SYMBOLIC: ADVENTURES IN TEXT
« January 2005 |
February 14, 2005
114: Action vs Reaction
I've been working through my Tivo backlog the last few days, getting caught up on the few TV shows I've allotted myself this season. It comes down to Alias and 24 for my action fix. I gave up both last season -- just a little too much going on with the new baby and all -- but figured I could find time for both this year and, with a complete lack of knowledge about the events of each show over the last season, I thought they would be marginally more entertaining if I had to play catch up. As it turns out, there isn't a whole lot of catching up to do.
On Alias, Sidney and Vaughn still stare at each other like dogs in heat with electrodes attached to their genitals -- that constipated look of consternation that says "I want you, but it will hurt and I don't know what to do." Jack Bristow has the same look but his expression is brought about by being constrained by his need to be validated by his daughter who doesn't appreciate the fact that he's about the only man in the Abrams-ian universe who could kick ass and take names if he wasn't so hampered by his overly developed sense of moral guilt. Meanwhile, on 24 Jack (funny how the men of action are all named "Jack") Bauer still abides by the Man of Action's First Rule: If something gets in your way, you are fully authorized to break it. Of course, the flip-side of the 1st Rule is: the consequences of breaking shit is that, invariably, your situation will get worse. It's the escalation effect of the First Rule which keeps us all glued to the tube, eagerly watching the compounding cycle of Things Get Worse.
It's an interesting contrast of styles and one that I'm currently wrestling with myself. Too much of the Alias Factor and your characters start having conversations like "We're spontaneous, aren't we? We don't over analyse situations. Do we?" Yeah, note from the audience: too late. When you don't have a larger canvas against which you are playing, moments between action pieces are filled with over-wrought self-reflection like this: the characters stand around and draw attention to their basic flaws. They don't have anything else to do; they're just waiting for the next isolated opportunity to go break shit. Or you have conversations filled with self-generated angst or just turgid info dumping.
Sloane: "We need information about the October Contingent. Vaguely Russian Sounding Character has it. We need to contact him."
Bristow: "Prudence dictates not involving VRSC."
Sloane: "I surmise from your tone and word choices that you think I haven't considered the ramifications of contacting VRSC."
Bristow: "No, it is my job to bitch and whine about every choice we make because I'm an old lady and I'd rather not be disturbed from the hours and hours of torturous guilt I need to inflict upon myself about the choices I've been forced into in order to protect my family and my country because you've made decisions to utilize characters like VRSC in the past."
Sloane: "Noted. Do it on your own time after you've made contact with VRSC."
Bristow: "I may have to hurt someone."
"Yes!" We shout from the couch, "And start with the pinhead behind the desk."
Bristow: [Heavy sigh. Pained look.] "My daughter must never know of my actions. She may think less of me."
Meanwhile, over on 24 Jack Bauer has killed about 87 people already.
It's the difference between being a Man of Action and Man of Reaction. Especially when you are talking about thrillers (and, yes, mainstream contemplative novels are all about Reacting), the story needs to be propelled by Action. It's certainly permissible that the main character be clueless as to the Nefarious Plan but his efforts to discover that plan must be pro-active -- he's got to be out there kicking in teeth and knocking down doors in an effort to ascertain the source of the Nefarious Plan. It's when you write a line like this that you need to rethink your plan:
"Even though there was only six hours until the missiles launched and nuclear armageddon swept across the face of the planet, Jack paused while changing clothes as he noticed a grey blue ball of fuzz in his bellybutton. 'Where does navel link come from?' he wondered, plucking the fluffy mass from the deep trap of his bellybutton. 'I wasn't wearing a blue shirt today.'"
Yeah, kill them all now. Save us the time.
