Sunday, May 3, 2015

Me Protests the Character Doth Think Too Much

 If there is only one character on stage when a story or novel begins, the result will be the wrong kind of trouble, because unless that one character is trying to hide from someone or actively eavesdropping or spying on some tryst, or watching some menace from a reasonable distance, the wrong kind of trouble will be that lone character thinking.

This does not look good, he thought.

Or, worse yet, She knew she was going to have to get closer in order to hear the details of what they surely must be talking about.

Bad as the first example is, the second example is like a grammar school kid, waving his hand to get the teacher to call on him because he knows the right answer and can't wait to demonstrate to all and sundry how much of the answer he knows, how smart he is for knowing any of it and how superior he is for knowing as much about it as he does.

There is nothing wrong with a character thinking things, but not when the character appears before us for the first time.  At such moments, the character must let us see what kind of person he or she is via the direct expedient of action.  

A character who can roll a neat cigarette from a sack of Bull Durham, and do so with one hand is a character demonstrating a high degree of cool, so cool in fact that the coolness is sang froid, which is to say cool in French, which is cooler than cool in Spanish or Italian, and for sure cooler than cool in Portuguese.

Considering the difficulties you had, rolling any kind of cigarette from Bull Durham tobacco and the accompanying packet of Riz La paper, any degree of neatness in a rolled cigarette is cool, and yes, the relative prices of Bull Durham and the tailor mades, Camels, when you were active in the smoking game, were ten cents and thirty cents, but you were not using Bull Durham for the price, you were doing so to appear cool.

A character rolling two neat Bull Durham cigarettes and handing one to another character would be carrying cool several steps forward, possibly even extending a distinct advantage in an exchange of dialogue to follow.  There it is again, action.  And at least two persons on stage.

Never say never, and be careful about always, unless you're saying there's always another possibility to always, but not to never.  Always leave yourself a way out.  Never block your potential exit.  Two persons on stage can argue, agree, ignore one another, or any variation on a combination of the three.  All such steps require action, that is, unless some willful type would put two persons on stage who immediately sat to meditate, each in rapid order attaining a detached, alpha wave state, which would make them anything but active and, thus, viable actors in action.

With other individuals on the stage, a character can act in ways that will convey personality and agenda traits to the reader; a character can lie, deceive, engage, argue, forget, stiff a waiter, kick at a cat, help a little old lady across the street, regard another individual with a gaze that signifies a strong sense of attraction or its reverse, floating.  All these are good things to know about characters, particularly if this knowledge comes about from the reader's observation of them in action rather than the character reading about them in a newspaper or seeing excerpts from the evening news on his or her iPad Air.

After we get to know the character through action, we can pick up, through a conveyance called free independent discourse, get a sense of how the character thinks, acts, suspects, and engages in what has been called social or political action with other individuals.  By then, we'll have enough of a sense of identification of the character and possible concern for his/her welfare to allow us to slip into another form of writerly device critical theorist thinkers have called free independent discourse, wherein that character's actions, speech, and thoughts become the engine of narrative.  

The story progresses as though a subsidiary of that character; it becomes a seamless projection of that character's point of view, which in turn allows the character and us as readers to experience the elements of the story.  This projection is filtered through the point (or points) of view of the character(s).

Later in the action, we can experience the luxury of spending some time watching the front rank characters as they share their various thoughts, where summary of attitudes and agendas are set forth for investigation.

Characters think and act to mount campaigns, skirmishes, and invasions with the goal of achieving (earning) desired results, often for direct profit, at other times for satisfaction or for retribution.  They think to their own goals, not for our convenience in eavesdropping on them.  We are more than willing to suspend a natural cynicism regarding the real nature of these characters and their goals, but less than willing to accept the notion they are interested in our sharing their stories with our friends.  They do not think for our convenience any more than they acknowledge our potential presence.  Best case is they tolerate the potential for our eavesdropping on their secret lives.  

Characters do not make it easy for us as readers to understand their motives or backstories.  Why should they?  Why should they give any more thought to our convenience than they would consider the comfort and privacy of street persons?  They exist for their own agendas.  Much as we may come to admire some of them, they have no obligation to return the favor.

We are left to make rash and sometimes improper judgments on the fly, interpreting complex events as they occur.  In this sense, they exist more for their own agendas than providing us any convenience or regard.  You would not think we'd grow so attached to so many of them, considering their own fates, and the extents to which they are willing to go to keep their secrets hidden,

You would not think.  But you'd be mistaken.

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