Saturday, January 9, 2016

Lifting the Rock of Story after the Rainfall of Event

 At this stage of your discovery arc about story, you find yourself giving the most attention to point-of-view, the filter through which the dramatic materials transferred to the reader and,because you put in your hours reading, the dramatic materials accessible to you.

Much of your early ventures with reading used the omniscient presence of an author or designated-driver-type storyteller to present the material.  Once upon a time, the narrator is telling you, and yes, turning your attention back to some of those works you read when you were first starting, that still works.  

Because you've done it and enjoyed it, you can still, if necessary, do it again.  You can--and have--gone back to novels you deliberately avoided, pick them up now, and settle in.  

Perhaps it is stretching the metaphor to suggest that you can still enjoy a vinyl, 78-rpm record, scratchy though it might be.  You've even taken to downloading some of the records made before your birth year, listening to them with the pleasure of hearing them for the first few times.

All the while, you were finding yourself attracted to writers who assigned the story to one of the characters in the first-person narrative filter.  In all probability, you'd have stopped your explanation of preference with the simplistic, "First-person sounds more immediate."  

Yes, and no, because you were discovering third-person also sounded more immediate when used in the proper hands.  And then came what for the longest time was your favorite of all, multiple point-of-view, particularly as demonstrated by Wilkie Collins in The Moonstone, which was one of the first novels you began rereading early on in your career.

You began to notice the distant, authorial voice beginning to disappear in the flood of more immediate filtration of story through a designated driver character, quite often the protagonist.  This meant among other things that the narrator had to be directly involved with the pacing, progress, and outcome of the story, even if it turned out to be a somewhat distant effect such as that of Nick Caraway, in his narration of The Great Gatsby.

What this progression of focus means to you is the essence of simplicity:  You want the narrator to be affected by the story, knocked about by it, possibly even caused to undergo some painful learning.  You also want the narrator or narrators to have some tangible participation in the way the story progresses and comes to some form, however Chekhovian, of the resolution.

The seemingly remoteness of the authorial presence often precludes the kinds of progression and payoff you enjoy and think to build into your own composition.  Somerset Maugham, whom you still admire, was able to "tell" his stories while making it seem the characters were in charge; this was one of the things you most admired about him.  

You knew Maugham's on-stage presence was manufactured,and done so to create a certain suavity and acceptance that were not a part of his daily behavior.  But you completely believed the way he saw his characters and you believed the way they behaved.  

In a sense, from the Maugham short stories, you once got the image of a large rock being lifted in a garden, directly after a rain storm.  The lifted rock, the sudden light, and any number of creatures would scurry, each on its own vector, away from the sudden exposure.

Although he did not write that many short stories, the ones included in his Dubliners established James Joyce as well able to delegate the filtering of his stories to the characters, themselves, if anything adding an emotional power to the moments of epiphany he sought to convey to the reader.  You believed the characters in all the stories, including the one most foreign of all of them to you, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," because Joyce did not once stop to tell you how they felt or what they were thinking; he plunked them right down into the middle of action.  It remained for you, the reader, to think and feel your way through what was said in context with what actions were being performed while the dialogue was being said.

You don't want anything to get in your way of trying to decipher the coded language and feelings of the characters as they scurry about after the rock has been lifted.

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