Monday, April 28, 2008

Complexity

I fibbed about the wine yesterday.  Not only did I not get around to opening a bottle, but then I calculated my last dose of ibuprofen to land at 11:15 am today and had a glass of wine at 9pm when all but a minute trace of ibuprofen would be out of my system.  Ahhhh, wine and chocolate, Fetzger Shiraz and Dagoba dark chocolate with lavender, to be precise.  Way better than meds, and probably (not sure) healthier for me.

Once I started to suffer from solid pain the depression mostly went away, probably from the body's reaction to pain with the release of a complex cocktail of hormones and other living chemistry.  Sometimes I think about how the body is both very simple--a reactionary organism that is relatively fragile and predictable in relation to the overall environment--and very complex and sturdy with its interplay of checks, balances and compensatory mechanisms that keep us functioning through a huge spectrum of circumstances in ways that we still don't completely understand.  I doubt we ever will completely understand, but complete understanding isn't necessary.  We are what we are, and we live how we live and existence is a patchwork of willpower, fate, environment, timing and a whole slough of factors that we all ride out to our ultimate ends.  

Gee, I got all philosophical there.  Sorry 'bout that.  But, while I'm philosophizing ...

Storytelling attempts to create life experience.

But wait, some say, some stories are just for entertainment.  Well isn't life entertaining?  I know mine is.  And heartbreaking, and beautiful, and ugly, and frustrating, and teaching and wonderful.

 When storytelling is done well the listener connects with the story and becomes engaged enough to experience it in a deep fashion that opens the emotions/heart/being to surprise, wonder, laughter, pain--all the colors of emotion.  Done poorly and the best a listener can hope for is a line that resonates with them enough to get a quick kick of some sort, whether it's a laugh, an aha or whatever.  

A story is by necessity, and due to limitations of medium, simplified.  I think that part of the appeal of VR (remember the SF projections of VR in the late 80's early 90's?) is that we can envision fewer limitations to story, deeper experience.  That deeper experience is achieved by more sensory experience, and more implied history through the creation of characters with independent existences as well as more plot possibilities which, as in the case of Star Trek holodecks, become interactive with listener choice.  

Good writing not only includes lots of sensory detail, unexpected moments, turns of fate and complexity of character, it includes choices that hopefully can draw in a reader into feeling like they themselves are faced with hard choices, and they themselves might choose as the character chose even if it's a bad choice.  Then the story begins to feel real.  

Lately I've read quite a bit of work where I'm not on board with the character choices.  I don't have to like the choices, but I darn well better feel like I might have chosen the same way in the same circumstances.  I think this is the real killer with 'But we have to go back to save Fluffy!' plots.  Done well, they can be entertaining, but now we're not talking a fine Shiraz (good story.)  We're talking pop, something a person drinks because it's sweet, it temporarily kills thirst, is predictable and readily available and is worth little or nothing--a throwaway that readers accept with comments like 'I just wanted to escape for a while.'  It's an Atari video game at best.  No crime in that, no shame.  I played lots of Asteroids and Pong as a kid, and I still love Snood (argh! get thee back, foul addiction!)  But if you're a writer who wants to create a really good, memorable story, you have to look around at real life's complexity.  Develop an awareness of a body's complexity, of life's complexity, and bring your story to life with it.  

Which, btw, makes me think about pat endings.  People say they don't like them, and say things like 'it all wrapped up too neatly.'  But sometimes life happens that way too, at least temporarily.  There are moments in our lives when we 'live happily ever after,' and a writer can capture that and give the audience that sense of closure and peace without the pat ending blahs.  The way a writer pulls that off is with implied continuance beyond The End.  There's more after 'happily ever after' that may not be happy.  It's just that the story reached its natural resting place, a point where we can diverge from traveling with the characters and return to our own lives.  Then it's a very satisfying ending, not just a mechanical knot that contains all the loose ends.

Stuff to think about while living in the clutches of complex body chemistry in a world that surprises me, lulls me, creates me as I create small pieces of it.

2 comments:

Carole said...

Well said! Especially I like the bit about pat endings. I hate them but yes, sometimes things just go that way (just don't make it habit when writing, I say).

Kami said...

Yeah, pat endings are a bad habit. If they're put together thoughtfully they can be a lot of fun, but it's not easy to do and a lot of people do it very, very badly. It's like the teenage angst thingy. Done right it can be a lot of fun, but it's not easy to do, and a lot of people do it very, very badly.