Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Beginnings, Muddles, and Endings

Reading fiction or watching drama is not for everyone, only those among us with an adventurous ambition with depths as yet unplumbed.  With each story, we come closer to recognizing the self pent up within us, held in check by various aspects of the culture into which we are born and the imaginary worlds into which we attempt to escape.

The opening lines of a printed story or performed drama have to convey a sense of covert manipulation, a character reaching for more than the acknowledged goal, not quite ready to admit the full nature and depth of the goal.  

Macbeth comes to mind in the case of drama..  When first seen, he is comfortable in his position on the pyramid, at ease with his ambition, until a slight reminder removes the cork from the bottle, and the ambition comes spilling forth. 

A good example of such ambition in print is the case of young Mr. Pirrip, who, at an early age, was not able to pronounce his name, being forced to settle for the Pip he could pronounce.  Pip's ambitions lay dormant until he fell in love with the cruelly patrician Estella, then realized the impossibility of such a love for a person of his station of life.

In addition to the opening demonstrations of intrigue, the opening must somehow establish chemical affinity between the lead character, whoever she or he may be, and our self, whoever that may be.  Regardless of our gender, age, or class, we need to be able to identify with and root for a character to succeed in the thrust of his or her quest.

We may not be able to articulate the full nature of our bonding with the protagonist, but we must be able to feel the tug of concern each time the protagonist is turned away from a desired end.

These are the degrees by which the reader is drawn into the story to the point where the reader forgets for moments at a time that this world and its denizens into which we are drawn is bogus, by necessary degrees better than the real world is better, worse than the real world is lacking.  Now, the reader is a witness to some form of humiliation suffered by the lead character.  

Whatever the story, the reader is all too aware of humiliation, whether the event actually happened or the reader feared it would come.  Experiences with humiliation start early.  Some young persons seem to have instinctive knowledge of how to treat such reversals when they come--and they will come.

The character often experiences humiliation at the hands of a bully, an employer, teacher, or parental surrogate if not the actual parent.  Your own early experiences came in the form of shoes whose soles became worn through, then replaced with glue-on substitutes, often of a rubbery composition that, after a time, flapped when you walked.  

Humiliation from an adult came from a music teacher, but in fact, you were at least a contributor, smug in your vocabulary, memory, and the things you'd read.  Such accomplishments are relative.  You have long outlived the event, going so far as to construct a narrative in which the teacher who humiliated you was prompted to do so by her feeling threatened by you. 

Even if you had read something such as The Iliad or The Odyssey, impressive to a point, where would your insights have stopped and your adult adversary de facto at the advantage?  You are considerably more now, as a reader of The Iliad, more than a precocious little boy.  You come now, equipped with attitudes and interpretations.

The character's response to humiliation is important,  He or she resolves to win back lost stature and reputation, setting the major devices for story into motion.  A writer who has brought and kept readers to this point deserves our praise.  We are invested with the need for the character, known to us to be an imaginary being, to achieve some measure of success now, allowing us to question whether he or she is experienced enough.  

Endings, you've begun to discover, are a different kettle of fish than beginnings.  The keys to endings reside in not resolving every element, rather allowing ambiguity to take hold much like dandelions in a back yard lawn.  Did they, or didn't they?  Was the venture a success?  Did the crooks get away with the crime? Did the boy get the girl?

A story needs some sense of completion, but unless it is a parable or a fable, it does not need explanation.  On the other hand--and where story is concerned, there will always be another hand, the reader wants, expects really, the sense that some cosmic force has been paid some kind of hush money.  For a few moments, the Universe can sleep, safe in the knowledge that a rule--if not an actual law--of kindness and consideration has been acknowledged.  Some ritual animal has been slaughtered for a barbecue, one to be offered to the Gods.

If we're lucky, we get some of the scraps.

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