Monday, June 27, 2016

The Accupuncture Points of Story

When you take moments to consider what progress--if any--you've made toward your goal of being an effective and interesting storyteller, you often come away with the sense of having regarded story as a living, functional entity and for your part in the equation, you regarding yourself as an acupuncturist, looking for vital, unseen junction points and confluences of force fields.

To your satisfaction, you've identified what you call PONR, the point reached in the unfolding of a story where some line has been overstepped, some border trespassed, whence it is too late to call everything off. Enough narrative has been set in motion so that there are bound to be consequences down the line. 

However one or more of the characters may try to restore circumstances to their earlier, prestory state, all parties concerned, the characters, the reader, and the writer have reached the Point of No Return.

You have also picked out the place (or places) within a story that precedes and leads up to the point of no return. This is the Defining Moment, a situation, memory, choice, even an ultimatum where the boulder of dramatic consequence is sent tumbling down the escarpment of Reality. The Defining moment often arrives early, may even be the opening momentum, as in the memorable opening line of Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," which ends with the first-person narrator telling us, "...I vowed revenge."

A story may, of course, have more than one defining moment, the first leading us toward the Point of No Return, others arriving after that point has been reached to bolster the seeming inevitability of direction the story must take. For all there is mischief and action aplenty in Romeo and Juliet, the Defining Moment has to wait until the first meeting of the two lovers to be. 

Proof to you that Shakespeare would have agreed with your four-hundred-and some-odd-years-later acknowledgment is the fact that the first exchange of dialogue between these two fated individuals is rendered in a perfect Shakespearean sonnet. All text before is either free or blank verse.

You probably had the awareness of your newest awareness whirling about your brain pan much like the single bee bee inserted in every can of spray paint, but it only became apparent to you at this cognitive level after you'd stopped at the ATM of your bank to withdraw some cash. 

After your transaction was completed and you were in the parking lot, headed toward your car, you saw approaching you with loose-limbed purposefulness a young woman best described for this event as having heart-wrenching grace and attractiveness. Carrying a paper cup with a probable content of coffee to a probable nearby work destination, her effect on you was so complete that you made eye contact, then greeted her. "Good morning."

You both continued your separate directions for ten or twelve paces, you still pleased with the sight of her. Then you heard her.  "Wait a minute," she said.

Later, when you were in your car, thinking about the encounter, you recognized this event in a story as what you called A Critical Point.  Here's why. If the young woman had not replied, the matter would have vanished as, indeed, so many events and incidents die aborning in Real Time. Her response was a necessary condition to the creation of A Critical point, which is, as you'll intuit by now, the potential situation for a story to begin. Her active response was requisite to the development of A Critical Point.

Ah, you say, and in fact did say when you considered the implications, her lack of response was no less a response, but not so far as story is concerned. The moment she said "Wait a minute," the pieces for the Critical Point were beginning to assemble.  You turned to face her across the twenty or so feet between you. "Do I know you?"

That question could be construed as a pick-up line, were you several years your junior and had you asked it.  "You do now," you said, introducing yourself.  The critical point is reached. Contact and response. The beginning of a quasi-conversation.

"There was something in your voice that touched me," she said, without reciprocating your introduction. "I was in a terrible mood until you said 'Good morning.'"  Then she said, "Thank you." Then she turned to resume her original direction.

By no means a story, nevertheless A Critical Point that, in a story, could have taken on direction and narrative vector. Thinking about the moment and the direction of the dialogue, you saw potentials for several fiction genera progressions, variations on a theme of an exchanged greeting.  

And a pleasant Critical Point to you.

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