Saturday, March 5, 2016

Negotiated Settlements

 There are few moments in the writing process more filled with pent-up tension than those times when you have a major character painted into an acute corner, where disaster and ruin lurk at every turn, from which you've provided the character an imaginative and satisfying way out, but the character refuses to comply.


Writers know of this situation. They also know, and you know along with them, that this maddening situation has nothing to do with what has been called writers' block. First of all, you don't believe there is such a thing. Some individuals who wish to be writers find themselves unable to experience any sense of traction because they have no story, more often a mere concept or beginning idea which by its present nature cannot advance.

The situation of which you write is a form of a character going out on strike, refusing to take the cues and escape routes provided for him or her, wanting more employee benefits as it were, wanting anything but the way out of the rabbit hole you have provided. The more you pressure the character, the more he or she digs in heels, refuses to respond, certainly refuses to ask you for help in providing escape from this intolerable situation.

You've long passed the stratagem of writing around the situation, telling yourself such homilies as You need to rewrite the beginning, or You need to rethink the overall direction this story is taking, and you've probably only just begun to realize you were in a situation when subsequent scenes tend to sound like exercises in theme or subtext, taken from some long out-of-print book from some out-of-business school of creative writing. 

When you reach such moments with short stories, the reason is often linked to the fact that the story is over, but you'd yet to realize the fact. The same circumstance could well apply in a novel, but if there are still issues to present and resolve, you might be better off allowing the character in question the opportunity to fail--badly. 

Most of us who have read the requisite number of books to have caused us to cast our lot in this profession know how important failure is, particularly to a character who bears the usual qualities of the front-rank character, which is the ability to get up after being floored, the ability to bounce back, the added ability to capture some previously lacking insight from an epic failure. Individuals who win all the time are difficult to sell, even among the comic book super heroes.

If story is truly about loss and strategies to overcome loss, then we need to see someone who has been on the ropes before. We want to see characters who are some steps beyond conspiracy theories, but who nevertheless understand how the game is rigged in favor of the house, not the players.We want characters who may have at one time or another even worked for the house, but who no longer find that rewarding. Lucrative, perhaps, but not rewarding.

We don't mind characters who once worked for the house, if they've come to their senses, seen ways where, even working for the house, they could not win the things they've become aware of in the process. We are quick to find some detail about the house workers, however small and trivial, to make them seem unacceptable. 

This is not so much because we are conservative or progressive in our views as it is because we are willing to live among those who have different views than ours, so long as they have forged the same kind of respect for The Social Contract we've forged.

We wish the skills and opportunities to negotiate with our brothers and sisters, but also with the Universe.  Knowing the universe from our limited experience, we understand the desire to be in a position to negotiate and the importance of forswearing the bluff. At the best of times, we can, if we chose, become front-rank characters in our own Cosmic stories, remembering how that game, as well, is rigged to favor the Cosmos. Our joy is in attempting to negotiate our settlement.

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