Friday, November 15, 2013

Double Trouble and Yet More Acting Jargon

What's hardest you ask with a straight face. The beginning, middle, or ending of a story? Yes, I answer. Depending on the story. But since I suspect a single word answer would bring a stray torch, or possibly a pitchfork my way, I'll elaborate. A lot.

Beginning and middle.

Here's why. A story, for me, cannot start until I know how it must end. To know how a story must end, I have to understand the characters. I must know what motivates them, what drives them (these two things *sound* like repeats of one another - they aren't). Motivation is background work. Drive is right now work.

Acting Jargon Alert!

Motivation gets thrown around in acting, but the upshot of 'what's my motivation?' is really 'why is your character on stage, right here, right now?' The answer to that question changes from play to play (or from story to story). I played a young nurse at a hospital treating the victims of the Chernobyl incident in a Russian play called Sarcophagus. At the end of the run of the show, my fellow students critiqued the performance. One of the women asked, "Why were you there?" I stared at her, because throughout the rehearsals and the performance, to ask that question about my character had never occurred to me. The moment she asked, however, I knew the answer. The young nurse I'd played wanted the medical director's job. Sounds simple - but it gave me a wealth of information that had been totally absent in my performance - my character should have been ambitious, idealistic, and yes, driven by her belief that science could overcome anything. Until Chernobyl proved it couldn't.

Drive in acting is actually called 'Objective'. 'What's your objective in this beat?' That's the question that gets asked about a distinct unit of action - the actor way of saying, "What are you trying to accomplish whilst you stand there yelling and waving a gun around?" The answer is supposed to be a transitive verb. You know. To cajole, to convince, to brutalize, to convert, to #add your active verb here#.

End Acting Jargon.

I must know what brought my main character(s) to a story. In Enemy Within - the heroine was motivated by desperation to prove she isn't broken. Her drive: to regain command (of a ship). Enemy Games - the main character craved identity (having been defined in other people's shadows all her life). Her drive: to cure a disease.

Once I know the motivation and the drive, I know how the story must end. Yeah, I'm not clear on how that happens, either. I just know that endings pop into existence. Like spontaneously generating goose barnacles.

The trade off is that I start a book six times. At least. And complain to anyone who will listen about how little progress I'm making while I write those various scenes. Thus, I say unto you, beginnings are hard. Until they aren't anymore.

Then the middle is. I wander. I dally. I dip my toes in the chilly waters of 'talking heads, not enough actual conflict'. I recycle some of the scenes I'd written for the beginning, but it turned out, were part of the middle. At about the 2/3 mark, I realize that the scene I had planned for the climax of the story is really the midpoint. If that. And then I flounder in the middle MORE because someone just redrew my roadmap. The GPS in my brain has the LONGEST 'recalculating' function...and for me, here lies the danger point. This is where, in the early days, stories littered the roadside, abandoned, because I couldn't seem to find a way out of wandering. It still happens. I'd like to think less frequently, but it does still happen. Usually, a revisit of the motivation and drive issues for all characters will give me the directional club between the eyes that sets me right again. Usually.

Still. Momentum begets momentum. Most stories, by the time I hit the 2/3 point, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I'm invested in getting my characters run over by that train (which should be a manifestation of their greatest fears based on the motivation and drive mentioned earlier - some days I'm better at that than others.) This is why endings are typically not a major problem. See me hedging my declaration? Totally superstitious and I do not intend to curse myself in that regard if I can help it. Having two parts of a story dogging me are enough.

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