Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Experience Is the Best Toucher

Imagine a stage occupied by two or three characters, in the process of arguing with one another, or plotting some future event, or pausing in the midst of a heated no-I-won't/yes-you-will moment, say Macbeth, having earlier agreed to kill their house guest, the King, not telling Lady Macbeth he cannot go through with the killing.

The atmosphere of activity and purpose give off the tang of action, of movement awaiting another  breath of energy.  Since we are imagining, let us extend our vision to see additional characters, waiting in the wings, stage right and stage left, waiting for their cues to go on. Thus the metaphor is expanded to include yet more movement and energy--more action.

 If drama is not the hulking, breathing presence of action, you can question the state of drama, almost to the point of extending the metaphor of drama to the condition of a fully charged cellphone in an area where there is no Internet reception, even further thus of energy with no outlet.

Dramatic energy, if free to extend itself, produces movement, reaction, additional exchanges of dialogue. To keep the energy of the metaphor going, imagine the exchange of dialogue among characters as an equivalent of Cyrano de Bergerac, in Rostand's eponymous drama, engaging in swordplay with his opponents.  The dialogue becomes fencing, dueling, action urging itself toward outcome.

Now, we come to what this is all about: action with intent. Then the recognition of intent accomplished or not; success or failure, advancement or retreat. Here is the convenient moment to sweep all this metaphor and these two wildly disparate plays, Macbeth and Cyrano, under yet another metaphor, the rug of action. Action inspires and informs experience.

Some of the players on stage and others in the wings, waiting to go on, are filled with the necessary and relevant experiences of the characters they have been assigned to portray. In addition, these players have rehearsed to the point of muscle memory relevant experiences they have had in the distant past or more recent past. By "relevant experiences" you mean elements with some causal relationship to the story at hand.

Among the many goals of story is this: an arrangement of experience in ways that will initiate emotions within the reader. It becomes necessary to say here that among the potential emotions to be evoked in the reader, boredom is neither permitted nor encouraged.  The reader may be shown one or more characters who, themselves, are bored, but this boredom, which is presented with action, must not incite boredom itself within the reader, rather it must evoke sympathy or impatience, or some other visible form of discomfort.

This arrangement of experience is best remembered when it causes the reader to relate it to some similar experiences the reader has experienced,  We may with justification call this arrangement of experience by the term plot, saying of it then that it is the best arrangement of experiences within the narrative for evoking direct, accessible feelings from the reader.

Storytellers in effect contrive characters with specific experiences and their resulting consequences. An individual who grew up in drought-plagued farmland will have a different set of responses to water as someone who was born on or near one of the Great Lakes or a wide, meandering river.

A good and proper place to begin thinking about plot is to recall how you related information to a group of friends, and to a group of students. You are giving them a peek at a larger story, as told by someone else, and as such are adding a sense of experience to the information that takes on the quality or qualities you wish to evoke. 

If you are relating a more or less linear presentation of fact, you want a less troubled or preoccupied narrator, but the more interior you wish your narrative to take the reader into the emotional terrains of the characters, the more the reader will need reasons to question the lack or presence of the same elements we find so reassuring when they come from reliable individuals.

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