Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The FedEx Delivery Person as Storyteller

 Along with your belief in which story consists of bursts and bundles of dramatic information, played out in strategic increments, you see a splendid opportunity for a metaphor. The opportunity came to you earlier today, watching a FedEx delivery person scour the neighborhood in his attempts to deliver a small package.

The delivery man worked his way with dispatch about the small, whimsical area in which you and a slew of neighbors live, going from door to door, consulting what appeared to be an iPad, then resorting to personal contact, wherein he asked you if you had any idea where an individual named Talia lived.

To add the splendid ingredient of confusion via coincidence to the stew, there had at one time been a tenant named Talia who lived in your studio, but that was at least six years ago, and here was the FedEx man with a package sent within the last few days, to an address that was close to but not actually yours.

Contemporary fiction writers--men and women who write short stories, short novels, and long novels--have three equivalents of the FedEx delivery man in terms of locating the correct recipient. The contemporary storyteller has at hand narrative, which is direct action. John stood. Mary whispered. Fred shook his head in disbelief. 

Narrative is action that may, but not necessarily, be seen by the major narrative filter in a specific scene. Let's say the point of view is John. We assume John was watching when Fred shook his head in disbelief, so we don't have to come right out and say it because the reader will understand that the reason we're getting material is because John saw it. The only no-no here is for the narrative to tell us, John did not see Fred scratch his head in disbelief. 

The only assumption to be made if the narrative tells us John did not see Fred scratch his head in disbelief is that the information is being delivered by the author.  John can only report on what he sees, guesses, or is told by some other source. Someone in this theoretical scene can even tall John, You should have seen the way Fred scratched his head in disbelief.

The second method of delivering dramatic information comes via interior monologue. Let's try John again for our example. Too bad Fred has that nervous tic,where he's forever scratching his head. This is John thinking. John can think it's time to get out of here; he can also wish he'd never come, or wonder how long it's going to be until he can make an excuse, then get the hell out of here. 

There will be times when narrative is braided or runs parallel with interior monologue. John debated about ordering another drink. That's borderline interior monologue, but still fits narrative, thanks to that verb, debated.  If this keeps up, John thought, he was going to need another drink. There; that crosses the line into thought, speculation, planning ahead. The trick is to use as many action verbs as possible in narrative and interior monologue because thought-related verbs are more apt to slow the pace.

Third and last of the FedEx dramatic deliveries is, of course, dialogue. Easy to say of course here because of your experience as an editor and teacher, dealing with the beginning writer's notion that the best dialogue sounds conversational. Simply put, that's a no. 

Dialogue is every bit as much dramatic information as narrative and interior monologue. Seen in its most expansive form, dialogue can parallel narrative by an artful use of descriptive detail. "Why is it, every time you get a new apartment, you have a big pot of red flowers?" This is both descriptive and confrontational, two qualities you would not mind having a permanent home in any dialogue you write.

Too often, the beginning and intermediate writer fail to regard dialogue as the potential FedEx delivery person, bringing on vital dramatic information. Once again, simply put, chatty conversation is a no. Story is carved out of the elements, a sentence at a time. Whether the sentence is narrative, interior monologue, a combination of the two, or braided into some kick-ass dialogue, the sentence has to earn its way by carrying enough information to push the lead characters deeper into the corner of entrapment.

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