Posted by Teppo at 08:01 AM
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February 11, 2005
113: Knot Chasing
I'm having arguments with myself about narrative voice, internal discussions which, funnily enough, mirror the confusion of the text. Do I tell the BOOK OF LIES in the first person voice or third? First allows for a level of intimacy (at least for the main character) that permanently colors the work and, since I am skewing reality, this personalized approach allows me to accomplish some world view effects that are more difficult in third person omniscient (without identifying the existence of an omniscient narrative voice). Third allows me to show you what the other kids are doing without having to resort to some extreme measures of information sharing that, for the most part, are egregious and overbearing.
Frankly, I like first person viewpoint. It's easier for me, allowing me to adopt a slightly flippant narrative voice that would otherwise seem strange when applied to an omniscient viewpoint. I'm sure this is just a shortcoming of my writing style and one that I will eventually overcome, but for now, 1st POV is where I'd rather be. In the case of the BOOK OF LIES, it means that the back story is the mystery that our hero is trying to ascertain. What and Who are the unknown quantities throughout the story and, ultimately, what drives the narration is the desire to find out the Who and the What -- they are, in some ways, more important than the main character thread.
In some ways. If you go too far to that extreme, you end up in Law & Order territory where the audience is never allowed to see any background on the characters and it's all about solving the mystery. The characters that drive the piece become faceless creatures with inquisitive noses and blank mouths that spit out data that furthers the plot. We never get to care about them and we never get to know them. Or, your main character becomes so twisted up in his own psychological issues that solving the mystery isn't so much an impetus as is working out his issues.
These are the traps I wish to avoid, naturally, and not necessarily the end result of any such POV decisions, mind you. I'm not sure why I get getting wrapped up in the perceived angst of the characters and don't just focus on the task at hand. Ah, becaus that is plot and I generally don't like plot. Silly, isn't it?
This story begins at the end of WWII when Georges Maratre learns something that he shouldn't. It's a critical element to understanding how the underlying secret of the BOOK OF LIES unfolds and it isn't necessary to detail exactly what this moment in Paris is all about. But it is there. The question is: how to present it? Is is a footnote to the adventure unfolding in the present or is it an event that I want to capture for the readers? It's an important knot in the connective thread, but there are others as well. If I keep it as a knot and not as a final end point, then the question to ask is: where does this thread go? And Who or What is at either end?
Posted by Teppo at 08:50 AM
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February 04, 2005
112: Brain Rubs Will Make You Uncurl
Some days I wish I could open up a hatch on my head and scratch the surface of my brain with a fork in an effort to stimulate activity. It may, of course, be an issue of not enough sleep, but when one is awake, it would be nice if the brain actually fired up the creative engine. I had dreams last night of shopping for a new house which only reflects reality instead of re-imagining it. And the dream houses certainly weren't any better than the ones I've been seeing which is also annoying.
There's a trap writers know to avoid (at least, they should): never be bored by what you are writing. If you are bored putting the words on the page, it'll be transparent to the reader and they'll be equally uninterested in your words. You have to be stimulated about the work even when you are doing a massive info-dump of world building. It's got to be EXCITING!
I'm still fascinated by the concepts of the BOOK OF LIES, but the day-to-day isn't exciting. It's doesn't seem surreal enough, the strangeness of the world isn't coming through and maybe that is an issue of my choice of the first person narrative: it puts you on a fairly limited linear path. I like the main character, but there are secondary players who seem like they're having more fun and I want to play with them. Eh, this is a reoccurring problem with me: my mains seem to get wrapped up in their own issues and stop having fun. It's the unhinged supporting players that are always a treat. (There's some commentary on my state of mind in that, I think.)
I worry that if I am re-imaging the world that I need anchors for the rest of you to hold onto and maybe that's insulting to the audience. Maybe you don't need as much explanation as I fear you do. Maybe your suspension of disbelief is strong enough that I can just say, "See? This is the way the world is." And that will be all it takes. Maybe I'm trying to hard to justify myself instead of just playing.
Eh, need a deep tissue brain rub this morning. I'm eating my own tail.
Posted by Teppo at 07:50 AM
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