clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, November 18, 2013

Not the Reindeer You Were Looking For

So, the line is borrowed from Star Wars. It got you here.

At left, a beast of burden. Why yes, I realize you do feel just like this from time to time.

Here we are with our stories and their scenes and the intricacies of plot - all those things we can look at in someone else's work and say "almost" and look at in our own work and say "WTF?"

It is as if these unitary building blocks are completely foreign in our own hands but so elementary when in someone else's.

Yes, we've covered in these pages the need for the critical faculty of evaluating one's choices - questioning - without evaluating one's talent: doubting. Hemingway call such a device a "bullshit detector" and mine is constantly going off these days. That's good.

However, the bloody thing sounds like a fire alarm after a piece of toast got stuck and that is annoying. I''d guess I wouldn't hear subtle voices and I think maybe you wouldn't either.

Ah, there we have it. There we have tonight's point. We need someone in our circle who can tell us when we've gone astray. We need the someone who says "you can do better."  Some of us also need someone who says "you've been an ass" but that's an entirely different problem. My friend donkey also finds the term pejorative.

So, composition: how? [ Someone asked. Why me? chalk it up to poor judgement on their part].

We all have scenes we like when we start thinking of a story. These are often key confrontations and clever bits to which we are emotionally attached as the story evolves. I say keep all of those bits and use them in the first rough draft which is little more than the urge to stitch our favorite bits (sometimes merely what passes for favorite: familiar)  into a linear story.

Here's the bit: the linear story won't have legs. It needs suspense and narrative tension and heightened conflict - meaning conflict not predicted by the reader. I needs a sense of place and a defined characterization that makes the protagonist reachable in a few short words.

It needs time and polish and re-write and sometimes aging in a cellar and a re-blend with some other story. It is unlikely to emerge and stand on its own in the first 100 you write. Sorry.

You don't have to write 100 to get one published. You do however have to do everything in the first published story that it might take you 100 to develop a full set of tools to do on demand.

I had a magician explain a simple card trick to a blonde at a bar once. The card trick involved managing the tactile presence of the card with the palm of his hand, a little friction, and a sense of timing. The blonde said "That's easy." The fellow replied, "It just looks easy."

He was a slight of hand fellow who did "close" magic: Three Card Monte with cards coming in and out of the game unnoticed by you type of stuff. Fun stuff. He was also a cannon and could lift your wallet like Fagin.

Keep your passport close. Huge stink when it goes missing and you are in Shitcanistan.

So, write a story?  Write the drafts of ten. It'll be easier to get a good draft out of the sum of all ten than any single story with which you begin.

Now - Content. I liked this drill. Take an opening - Moby Dick - in my case. Cut it in your prose but convey the what you believe the author conveyed.

Melville's opening:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.


Unlogged Hours
My mother called me Denis for a few years while I was in school but eventually came to use what everyone else called me: Jack. There is irony in a name that’s slang for cash when your worldly possessions leave ample room in a rusty Subaru wagon stalled south of Safford on Arizona 191.
“She’ll run forever,” the man said. He should have bought a dictionary with the proceeds. California, I guess: forever doesn't last so long.
It happened from time to time. I’d be alongside a road in too long a twilight alone but for the smell of a girl who wouldn’t have stayed; waiting for the stars and wishing for a decent scotch. When it happened, when I’m waiting for the next “it” and I’ve had a bellyful of life, I crawl back in the cockpit.
I crawl into a cockpit on a jungle strip and take off into the night hoping the fuel had too much water in it, or that the Federales didn’t think the bribe was enough, or that I plain was out of luck. I called it my Colombian stoicism. No one gets the joke; but, my business associates haven’t read Plutarch or his stories of Cato. There’s comfort in their lack of knowledge: their lack of existential blight.

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