Friday, December 16, 2016

Response, the Traces of DNA Found in Story

The appearance and continued, sophisticated development of DNA technology has been a major development in law enforcement forensics, both in actual crime-scene circumstances and crime fiction. 

Deoxyriboneucleic acid, which appears in humans and almost all other organisms,carries genetic information which may be used as a source for identifying an individual.

A splat of blood, a drop of saliva, a bead of sweat have figured in actual cases where identity was an issue, and in more than one narrative or filmed drama, such traces have been accepted as evidence that has determined the guilt or innocence of an individual. 

DNA technology is so persuasive now, that scenes in TV dramas are common to the point of cliche when a suspect, previously firm on his innocence, admits guilt if confronted with a DNA match. 

In Philip Roth's disturbing novel, The Human Stain, the critical DNA is semen, which leads to a conclusion where DNA not only provides dramatic closure, it provides poetic justice as well. In The Human Stain. other fictions, and in many a real-life situation, DNA becomes in metaphor more than evidence, it is an unimpeachable response.

Throughout its long history, story contains significant response as a component of its own deoxyribonucleic acid; the manner and degree to which characters respond to events and to one another become the forces that drive story along the path toward some form of outcome.

At one time you were aware of standing before a group of students enrolled at the graduate level, wanting guidance and direction as they related to being able to produce sustainable story with some measure of regularity. 

"There is the plot-driven story," you said, then went on to explain how the character, on some form of quest, took steps which led to a series of accelerating consequences which must be dealt with before the character can walk out of the landscape with hide intact.

"Then," you said, "there is the character-driven story, in which events drive the character and you. However similar the starting goal or condition, you as writer and your characters take their clues from the responses elicited as the exchanges of dialogue, the internal, and external conditions become more intense and unforeseeable."

You don't regret either definition. What you regret is your own lack of follow-through where response is concerned. No telling now how young you were when you first read Owen Wister's ground-breaking novel, The Virginian, with its eponymous protagonist, seated at a poker game with Trampas, the novel's antagonist. 

It is now time for the Virginian to bet or leave the hand. Trampas tells him, "Your turn to bet, you son-of-a--" 

Whereupon the Virginian reaches for his gun and, without aiming it, places it on the table before uttering one of the most famous responses in all of Western literature, "When you call me that, smile."

Response is the follow-up to a word, an offer, a suggestion, a dare; it sets the tempo for the next beat, the next action or thought or line of dialogue' it is the response to the first four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5;it is story, caught in action, considering whether to bet or leave the hand.

You wish you'd taken the matter of response to the next level. "If there is too much space between responses, story pauses, looks about nervously for some form of exit and, with all too much frequency, reverts to description and explanation when none are necessary."

When you talk to students about unnecessary adverbial support in dialogue--"If you come any closer, I'll shoot," she said menacingly.--you always get a nervous laugh in response because the example is so preposterous in its obviousness.

You wish for the certainty of laughter when you talk about the pacing of responses. But when class is over, you rush home to look at the spacing of your own responses in whatever happens to be in progress.

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