Sunday, January 29, 2017

Step One: Creating Good Guys and Bad Guys

Front-rank characters go about their business of story in response to their inner forces of monomania. Those of us who read and study dramatic literature learn early on to ask of the characters we encounter what they want.

You, for your part in the equation, have asked such individuals as Tom Jones, Mrs. Dalloway, Ishmael, Mr. Biswas, Charlotte Temple, Jane Eyre, and Scout Finch what they wanted as conditions to their presence in the stories wherein you associate them.

Those of us who read in the service of undertaking our own ventures into composition extend the boundaries. We wonder what characters will do to accomplish their goal. 

Yet others of us who read and seek to compose wonder even more. We wonder what happens to characters who achieve their stated goals as well as those who do not. We "get" why signing aboard The Pequod is a primary goal for Ishmael, who has found the world too much with him for the moment and wishes to get away to sea in order to calm down and ease away from his bipolarity.

We also recognize that he has done so with remarkable ease within the first several pages of a door-stopper-thick volume, whose very size alerts us to the consequences Ishmael will experience now that he has joined the crew of The Pequod. Ishmael is now swept up in a greater tsunami than his own depression; he is caught in the grip of a yet more intense monomaniac, hard at work. 

We note how Ishmael's primary goal has shifted from the mere getting away from the self of himself while in the city, and has ratcheted to survival. How lucky Ishmael is to have been chosen by his creator, Mr. Herman Melville, to survive, if only to tell the story. He is chosen to survive for other reasons as well, thus has Mr. Melville set the engines of our speculation in motion.

We are not finished with approaches to composition. Consider those writers who have--or will--wonder about protagonists and their opposite numbers whose goals are still buried under layers of guilt, obligation, and significant negligence toward self-examination.

In any case, there is no fun in being a monomaniac, although Moses Herzog, that monomaniacal protagonist of Saul Bellow's eponymous novel, gives us readers page after page of escalating mirth.

Memorable stories begin with monomaniacs, individuals whose wish for some particular outcome applies a match to a fuse attached to a bomb. One need only consider the individual ultimately known as Inspector Jaivert to see the need for monomania in story. Born in prison to a fortune-teller mother and a prison guard, he becomes at first a prison guard, then a policeman, then, by dint of his single-minded focus, a detective. Although he has read some books, he is disdainful of them. His significant vice is an occasional dip of snuff; his pleasures almost nonexistent.

If, as you have written elsewhere, Wile E. Coyote--also a monomaniac--is the patron saint of protagonists, Jaivert is the paradigm of being driven to the outer circles of hell through his exaggerated focus on the rule of law. 

In further demonstration of how self-destructive Jaivert's monomania is, his life, even for the times in which he was created, is relatively short, a scant fifty years. He could have lived longer had he not, out of frustration and rage, taken his own life. To add additional weight to his self-destruction, his creator designated him as an observant Roman Catholic. Thus even in death he has cheated himself from the possibilities of Redemption.

The lesson to be learned here is how monomania is expected in significant degree for those characters we consider protagonists. To advance a front-rank character toward the status of adversary or antagonist, we must turn up the heat of exaggeration. Notice how Lear pushes at the envelope of our tolerance, seeming in his behavior to be struggling with the necessary exaggeration to become an antagonist.


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