Sunday, June 26, 2016

Story: the Insect of Metaphor

For at least the past fifteen years, your vote for the most important element within story has been voice, well to the point where you have been an advocate of that sonorous narrative quality, to students, to editorial clients, and with great certainty to yourself. 

Your argument was simple and direct: If you heard the voice of the story, you knew which characters to bring in, what their goals would be, what their strengths and weaknesses would be, and how far beyond their normal set of boundaries they would trespass in order to achieve their goal(s).

A curious insect of metaphor has been buzzing about you this past year or so, suggesting a new tip of the story pyramid without in so many words saying this was going to replace voice. You've grown used to the buzzing of this insect to the point where you take its presence as a given, b ut you do so without thinking it has any place in your personal list of vital story elements.

And yet you write, think, teach, and advocate for this aspect as a part of your vision for what the composite elements of story are.  Tonight may have been the recognition point, realized even as you and your literary agent were discussing a forthcoming seminar you are hosting where the primary topic is voice.  

You were obvious in your enthusiasm for voice, ticking off qualities it brings to the page, but then you heard yourelf saying something that arrested you.  "Story is action. There may be three narrative filters to get it forth, onto the page. There is narrative, interior monologue, and dialogue. How ele is story transmitted?  

Okay, a small percentage of published stories are told in the epistolary form, which means through snail mail or even Twitter tweets or messages left on an answering service, but even then, one or more of The Big Three is used to transport the dramatic information to the reader.

Few writers have no desire to see their work adapted for some form of dramatic presentation such as stage, film, or televised drama, thus the immediacy of the equation of actors being separated from characters by the smallest measure. But the equation becomes even more blurred when you consider how narrative in print media is action in staged or filmed drama.  He rose from behind his desk, strode to the window, then peered out at the parking lot below. All those moves are action.

The next method of filtration is interior monologue, wherein the reader gets to see what thoughts are occupying the character. In print form, Hamlet might be considering if life were worth living under such circumstances as he now found himself. What about it, go on living, or end it all right here and now? That's worth thinking about. Go on fighting all this stuff coming down on me, or say farewell. His stage answer has become one of the most celebrated interior monologues in the English language: To be, or not to be, that is the question--

Fact remains that interior monologue is action because a character is shown considering suicide with great and poetic focus. Spoken communication between characters--dialogue--is action. In fact, it is the action of characters expressing story points.

Story is a great many things, all of which have direct relationship to action. Some of the action may have taken place in the past; this is nevertheless action and is called backstory or a recounting of relevant dramatic events that took place in the past and have consequence now in the immediate parts of the story.

Stage, movies, and TV drama have sets or settings, which allow the audience to "see" some of the descriptions and details. The better narrativer writers are able to present much, if not all, description through action.

You can say with emphatic certainty the a narrative without action is the opposite of story; it is the stasis of things and persons. By triangulation and direct statement, you've argued how story is dramatic information, which becomes sets of action in which rights, privileges, behavior, and goals are set into movement.

Story is, thus, action. It is action told in a particular tone or voice, which is often that other mislaid concept, inevitability. Story is inevitability, marching, running, swimming, conniving its way to outcome.  Story is the buzzing insect of intent.

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