Thursday, December 15, 2016

Just a Moment Longer

When talk turns to the dominant constituents of story, characters and their fondest dreams or their most significant vulnerability seem to take over the conversation, sometimes with a visible gesture to suggest the superiority of the character-driven story over the plot-driven narrative. 

Any other position in the matter seems to bring in the baseball metaphor of "from left field," or the more civics minded trope of "from way out in the boondocks."

In the baseball analogy, left field means some distance from either reality or context; boondocks connote s one distance from civilized, city persons and, by implication, a remoteness from the sophistication of urban living.

Nevertheless, a narrative with any pretense of being a story needs to show the presence of a significant constituent of the operating principal of the law of inertia.  Why bring a well-defined set of dynamic principles regarding movement into any discussion of story without being called out for distraction?  Look at it this way, the Law of Inertia is clear about objects at rest and their tendency to remain at rest until a greater force propels the objects into movement.

Story either begins with or has well embedded in its backstory the equivalent of an object being nudged into motion, thus the destabilizing event or the point where a character's goal sets the character in motion toward achieving the goal. 

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion until opposing forces apply friction or collateral mischief by which the progress is either reversed or sent off course. The famed rock of Sisyphus demonstrates among other things the law of inertia in action. 

The doomed king must supply the inertia to get the rock up the hill, whereupon it gains the momentum to carry it to a point where it achieves a resting state. Same applies to Sisyphus, who must now get the rock back in position once again. If there were no hill, there would be no myth of Sisyphus; there would be another goal or task, another dramatic orbit.

The key to observing the myth of Sisyphus become the inertial condition of the rock.  A rock come to rest is a pivotal point on the story only in that it signals the need to push the rock out of its resting stage and into another cycle of movement. The key to essaying and absorbing the details of a story resides in the observation of the Law of Inertia. Opening velocity sets the story into being. 

Dramatic rules or laws require some form of opposition. Friction will do because friction is opposition to motion. Acceleration will more than suffice because story requires increased motion and, for a time, increased opposition.

Story requires a hill of enough angle to be seen as a difficult task for the protagonist. A major constituent of acceleration in a successful story involves change, either in the principal character or that individual's chief antagonist. Change can mean the rock, slowing down, coming to a standstill, or being pushed back to the top of the hill, yet again.

In story, characters either achieve their goal or fail in the attempt. In Inertia, objects that lose acceleration come to rest. When there is too much time between Sisyphus' rock losing its momentum, then reaching a resting state, the story is over; the reader seeks a new individual with a new wish for momentum.

On many occasions over the years, you have asked or been asked why the story stops here, the questions related to your own work the work of your students, or your editorial clients as an editor for a publisher or in your current circumstances as a consulting editor. Over these years, your answers have been multifarious, often more insightful to your students and clients than to your own work.

In one way or another, the answer was the same: the rock remained at rest too long, the momentum passed.

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