Regarding “Noontime in the Garden of Characters”

by | May 10, 2014 | Forum Archives, Thoughts and Tips

Magically granting the main character’s condition of value will stop the story, but it may be that the same result will occur if other characters in it get their desires fulfilled, too.

Started by Will Cooper on 2014-05-10 at 21:13

Most characters in a story will have a condition of value. Magically granting the main character’s condition of value will stop the story, but it may be that the same result will occur if other characters in it get their desires fulfilled, too. Take “Hamlet”. Gertrude’s condition of value could be expressed as follows: “Having her son Hamlet accept her marriage to Claudius, stop acting in a provocative, unsettling manner, and settle down with that nice girl Ophelia.” If she got her wish, the play would end. So why isn’t “Hamlet” Gertrude’s play? It’s not, because Shakespeare wrote a story about a prince who seeks to revenge the murder of his father. It’s Hamlet’s condition of value (balancing the scales of justice and restoring moral order to the kingdom) that, when obtained, ends the play. The Bard could have written a play about a queen who marries her dead husband’s brother and has a troublesome son who suspects that her husband murdered his father and plots revenge against him. She tries everything she can to restore reason to her son and prevent her husband from having him assassinated; she tries to marry him off to a courtier, but that doesn’t work; she brings in his former university mates to spy on him, but the son has them executed; etc. We’ll call it “Gertrude, Queen of Denmark”. The play ends when she slips her son a powerful potion given her by a troupe of traveling actors that turns him into a harmless fool that trades in his dark brooding livery for harlequin. If you’re writing something and can’t decide whose story it is, or which is the flower you want to describe, keep gardening and sniff every blossom one after another, day after day. After awhile one of them will start to smell sweeter or more pungent than the others. It might even stink and insult your senses, but without it the garden would seem empty, colorless, and sere. It’ll strike you as indispensable to your whole horticultural scheme. That’s your main character. The other flowers and weeds and earthworms and grubs, marauding rabbits and deer, blights and insects, the mulch, the rain that falls, the sun that shines, they’re all part of that single irreplaceable flower’s story. You know the flower I mean.

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