Saturday, March 25, 2017


There is a point you reach before sending a work off to its life in print where you're not quite satisfied with the result nor are you confident one more close read through will offer a clue to the missing element. At such times, you reach for the device most favored by the arsonist.

What you're looking for isn't mentioned by name in any book about composing fiction, least of all in any of your writings on the subject. If you know anything at all about the process of storytelling, you know how open the medium is to the migration of useful concepts from other disciplines. 

You like to tell yourself you were on that very track when you noted the common bond shared by the writer, the dancer, the musician, and the photographer. All of these worthies manipulate time to their advantage, whether it is the length of a note in a musical piece, the shutter speed in a photograph, the pose held by a dancer, the life event extended or compressed by the storyteller.

Your common ground with the arsonist is the accelerant, the medium the arsonist uses to speed up the intensity and range of the fire. Your narrative may lack some degree of inevitability crashing to the ground as though a juggler had dropped his display items. It may progress at a jog when it should be more of a gallop. The culprit in your narrative maybe something as innocent as a sense of awareness being regarded as an insight rather than a life-changing revelation.

Your favorite arrival point in your reading of the work of sister and brother writers, long dead or less than half your present day age, is the moment when you understand you are not where you wish to be, within a narrative you cannot possibly abandon. Such narratives hold you in their power of accelerated involvement and inevitability.

The accelerant in your own work may turn out to be as simple as the lead character wanting the outcome even sooner than you'd thought. Perhaps the character's wish is for a larger portion of whatever the goal, or the settling of a score so hopelessly unsettled as to cause the other characters in the narrative to think of it as quixotic.

Although you do not strive for the kinds of humor associated with the more physical, slip-on-a-banana-peel aspects of comedy, rather instead with the overall notion of the universe itself being a part of a large, anomalous joke, you tend to gravitate toward characters like Wile E. coyote, who appear fortunate if they can manage to avoid for a few moments the latest in a series of humiliations.

You look for an accelerant, some kerosene or petrol to throw on the fire that has just come to life through some miscalculation or some more spontaneous combustion. You want the fire to speed up. From this comes the voice and the humor you seek.

Humor is tragedy, speeded up.

The Fates have tossed a match into the wastebasket.

The Muses have caused a fire in the kitchen.

The sorcerer's apprentice has underestimated his ability.

There is the chaos about you of your own characters, running from the cover you thought to provide them.

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