Monday, March 13, 2017

How Some Dude in a Basket Became Interior Monolog

Not long ago, after the last questions had been asked and answered, you stepped away from the lectern to gather your props. You'd been speaking to a combined group of writers from two different, often contentious organizations, addressing one of your favorite themes, the evolution of the narrative voice.

In much the same way your iPhone can tell it is you who open its applications, thanks to its ability to identify your fingerprint, you claim the ability to distinguish the century in which a particular text was written because you recognize the way various of the tropes and devices were brought into play in the first place, then used. 

This ability to track the date of a text's origin is something most avid readers rely upon; it is no sign of your advanced status in the literary game. Like some long forgotten receipt for some long forgotten service rendered, folded in some cranny of your wallet, this receipt testifies to only one thing--you paid your entrance fee into the reader's and writer's life.

The fact of your ability to recognize evolution in narrative history is no assurance you will be any more equipped to write meaningful narrative than anyone else. The only certainty is that the evolutionary process has not completely left you behind. Such narrative voice and tool kit that you have are in constant need of regular check-up.

When you'd gathered your props and notes in preparation for departure, a person detached herself from the departing crowd to confront you. "Evolution," she said, "is a slow, tedious process."

This was--and still is--a fair assessment. You nodded affably at the woman, but you already knew you'd touched a nerve. A dentist telling a patient, "You'll tell me if that hurts," not quite a question, nor a statement. She was telling you she was not so willing to evolve as your suggestions in your presentation might have urged. She wanted you to know this. You understand her position, even respect it.

Individuality is difficult to come by, even more painful to deny. Holding onto a sense of self and of its implicit strength can be an act of modest bravery against the implacable force of conformity. But suppose the lesson to be learned is the opposite of the thing to which one clings? Suppose the lesson is to let go of convention rather than cling to it?


Had you come onto the literary stage back before the time known as Common Era, a time when few could read, a time when exposure to story meant huddling in the outer reaches of audience at a theater, you'd be faced with a dilemma.

Most of the stories were about nobles, upper classes, persons who not only could read, they also owned books. Stories were about the serious issues such persons faced: loyalty to one's country, the obligations of nobility, the need to protect tradition.

When faced with a problem you had to solve but could not find the answer, much less the equation to articulate the problem, you might turn to prayer. As an actor or a writer, you'd pause, turn your head heavenward, then implore one of several possible gods or muses to help you.

You'd know if your prayer was heard and one of the gods or muses had agreed to lend a hand by the sound of creaking, a rope being tugged, ratchets and gears engaging. Soon, a basket would be seen, lowering its way down to you, carrying one or more individuals wearing the mask of god or muse. The god or muse would inform you that she or he had taken pity on you and would now solve your problem. But it would cost you. Not necessarily some big ticket price, perhaps a mere promise of loyalty, an occasional sacrifice of a lamb or chicken.

But you were indeed plunked onto the stage when such deus et machina has evolved into straightforward Interior Monolog. Now what? How would he fix it, this time? Hoo boy, looks like I'm in for it.

We're no longer kings or queens or, for that matter, noble. We're twenty-first-century persons, caught up in the tangle of twenty-first century life. Although some of us may pray, even be aware of such twentieth and twenty-first century constructs as prayer warriors whose prayers God is more likely to hear, we are also in a time and place where God, if there is such, is too busy managing reality to lend us a hand.

We know we have action, and we know we have dialogue. But we also know that Interior Monologue is only going to be heard by us, or by some audience who paid to get into the theater, or some reader who bought a book.

The audience and reader waits to see how we phrase the question, what we may or may not say about it to the other characters, and how we become our own gods and muses, lowered onto the stage in the basket, and how we cope with the problem.

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