Saturday, February 13, 2016

Goal Tending

The moment a lead character achieves a stated goal, the story begins a downward spiral to the payoff. This leaves us with one or two dramatic choices, such as having the character discover the goal before our reader eyes or composing the story with the condition already established wherein the character knows.

Some adjunct potentials are possible, such as another character announcing to the lead character, "With your abilities, you should devote the rest of your life to [fill in the blank]" and the character in reply informing the character (and us), "I only do that for fun. What I really want is [fill in the blank}." The narrative slight of hand here is to allow the reader to see what the character cannot, in combination with the character in pursuit of the wrong goal.

How delicious it is for the reader to be caught up in such conspiracy, having the choice of rooting for the character to succeed or fail, then experience the consequences of either along with the character. 

Beginning writers and, indeed, some well advance in their ability, often neglect this aspect, placing their own desires to write over the stated goal of the reader, which is to enter, then become engaged by a story.

You have to confess to this trait early on in your learning curve, aware to a degree of the reader, but more aware of your decision to take up the pen than to consider the fullest implications of what having pen in hand meant. 

You knew the reader had expectations, but these were abstractions in comparison to your own expectations, which centered on getting a character into a puzzle-like equivalent of Brer Fox's infamous Tar Baby device for rendering Brer Rabbit helpless.This stratagem centered on complexity and, much as you dislike the memory, cleverness instead of the acute reaches of moral choice.

In your reading of various novels and short stories, the goals of lead characters were weighted heavily toward some self-serving specific rather than some abstraction such as happiness, understanding, wisdom, or even those memorable desires from The Wizard of Oz, heart, brain, and courage. 

Thus even more memorable characters than Dorothy Gale wanted revenge (Ahab), freedom from oppressive conventions (Huck Finn, Lenny and George in Of Mice and Men), restoration of his good name (Ivanhoe),bringing to justice her father's killer (Mattie in True Grit.) And let's not forget Gatsby, wanting Daisy. Memorable characters also wanted things somewhat beyond their means or, in some cases beyond the boundaries of ethics, turning before our eyes from moderate acts of betrayal to more monumental examples of self-aggrandizement. 

As readers, we are drawn to such types, seemingly against our better nature, in the process made aware of our own agendas, much like neighbors fighting over incursions of easements or mistaken readings of boundary lines. Taking up the pen for our own compositions, we push our characters to the edges of our own boundary lines, then cringe when an editorial voice tells us we have not pushed quite far enough.

In an ironic turn of event, the sooner the major character achieves his or her stated goal, the less evident the trespass and the greater the writer's chances of remaining in the comfort zone of examining personal boundary lines. In the thematic statement preceding Star Trek episodes,Captain Kirk speaks of the  need "To boldly go where no man has gone before."

In withholding on the delivery of a character reaching a stated goal, the writer increases the chances he or she will go far enough beyond where no writer has gone before to reach the graceful agony of such wrenching works as Of Mice and Men, or My Antonia, achieving in the journey an expansion of the vast sea of space that is the human condition, then reporting back on it for the rest of us to see.

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