Sunday, September 2, 2012

Here’s The Deal

In my day job, I work with financial computer programs. Usually, I’m the last guy in line to answer the question, “Where did this number come from?” Being the guy who explains such hidden behavior is kind of like being the Man Behind the Curtain. You have to come out and explain, “Here’s the Deal.”
What does this have to do with fiction? Simple. Just as an artist should be equally proficient in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and digital, just as the lead guitarist should be able to play bass, piano, drums, and sing, and just as the black belt karate master should know about boxing, muy thai, judo, akido, wrestling and so on, the proficient writer should be able to handle all sorts of disciplines.
It takes a special discipline to decipher the invisible. Think of all the components of fiction: plot, character, verisimilitude, point of view, sequencing, and the rest. All these are meant to tell a story where there is nothing. A straight-up exposition of logic is much the same thing, except that nothing has been replaced by confusion. In a way, that is harder to do, because there is a pre-existing misconception of which one must dispose before even starting the explanation.
One of my favorite proverbs is the Three Blind Men and the Elephant. It goes like this:
Three blind men approach an elephant. The first grabs its trunk and says, “Ah ha! This creature is like a snake.” The second wraps his arms around a leg and says, “No, this beast is a tree.” The third feels its great flapping ears and pronounces, “You’re both wrong! It is a bird.”
All three are right. Yet, all are completely wrong. The elephant beyond their localized perceptions is something else entirely. When you attempt to explain what The Deal is, you have to address those perceptual shortcomings. It’s a skill. Being able to say “Here’s the Deal” requires you back it up, no matter how confusing.
          Here’s the Deal. You have to assume that your reader is not just totally ignorant of your back story, but that she believes something wholly antithetical to your message. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. 
And, as we know, truth rarely wins the beauty contest. That’s the Deal.

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