Sunday, November 6, 2016

When Action Is More than Physical

You used to be one of the persons who drew a line between the tightly plotted, action-based story and the more leisurely stroll through the lanes and boulevards of recollection. Even when your characters in adventure stories were faced with momentary mind boggle responses, you were all too aware of the story of the three princes of serendip, in which three princes, through a combination of accidents and sagacity, discover the location of a lost camel, whence the word and concept of serendipity.

Whence, indeed, your apparent mission to leave no diversion in a narrative un-diverted. Long before the glorious Lawrence "Yogi" Berra's advice to all of us to take it when approaching a fork in the road, you believed such digressions--now almost the unifying theme in all infomercials--provide sufficient substitution to plot, by which is meant the things characters do in the service of their most hidden agendas, which in turn were their most important reason for appearing within the narrative in the first place.

When you spoke of "The persons who drew a line," you are seeing in the dimly lit rooms of retrospect those who liked to see themselves as favoring the reflective story while regarding action-based narrative and its flurry of declarative sentences and active voice as from a promenade somewhat above the narrative shouting and sword wielding, giving them the moral high ground.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that moral high ground abounds in most English Departments in most universities and colleges offering the English Major option.

In retrospect, you can do well to congratulate yourself for having asked the question "Why not both?" to such forgotten masterpieces as Hammett's The Red Harvest, in which the eponymous title meant blood, wherein heads were cracked, striking unionists were left gut shot; scabs were un-unionized workers who were all too willing to cross a picket line, and morality meant the step beyond doing no harm regarded to be "nor cause any pain to others."

Why not, as in an apparently hectic pace of dramatic engagement and a simultaneous tug o'war between the binary sides of a moral argument.  You hoped to accommodate both in your stories, sometimes in the earliest possible draft. Most of such stories were paid for on a price-per-word basis, thus four drafts on a story paying a penny a word was the equivalent of leasing out your finished work could in effect reduce your pay downward to a quarter of a cent.

Fortunately for you, a number of the magazines taking on your stories wanted stories that were in fact plot-directed, yet giving the appearance of character driven, paid a flat fee, regardless of word count. You could, and did, digress, go retrospective, reflect on the vast potentials of differences between the Then and the Now.

All you have to do today is watch at work the man and women who are your favorites among their acting communities. This observation reflects well on qualities of timing you used to admire in George Burns and Jack Benny, but also the kinds of expressions and gestures each used to project the words, spoken at a particular pace for a specific effect. 

Action no longer needs to duplicate the sword fights, daring escapes, and dank dungeons of your youthful taste. Look, for just one example of how Noel Coward brings movement, action, implication, and meaning into two individuals, each out for a cigarette on two adjoining hotel verandas. A boy and a girl. Formerly married. Now, about to go inside and engage in physical consumption of a second marriage, each to another person, that same day.

The activity in Coward's setting is so instance that each is well along the way to wanting to elope with the former marriage partner. Thus have you grown from sea battles and charges of light brigades and Bengal lancers to the ongoing sense of combat within the individual at any given time, over a range of possible issues.

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