Saturday, November 26, 2016

Was This Scene Necessary?

We are all of us the dramatic equivalent of British actors in that we move with dispatch from starring roles in some narratives to second- or third-fiddle appearances in others, reduced to mere walk-on status in yet other roles.

Nevertheless, we long ago recognized our arrival at what many regard as the major furca point in life, which is to accept with obedience and without question the multifarious calls to perform, or resolve to give the most exquisite presence possible in every role that comes our way.

On reflection of your past history, you account yourself as having shown such responses as indifference and/or resentment to some minor roles, with minor indifference and accelerating resentment toward major roles.

Memories of the latter have been enormous help, in particular one in which you suddenly found yourself not only the major lead in a day-long seminar on what funny is and how to be it, but the only performer, you who were (and often still are) emblematic in your unfunniness.

Then there was the time when you were second banana to a noted playwright, short story writer, and novelist, to the point where you overindulged in your wine intake. At such point, you overheard a conversation in which one of the conference organizers told the other that Top Banana had strolled out into the night to pee against the side of a building rather than use the restroom, whereupon he found his way to the local Elk's Club bar, whereupon he began "tossing doubles and telling any Elk within earshot to go fuck himself."

Then you became aware of them both looking at you and, it seemed to you, counting the empty wine bottles before you.

You're about to stick your big toe into a scene the likes of which you've thought about in Real Time before, but never as a potential for a scene in a story.  You're about to introduce five characters, one of them, you begin to realize, is your protagonist's closest friend. The others are individuals the protagonist works with, but in all probability, they will not return to your narrative. 

Where to go next, and how?

First: Be able to tell yourself, in as few words as possible, what you want from this scene.  The immediate answers you "get" are: 1. an awareness by all characters and, thus, potential readers, of the notion as a given that life is a mine field for pain, which may explode at any time, and 2. you are stripping protective coating from your character, layer by layer, scene by scene.

Second: Draw a map of where the scene will take place, then locate the principle perch of each character as the scene progresses.

Third: Look for polar aspects of yourself in each of the characters you will introduce--places where you tend to go and places beyond which you will not trespass.

Fourth: With as few words as possible, in a simple declarative sentence, reveal what each character wants in his/her secret heart.

Fifth: Find out what each character's reaction is to the work he/she does, the work he/she does in this room, and what, if anything, the character would rather be doing.

Sixth: Cause the "something" the character would rather be doing to come as a surprise to you.

From all of this comes the work necessary at some point to visualize the cause for the scene in the first place, the kind and quantity of fuel necessary to propel the scene for its required distance, and the ability to nod yes with some demonstration of emphasis when you ask of yourself those two significant questions:

1. Was this scene necessary for the work at hand?

2. Why?

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