Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beat's Me

 With one or two notable exceptions, most stories are told in scenes, those memorable moments when (and where) characters come forth to convey basic units of dramatic movement by doing things. 

At first, the characters actions may not clear to the reader. The characters may be pacing nervously, looking about for something or someone, standing apart from a group of characters who are all making inviting gestures, which our character declines.

If in fact the characters are not doing anything, the reader begins to wonder why he or she persists in reading such an inert narrative. This is a different matter than readers wondering where a burst of activity will take them; this becomes a matter of the reader taking the action of closing the book, setting down the magazine, turning off the electronic reading device.

Story translates the motives of its characters into intentions which the characters must now act upon. Within a given story, X-number of actions reside. If a scene may be regarded as a slice of the story pie, one bit of action may be regarded as a crumb of that slice; in other words, a beat.

If you were to take a scene at random from a novel, then mark the beats composing it, you'd have a clearer picture of what the scene is about, but in many cases, your attempt to follow through with the assignment of marking all the beats might well raise a problem. If there is too much description, or if the character spends too much time engaging in that lovely inner process of thinking or introspecting, the reader will reach to point of thinking, Hey, it's a long time between beats.

Most readers don't think in those terms, but they do nevertheless have expectations of beats. If the interval between beats grows large, thanks to such things as description or author's intervention with opinions or commentary, the consequence can be fatal. 

If the author is not sure how to make thought or introspection appear to be conveyed through some form of action however small, the consequences begin to manifest themselves.The more thought the author gives this matter, the sooner the author will see how to use movement and action to suggest the concept of thought and introspection. Characters must be seen thinking.

If the reader had the patience to do so, the reader might diagram a scene into a step outline. While investigating a crime scene, Sherlock Holmes believes he has found a clue. He stoops to pick it up, examine it, describe it to Watson, all of these steps a series of beats which the reader will be able to track, including the desired one of Watson waxing amazed at Holmes's description and classification of the clue.

This is not something we can with any confidence expect the reader to do, although the author does something akin to this diagramming during the process of revision. The author in essence keeps track of the action within the story, herding it where necessary, turning inert moments into active ones.

Once the writer begins to see story as X-amount of individualized movements, then and only then will the writer have stepped into the twenty-first century evolution of story from whatever historical point he or she had been marooned.

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