Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To the Cusp

My parents could have worked in Marketing for any University in the world. All my life, they told me that if I just hung in there, I would go to college, where the professors would take me to the cusp of knowledge, to the very precipice, to the cliff, after which the wide gulf of discovery would open up before me.
The cusp.

That’s where I feel now. Not the cliff my parents talked about, but the crest of a hill. Right now all I can see is my dashboard and the sky, but in a minute or two, my car will level out and I’ll see the wide world of creating verbal art. I’ll see it from the airplane perspective: all geometric fields and wooly forests. Rivers of plot wind through character rills, and the perfect stone outcroppings dot the world like upthrust thumbs.

The sensation started with the gut-level understanding of something that had only lived in my head: stories are manufactured. Everything in them is planned and calculated for effect. They are DESIGNED.
Well, duh. That’s what my head said. Of course they are manufactured. They don’t grow under mushrooms (although a few ideas have grown OUT FROM mushrooms, I must admit).
But my heart did not hear this. My heart heard: I will sit at my keyboard and story shall stream from my fingertips!

Then I picked up Swain. And I believed. Ahh! Cried the angels. I learned even more: climax must be a choice between what is right and what is easy, for both the protagonist and often the antagonist. Then the character should get what he or she deserves: the essence of (not the actual) his goal, or conversely the actual accomplishment, but robbed of meaning. Judgment. Justice.

Stories aren’t real life! Bad guys get punished. People get second chances! Good guys finish, if not first, at least with their dignity intact! Oh my God, how did I never see this?

After that, of course I devoured Stein. And Stein had even more to say: dialogue should be a confrontation. An oblique one. It shouldn’t sound “real”, because you’re only using the meat. But it should be distinguishable, from character to character.


And then, the coup de grace: What we want to see is that picture in the pocket that the characters hide from everyone else. That one soul-jerking moment, that one vulnerable spot.

This echoes with what Randall has been teaching: be vulnerable. Suddenly, I read Stein saying the same thing: Start with your vulnerable moment. Start with that photo you wouldn’t show your best friend, that the paramedics would find upon searching your pockets, and you’d be mortified (dead!) if you knew they saw it: the dirty undies of your soul.

And here I am, encased in this knowledge, cresting this hill: I get it. I get it, and I’m ready to DO it. I will dive into the gulf of discovery, taken to the cusp of knowledge by these wonderful authors and editors.

And, after a good swim, I’ll be ready to dive back into these and other books for my next cusp.

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