Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sorry, Didn't Get Your Name. Who Did You Say You Once Were?

First drafts of dramatic narratives often emerge sounding as though they were outlines of the intended story. As an example, this outline of Shakespeare's play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

A young prince of Denmark is summoned home from Wittenburg College to the family castle in Elsinore to attend the funeral of his father and the marriage of his mother to the new King, Claudius, once her brother-in-law. At the castle, Hamlet is confronted by his father's ghost, informing the young prince that Claudius had murdered Hamlet the elder, and calling on him to exact revenge.

The outline could add more plot detail, including the deaths of Hamlet's former girlfriend, her father, and, ultimately, King Claudius, leaving a final scene in which various corpses, including the young Hamlet's lay strewn about the stage, to be reflected upon by the two survivors, Horatio, and the new king, Fortinbras. Adding these details as mere events only adds to the sense of outline rather than drama.

We need, as viewers of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or any other play, filmed drama, novel, or short story, to get inside the hearts, minds, and sensitivities of the characters. We need to see the actions performed, the descriptions dramatized, the interior monologues uttered to whispered or belted out as though an operatic aria or blues ballad.

Look at it this way: A detail that slows the sense of inevitability requisite for story is a distraction. A detail that enhances the sense of movement is no longer a detail; it is an action.

Story is a progression of actions.

Questions, whether asked by the characters in a narrative or the reader/viewer of the narrative, are actions.

Back to young Hamlet for a moment; that often remarkable, often flawed narrative begins with a question.

Bernardo (a sentry atop Elsinore Castle): Who's there?

Fernando(another sentry): Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

The time is midnight, time for ghosts. Our guest this late evening is he who once was King of Denmark, now given to occasional appearances to demand revenge.

Are we in?

We certainly are.

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