Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Life Imitates Stanislavski

The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV, by David Corbett, may be, and certainly is, a book for actors and writers to consider reading, but this particular excerpt about the founder of "method" acting gives us all, creative or not, a point to ponder.

One of Constantin Stanislavski's key innovations was recognizing the central role of desire in our depiction of the human condition. The fundamental truth to characterization, he asserted, is that characters want something, and the deeper the want, the more compelling the drama.

Desire is the crucible that forges character because it intrinsically creates conflict. If we want nothing, then nothing stands in our way. This may lead to a life of monastic enlightenment — or habitual evasion — but it's thin gruel for drama. By giving the character a deep-seated need or want, you automatically put her at odds with something or someone, for the world is not designed to gratify our desires.

And a profound, unquenchable longing almost always forces us to do things we normally would never imagine ourselves doing -- even things seemingly contradictory to our natures. When confronted with overwhelming obstacles of a kind we've never faced before in pursuit of something we cannot live without, we are forced to change, to adapt, to dig deeper into ourselves for some insight, passion, or strength that will give us the power we need to keep going.

In a sense, Stanislavski's desire took the place of Aristotle's telos (meaning an end or purpose). Where once man lived to fulfill his basic purpose, he now, in Stanislavski's interpretation, lived to fulfill his most basic ambition, craving, or need.

Peter Brooks put it somewhat differently in his book Reading for Plot, remarking that, in the absence of desires, stories remain stillborn. This reflects a simple truth: Desire puts a character in motion.

There may be no more important question to ask of a character than: What does she want in this scene, in this chapter, in this story? Thinking more globally, one should ask what she wants from her life — has she achieved it? If not, why not? If so, what now?

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Truth is...If we want to keep the storyline of our own lives from being dead in the water, perhaps we could all benefit from asking ourselves the questions in the last paragraph. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Do You Spell "Father"?

Spelling can be a tricky proposition. Take the "gh" from "tough", the "o" from "women", and the "ti" from "action", and "ghoti" suddenly spells "fish".

Poet Marshall Davis "Soulful" Jones has his own way of spelling a very common word:

Truth is...being a single parent, no matter what gender, is probably the hardest job on the planet.  If you know one, pray for them and put action behind your prayer by helping them. If you are one, hang tough and press on. You are tending a garden that can become beautiful and productive one day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I'm More Than Alright - A Prose Hymn

While the story behind the Horatio Spafford/Philip Bliss hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, is moving and adds incalculable depth to the lyric (you can read it here), it is the possibility of those words being lived out in my life that moves and inspires.

However, there is a risk, as with all songs, that the meaning of the words could get lost in the poetry and melody. So, I offer here a prosifying (turning into prose) of this hopeful hymn.

Whatever is going on in my life, whether I'm full of peace or drowning in sorrow, I have learned to say, "In my heart of hearts, I know that I'm more than alright."

Satan himself can hit me with his best shot, and I can be going through a truckload of trouble, but my emotions and sense of self-worth are going to be under the control of this one thing I know for sure: Christ knows how helpless I am and has chosen to spill his blood in order to save my soul.

This really is the thought that blows my mind and fills my heart: every single part of every wrong thing I've ever done or ever will do has been crucified with Christ. I am utterly and eternally free from guilt. Praise God!

So, God, all that's left for me to ask for is that you will send Jesus back soon, and that I'll be able to actually see all the things I'm looking forward to: the sky opening up, the last trumpet blasting forth, and Jesus himself setting foot once again on Planet Earth. It will be monumental and cataclysmic and unlike anything I've ever experienced, but even so...I am absolutely more than alright with that.

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Truth is...sometimes the troubles of life encourage me to echo the words of John: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Three Magic Words

One of the characteristics of the English language is how the meaning of a sentence depends on which word in the sentence receives the most emphasis. This is amazingly demonstrated in the seven completely different statements that can be made by using the same seven words:

I never said she stole my money.
I NEVER said she stole my money.
I never SAID she stole my money.
I never said SHE stole my money.
I never said she STOLE my money.
I never said she stole MY money.
I never said she stole my MONEY.

The same effect can take place, even with a much shorter sentence.

Imagine that Yahweh, also known as God, decides to verbalize his love for you with a simple three-word statement:

I love you. No matter how anybody else on the planet feels about you, you can rest assured that I love you. And who am I? The wisest, most-powerful being in the universe...which I created!

I LOVE you. I don't just tolerate you, like a pesky fly buzzing around the screened-in porch on the outskirts of my attention. No way. I am passionate about bringing about the absolute best for you. Remember that whole "for God so loved the world that he gave" thing? (John 3:16)

I love YOU. Don't take the phrase "God so loved the world" too far. My love is not just some blanket of good will that is indiscriminately tossed over every creature. I know who you are and what your idiosyncrasies are and what is best for you individually. I mean, I know you down to the number of hairs on your head, for crying out loud. (Matthew 10:30)

Truth is...the whys and hows of God's love for each of us can't really be grasped with the human mind or expressed with human language. The good news is, we've got forEVER to learn by experience.