Sunday, July 26, 2015

Start Here--Where the Story Starts

In order to begin at a proper starting point, we require one or more individuals in action or on the direct point of action.  The character John, appearing before us, saying, "I am thinking about going," is not a beginning.

This is so because John, on whom the focus is made, is action waiting to happen.  He needs something to happen involving action.  Fred, for instance, approaching, saying "Lovely thought, John," then shoving him--right out the door of the hovering helicopter in which they are both standing.  That is a beginning because one character does something to another character who is only thinking.

To the same extent that minority actors are cast in powerful roles and that front rank characters are more often middle-aged white males than middle-aged white women, a divide exists in the work of emerging writers where thought is on  a par with action and in many cases the action of putative beginnings is past action, offered as an explanation for why some character such as John in the paragraph above is thinking about going instead of actual going."

You have years of experience, earning your editor's stripes on the slush pile.  You heard emerging writers wishing to set the background for the reader in order to make the reader aware of the true, emotional depth of the story that has yet to begin.  The story will not begin for another two or three paragraphs of description.  

This is so because the writer wishes to make sure the reader understands the importance of the surrounding flora and fauna, the potential menace of the waves crashing on the sandy beach, and the contents of the medicine cabinet on the second floor of the house in which the opening velocity of the story will emerge, provided the author can let go of it.

You have additional  years of experience with students who consider themselves sufficiently well read to wish to lead the reader through the maize of thematic implications and the parallels soon to be followed between this story, if it ever gets off the ground, and the behavior of the characters soon to emerge in this story and mythical archetypes.

In addition to the years of experience coping with such rationale and rationalist behavior in others, you have significant experience in coping with such tendencies resident within yourself.  You know your way around the vocabulary block, eager to comment on some character's rebarbative behavior to another or the potential for their morbid propensity to sloth and procrastination.

Not any more.  You like your beginnings emerging through action verbs, verbs without compound tenses or auxiliary props.  No had hads, no might have been.  Ran.  Jumped.  Fainted.  Leaped.  No had leaped until well into page three.

A frequent example you use--some say too often--is the opening of The Iliad. The wrath of Achilles.  Story begins with a major player pissed to the point where he's not going to fight [in the Trojan War] anymore.  So pissed, he's going to take his men and go home, fuck the others laying siege to Troy for the return of Helen.

We have to read several pages before we find out why Achilles grew so angry, and we have to resort to some research to find out why there was a siege of Troy in the first place.  For a fact, you've have put off reading The Iliad for at least another ten years if you'd known how it started.  

Ten years made all the difference in the world, helped you read seemingly irrelevant things, then begin linking them together to the point where, after you'd read Tim O'Brien's plangent novel, The Things They Carried, you were able to go back to The Iliad to see a connection that allowed you to feel something you'd not experienced before when reading it, the real, awful, mindless presence of Death.

Let's look at the beginning of Hamlet.  A guard, making his midnight rounds on the battlements of Elsinore Castle, thinking he saw or heard something.  "Who's there?"  Bernardo asks.  "Who's fucking there?"  The story is there, because we soon found out who the who is; he's a ghost.  And what does he want with the young prince?  A word or two.  "I am thy father's ghost."  Sound familiar?

Beginnings require the planning and determination of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Writers--you included--set out to discover some place, say the Northwest Passage, that turns out to have been pure myth and speculation.  But you return with a gift no one expected, least of all you.

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