Monday, October 5, 2015

Call Me, Ishmael

All story is made up of binary functions, of pairs of opposites tearing into each other, of classic conflicts of interest and invention, thus it is neither invention nor surprise for you to mention a significant duality with regard to reading and being an audience, the binary of literal and figurative.

You've been saying for a long enough time that story is more effective when it is evocative than when it is presented through a descriptive narrative.  Evocation not only gives the reader a stake in the story, it actually puts the reader deeper into the story.  The effect is significant.  The more stake a reader has, the more likely the reader will be to experience a similar range of emotions and conflicts experienced by the characters.

A sports fan who feels somehow depressed or lessened when a favored team loses one game in a season is a good place for a writer to begin drawing the implications and dimensions of that character.  One loss per season is not enough.  A sports fan whose team has lost eight or ten games during a season is another matter.  This individual is not only identifying with a lack of perfection, this individual is identifying with a smaller rate of success, which makes him or her a greater candidate for a character.

The questions we can ask of this character and the traits of his or her personal life can be assumed.  This character becomes a better candidate for an evocative story.  You don't have to describe this character; the character's life and behavior do the describing.  

The word nuance is often used in concert with stories of this narrative approach.  The writer sees the behavior in the character, sees all the relevant binary conversations raging within the character, then portrays the character in action, focused on choosing actions that portray the internal conversations in contrast with the outward behavior.

Along comes the reader, who is picking up clues as the story progresses, interpreting these clues according to the range of his own personal experiences.  The reader is saying, I have feelings about these characters, some of which I can express, others which baffle me to the same degree individuals I see in real life make significant but not complete sense to me.

In evocative stories, we can use the iceberg as an analogy; the character is substantially below the surface, with only a few traits identifiable.  Nevertheless, watching the character in action, the reader can begin to see below the surface.

How fitting and proper for you to have spent early years working on stories where you were explaining and describing the physicality, motives, and such inner workings of the character as you understood.  Those were trudging and plodding years, but important ones; you were learning enough to want more from your narratives.  In those early years, most of your stories had the structure and delivery of a joke.  In fact, you'd always been envious of persons who could tell jokes well enough to get a responsive laughter from the punch line.  After making the connection between the form and purpose of a story, your ability to tell jokes improved.

The next plateau was not wanting stories you wrote to be the equivalent of jokes, depending on a sudden surprise or turn of event for the punchline.  You wanted irony instead of joke.  You wanted to achieve the ambiguity of closure.  You no longer wanted the equivalent of "And they all lived happily ever after."  You were all for provocative closing lines, just as you were all for provocative opening lines.  Call me Ishmael.  But you did not want them to all live happily ever after, you wanted to move them from event to event instead, and you wanted to leave readers wondering what the characters were going to do next.

Next step became getting rid of And they all lived happily ever after.  There may have been gaps in there, where happiness was at the same premium money was in your house during the years of the Great Depression, and you lived happily after that, but you had to live through things in order to find the happiness.

One of your favorite movie theaters was the Ritz Theater on Wilshire, between La Brea and Detroit.  You were addicted to the splendid, polished expanse of banister extending from the mezzanine to the ground floor, on which you slid so many times you were on occasion banned from returning to the theater.  There were lounges on the mezzanine, where men with coins in their pockets sat, slouched into the pillows, whereupon, the occasional dime or quarter slid out, into the cushions.

Finding happiness is like finding spare change between cushions.  Finding happiness is calculating where the manager of the Ritz Theater was, so that you could time your slide down the banister. 

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