Friday, November 18, 2016

There Is No Standing Pat in the Poker Game of Story

The basic shape of story is the scene, into which such separate forms as interior monologue, narrative, and dialogue appear as vehicles to bring forth dramatic information. 

Interior monologue manifests itself in the things characters tell themselves, observations made about the story in motion, Hamlet, for instance, thinking things have reached an acute downward spiral that he might just as well take his own life. 

Narrative is the expression of the movements made and actions taken by the characters. Dialogue represents the things characters say to other characters. 

All three of these forms represent action, which may be measured in increments of time, much in the manner of the duration of notes in musical scores. In story, these increments or moments of action are known as beats. In novels and short stories, beats may be alluded to with stage direction disguised as narrative. "He paused for a moment, looking warily about the room to see if he'd left any unintended traces of his presence."

In a script, the duration may be noted in print by the author, or penciled in by the actor after consultation with the director. "I have something to tell you. (A beat of three.) And you're not going to like it."

Time is a presence in all stories, not only in the moment-to-moment world of the beats but the order in which time is presented. Some stories progress in a straight chronology, from point A to the concluding moments, but even then, the possibility of past events or backstory hovers.

Thus, with one or two occasional exceptions, the basic physics of story in appearance and presentation. But before any story can engage, one more property must be introduced into the chemistry of drama as opposed to outline, the energetic presence of change.

Without change, there is no story, only the straight line of a report or description. Characters are growing familiar with one another, growing closer, more alienated, more likely to have a hidden agenda, maturing, regressing, feeling free of encumbrances, becoming more aware of previously unseen encumbrances.

First-rank characters, protagonists and their polar opposites, the antagonists, are growing at a rate of progression the writer has seen and is at pains to make the reader aware of.  One of the oldest jokes known to mankind is predicated on change. A farmer realizes he needs a hoe, opts to borrow one from his neighbor, sets out at a brisk pace to his neighbor's farm, thinking how fortunate he is to have a person such as a neighbor from whom he can borrow a hoe.

But, he wonders as he walks on, the neighbor is a bit of a pinch purse and may not take to loaning a thing of such value as a hoe. Nevertheless, our farmer continues, using internal monologue as he walks, to remind himself his neighbor might in fact not loan the needed hoe. And after all I've done for him, coming over to milk his cows when he was ill, helping out with his neighbor's harvest of hay.

By the time our farmer has arrived at his neighbor's acreage, he has worked himself into such a lather of resentment that when his neighbor sees him approaching and hails him, his response is, "You can keep your goddamned hoe."

Thus, even attitude and perceptions are subject to change. Things may remain solid in Reality; in story, change represents the ante chips the writer tosses on the table when first sitting to compose a particular work.


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