Complications

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polymath
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Complications

Post by polymath » July 30th, 2010, 11:49 am

Webster's ties complication's definition to plot, a: a situation or detail of a character complicating the main thread of a plot, b: making difficult, involved, or intricate.

I had a duh-huh epiphany moment recently. I've generally perceived dramatic complications as coming from external sources and pressing inward--complication is antagonism's purpose counteridentity--in spite of an abundance of literary evidence to the contrary. It's someone else's fault. It's everyone else's fault. It's fate's fault. It's the cosmos' fault. It's eat or be eaten survival of the fittest's fault life is so complicated.

No, not me. For some time I've known most, if not all of my complications come from internal purposes. I write because I have something to say that can't be said in any other way, so writing complicates my life, for instance. The car, a road warrior demolition derby refugee, needs new brake shoes. I have the parts, the tools, the skills to change them. I'm procrastinating because it's so hot outside. The shoes have a thin eighth of an inch of wearplay left. Maybe they'll hold out until summer's over. If I let it go too long, metal rivets attaching the pads to the metal shoes will gouge the disc rotors and add cost complications to the repairs. My choice. My purposes complicated by procrastination complicated by weather excuses because my health can't take the heat.

A discussion in the Publishing thread about the television situation drama Mad Men opened my eyes to the common in life and common enough in literature occurrence of self-induced complications. Gustav Freytag in Technique of the Drama, 1863, locates external complications pressing inward as sources of incitements to act. He doesn't address internal complications. I guess he didn't recognize we are each our own worst enemies any better than anyone else. Aristotle did, but he located internal complications as reactions to and consequences of external complications.

Yet internal complications are First Causes for dramatic purposes themselves, especially in in medias res openings. A First Cause being a first presenting high magnitude dramatic complication. Movie and television screenplay writers have long understood internal complications as First Causes. Charlie Chaplin's complications are self-induced. The Honeymooner's Ralph Cramden wants to enter a bowling tournament scheduled on his wedding anniversary. Complications introduced. His efforts and building complications to conceal his true self-serving purpose from Alice are the plot middle. Hilarity ensues as his efforts become more complicated and more doomed to failure. Audience desire to see him succeed knowing he'll fail and just waiting for the other shoe to drop build audience rapport, equally present and countered by audience desire to see him fail and hope he will succeed leaves outcome in doubt until straightman character Alice drops the dime on Ralph. Denouement's emotional payoff.

Beginnings are for introductions, middles are for escalating efforts, endings are for denouement payoffs, most central to each are a main unifying dramatic complication. If the denouement transformation in an ending is best a consequence of a protagonist's efforts to address a dramatic complication, might then introduction of the dramatic complication also be from a consequence of a protagonist's self-serving purposes?

I think so. Temptation is strong to self-serve; it's survival instinct at least. Who doesn't want to say or do exactly the right thing to an especially mean overlord who needs to be taken down a notch for private and the public good? Take from the silver platter of giving that is life's temptation to self-enrich at others' expenses? But society coercively teaches us social beings we must self-sacrificingly serve the greater good or suffer shunning, the worst punishment society can inflict. And that has been my greatest complication in life, to the point of social paralysis. If I serve everyone else's needs, I don't and can't serve my own. My contributions to the greater good don't necessarily serve the greater good. I least serve it by self-dooming myself to obscurity or extinction. Paradox redux. Self-serving and self-sacrificing motivation complications are a delicate balancing act in life and in literature.
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Omega12596
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Re: Complications

Post by Omega12596 » July 31st, 2010, 1:27 am

polymath wrote:Webster's ties complication's definition to plot, a: a situation or detail of a character complicating the main thread of a plot, b: making difficult, involved, or intricate.

I had a duh-huh epiphany moment recently. I've generally perceived dramatic complications as coming from external sources and pressing inward--complication is antagonism's purpose counteridentity--in spite of an abundance of literary evidence to the contrary. It's someone else's fault. It's everyone else's fault. It's fate's fault. It's the cosmos' fault. It's eat or be eaten survival of the fittest's fault life is so complicated.

I think so. Temptation is strong to self-serve; it's survival instinct at least. Who doesn't want to say or do exactly the right thing to an especially mean overlord who needs to be taken down a notch for private and the public good? Take from the silver platter of giving that is life's temptation to self-enrich at others' expenses? But society coercively teaches us social beings we must self-sacrificingly serve the greater good or suffer shunning, the worst punishment society can inflict. And that has been my greatest complication in life, to the point of social paralysis. If I serve everyone else's needs, I don't and can't serve my own. My contributions to the greater good don't necessarily serve the greater good. I least serve it by self-dooming myself to obscurity or extinction. Paradox redux. Self-serving and self-sacrificing motivation complications are a delicate balancing act in life and in literature.
The last part of this paragraph really hit me. Namely the emboldened bit. I struggle with this on the micro(immediate family) and macro levels and am often at war with myself over whether taking time away from x, y, or z is "right" or "selfish".

In comment on the larger point, I have also thought of most book plots as "external sources" "pressing inward", but you offer some insight for seeing things from a different perspective. You've got my wheels turning. Thanks :)

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polymath
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Re: Complications

Post by polymath » July 31st, 2010, 12:25 pm

Cool, Omega12596, I'm glad to offer insights, gladder when they strike harmonic chords.

Yep, there's a fine and ever shifting line between healthy self-serving motivations and churlish selfish motovations, what with false accusations of selfishness and guilt and shame when placing self above others' needs complicating matters. But a dead lotus eater serves no one's needs.
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hulbertsfriend
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Re: Complications

Post by hulbertsfriend » August 1st, 2010, 12:40 pm

Hi Polymath,

A provocative insight and so much rings true. So much so, that I am immediately drawn to my self-interest. Instead of working on my house I will... Maybe my motives are in conflict due to a sudden urge toward hedonism?
My house is my house, the impetus to do what is needed or desired not being readily discernable I yield to... Confilict?

The arbitor of today's turmoil will be that it's Sunday and I shall rest, till the guilt of what needs to get done overwhelms the comfort of my couch. By then it will be to late to do all I needed to get done, so maybe tomorrow...

May it be St. Swithun's Day every days, so my periods of conflict will be separated by forty days. A man's got to have time to rest!
"All it takes to fly is to hurl yourself at the ground... and miss." Douglas Adams

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polymath
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Re: Complications

Post by polymath » August 1st, 2010, 1:21 pm

Aye, hulbertsfriend, conflict, there's the rub.

Conflict is a universal experience useful for building reader rapport and causation, tension, and antagonism, some routine, some exciting, some trying, all antagonizing. I know conflict from a literary sense as a diametric opposition of forces and/or complications related to suspense questions and final outcomes. Will they or won't they romance, will the hero find out or not who done it mystery, life or death, rags or riches, fame or obscurity, acceptance or rejection, etc. Complication I know as a parent set of conflict, at least because complications don't necessarily diametrically oppose purposes, mostly opposing though tangential. Conflict as a child set of complication.

Fix the roof or watch the tournament and drink a beer Sunday. Monday it rains. Water gets into the computer. Uh-oh. The project due Friday is postponed. The client is lost. The boss gets upset. In a huff, the job is lost. The home is lost. Woe betides in the House that Jack Built.

"This is the House that Jack Built"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_th ... Jack_Built
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