Saturday, November 12, 2016

Boundaries

By establishing boundaries for your front-rank characters, you establish a cheat sheet to remind you how far to push them in order to bring your story to life, and as well to pull the grenade pin on your hidden strength.

All right, the grenade pin metaphor is a hyperbole. As you understand the matter, you have three seconds to rid yourself of the grenade or you will find yourself wishing you had. Even so, establishing some situation in which your front-rank characters reveal the spoken and/or moral equivalent of "That's where I draw the line," you now have a clear picture of what the line is you will push that character over. 

Sometimes, when you consider this device, you wonder if you have grown more cynical in your advancing years, certainly more cynical than the onset of your political overdrive of idealism. But no, this awareness is not cynicism so much as recognition that you view boundaries as comfort zones, that people are essentially moral and in varying degrees unselfish to the point of altruism.

You want stories in which characters become aware of some salient thing or develop a desire for some tangible thing or outcome to the degree of being ruled by it, informed and transformed. Story begins when your characters begin looking for shovels to tunnel under their property lines or, indeed, wire cutters to snip the fences preventing them from entering a terrain they'd had no thought to enter until now.

You want characters who break their own rules or the rules of those they are more fearful of than respectful. And by the same metric you want your good guys capable of extending their individual boundaries of morality, you want the bad guys to be drawn beyond their apparent lack of concern for morality to be driven by circumstances to do something of a highly moral reach.

Now the fun--and the story--begins; the good guys and the bad guys, having been driven beyond their limitations in pursuit of some goal, now live with the awareness they have broken some deep-held limit, in the process having become something and someone different from their earlier self.

More than likely, it was Faulkner who got you to looking at his belief that most of us are still governed essentially by the past, to the place where you began noticing other writers, pre- and post-Faulkner, say Louise Erdrich, for one example, who express through their choices of characters the tremendous weight the Past places on an individual.

You are reminded of some of the handicapping techniques used in thoroughbred horse racing, where a horse, according to its ratings and past performances, is assigned a handicap weight to be carried in its saddle during a race.

You don't like characters who are bad for the sake of evil, rather they behave because they are powerless to prevent themselves from wanting a position or status in a given incident, even if the motive is self-serving and obvious to other characters and many readers. "I did it for the family."  "I did it for my country." "I did it for you."

You are speaking to the matter beyond the matter going forth without needing you to speak of it, nevertheless you don't want someone to be noble or unselfish or considerate beyond the point of the behavior having felt right at the time.


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