand me?  Network people don't like characters who fucking lurk."

In your brief fling with TV, you had little  direct contact with Network People, although persons close to you did, their stories making you ever more aware your destiny awaited you on the printed page.  

In the world of publishing, you've never heard anyone dis Robert Louis Stevenson, much less Shakespeare.  To be sure, there are similarities between sales persons and Network People, but in your dealings with sales people in publishing, you were associating with individuals who enjoyed reading and who knew their way around a list of writers.

Desire is a basic element of story and certainly influences such narrative as biography, memoir, and essay.  Even though this awareness reminds you of that producer--who had the unnerving habit of making notes on the back of his hand with a ballpoint pen--you have processed the information into a series of related questions about every character who comes your way, whether the character be from a book or short story, material of your own composition, a book you've been given to edit, or material to read as submitted by a student.

Who is the character?

What does the character want?

Why does the character want the object of desire right now?

What is the character willing to do to achieve the desired goal?

How will achieving the goal effect the character?

Have you given any thought to how the character might react if, after having achieved the goal, buyer's remorse has set in?

You knew what the producer wanted, which was to please the Network People.  Doing so would give the producer the means to sustain a position of some power and maintain a lifestyle agreeable to him.  At one time in your life, a dear friend lived next door to a producer several ranks above your producer, and in this producer's voluble discussions and arguments with his wife, you were reminded of your days with a massmarket publisher, where, however you chose to regard it, you were skirting the landscape of the Network People.  You understood how story works at that Network/massmarket level, and you knew it would not be worth the consequences your dear friend's neighbor had in his work day and his discussions with his wife.

Your object of desire became forged in the shadows of those experiences.  Last year, in a meeting of a faculty curriculum committee, you listened to discussion about the offering of a course on Chaucer.  There was a long silence during which you were waiting with apprehension of hearing the academic equivalent of "Fuck Chaucer."

To your immense relief, there was no such event, but in the silence, you heard yourself volunteer to teach such a course.  This was followed by another long silence, while a group of men and women turned to look at you.


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