Sunday, February 02, 2014

Art versus Reality: Off-screen off-stage tragedy

I recently got a really great review of my novel The Constant Tower. It was written by Michael Ehart and it just thrilled me and sent me squeeing through the house. Not that he loved everything about my book. Of course there were creatve choices I made which he couldn't get behind. One of them had to do with my choice of doing two murders off screen. I'll agree with him that I could've killed one of the secondary characters on-screen. It would've been easy to have one or two of my POV characters see the crime. So he's right there. Maybe the scene would've been more powerful if I did that.

But the other scene...well I gotta defend it. And here is why: One basic fact of life is that many tragedies that affect us often take place far from our eyes.

Consider the attack on Pearl Harbor or 9/11

Fantasies often have wars happening in their pages. Constant Tower has a war going on...in fact many wars...great and small, petty and large, or a combination of both. But I don't lke battles. I even wrote about my dislike of describing battle scenes inside the pages of CT. My main characters are not warriors. Worse my main characters are victims of life and small wars. The larger war affects them but not as much as the daily wars they have to fight, or the daily wars that suddenly get thrust on them. In fact, it's the petty wars that I'm concerned with -- the daily wars we have with those in our tribe. And so while hundreds die off screen in the larger war, the folks we love in CT -- the warriors who were the hero's friends who died in the story-- all died from being wounded in the house of their friends. They are collateral damage. As the saying goes, when elephants battle, the little grass gets trampled.

I wanted to talk about this kind of sudden cruelty that happens to people who simply are in the way, people who are killed because someone wants something else or because someone is using them to get at something else.

Michael Ehart used the phrase "convoluted betrayals" and talked about the Westeros and the Borgias. The perfect description! Folks are murdered in order to make the main character suffer. Secondary characters are pawns in a larger struggle. Think of Satan's cruelty to humans as his way of getting back at God. Does Satan hate humans for themselves? Probably not.

When I was teaching in the high school I befriended one of the Spanish teachers. Little did I know she was at war with the other Spanish teacher. Weirdly, but humanly, the other teacher took on a dislike of me. Yep, teachers can be way immature. Did she think her enemy was discussing her with me? Don't know. But wow, the stuff she said to me out of the blue. Then when my son entered the high school I told him to choose the hateful Spansh teacher. She was the better teacher, so I thought why not? It didn't occur to me that she would be petty. (I have often naively given people the benefit of the doubt. Never a good thing.) Well, she was utterly cruel to him in everything. Even the kids in his class thought there was something weird going on.

Humans are petty and because of this there are tons of innocent victims around...because human malice will find some substitute to attack as a way of attacking their enemy. Like I said, it's demonic. Human nature likes having its way. It likes being judge, juror, executioner. It likes avenging itself; it justifies itself. This makes for a world where Self causes problems for anyone and anything that challenges it. A dangerous situation because Self is always on the prowl for anything it deems dangerous to its pride, power, etc -- even if that thing is unaware of the other Self's issues.

So is it odd that my POV characters didn't see some great evil coming at them? No. They were sideswiped by sudden human evil as we humans often are. We don't see all the evil that affects us when the evil happens. Somewhere someone is seeking us like a prey, setting a snare. Or worse, someone is setting a snare for someone we love because we love that person.  And why do we grieve for the innocents we might have protected if we had "seen" the plan of the enemy? Why do we have survivor's guilt? And why do we understand instinctly that someone hurt our friend as a means of hurting us? Because we feel responsible for the suffering of our loved one. And this is how the enemy's malicious plan works: they have succeeded in making us grieve.

We are all on a stage with movers and shakers (spiritual or human) on-screen and off-screen. On-stage and off-stage.  A scene is not per se un-exciting because the cruelty is not seen/written before our eyes. The power of a scene where sorrow is discussed but not shown lies in the helplessness of the human characters. The characters "did not know"..."had not foreseen the evil scheme"...is overwhelmed by the aftermath and keeps imagining what he would've done if he had been there. Of course God foresees the disaster, God is present at every disaster because He is omnipresent. And it is possible that God tried to warn against the tragedy but allowed human free will to play out. Incidentally, in this world only God isn't vindictive...and yet...we humans often think He is.

So upshot: I aimed for reality in my art. I think my choice worked.
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