Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Do You Define Define?

 There are times during classroom situations where you will find yourself telling a group of students that story is not the most important thing in a dramatic narrative. If appropriate, you will go on to say there are only two or three basic story matrices, perhaps as many as four or five. 

You're reminded of this because, as recently as this morning, you found yourself expressing these sentiments in conversation, hoping to seal your argument with the observation, "Most readers don't read for story in the first place."

This caused only a slight lifting in question of an eyebrow. You were quick to fill in the belief that most significant readers, by which you mean at least six books a year, have enough story sense to be able to know what's coming next in any particular dramatic narrative. 

"What then?" your audience asked. "Why do readers read?"

This stopped you in your tracks for a brief moment because you've long been aware of the major reason you took with such enthusiasm to reading.  

You were bored. You wanted if not outright thriller-tale adventure, then at least transportation to a setting or situation where you were transported to another place, another time, or a combination of both. Your pause this morning was to assess the extent this reason had undergone change over the years.

Although these days it is a rare moment in which you find yourself bored, nevertheless the idea of transportation to another time or place still holds up. Of course you add irony as a significant ingredient, coming as it does in waves as an individual, a group of individuals, and indeed an organization or institution will profess to one attitude or goal, then perform in an opposite manner.

You want men and women who are anti-heroic, afflicted with some flaw in exaggerated presence. Least of all do you want ordinary characters, individuals who are tangible in their normality. You don't object to a character wishing for normality or considering him/herself to be normal, that is, so long as their behavior does not come through as normal.

And yet, with all this willingness to set story aside for the quirks of an interesting character, you often find yourself asking, "Where's the story?"  In short, you want your characters to be moving about, doing things, however delusional or self-wounding rather than having long conversations reminiscent of Socratic dialogue. 

You want characters to define themselves through the things they do, the things they avoid, the things they fear or for which they harbor an intense desire.

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