|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
1. I am a believer in the never ending process of learning. In that cause I would like to put out an invitation to poets living in the Ventura, California area. Wednesday nights, for the next five weeks, at 7 PM in Ventura at the Vita Art Center, 432 North Ventura Avenue, there will be an ongoing poetry workshop. This is a great opportunity to sharpen your craft and gather with other writers in the pursuit of excellence.
LET YOUR CHARACTERS TALK
(If You Shut Up And Listen They Just Might Tell You A Story)
One of the things that just bugs the living hell out of me is when someone goes on, and on, and on telling me what a character's attributes are. Where they're from. What they eat, drink, and smoke. What they wear. Where they buy their cologne...To the point where I am now so overloaded with detail that I've begun to wonder if there's actually any left for the story. I love a good narrative, really. But a good narrative should be sparse to the point of laconic. A truly great narrative is the type that holds back so much that you are mesmerized by the desire to know more about the character. It shows how things unfold and lets the actors tell their stories.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this is F. Scott Fitgerald's, THE GREAT GATSBY . (Yes, I know they just made a movie of the thing...again. I don't live under a rock.) The book is one of those great interplays of characters. You learn things about their nature. Their strengths and weaknesses and they become real and poignant. All of this through their interaction with each other. Even the narrator is carrying on an inner monologue that shows so much about him and his entanglement in the life among Long Islands moneyed elite during the Roaring Twenties without an obvious author's input.
Yet, there are so many things withheld. Who is Gatsby? Where does he come from? Are any of the rumors about him true? Is he a manipulator or just another passenger on a train with no engineer? These are the questions you ask over and over that are never answered fully enough to be satisfying, but the spectacle of that summer and the players on the stage with Gatsby holds you spellbound to the end.
Another master of dialogue, and the effect of limiting of information presented in narrative, is none other than his lordship, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creator of such memorable characters as Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger. As a writer of detective fiction and crime stories, what good would it be to him to give away as much information as possible, even about a main character supposedly possessed of such shrewd insight and powers of observation as Holmes? The delight of the stories is held in the interaction between Holmes and the likes of Dr, Watson or even the evil Dr. Moriarty. It is the unraveling of plots and the discovery of clues that keeps you at their side as the tale unfurls. You listen with intent concentration to Holmes' every utterance, hoping to get to the bottom of things before he enumerates the mistakes made by his adversaries.
Or how about William J. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winner, Ironweed ? If the dialect and drama of Francis Phelan's story doesn't drag you in and make you doubt your own humanity at times then I question your claim on any humanity at all.
So quit yammering on and on and give your characters a chance to tell their story. Is it more difficult? Yes...and no. At first it's difficult to not want to dazzle your audience with your linguistic acrobatics and descriptive abilities. After a while though, your characters become more assertive and at times will even tell the story in ways you didn't know it should be told. They will take command and you will follow along just to see them walk, talk, and live all on their own. That is when the magic happens! Just before they administer large doses of tranquilizers to you out at the home.
Meanwhile...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis