Thursday, October 29, 2015

Defining Energy of Any Character

 The defining energy of any character comes from the goal that character wishes to achieve.  The more tangible and specific the goal, the more tangible and identifiable the character.  

The defining energy of the story in which that character appears comes from the obstacle standing in the way of the character's success in achieving the goal.  The more tangible and specific the obstacle, another person, say, or a tradition, perhaps even a condition, the greater the tug of involvement on the reader.

When you were a much younger person, not yet certain you wished to spend the remaining years of your life in pursuit of an intimate understanding of and relationship with story, your immediate goals had to do with spending as much of your time as possible in a state of adventure.  

Since much of your time was spent in a state approximating boredom and its adjunct, the impatience of waiting for something approximating adventure to manifest itself, your concepts of adventure had you thrust in the midst of a historical clash wherein you were engaged in some conflict with a landscape, an idiosyncratic enemy, or a force of nature.

Reading, one double-feature movie a week, complete with a serial, a cartoon, and the then popular Movietone Newsreel provided you with a supply of settings, historical conflicts, and heroic men and women outside your daily experience.  In earlier times, Eleanore Roosevelt, Madame Curie, Fats Waller, Admiral Byrd, and Will Rogers were your real-time heroes, sharing a place in your imaginary adventures with such comic book characters as Prince Valiant, Mandrake the Magician, Jungle Jim, and the eponymous Terry of Terry and the Pirates.  The latter, often described as "a wide-awake American boy," seemed closest of all to you because, as you reminded yourself on frequent occasions, you were an American boy and you were nothing if not wide awake.

The thought of a near peer, however fictional, having such a regular smorgasbord of adventure was almost more than you could bear, that is until you discovered a classmate in junior high school having the best of all worlds thanks to having the adventure of portraying the Indian sidekick, Little Beaver, of the radio serial version of the comic book hero, the iconic cowboy, Red Ryder.  

You watched your classmate, Tommy Cook, with a judicious mixture of envy and scorn, the scorn part coming from the belief you had that you, fresh from daily adventures as Tonto in a grammar schoolyard improvisation of the Lone Ranger, could have brought greater presence to the role of Little Beaver.

After a time, Cook moved on to other acting challenges, being replaced by another actor you envied because he seemed to get even more sophisticated and memorable adventures with Red Ryder, who rode a magnificent horse named thunder.  Life was beginning to make plans for you, even then.  The actor who followed Tommy Cook as Little Beaver was John Wilder, whose recent novel, Nobody Dies in Hollywood, you edited.

While Life was making plans for your future, you were absorbing into muscle memory the fact that story has a stronger sense of movement and purpose than you at first imagined.  The goal of a character must not be limited to such youthful tendencies at abstraction as happiness, adventure, understanding, insight, or even the lofty goal of wishing to tell memorable stories.  

You required more years to learn this than you care to admit, firm in your belief that story as a concrete entity also meant individuals attempting to engage the random elements of life in ways that would amuse readers. 

"Amuse is okay," one old timer told you in one of several far-from-sober admonitions he gave you when you, staking all on the facts of being six feet three inches tall and, at age nineteen, having a bogus document attesting you to be twenty-two, which allowed you to spend time at a cocktail lounge on Sunset Boulevard known for its high demographic of writers.  "Nothing wrong with amuse, but first, you gotta disturb 'em. You unnerstan'?"

You thought you did, and so you nodded assent.  On subsequent visits to the lounge in the Garden of Allah, the old timer would call out to you, "You disturbing 'em, kid?"  Memorable about that time, your last exchange with the old timer came when you admitted flat out that no, you weren't disturbing people because you didn't know how."

He banged his open palm on the polished surface of the bar with enough force to turn the heads of the more serious drinkers, interrupting them from their inner palaver with their personal angst.  "Take 'em where they don' wanna go, kid.  You'll never go wrong taking 'em where they don' wanna go,  Then, when you amuse 'em, it's like you're throwing 'em a life line.  Unnerstan'?"

Maybe in a few more years,you'd "unnderstan'" during the course of which you went, either by accident, instinct, or necessity, to places you didn't want to go. Perhaps those visits to those places were part of the plans Life was beginning to make for you.

"Geezus," a friend said to you earlier this year, when you both discovered a tub of iced Sierra Nevada pale ale, "you got to drink there?  Fucking Garden of Allah?  What you must have heard.  They all went there, all those writers going there, like people going into places to meditate."

In so many words, yes.  You went there and places like it because you wanted something, and the things standing in your way of getting them were folded up in the plans Life was beginning to make.

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