Monday, July 21, 2008

"No Viviremos Como Presos" by Brad Beaulieu

While I was attending Viable Paradise, a one-week writing workshop held on Martha's Vineyard, Patrick Nielsen Hayden had the students write a scene in which we argued a position we would normally argue against. I had a particularly tough time with this, and it became clear why after Patrick said something that was rather obvious once he'd said it: that you're on to something if you find the writing of a particular position difficult. I don't even recall the exact nature of the scene (something to do with corporate greed, as I recall, though I was arguing for the greedy corporation) but the exercise has always stuck with me, because the point of it was to show you that you can really make an argument exciting if both sides have compelling arguments. And it's not just arguments; this goes to the heart of conflict. It's easy (not to mention uninteresting) to set up a conflict where one side is clearly in the right. Its much more gripping if the author can set up the conflicts so that there are no easy answers. To make the antagonist sympathetic in his own right can turn him from a cardboard cutout of evil into a complex character that the reader actually sympathizes with while they do dastardly things.

When I started writing "No Viviremos Como Presos," I had a clear position in mind: that a border wall was a Bad Thing, and from this position Sandro's character began to form. But, bearing the previous exercise in mind, I certainly didn't want it to become didactic. In the words of Tim Powers: I didn't want to "say" anything. I just wanted it to be, for it to exist, and for the reader to take away what they would. This is the place from which Miguel's character sprang. I note now, though it was not conscious at the time, that there is no antagonist in the conventional sense. Clearly the U.S. Government is the bad guy, but it acts the landscape of this painting, not the subject. Miguel turned into a lens, so to speak, something through which the reader could view these things with a fairly unbiased viewpoint. That is his job, after all, to take pictures and to present them and allow the viewer to make up their minds about them. Sure, he can flavor them if he chooses to, but his professional integrity steers him away from such urges.

It was interesting, then, to see what happened to Miguel as he stood by and documented this tragedy. He never did take as much of a stand as Sandro wanted him to, and perhaps in the end Miguel regrets that. By the end of the story he certainly feels punished by the paths that fate led him down, though whether that changes him in the end, I don't know. I'll leave that up to you to decide...

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