Friday, July 17, 2015

Orbit

Your favorite vision of story develops around the notion of a circular path or orbit.  With this circular or elliptical orbit in mind, you can pick any point as a viable beginning.  Story starts here, under these circumstances, which you pay out slowly to the reader or audience.  

This approach serves as an emphatic reminder to the teller of the tale:  Too much explanation at any time, and the orbiting will stop; the story will drop in a leaden mass. With the right payout of detail and action, the story will have progressed to the point where the reader or audience is intrigued and eager for explanations.

You came upon this generalized vision of story as orbit while you were using the mythic character of King Sisyphus as the lead.  This delighted you because much of your early reading of story had to do with myth.  You soon saw the possibility of basing stories set in more modern times while using mortals from the current era.  

You could, for instance, without much of a hint, build a contemporary character around Sisyphus.  If the reader made the connection, well and good, but the success of the story was not dependent on the reader seeing the connection.

In pursuit of this belief, you even set off on a short story in which the protagonist has come to New York to fire a relative from the family business.  Does not matter if the reader will come to the conclusion later on that this story is framed on a chapter from the Bhagvad Gita or that the cab driver is, in fact Lord Krishna.

Mythic figures give you a sense of a palette with yet more colors, which leads you to a demonstration of how your story in which Sisyphus has had it up to here with that goddamned rock.  Here is Sisyphus, in Zeus outer lobby, more than a little humbled by the years of dealing with the rock, but not entirely free of his status as a king.  

Sisyphus is waiting for an audience with Zeus, all the while building up his argument about no longer being willing to push the rock up the hill, watch it fall down the other side, then push it back up the hill again.  As he waits and frets, two burly guards being in a stretcher.  On it, a distinguished looking man of middle age and courtly manner.  He is clearly in pain.

Zeus approaches the guards, bids them stop.  He looks down at the man on the stretcher.  "Hey, how you doing there, buddy?  Everything okay?"

The man on the stretcher raises himself to his elbows.  "Fuck you, Zeus."

"I totally get you,"  Zeus tells the man.  "You might say I feel your pain, right?"  He nods to the guards.  "Take him inside.  see that he gets a nice place to rest, maybe some soup or soft diet for supper."  Now he turns to Sisyphus.  "So, Pally, what gives?  How come you're not out there with your rock?"

"Who was that man?"  Sisyphus asks.

"Thought you guys would know each other.  That was Prometheus.Now, about your rock, which you're supposed to be tending."

"No more,"  Sisyphus says.  I'm finished with that rock.  Finished."

"Finished."

"Finished.  Enough already.  I've learned my lesson, okay.  I know better.  Next time, no more messing around, hitting on your girlfriends."

"Trouble is, Pally, I let you walk and it doesn't look good, you understand?  People see you getting a commuted sentence, how's that going to convince them I fucking mean what I say?  You see my problem?'

"Being a king at one time, I've had experience with this noblesse oblige stuff.  I'm finished with the rock."

"Finished,"  Zeus says.

The two burly guards come out of the inner chambers, heading toward the canteen and a pitcher of beer.  Zeus sees them, snaps his fingers.  "Okay,"  he says.  "Take Sisyphus here and set him up for the Prometheus treatment, see if he gets along any better with that?"

"The Prometheus Treatment?"

"Every day.  He's tied to the side of a mountain.  Mid-morning, an eagle comes by, rips out his liver, and eats it for his elevenses.  I worked out a deal where the liver grows back fresh over night."

Sisyphus takes this in, pats some dust from his toga, then starts toward the door.

"Hey,"  Zeus calls, "where you going?"

"Sorry,"  Sisyphus says.  "Gotta get back to my rock."

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