Thursday, October 27, 2016

Neither Toothpaste nor Irony

Neither toothpaste nor irony can be contained when you squeeze the container a bit too hard. And so there you are, with too much toothpaste, too much irony, or too much of both. Get used to them. Live with them. Once you start following them, you see the opportunities for story you often miss when you follow more rational approaches to composition.

Discarding the excesses is neither story nor economical. Nothing is gained in the process. If anything, a bit of self-esteem might go looking for work. Story is, after all, excess, made to seem normal.

Here, we come to a major fork in the road, the place where normal distinguishes itself from ordinary. Story is, of course, the destabilization of the ordinary. Normal is how characters and their circumstances appear in consequence of their behavior.

Characters in stories are not normal in any ongoing sense of normality. In real time, we avoid individuals who seem too normal. In story, we are drawn to men, women, and young persons we come to suspect of having obstructionist or anarchist motives.

When you stop to consider the irresistible opening lines of stories and novels you've read and the importance of that irresistible effect you place on your own opening lines, you can't help visualizing toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube. There's one exception: The toothpaste isn't toothpaste; it's irony.

However much this may seem a self-admonishment to moderation, it is no such thing. You've grown beyond the need for moderation, both in age and temperament. Any gravitas you may have achieved has been attained because what seemed like moderation wasn't moderation at all; it was the squeezing forth of the last bolus of irony available.

The fulcrum in the balance between irony and story is a single word. Combined with that squeezed-out opening sentence is the state of awareness its presence has produced. Unthinkable.
Anything less than unthinkable, say rational, isn't story; rather it is cultural multiplication tables, those remarkable, secular imperatives we are all herded into memorizing. 

Two times two is indeed four, but the early bird does not always catch the worm. Tomorrow may well be another day, but unless we take it in hand, it is going to be remarkably like today, particularly if we have some problems with the outcomes or lack thereof we've experienced today.

Story has to be squeezed out of the tube. Story has to reek from irony or display too much toothpaste. "When you said X, I thought you meant Y." That's a proper beginning for a story. "When you said we were partners in this venture, I thought--ha ha, I thought you meant we were equal partners. But here I see you meant you were the senior partner and I was the junior."

"What are you doing with all that toothpaste?" To which the reader expects a subversive, secretive, evasive, or confrontational reply.  "What toothpaste?"

The matter of concern here is not if the unthinkable will come to pass but how soon, the opening line, for instance.



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