Monday, December 12, 2016

Story as Bucking Bronc or Brahma Bull

You are of an age wherein you can recall the times you read stories that began with "It was an ordinary day in," or "It was an ordinary day until" as a prelude for what has become known as the destabilizing event. 

Here in the twenty-first century, such openings are neither necessary nor tolerated; when we come across such an opening, depending on who the author is, we are either seized with a sense of nostalgia--in which case we continue reading--or antipathy--in which case we set the work aside.

Here in the teens of the twenty-first century, the reader has the option of signing onto the cruise on which the story will embark, or looking for some other dramatic access to the world of fiction.

 In consequence, you and your late pal, Digby Wolfe, embarked on a project to be called The Dramatic Genome, which predicates among other wry observations that readers or viewers of drama have innate wiring that leads them to escape the rag-tag world of chaos found in Reality, seeking greater senses of order and purpose.

Although the specific idea for The Dramatic Genome came to you in the twenty-first century, indeed across large portions of vongole e linguine, at The Via Maestra, each of you in his own way had improvised and riffed on the notion of the appeal of some form of storytelling to some form of humanity at some distant or more recent moment in time.  One of Wolfe's favorite times for imagining audiences for story was around 400 BCE, with the early performances of Aristophanes play, The Frogs.

For your part, you still delight in imagining a Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon hunting clan coming home after a difficult trek in search of an aurrox or woolly mammoth to bring, first down, then home to feed the group and provide hides for clothing or the equivalent of footwear. While their trove was being butchered and cooked, the group would gather about the fire to hear accounts of how this kill was spotted, tracked, and brought down.

Life was fraught and difficult then, no less so in 400 BCE, and for certain, modern implements to the contrary notwithstanding, modern life is a hive of chaos in which its denizens are aware of complex inner and external demands for their attention, compliance, and performance. We turn to the book, the magazine, the e-reader, the TV screen, the surround sound motion picture theater, and, in all its incarnations, the stage, whence we essay the soothing enticements of a world where orderly results are possible.

We are not completely naive in our assessments; orderly results may be possible for others, but not necessarily for us. The best we can do is empathize, identify, root for the characters, thinking how nice it would be if we could cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape of Reality.

Whatever the venue, when we see the lead character in the process of experiencing the destabilizing event, often because said lead character wanted something or someone with enough passion to create opening velocity, we are the equivalent of a bull rider at a rodeo, seated atop a mightily irate bull, in a narrow stall, one hand gripping the reins, nodding to the individual working the gate to open the latch that will allow the bull to plunge forth into the arena.

Story is not about description; it is about the charging, bucking bull or bronco, striving to recapture somehow the sense of calm or near serenity of routine before the significant destabilizing event played out. Feelings, agendas, and strategic deployment burst forth in an unceasing pulse of action, where change is evoked rather than deployed in each scene.

You recall the look of your students when you announce that each scene must earn its way into its narrative by evoking at least one emotion and demonstrating some shift or advancement of power, a look that asks, "How are we supposed to do that?"  As though they might find another instructor who is not so set in his vision.

But all the while you were morphing from your teens and your ardent desire to tell stories of your own, until you have reached the age of which you are now, you've been digging your knees into the sides of that bull or bronc, trying to stay on for the longest eight seconds of your life.

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