Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Plot, the Arc, and so forth

Heaven is High and the Emperor is Far Away, A Play is in revision and will soon be
available in a slightly different version. My primary goal in undertaking this revision is to address the criticism made by some readers and reviewers that nothing happens in the play. One who attended the reading/performance of this  play articulated this judgement as the absence of the "arc."

The beginning, the middle and the end of a puzzle or a conflict is indeed an important ingredient in plays and books. I myself am often put out when reading something that does not appear to me to have these elements. But it has occurred to me that such a literary contrivance may not be essential or even important.

Consider The Lord of the Ring. The conflict, the quest to defeat Sauron certainly gives the work a strong propelling emotion. But it does not replace--it might even distract from--the inventiveness of the author who has created a universe filled with Elves, Dwarves, Men, Hobbits, Ents and much more. The battle against Mordor is a very distant consideration when we read the songs of Tom Bombadillo or imagine the exploits of elven lords revealed in all their fury or ponder the journey that Gandalf the Grey might have (must have?) taken after his battle with the Balrog to return as Gandalf the White. That is why the fragments that Tolkien's son  offered, the Silmarillion and other pieces, fascinate.

Further, one may ask if "what happened" matters in The Alexandria Quartet. Are we not permanently charmed by the word pictures of mud-brick apartments, wind-swept desert, lush emotions and inexplicable decisions? Honestly, who would care to know how the book began or ended?

Finally, consider the plays of Chekov. College students may have to regurgitate plot summaries (they used to)  even as scholars have formed a consensus that these dramatic pieces are not "plot driven." Indeed; to capture the atmosphere of lives lived in quiet desperation or the passions that arise despite the impending sense of failure or the longing, the expectation, that change is possible and may be glorious, or if not so at least better than the present--is this not what sends readers and watchers of the dramas back into their own lives with a livelier spring in their step and a happier song in their hearts?

Therefore, I have tried to strengthen the frame around Shopkeeper Wang and the Yutai Tea House, but I will send it back into the world hoping that readers might be moved by what is revealed or hinted at in the lives of those who come to and go from the Tea House: the foolishness, the anger, the grace, the menace, the injustice, the yearning for more--more food, more elbow room, just more.  

Startup - a "millennial" novel?

Startup by Doree Shafrir is a funny, light read that makes one feel old. Oh, to be thirty again--even though characters in their thirties i...