Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Adrift in a Sea of Words

Although quite fond of the ocean, its denizens, its moods and characteristics, your knowledge of the craft that ply it, including surf boards, is well within the parameters of ignorance.  The ignorance is respectful, even tending toward awe.  

All right; you know port and starboard, you know a fathom is six feet, you know things such as stern and bow and lee and abeam and abaft.  You are also aware of a sophisticated range of instruments that can help the knowledgeable mariner to plot and maintain a course, even to determine where, in any given moment, she or he happens to be.

You present all this background because you are about to use it in a metaphor.  The metaphor relates the relative similarity between you being able to locate yourself when area, by which you mean beyond eye sight of the coast line as a source of a land mark, and when you are somewhere in what seems like the middle of a composition, a work of fiction in particular.

This amuses you, who have written two books on writing, are now involved with a third, and have already committed to producing a fourth.  The amusement comes from the fact of you knowing enough about navigating the seas of prose to have written books on the subject, each of which got some nice professional reviews and a flattering number of peer reviews.

At one point in your teaching career, and at various points in your editorial mode, you find it interesting to ask students or clients to list as many story-related concepts as they can.  You make no judgment about the number of concepts, focusing instead on the picture of an individual writer you get based on the number of terms of which he or she is aware.  

At one point, in an effort to keep boredom at bay, you tried to list as many as you could.  You became so impressed with the number that you recall saying, "Hey, I'll bet there's a book in that."  There in fact was, and it was a significant enough project to take you away from something you were having trouble with.

Your exercise is to ask the student or client to name as many aspects of story as possible, then assign a numerical ranking to each, the result being a kind of literary equivalent of a personal MRI.  You have done this to the point where, if you get lost, you don't panic.

Now, today, you have the notion that it would be of equal value to get students and clients to describe Reality.  The value here is to cause the individual to see her or his attitude and relationship to reality.  For some time, your description of Reality has begun, "A place where individuals--" at which point, according to your mood or perhaps even some recent thing you've learned, the next word, often a verb, will change.  But you know enough about the way you see things to have the foundation of a sense of what Reality means.

This is important because each of us sets his or her story in a Reality that is different from most realities or, if the writer is new at the craft, where thoughts of Reality don't seem to matter as much as thoughts of structures such as plot, where structure and intent have a priority.  

You by no means look down or in any way condescend toward such visions.  Rather, you understand in the same way a person in a cafeteria might pass up the very creamed spinach you'd heap on your plate, that we all of us have different tastes and visions.

Your number one hierarchy is voice, which is the atmosphere produced by your characters as they interact in your vision of what Reality is.  This does not mean you are gifted with the navigation devices the seasoned sailor has.  Instead, it means your approach is to writer yourself well out to sea, then flounder until some planet or constellation or landmark catches your eye, whereupon you begin rowing.

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