Monday, October 19, 2015

The Reliable Narrator and Roquefort Cheese

In story and actual history, so much depends on the reliability of the narrator.  If you as reader or composer are not convinced of the reliability, much of the transformative chemistry that makes story seem real and reality seem dramatic will dissipate, leaving you with rows of sentences on numerous pages, or a sense of remoteness from events taking place about you.

A character who claims to be you is napping in a comfortable chair in the corner of your room until he is awakened by one of the great dramatic tropes, a knock on the door.  You live in a circumstance where you are insulated from street traffic.  

The likelihood of a knock at your door at any time is rare. more often than not either from your landlady or her son, who fixes things when they don't work or replaces things he can no longer fix.  He is a ten in reliability on a scale of one to ten.

Your next door neighbor, who leaves you copies of National Geographic for reasons you do not quite understand, rarely knocks; she merely leaves the magazine on a table in your patio.  An occasional postal worker or FedEx driver will knock to deliver a package.  

In all the time you've lived here, there have been few other knocks.  Once a person with a clip board seemed to think you knew and were hiding the whereabouts of a former tenant.  Once a friend of your landlady wished to leave a message for her with you.  Once an earnest couple wearing dark suits wanted to know if you'd found Jesus.

Given the variety of things you've written while living here, anyone would think--and do so wrongly--that a great deal of dramatic and existential activity takes place here.  Online your imagination and dreams.  

Under such circumstances, you'd have no problem accepting the reality of the character who claims to be you, napping in a chair except for the fact that you know he is not completely reliable because you know he is not you.  You know this because you know someone else is already using your ID.  In fact, you know he is not you because you happen to be you.

On the other hand, you've created several hundred characters, some of whom you've given names you know to be owned by persons you know to be actual persons.  Using the names of persons you know to be real for characters you know to have been invented is a mischievous whim on your part.  You have also given yourself names of the sort people think of as pseudonyms, thus adding to the cosmic mishigas of identity. 

 Well before there was an Internet or a Google, you wrote a number of books as Adam Snavely, which sounded borderline fantastic to you and definitely funny.  The fact is, you have just checked Internet and Google to find the Adam Snavely

of your invention is not even on the first page of Adam Snavely listings.  There are too many real Adam Snavelys for your Adam Snavely to have a chance at all in the world.  What's worse, the real Adam Snavelys are not funny.

Suppose the character who claims to be you hears a knock at the door, opens it, then finds himself confronted with a character asking for you.  Situations such as this have happened to you in dreams,  Faced with a seemingly impossible problem, you woke up, your sleeping imagination not willing to cope with the equivalent of circumstances you enter with some frequency when you are writing stories.

In recent years, you've coped with the need to get as much of the real you or the storytelling you out of the manuscript, leaving the characters you've invented to cope with the problems you sought to investigate as yourself.

The reader expects knocks at the door in story.  The knocker is more often than not an irritation, a threat, or a menace.  In real life, the knocker may be any or all of these things, but the greater possibility is that the knocker will be a nuisance.

In story, the knocker asks the character who claims to be you for information about you.  The character who claims to be you lies.  You might even ask, Why stop now?  This character lied in the first place by claiming to be you.  How reliable can he be if he is trying to impersonate someone he cannot even recognize when he sees him in person?

And you sit there and tell me the writing life is as shot through with excitement and challenge as Roquefort cheese is shot through with blue mold.  You sit there, pretending to be reliable.

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