Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Conspiracy Theory

 Another round of classes began today, with your schedule calling for a morning one focused on nonfiction, while the evening one is flat-out, no nonsense fiction.  In your introductory remarks, you found yourself using the same figure of speech, likening you and your students to conspirators.


Most conspiracies are Class A Felonies, with all the consequences such a conviction would involve.  You were speaking of a different kind of conspiracy which, because of its tainted name, should be given a new designation.  Let's say a strategic deployment.  Let's call it what it truly is and why you happen to be in this kind of work.  Let's say strategic deployment of dramatic information.  Let's say story.  

You're in effect promising students who wish to write nonfiction and fiction an access to tools they may have not considered for years of pressing delete buttons, which send suspect computer files into oblivion.In your case, the activity was much more physical; the sense of grabbing a sheet of paper, which you then wrenched from the platen and guide bars of a typewriter, then balling up the offending sheet of paper, previous to tossing it at a nearby wastebasket.  

Quite often, the dynamic between the desire to wrench, then ball the sheet of paper, added a few extra squirts of adrenaline or frustration, or anger into the need to insert a fresh sheet in some way contributed to you missing the satisfaction of seeing the wad go into the trash.

There is a probability that any attempt to direct something, whether manuscript pages, orange peels, or late-night herbal tea bags, into the trash and missing is having the effect of making a bad situation worse, which is precisely what we want at such times. You don't wish to have to redo pages, nor do you wish the circumstances occasioning your drinking herbal tea instead of 'a demitasse of espresso, but such things do happen, and when they do, you want at least to be able to get something into the trash container.

You are offering beginning writers the opportunity to collude against the one person it makes the greatest sense to collude against--the reader.  When the shoe is on the other foot of you being the reader, you want the same dynamic to obtain.  You don't want to know how, all at once, the protagonist succeeds.  You want the characters you're reading about to go through the physicality of pulling a sheet of paper out of the platen of a typewriter.

The key  words here are "withhold" and "ambiguity."  When you read, you wish to be transported back to the early times of reading about Hansel and Gretyl, the witch, and the trail of cookies.  When you get too much information up front, you are bloated and sated with facts, only a few of which you actually want.  You want cookie crumbs which are the metaphors for curiosity, bewilderment, better yet an attitude of protectiveness to a character whom you know not to be real but, never mind, you've already got past that technicality and are now rooting for him or her to succeed.

If the work is artful enough, you are rooting for some characters to accomplish their goals without having a clear picture of what their goals are.  With all the hundreds and thousands of manuscripts you've read as an editor and at least the hundreds of drafts of your own work you've poured through as though trying to decode it from some esoteric language, you are still susceptible to the intriguing opening, that deft, mischievous offering of dramatic cookie crumbs you are likely to find in the front fiction display at your favorite bookstore.

With friends and longtime acquaintances who are writers, there is scant talk of a final book or last story, rather the expectation of being carried off by the 911 respondents who are carting you to the emergency room, certainly a bit concerned about your present condition, but simultaneously trying to make some negotiation with the Fates, the recognition that you're so far along in this latest project that you would like, oh, please, to finish before the great void.

This is the result of being so attached to story, which is not only a conspiratorial approach to offering tidbits of information, implications, innuendo, withholding vital information as long as possible, it is also the ingrained belief that you in fact have the power you do not really have--the ability to negotiate with the Fates.


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