Thursday, November 15, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Interiority vs. Exteriority

Interiority vs. Exteriority 

I like to think that characters in a narrative should have a balance between what they feel (their interior self) and what they convey themselves to be (exterior self). For example a character may have a motivation to speak, or perform some sort of act. What brings a character to speak is their interior self, and the source of their emotive capacity. The actual action is what constitutes their exterior self, that is, how they convey themselves. Now this may seem to be pure semantics, but it's very important. Sometimes I feel people will create characters that  are too abstract, as if nothing they do has any meaning, or that their actions are never truly concrete. I think that a lot of a character's purpose in the narrative is equally founded on their insight and what they actually do in a given situation. That way when something dramatic happens, the consequence feels very real to us.

Example:

Terry often had difficulty reconciling his love for Joe with his partners inexplicable ability to always negate the chore wheel so hastily established after their last big brawl. It was the consequence of moving in, something that only occurred to him the next day he woke up after Joe's move in day and found a half empty pizza box on the living room loofah. This time was different though. Tim was involved.  
It was a mess, everything about it. Why Tim? Terry slowly picked up the half ravaged reuben that was laid sideways against the foot of Tim Cochran, only the greatest straight man to play a stand-up bass in the last forty years. Terry was gay, but god dammit, Tim was at stake. Turning back towards the bedroom, door half ajar and breathing fumes of musk, his stare burned into the room, recently stained by a rogue juice box perched on the night stand. 
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Terry screamed, hearing a jarring clamor in the bedroom quickly follow. Weary and exhausted, Joe poked his head out of the room, still wearing his spandex bike shorts from the night before. 
"What... Ugh, what time is it?" 
"Time for you to explain to me what the hell is going on? What the shit is a half eaten reuben doing on Tim?" Terry made certain to point as dammingly as he ought at the roast beef slightly peaking out of the top crust. 
"Oh... Oh! God, that." Joe murmured. "Yeah, sorry about that. Late night. Must have," he paused, yawning and stretching his arms, "gotten knocked over after the game." 
Terry wasn't impressed. He was furious. Tim Cochran, his prized porcelain, limited edition collectors item, profaned by a irresponsible jockey. Intolerable.  
 "Pack your shit," Terry growled. "And get the hell out!" 
Joe shook his head in disbelief. 
"Wait a minute," he said leaning into the door, "Are you serious? You're not serious..." 
Terry wasn't putting up with it. He stood his ground. He stood his ground for Tim Cochran. 

Analysis: 

So in here I tried to balance as much as possible the interior side of Terry with his outside behaviors. Terry's need for order and hygiene is the predominant theme here, but what is clear is that he also possesses a conscious awareness of the material in his life. He is nitpicking, calculating, a conceiver of a chore wheel, and all that sort of thing. This is done to establish Joe as an outside presence, that is, one who is inhibiting normalized function in the environment of Terry. His anger is potent and warranted, yet this is expressed through dialogue. What is important about this aspect of the short narrative is that the exterior actions of the character reflect back on the interior qualities of Terry. His anger projects his frustration and his need for order. This is already clear by the internal monologue raging inside Terry's mind.

Now it would be proper as well if this story had no dialogue at all, but was simply a portrait of Terry ruminating over the disrepair of his home. This would change the story dramatically however. No longer would it be a drama, but a psychological thriller. Terry ruminating and speculating and conspiring would make an interesting story, but it misses the big picture of illustrating Terry and Joe's strained relationship. It also misses out on the petty nature of the conflict, and Terry's extreme reaction, which is indicative of his superficial love for Joe. Terry is only interested in surface level appearance or perks that come from the relationship, not actually trying to forge a meaningful human connection with Joe.

The extreme opposite is also possible! Technically you could write a story that features an emphasis on dialogue, perhaps a larger, more articulate argument between the two jaded lovers. Now this is certainly possible, and very easily reflects back on the characters a sense of outrage and perceived conflict, however it loses the character's thoughts and feelings, creating a shallow, action oriented dialogue. We want to know why Terry is so upset, so it is important to represent this in the narrative.

Always, the best way to explore how interior minded your characters are, is to simply write them as such, and experiment by writing in the opposite capacity. Then, after all that, you can blur the two together and find a happy medium between the two. That's what I did here, and I think it shows in the characters.

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