Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What You're Really between When You're between a Rock and a Hard Place

Because of your boyhood interest in Greek mythology, prompted and abetted by your sister, you were never in a tight squeeze or between a rock and a hard place; when you were in a jam, you were between Scylla and Charybdis. 

Because of your boyhood tendency toward being a smartass, you can remember at least two teachers thinking to trip you up by questioning if you knew what Scylla and Charybdis were.

This was not an unusual or unreasonable thing for those teachers to have done. Each of them knew well your tendency to invention and to hyperbole. What they may have not known, and indeed you may not have recognized at the time, was your urgent fondness for being between a rock and a hard place, being in a jam, being between a longish, snaky monster with numerous heads and rows of sharp teeth, and her counterpart, also female, thought to be a personification of a whirlpool.

Tangible evidence of your smartass nature came with your use of those wonderful words "thought to be" when you got around to describing Charybdis. "Thought to be" added to the sense that you were not a mere reader of mid grade and young persons' books, but rather an --here comes another favorite word of yours from the time--omnivorous reader.

It does not take much reading among the Greek classics to see the ongoing political uproar among the gods and goddesses, nor indeed the dramatic results of such offspring as Achilles, the product of a mixed marriage between god or goddess and mortal. Nor is a mountain goat leap of connection required to see the results of similar mischief in Ira Levin's breakout novel, Rosemary's Baby.

Being the youngest in a family of four did not in any way consign you to a sense of falling between the cracks. You had access to and enjoyed the company of parents and sister, but there seemed a particular sense of the ever present potential for boredom at that young, smartass age that brought being between Scylla and Charybdis to your thoughts with great frequency. 

Faced with the opportunity to riff on a subject about which you knew nothing, you were solving for moments at a time, the boredom problem.  

Who, after all, can be bored when volunteering to explain something for which you had no explanation at all?  Who can fail to be amused when knowing an actual fact or, better yet, a concatenation of actual facts, you cause an interrogator to assume you're being inventive in place of being authentic?

The key, as you see it, is to establish yourself quickly as either a reliable narrator or one who, on second thought, is not so much unreliable as questionable. Then, to use a term from the card game of twenty-one, you double down by unsettling the reader with an actual fact or an invention, leaving in either case the reader to wonder which was which,

This between-a-rock situation is a common one to any writer of story, a probable one to most writers of nonfiction, giving the writer an opportunity to express at least a binary if not six or seven diverse points of view in a longer work, hence one of the greater joys of the writing process. 

Your goal is to cause one or more of your characters to navigate the dramatic equivalent of the route of Odysseus' sailors when they attempted the passage between Scylla and Charybdis, knowing for a great certainty that the composers of that remarkable poetic narrative, The Odyssey, were faced with the same dramatic needs.

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