Sunday, December 27, 2015


The chances are, you will find out through the process of intuition, but to verify the hunch, stop somewhere early on, in the reading of a story or the creation of your own.  This will not be such an imposition.  Aren't you already used to using reading as a means of discovery?  At this particular moment to stop and think, you will become aware of at least one character, wanting something.

This is the dramatic equivalent of the Big Bang theory.  Someone wants something.  You can feel the particles speeding outward, describing a vivid trail over the background.  Take a character who did not realize he wanted something until on of those high-flying particals of story collide.  Say Macbeth.  Somebody who didn't know he wanted something--until he realized, Hey, I want this.

Take two or more characters who want something, even if the result arrives in a drama such as Twelve Angry Men,  His wanting something can be the monument of simplicity.  One of the characters wants to go home.  How ever does that become dramatic?  How does a character who wants to go home have any effect on a story.

Because this aspect of wanting is simple in nature--he wants respect, she wants revenge, he wants a promotion at work, she wants to break the glass ceiling--you could go for something that sounds noble and altruistic, but leads to a dead end.  She could want happiness.  He could want world peace.  She could want a satisfying career.  He could want recognition.  Sorry.  To vague.  Too non-specific.

We need specificity, which means relevant detail.  A recent client had one of his characters reclaim an unmatched set of Samsonite luggage at an airport luggage recovery, no doubt intending to showthe owner of such luggage is leading a heater-skelter life, is not at all stylish or concerned with appearances.  And.  Do people still use Samsonite luggage for air travel?  We want the absolute specificity of "Fast Eddie" Felson in Walter Tevis's The Hustler..  We want Dorothy Gale's specificity in The Wizard of Oz, of getting back to Kansas, thereupon to overcome the hated neighbor's determination to have the dog, Toto, put down.

Another element we encounter, as close as possible to the beginning:  Clues by which we determine whose story this is.  Which of the characters will we be rooting for?  When we read or compose a story, we are in effect packing for a trip, destination perhaps known, perhaps not.  One thing we understand here is that the destination will be reached via some detour, depending on that splendid element we've become used to in stories:  surprise.

These are the basic elements, needed to launch the narrative into some kind of orbit, where it may be seen as taking place rather than being described to us by some anonymous source.  This matter alone speaks to the wonders of stories told by Ring Lardner, where we not only see the characters in play, we see the narrator, doing his damndest to keep up with them but quite often causing us to see that he has missed some detail we've noticed but he hasn't.

In this sense you've been building toward, the elements of beginning story are quite a bit like the particles introduced into a linear accelerator, then sent scurrying down the long hallways until one or more of the elements collides with one or more of the others.

Stories lacking these results seem somehow one-dimensional, simplistic, or, to use that term you tried to pound into yourself, plot-driven.  Most of the early, grammar school and middle school classes you attended had the unifying theme of the seth-Thomas, Roman Numeral clock.  The games you played with yourself, urging the time to pass, were legion.  You finally had to reach the decision to ignore the clock.  Don't look at it.  Don't be guided by it.  Then came the time and place where you were in a class room in which the venerable Seth-Thomas had an audible tick.  Thus in retrospect did plot-driven enter your life.

The message today is clear:  Story is not tick or description; story is pure collision.

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