Sunday, May 24, 2015

Basics

Smart, inquisitive characters are more prone to do intelligent, innovative things, which, given their smart, inquisitive nature, is far from surprising. The same set of behavior standards applies, also without surprise, for the more intellectually challenged or less inquisitive sorts.  In both cases, there is yet no hint of story.  The potential drama is held at stasis because, as yet, nothing has happened--no precipitating action.

Stasis means business as usual, which in show business and story business means the equivalent of set-up or backstory, the Petri dish for drama to start.  Many readers, seeing a sentence or two describing stasis will be primed to expect some element of story to sprout within the next paragraph or so, otherwise they'll begin skimming, skipping ahead for traces of where the exception begins.

In fairness to smart, inquisitive characters and to their opposite numbers, each type has the potential to break ranks.  The smart character will do something incredibly dumb or wrong-headed; the less bright sort will arrive at an idea or vision of uncharacteristic brilliance.  

Trickle-down philosophy demonstrably did not work, either for the presidency of Ronald W. Reagan or those so-called compassionate conservatives to follow him.  Nevertheless, trickle-down story points may well come from the variations in behavior of the sublimely bright and the preternaturally thick characters..

The dumb act or decision from the smart guy becomes an albatross to be worn much in the manner Hester Prynne wore her Puritan High School letter, the scarlet A, causing individuals in the smart guy's immediate circle of family, friends, and professional associates to wonder, perhaps even to take some kind of action such as an intervention.  The act or decision of dumbness, a logical event for most persons, will serve as a destabilizing event for the immediate circle.  Already, we can see concepts for story here.

The incendiary bright idea or act from Mr. or Ms. Two Beers After Work, then a home delivered pizza and some bad network TV becomes an equal in the race for destabilizing activity; it causes the downstream group of Mr. or Ms. Two Beers After Work to critical review of past activities and to assume some sort of new leaf has been turned by which Mr. or Ms, is going to be consistent with subsequent bright ideas.  The same basic theme for story applies here.

If you were to put these two individuals together in a multiple point of view story, set along the railroad tracks of parallel lines, you might be loading the thematic deck by illustrating the ways the two outlier characters, each at the tip of their dramatic triangle, were influencing their followers and advancing the argument that the followers thrive on stasis and are disturbed by any variation.

You fit yourself into this conversation with suggestions.  Front-rank characters must come from the two stated paradigms here.  To avoid story lines running into overused thematic territory, these two types ought to be fit into the two or three basic thematic paradigms where story will be forced to explore evolving problems and, with these explorations, evolving solutions.

The two basic types of story are (1) a variation of Joseph Campbell's theme of The Heroic Journey.  Even something so simple in its essence as the coming of age story is a hero's journey, in particular for the young person growing up.  If that young person appears preternaturally bright or different, the narrative at once takes on at least one more level of texture.  Growing up is not enough; growing up bright is likely to exasperate those about the character, and growing up with the appearance of being stunted or deprived is yet another type of cause for concern, and,(2) the stranger arriving in town or within the group, wherein the stranger upsets the balance of stasis, generates suspicions about her or his agenda, and disturbs old alliances and allegiances.

A third possibility is a combination of (1) and (2).  Imagine, for instance, an individual thought of as lacking skills and ambition coming back to the home town in a position of significant authority or with some finely honed ability thought impossible when the character was a younger person.

The next step is to establish boundaries for either or both of these front-rank characters.  What are their ideals, their standards, the places where they have previously drawn a line in the sand or their present-day place where they see themselves digging in and fighting.

Now, the clincher.  Put that person in a dramatic situation where they are forced to the edge, to the verge of the unthinkable.  Now push them over the edge, watch them fall, then begin writing.

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