Thursday, March 9, 2017

When Story Has a Bad Hair Day


Story can be and indeed has been charted to illustrate some of its recognized essentials. These chartings, spiky and sudden in nature, remind you of yourself, seen in the mirror of a morning when shaving is done and time has arrived for the drawing of a brush through such hair as you now have. Sparse though it may be on top, nevertheless it retains its idiosyncrasy via a number of competing cowlicks.

The picture of yourself you take away most mornings is of one who has made some attempt at order, even symmetry. The cowlicks, always a matter to be contended with and thus the ready excuse for military style shortness,at certain times during your younger years,add to your sense of imbalance and deviation from such normality as would be defined by a Bell Curve.

The Bell Curve you're thinking about here is the one representing distribution or events or outcomes, not the ones dealing with race and or intelligence. The Bell curves of which you speak love numbers, greater so-called n-samplings of events.

There is something harmonious and calming about a graphic representation of an n-sampling, whatever event the curve illustrates. A Bell Curve could be used to represent ten thousand coin flips. The greater the number of coin flips. the greater an even distribution of heads and tails. 

Because you are not a statistician, you won't even guess how much more likely a test of one hundred thousand coin flips would be to produce the graceful symmetry of The Bell Curve. Nevertheless, you reckon you've spent too much time as it is, being nudged by your culture to focus on symmetry and collegiality.

Your own preferences are for the edgy boundaries in everything you can think of. This continues to make sense when you see yourself in the morning, after shaving and using some stratagem to slow down the anarchy of your cowlicks. In a real sense, you're on your way to becoming a metaphor for yourself.

If story were to be applied to the Bell curve, uniformity of shape would be the first thing to go. Even though story in general has a similar, progressive form of development, you'd hope for the outlier, the story that took sharp diversions from predictable pattern. Properly charted, some of the better novels and short stories would look more like a mess or the attempts of a young person at drawing lawn or a hedge.

The certainty we want in story is the certainty of surprise, of sudden variation or deviation, a dramatic and visual sense of one or more characters getting swept up in a rebellion against some form of order. For us as readers, each page turned is an invitation for the character to bolt toward some form of independence or whim.

When you consider the characters in fiction written by others, whether in your role as a reviewer, a book editor, a teacher or--save the best for last--a writer, you want the outlier, she with the funny take on life, he with a sense that however too much the world is with him, a half-hour or so of listening to The Well-Tempered Clavichord can set things back into order.

Built into your psyche is the need to begin every day by making your bed--not just pulling the duvet cover into place, really fucking making it. Then, some semblance of coffee, perhaps a piece of toast slathered with almond butter and some marmalade. Then, onto kicking most things related to reading, writing, and editing into some idiosyncratic form that does not at all look regular.



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