Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Theater of the Absorbed

You cannot recall the last time you went to a theater to see a movie, but this does not mean you've not seen films, nor that you have not been in a theater.  You've gone to several theaters to see plays, some of which you suspected in advance would not be as skilfully presented as a mediocre motion picture. 

More often than you wish, there are distractions while you are in motion picture theaters, yanking you from the screened story before you with the same irritating effect of a band-air being ripped off your chest.  While not among the hairiest of male chests, your chest is nevertheless hairy enough to cause you to wince at the image of a band-aid being ripped from it.

Some of these distractions are as minor as the crinkle of a candy wrapper, but they expand when a cell phone rings or emits a sound.  When conversations become loud and prolonged, the distractions turn into irritations.  

Why, you wonder as your cholers rise, should you have t put up with this when you could have this experience at home.  The screen would be smaller, the aspect ratio different, but you would sacrifice that for the security of a more intimate association with the motion picture.

What you're saying here is critical:  You prefer as prolonged a sense of immersion in a written or filmed story as you are capable of achieving.  In similar fashion, you prefer to remain immersed in a story or essay you are creating, even more so when you have no idea where it is heading, much less how and where it will pay off with resolution.

With that in mind, anything that throws you out of your concentration on a story, either one of your own or one you are ready to experience, causes sharp, irritating distraction.  You've invested in a story, which is to say you've loaned it your imaginative powers and are willing to be guided by its directions.  

You have a stake in the outcome, which becomes more complex as the story progresses.  And you know what progression, in that sense, means; it means enhanced risk and vulnerability.  It means accelerated potential for things to go further awry, meaning that once again, your own plans might not come to fruition the way you'd hoped.  Once again, you'll have to settle for a compromised version.  One scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, when you'd thought to come away with a whole pint.

Under those circumstances, you want the story to progress, but a scene in which the dialogue turns chatty, or an unnecessary description, or some unconscious humor intrudes upon your concentration in ways every bit as distracting to you as that couple in the theater, talking away in loud whispers while the film is running.

Are you in fact arguing that an excessive line of elegant description can elbow you out of your concentration?  Yes.  Are you arguing that extraneous detail or description become distractions?  Yes.  Are you saying that actions whose implications or intentions you do not grasp are in effect deal breakers?  Once again, yes.

How do you propose these distractions be dealt with?  Let's start with checking to see if the story would progress along its orbit in glorious procession without these elements.  This goes well beyond that trope of Kill your darlings.  This allows into the calculus that is the story the conclusion that every beat, every detail, every punctuation combines forces to produce an entity of ideal construction, neither too much in detail nor too little.

What to do, then?  Try this: Look for ways to make each beat of the story integral to its overall intended effect.  What do you wish the reader to come away with?  Fear?  Horror? Amusement?  Anger?  Nostalgia?

Story begins with a rush of alarm, which morphs into an urgent desire to achieve the protagonist's relevant goal.  Then it ends with the outcome of the protagonist's efforts and their payoff.  Could be a barbecue orchestrated at a tailgate party in a parking lot, or a living room floor.

Even though you don't have a pocket recorder cached away in your jacket pocket with which you wish you were recording this stealer performance by the local orchestra, you are nevertheless irritated by the sneezing fit someone toward the front of the house experiences.  Doesn't that idiot know how precious a live performance of such a major symphony is?

Okay, back to work.  Is that story you wrote ready to send off, or does it need some more polish.

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