Friday, December 30, 2016

I See by Your Outfit That You Are a Cowboy

If a character is to have any lasting meaning for the reader, that character must have a well-defined comfort zone which the reader can see in place before it is threatened. The reader must then be able to eavesdrop when the character receives the threat.

By watching the character's response to the threat, the reader begins to invest in the character, initiating empathy if not outright sympathy. This investment is the result of a careful manipulation from the writer, who is using with words, images, and subtext the equivalent of notes, keys, and durations used by the composer of music.

Perhaps the reader has felt a similar threat as the character now experiencing the potential invasion. Even more to the point, perhaps the writer is aware of this dynamic and has contrived to exacerbate it. Perhaps--ah, perhaps the writer has gone so far as to show what the character had to overcome in the past to arrive at the comfort zone now under attack.

The reader may not have that very day won a military battle such as Macbeth did, not was given an in situ promotion by the king as Macbeth was, nor indeed witnessed three witches, making a remarkable prediction about him. But the reader has likely nourished some secret dream or agenda; perhaps even as in Macbeth's case, the hidden dream was buried within the safety deposit box of the subconscious. No?

Remember Cora? Who could forget the Cora from The Postman Always Rings Twice because Cora is such a splendid example of the dynamic. Remember how Cora, achingly attractive, had to settle for demeaning waitress jobs, allowing herself to be pawed and grabbed in Depression Era Los Angeles. Along came Nick, a good-natured older man, with an offer of marriage. 

Cora knew a life line when it was being thrown her way. Now, she is Mrs. Nick, and has achieved a comfort zone, but it is only a first- or second-floor comfort zone in Cora's high-rise hidden dreams. For the time being, she can put up with being Mrs. Nick, in a sense half-owner of the restaurant Nick owns; she can even put up with Nick. Until Frank Chambers arrives.  As they would say in the theater and film worlds, "Cue the threat."

In similar fashion, Cora is a nudge in the gut of comfort for Frank, as in how much of a threat to Frank's status quo comfort zone is the intense sexual chemistry he soon realizes when they are together. 

Another interesting comfort-zone chemistry involves Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth, who, prior to Mr. Macbeth's encounter with those three remarkable witches, were in the comfort zone of having their own manor, a certain comfortable status, and a place in the affections of the king.

With a slight tweak of the dramatic formula, you could call Macbeth a precursor if not a prequel to Breaking Bad, wherein Macbeth before the witches holds the same dramatic value as Walter White before his diagnosis with cancer. Macbeth strives toward his genie-out-of-the-bottle vision of himself as king. In order to get there, he murders a king and a best friend along the way. And isn't Walter White something to behold on his way to becoming Heisenberg?

Could you have said this any better, yourself?  Of course you could've, but for the moment, here it is, to ponder and apply to the narrative you've entitled I See by Your Outfit That You Are a Cowboy, a title that once again comes to you from the lyrics of a song, this time The Streets of Laredo, a lyric and title that came jumping out at you when one of your characters cautions your protagonist, "Stop being a goddamned cowboy when there's no rodeo."


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