Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Eavesdropping

How to we establish genuine interest in the conditions and circumstances of characters to the point where readers who are complete strangers to the characters develop a vital and longtime interest?

Rhetorical devices require adept management.  First of all, who is the person or what is the source providing us information on a fictional character?  In your view, the reader is more of a mindset to accept another character than to accept you, especially if you are taking the "trust-me" approach.  

You can relate to that by your own willingness to trust or distrust.  Only this morning, as you essayed your early coffee, a panhandler, holding a Support Our Veterans sign, stood before your table, making earnest and steady eye contact, which is often enough to accomplish the goal.

Something was wrong, both with the person and his sign.  "What,"  you asked, "is your name, rank, and serial number?"

The person said, "Huh?"

"Serial number,"  you insisted.  "If you were in the service, you must remember your serial number"

After a long pause, in which the man shook the Support Our Veterans sign, drawing your attention again to its message.

The person replied, "Huh?"

"You're not a veteran, are you?"

You knew the answer with such certainty that, had the individual managed to offer a serial number as proof of his status now as a veteran and, to judge by the look of him, a homeless veteran, and to judge by yet another round of looks, a drunk or stoned homeless veteran, you'd have been more than surprised.  You'd in fact have been astounded.

More conversation, in which the man with the sign shook his head, revealed some bad, yellowed teeth, then said, "More difficult than ever before to get people to believe anything."  At which point, you gave him the only dollar bill in your possession and the small quantity of coins.  Max possibility, you gave the man a dollar fifty, intrigued not much at all by the man's purported act as an out-of-work veteran, rather by the implications behind his attempts to get people to believe anything [italics mine]

If there is anything more provocative to a reader's curiosity than the sense of being able to eavesdrop undetected on characters, you've failed to discover it.  This sense of being able to snoop undetected is powerful enough to draw our curiosity to places we would not otherwise venture.

Standing in direct opposition, we can be presented with information without this sense of trespass and illegal access, become quite bored with it, and begin to skin however salacious, scandalous or disturbing the confidential material might be.  Your argument, then, favors the frustration of an individual trying to work as opposed to the lack of preparation or implications of some conspiracy being directed at the victim.

You want the implication of a story being withheld rather than the excess of a story being slathered on your landscape of unprepared interest.  You want more than that; you want some implication of an almost impossible to conceive triggering circumstance, one sent you last night in an email by your literary agent.  

The "impossibility" was a url to a YouTube site featuring a clip from a film featuring the American operatic singer, Helen Traubel (1899-1972), noted for here Wagnerian roles, and Julius "Groucho" Marx (1890-1977).  This would have been ridiculously wonderful on its own, but instead, each was in costume from that most un-Wagnerian opera, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado.  In your view, this was an opportunity to eavesdrop that exceeded anything you could imagine, which is the point you're working at here.

You are growing much more discriminating about the individuals, places, and circumstances where you set up shop to eavesdrop.  This means a certain deviousness on your part, some measure of profiling situations that insures you only eavesdrop on worthwhile situations, and a more emphatic sense of where and how you will draw the line beyond which you will not even consider eavesdropping.

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