Saturday, January 14, 2012

Making use of the tools at hand

When we come to the end of the book and want to wrap things up and resolve the conflict and finish the theme, a technique that can help "coherence" is making use of the tools-- motifs, objects, and patterns-- that we've set up earlier in the book.  This can help connect the ending to the rest of the book and make the climax feel more 'fitting," more like it really finishes this book and not just, oh, a generic mystery.

For example, that play I just saw by August Wilson, Golf Radio, has two "connectors" in the end.  Earlier, a secondary character had used paint to mark himself (the paint was itself an important prop, as the character was painting with it a house set for demolition, and so the paint symbolized sort of a futile action).  The character marks his face like a Hollywood Indian going into battle, to the amusement and horror of the main character Harmond (who is set to demolish the building).  Later, in the last scene, Harmond also paints his face as he leaves his office to join the forces protesting the demolition. The face-paint shows that he has chosen to fight for the right, and not just the legal, but also connects back to the earlier character and shows how far Harmond has come from despising that man and his quest.

Second is the "radio." Each scene in the play starts with the local radio station coming on with the traffic and weather and what's going on in the Black community that day.  The radio station is bought during the fourth act, by a predatory businessman who is trying to exploit Harmond's partner by putting him as the "local face" of the new ownership. The implication is that the radio station is going to stop covering the community and become some sort of generic Clear Channel clone.  I was wondering how the ending would deal with this, as the play had set up that each morning of the story starts with the radio coming on.  (Groundhog Day uses the same effective technique.)  The playwright understood, however, how to make use of the tools at hand, and has the radio announcer announce the "paint party" at the protest site, showing (I think) that the community radio is still tuned in to the community, and also that Harmond's old partner might actually be undermining his new boss.

Anyway, whenever we make use of the tools we've used earlier, we're adding to the coherence of the story. More than that, even without consciously trying, we're showing the change in character and the development of the theme since the last time in the story that the tool was used. The reader understands that all scenes using this tool are linked, and that the differences between how the tool is used or the effect it has will manifest a new meaning.

Give it a try.  The parellelity of the scenes using the tools actually creates meaning and subtext, whether we're conscious of it or not.



Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

What a brilliant technique! I'll watch for it as I read, and will try to use it when I get back to writing.

Edittorrent said...

I just tried that with a short story I'm writing. The first scene, the hero's friend buys up and burns his IOUs (hero is a big gambler), just to help him out. But hero is humiliated and write an IOU for the total amount and gives it to his friend. Friend says he's not going to try and collect-- will let hero off.

I looked at the end of the story and there was nothing that hearkened back to an earlier scene. So I'm going to try it, maybe by having the friend present the IOU and say that now that hero has made all this money, he can pay it. Something like that. It's a short story, so I don't want to get too elaborate. But the notion of something physical like the paper being a link, I like that.

Joan Leacott said...

I'd always thought of my similar idea as circles. Whatever the name, it's an elegant use of tools. Doesn't Blake Snyder do a similar thing with settings at the opening and closing of a script to show the before and after?

Edittorrent said...

Joan, yes, the circle-- this closes the circle of the story.