Monday, January 30, 2017

Characters and the Current Market Price for Fish

The sooner a writer understands what her/his protagonist wants--really wants, to the point of being willing to sacrifice for it--the closer the writer is to a viable path to completion. For your part, you consider it a good day's work if you can reckon the true basic goal of the front-rank characters. 

Thus you begin, knowing what someone wants and who among the dramatis personae are in one or more ways opposed to the protagonist's goal. In the bargain, these antagonists will take active steps to prevent the protagonist from realizing the goal.

The next step along the way of composing a story is for the writer to overcome personal boundaries. You believe this aspect to be the unspoken elephant in the living room. In your own reading and writing, you try to visualize the degree of conscience inherent in each character. You match this degree of conscience with your own.

Sometimes, when you are in favored restaurants and there is a dish on the menu that appeals to you--usually fish--there is, instead of a price, some series of initials indicating current market price. In this case, the designation applies to the amount the restaurant has today for the item on the menu.

This is relevant because your own conscience, whatever its condition, is not a fixed-price entree on your psyche; it has floating values. You like to think you are a person of conscience, aware of the consequences of your behavior and your own sense of responsibility. You are also aware of the times you bent or set conscience aside and the consequences you may still be paying off.

Story begins when front-rank characters consider the possibility of setting conscience aside. Macbeth, sitting by himself, watching one of his servants carry a dinner tray to the room where King Duncan--whom Macbeth has decided to kill--awaits. Macbeth conflates the notion of this being the king's last supper with the most famous last supper in Western culture. 

Although the king is no match in virtue or reach with Christ, Shakespeare's Duncan is nevertheless a person of tangible goodness. Macbeth's conscience kicks in. He goes to his partner-in-crime, his wife, to tell her he can't go through with the plan. This is a key moment in the story; once again, we see Macbeth's conscience behaving in ways we hope will mirror our own. Once again, we admire and root for Macbeth.

As readers and writers, we need to see the protagonist in the act of being pushed to the outer boundary of conscience, then pushed over it. This moment may not be the precise moment where a particular story begins, but it is the moment where we as readers and writers wait to see what comes next. If that isn't story, you've yet to discover what story is.

The writer who is able to identify the conscience landscape of her/his characters has reached the point of ability to create characters of consequence.

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