Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Successful Novelist - Lesson Four


- Henry James: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”
- the task is to get a satisfying proportion
- sometimes plot control character (but not having them behave stupidly and unbelievably) and sometimes characters determine the plot with their needs and frustration setting events in motion
- characters need to interact with other characters, we enjoy dialog
- give incidental characters that little extra something and the effect only requires a few extra words and adds depth
- respect your walk-on characters and find efficient ways to make them seem fuller
- there are no minor characters, only minor authors
- type vs multi-dimensional
- a type is someone who is constructed around a single quality and can be defined in a sentence or two
- main characters of most popular fiction are types and while they are given interesting backgrounds and winning personalities, they are defined by their plot function in the story
- multidimensional characters are difficult to describe succinctly and are capable of surprising us, someone whose complexity becomes more manifest each time we read abou them
- these characters control their stories, give the impression of action on their own and not being under the command of their authors
- in plot-driven stories, the goal is to create the illusion that the characters are more than types
- remember Hemingway’s iceberg theory: What’s on the surface should imply an unstated depth
- in your written conversation with yourself, create a detailed history for your character, keep asking questions.
- most of these details will never appear in print, what you’re trying to do is get a sense of this person so that you know the way they think, talk and dress.
- the reader will have a sense of them as strongly as if those details were included, provided that the details that are include have weight.
- the key to your character is what he or she wants and what they have to overcome to achieve that goal
- character sketch sample from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House: “Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends. This was owing largely to the eleven years she had spent caring for her invalid mother, which had left her with some proficiency as a nurse and an inability to face strong sunlight without blinking. She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life.”
- Forester’s observations: “In daily life, we never understand each other, neither complete clairvoyance nor complete confessional exists. We know each other approximately, by external signs, and these serve well enough as a basis for society and even for intimacy. But people in a novel can be understood completely by the reader, if the novelist wishes; their inner as well as their outer life can be exposed.”
- “That is why novels can solace us. They suggest a more comprehensible and thus a more manageable human race.”

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