Tuesday, December 27, 2016

First Door on Your Left--er, Right

Not long after delivering a brief commentary to a group of writers on the need to look out for and subsequently edit out habit words--words one tends to repeat without purpose or intention--you found yourself using one of your favorite habit metaphors.

Your own major habit word is "and," which you use to season early drafts of written material the way your late pal, Barnaby Conrad, seemed to season everything he ate with Tabasco. Your   go-to habit metaphor is "down the rabbit hole," the very portal Alice used to gain entry into Wonderland and, subsequently, "Through the Looking Glass."

You could evoke a shaky image of Gertrude Stein by saying "A door is a door is a door," nevertheless a tribute to her observation about roses and then, all things. Instead, you're content to leave the relevant matter at this: A door is an entryway to a place; a portal is an entryway to story.

Within any given place, however humble or luxurious, there is bound to be some potential for a story, gathering its stormy forces together, waiting to achieve escape velocity before inflicting itself upon one or more invented characters. So far as you are concerned, the choice of portal instead of door makes a direct accusation: Story awaits beyond this point. In fact, story awaited Alice the moment she fell through the rabbit hole. 

Story awaits the reader who follows a character to the point of confrontation with a portal, is overcome by need, curiosity, or a combination of the two, then takes that one irreversible step beyond.

One of the more significant subgenera of science fiction deals with intriguing landscape of time travel, wherein a character has encountered a means for returning to the past or moving forward in time to experience the universe as it will become.

During the past year or so, you've spent a good deal of time reading, rereading, and teaching such novels of William Faulkner as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom; and Sanctuary, most of which devote some time to the past, all of which have emphatic references to the past.

The convergence of your awareness of "down the rabbit hole" as a habit metaphor, your reading/teaching of Faulkner, and the free-floating notion in regular orbit about you of the mystery novel being the paradigm for the effectively told story bring you to a new way of seeing the portal.  As a consequence of this convergence, you now believe (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. A story needs an entry portal.

2. All story is alternate universe.

3. All mystery is alternate universe

4. Opening lines and paragraphs are portals.

5. Your own process for composing fiction has a portal.

6. To put yourself in a position where you can engage your process, even if it is to add only a line or two to the work in progress, you must find the portal, then enter it.

7. There will be times when you will not find the entry portal at home.

8. There will be times when the entry portal to process is in a coffee shop or other place with distracting ambient noise.

9. You will need to concentrate above the distractions and ambient noise in order to achieve the necessary relaxation to enter the process zone.

10. Tenseness and grim determination do not unlock portals.

11. Your own process requires a sense of mischief or amusement, without which the odds of producing keepable pages lessen to a significant degree.

12. Mischief and amusement are not alternate universes for you; they are necessary conditions and sufficient conditions; they ratify the worth of writing in the context of writing being a difficult task.

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