The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Plot, Character, and Form

Had a good long conversation with the star whose biography I might be writing. His career has been astonishingly varied and, seemingly, always driven by the urge to work, to improve and express himself, and to be of service. This is looking better and better. But one of my tasks is to find the right way to tell the story, and that is a difficulty. The idea is to find a form that fits the function, and a linear story is not always the best choice.

In the argument between plot and character, I come down with the choice that they are in essence the same thing: plot is what a given character does in a given situation. Character is what is exposed in action. Note that I believe our actions reveal our character more than our thoughts, or the opinions of others, although those are important. For instance, I can think I can fly, but only actual flying reveals this as an aspect of my being. On the other hand, if I think I can fly and I cannot, the gap between what is and is not about my existence reveals plenty of interesting stuff.

It is this observable reality, and the gap between it and our self-justifications, that provides the opportunity for characterization. To learn how to do this, one must observe others, and ourselves as well.
Which brings me to another subject: weight. Some have asked me why this is such a hot topic for me. Well, partially because I've had too many friends actually DIE due to weight issues. Partially because I am furious that the diet industry makes billions obscuring the simple truth that weight management is primarily a matter of balancing the metabolic checkbook, €”calories in, calories out. Partially because ignorant people consider overweight to be a character issue. Partially because we store our emotions in our bodies, and overweight is often a matter of massive unprocessed emotional bilge'in other words, we carry our damage and dysfunction around for all to see, and then pretend not to understand when others find it unattractive.
No, it's not a matter of lack of character. The obese people I know are, in general, as good and basically decent as any one else. But they are like alcoholics who carry their bottles at their waists, drug addicts who can buy their drug of choice at the local supermarket, walking fortresses carrying their emotional battlements around their ribcages. We KNOW what is going on, it'€™s the elephant in the living room, folks. There is just a social agreement not to talk about it.

Every human being feels alone and afraid. The only question is: what do you do to deal with your loneliness and fear? And also, perhaps, what lies do you tell to maintain your defenses? Because when you distort reality, lie to yourself and others to keep that protective weight on, create scatoma, holes in your perception, to blind yourself to the extra calories you take in, "œaccidentally" injure yourself exercising so that you don't have to continue, place your body at the very bottom priority, lust after lean-bodies and then pretend to be outraged when those lean-bodies don'€™t reciprocate:
YOU ARE DISTORTING YOUR REALITY MAP. When you do that, you can't leverage your intelligence to accomplish your goals. People, we are all in this life process together, and we have to surround ourselves with people of like mind and values in order to have any chance to become who we really are. Our bodies are the reflection of our daily activities, and our daily activities are based upon our priorities and organizational skills, and our priorities are based upon our values and intelligence, and our values are based upon our emotional health and clarity. In other words, just like our relationship history and our careers, our bodies say HUGE amounts about us: our discipline, focus, emotional health, self-love, commitment, resiliency, knowledge, and wisdom. They do. And to pretend otherwise is to deny ourselves aliveness, to allow those who hurt us to win, even if they have been dead for thirty years. I love you all, and I love you too much to maintain the fiction that our lives bear no relationship to our essence. You won't find that here.
Just imagine trying to write a story where the character̢۪s actions bear no relationship to who and what they are. If you don̢۪t understand this connection, how in the hell will you ever write a realistic character? And only by facing your own devils, day by day, will you ever gain the wisdom to reach your ultimate skill as a writer.

It'€™s as simple, and heartbreakingly hard, as that.

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