Posted by: annmariegamble | March 1, 2010

The Devices We Reach For

Karen Quah wrote about the stories we tell over and over in our work, and it got me thinking of what else we come back to in our creative work. Along with what kinds of stories we retell, do we reuse ways to tell them?

In my various projects, I’m going on my third or fourth Greek chorus: some peanut gallery of characters who rehash the action and set the context. In my Irish novel, my shorthand for the group is the Backbenchers. They’re a trio of guys who are always at the pub willing to join the conversation. They serve as basic Greek chorusters in terms of their function as characters. To the confusion of my critique partners, I’ve been calling them BB1, BB2, and BB3 and not taking care in the draft to keep them straight; any one of them could fill in the commentary in many of their scenes rather than requiring a specific character’s insight.

In my NaNo book the chorus is a trio of senators who, it turns out, serve an additional function. They comment on events, but they each develop a theme or counterbalance the main characters’ behavior in a way the Backbenchers don’t.

There’s an episode of Bones where the first mystery is why the heck someone wanted to kill the victim. FBI agent Booth says all murders are committed for one of two reasons: money or sex. Since I’m writing about politics, I’d add power (and then we can split hairs: maybe power is just long-term planning for money and sex; maybe these are all one category called gain; maybe we should add fear; are we talking only about premeditated . . . just stop it for a minute because this is an aside to an aside).

So my Greek chorus of NaNo senators is not interchangeable: one personifies the motive of Money, one Sex, and one Power. They interact with each other and the main characters, but each man has a specific angle, coming as it does through one of these filters. (Me being me and apropos to other themes in the book, in the end Money and Power go to jail but Sex is redeemed.)

The NaNo book has a spinoff possibility that’s giving me fits. It’d be nice and tidy to say it’s because there’s no Greek chorus yet—there’s a chase in the plot, and it’s going to be difficult to have such characters in this story. But the other difficulty is that a chorus has nothing to debate yet—I’m still missing some of the elements like internal conflict and theme that the chorus could be adding color to.

Lest you think a Greek chorus is too hoity toity for your project:

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