Friday, February 12, 2016

Intentions and Destinations

When you settle on the beginning of a composition, fiction or nonfiction, your intent is to put characters and/or ideas into some tumble of intriguing outcome. In subsequent paragraphs, as the tumble accelerates, your intent is as likely to change as the increased momentum and direction of the characters and/or ideas.

The key here is intent, which is not only a force in its own right, intent is also the energy that got you into the first draft of the project and the sustained energy that motivated you through the completion of the first draft and the focus on the necessary subsequent ones. 

As a result, your method of working depends on the energy that got you started, the subsequent energy that kept you going, and the relationship between intent and energy that produces dramatic momentum.

A writer friend who was also an editor would ask you to read his longer works "for soft spots only," meaning no line edit, only a scene-by-scene sense of what you'd begun to think of as "inertia lag," places in a narrative where you as reader are no longer in the story and, thus accepting of its plausible validity. 

Sometimes a single word is enough to create a speed bump, an unnecessary or vague word that will remind the reader he was immersed in a story, but now, something is wrong, necessitating a question or a reread. On other occasions, what may have begun as a perfectly valid description or explanation of some vital concept will have gone on like the speaker at a dinner, introducing the main speaker.

These soft spots, speed bumps, and information dumps cause the reader to lurch right out of the story. An argument can be made for them having the same effect on the writer as well because in plain-to-see reality, they are descriptive information rather than dramatic information. 

The recent motion picture, The Big Short, achieves much of its dramatic impact because of the way it essentially dramatizes descriptive information, breaking the narrative into short scenes, each of which emphasizes an economics point, simultaneously showing us the characters who manipulate or become aware of the manipulations. At all times, story is alive, developing.

When you ask of a first-rank character, either as a reader or a writer, What does she want?, you are effectively pin-pointing intent. What a character wants may remain the same, but her intent to achieve the goal will have changed, grown more intense or perhaps devious.

When you are working on something, you have a multitude of intents, some of them as contentious as a family argument. You intend to find the true meaning of the story, which means you're sifting through information to get a solution to some moral or existential problem. 

You're looking for the attitude in the story, which will lead you to its payoff. You're looking for the intentions of the characters, which may be hidden from them, leading to a payoff for the reader, thus you intend to leave the reader with some take-away from the story, some feeling that will lead to future speculation and discovery.

Be it review, essay, short story, or novel, when you begin, you intend to become involved in a narrative with which you have curiosity but little or no familiarity. 

You intend to make a wrong turn somewhere, find yourself lost, then consult your inner resources for the dramatic equivalent of a GPA, to guide you to some destination where you will have some question. Now, why didn't I see that? Or perhaps, Is there a destination I'm missing? And what about this:  Is there a way I could have got closer?

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