Saturday, October 29, 2016

Aesop's Foibles

Scenes may properly be thought of as containers for the things people do, to, for, and against other people. You can also bring people together in a scene in which one or more characters has expectations that another character will do something--but doesn't. Thus scenes are arenas for action, anticipated action, judgment, surprise, and disappointment.

The more memorable scenes begin with some thematic set-up, which leads the reader to wonder which of the many possible emotional outcomes are being put into play. Thus beginning relates to setting expectation.

Two or more scenes in succession may add an unexpected note of curiosity or expectation for the reader, who does not, at the moment, see a clear, story-related path. Yet, the scenes are of themselves interesting because they tweak the reader's expectations that these evenhts are going to add up to something, an outcome or a payoff.

These theoretical two or more scenes in succession that may--indeed should--add curiosity or anticipation to the reader's position of witness should also be doing a job the reader often won't notice. This necessary task for all story helps separate the skilled writers from the wannabes. 

Scenes are the vehicles in which the writer presents the reader with relevant details, which means the details provide clues to the steps the characters will take and the conclusions they will draw in subsequent scenes. Thus has detail become something more than a mere noun or adjective, a hairbrush, say, or, better still, a hairbrush with traces of long, dark strands of hair.

In one kind of story, the discovery of such a hairbrush would cause an alarm of some sort to sound in a character who, herself, is red haired, discovering the long dark coils in her husband's hairbrush. In another kind of story, a detective, interviewing a suspect in the suspect's home, may ask the suspect to account for his time between say six p.m, and one a.m., last night. We readers already know a crime was committed during those hours, thanks to the use of the time frames set forth in previous details.

"I was home alone," the suspect says. But the detective notices the detail of two wine glasses on the kitchen work space, one of which has the telltale detail of a lipstick smear. Once again details support story by providing details of past events, present time events, and differing interpretations.  "What color was that car?" "Green." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm positive." A perfect set-up for, "No, it wasn't green at all, it was silver. I was as close to it as you were."

At one point during earlier times in your marriage, your wife sneaked into your closet, found your favorite pair of trousers, then took careful note of their dimensions, which she brought to your favorite clothing store for reference. The result was a gift you treasured for two reasons. The gift became your favorite pair of trousers and it caused a never settled difference of opinion between you and your late wife. Her: "Your gray trousers would go well with that shirt and jacket."

You: "At the moment, I don't have any gray trousers, but I did think to wear the dark green."

Her: "You do too have gray trousers; the pair I gave you for your birthday."

You: "Those are dark green."

Details are so much more than adjectives; they are the fulcrum for complex, nuanced relationships between individuals, and, of course, between individuals and animals or things.  

Scenes are important landscapes for characters, but try thinking of them more as arenas than landscapes. Try also thinking of them as places where the embedded details need to be as lively and related to outcome as the foibles of the characters.

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