Monday, February 27, 2017

The Writer as Dr. Frankenstein

The better the actor, the more vested she or he is in the dimensions and quirks of the character to be portrayed. This is a vital mechanism for the writer of narrative fiction to consider. A character, having been created, is always on.

You pause to let that information sink in. You recall with some discomfort the many times when you, in the process of composition, paused to wonder what a particular character of your own creation would do next in this particular situation.

At such moments, more often than not, you are probing your own lode of resources for a clue. Should the character advance--or retreat? Should the character lie, cheat, steal--or merely refract Reality in order to project a desired image?  If so, what would that image be?  Perhaps sang froid. Maybe a sense of amused aloofness? Aha, yes; that's it. And so you set it down, thinking you've solved another significant instance where the momentum of the story had begun to stall.

You've read of, actually seen, and heard enough stories from actors to appreciate what comes next, which happens to be the character breaking character during the midst of a dress rehearsal to confront you as though you were the director. "This isn't me," the character protests to you. "I can't [read this line] [do this action] [both, in combination]."

Now, you hear yourself telling this protesting character, "Of course not. Let's see how we can offer you a clue." You well realize this is all sophistry, even though it is accurate at the emotional and creative level. 

Your creation, the character, is telling you she or he can't do what you've indicated because--Even though the character is unreal, a figment of your imagination, to the extent you are in touch with the process, that character is telling you that the speech and/or action you've created for her or him has come from your lode of experiential ore rather than from hers or, as the case may be, his.

In real time, you, as composer, would block out the offending material, pounce on the delete key, then regard the deleted place in the text from the character's point of reference rather than your own. Because you're of an age where your earlier composition was done on one of several manual and, later, electric typewriters, you have sensory memory of the sounds and feel of a sheet of manuscript paper being yanked from the platen, and the sensory equivalent of a dash of sriracha or mustard as you ball the offending sheet before tossing it at the waste basket.

Sometimes at such moments, you envy the actor, who has only one individual to absorb. You have any number, men, women, sometimes youngsters, and the occasional cat or dog to impersonate. Quite often the ramifications of the story churn in the rear of your imagination, a mischievous sea on the point of waxing or ebbing. Directly below its surface, competing agendas of current wait to work their own destiny, surely catching one or more of your invented characters unaware.

While you are feeling a bit sorry for yourself or, better still, envious of the actor who has only one being to impersonate, you take that extra step toward humiliation by thinking they--the actors--can always refer to the script for guidance. This leaves a place in your self-awareness to reward yourself. See, the actor always defers to the writer.

So long as you are dreaming, Dream on!  Actors often portray characters who have been portrayed by hundreds, if not thousands, of previous actors, each searching for ways to bring some previously unseen authenticity to the character. The longer you needed to recognize this aspect of the equation, the greater the blow to the solar plexus of your ego.

Although the answer is reductionist, perhaps it was meant to be: When the going gets tough, go to the interior of the character. Too easy to sidestep and go, instead, to your own deft, clever, never-fail imagination, the one that got you out of so many scrapes. Dream on!  But do be sure to go back to the character for a consultation.

If there's nothing there, don't blame the character. Blame the writer. But the tide is coming in fast and look what happened to the hubristic king just before the Magna Carta came into being. Stop grousing and blaming. If there's nothing useful in the character, put in something useful. Then go to it and ask it what it wants.

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