Friday, April 29, 2011

sketching character and plot

I'll use this post to explore approaches to inserting character and plot in fiction, employing art as a backdrop to the discussion.  

Two thumbnail figures can help set the stage for discussing how to introduce one of the main characters into our work of fiction.  The first charcoal illustration, barely formed, potentially attractive, is a very tentative figure.  Compelling, perhaps, as an art piece, but probably not as a suitably developed story character--yet.  The intent might be to have this character reveal more of herself as the fiction unfolds, and she is tested by the relationships and challenges she encounters in the 'fictional dream,' (as  in John Gardner, "The Art of Fiction").  Each new encounter fleshes her out a little more, so that the reader sees her ever more clearly, though he might bring his own subjective judgment to what he is seeing.  That should be fine with the author who values his readers.

The other illustration considers opening the fictional dream with a clearly shown figure, in a characteristic setting, and a composition and style that is somehow representative of the character.  The challenge for the fictional dream employing this opening may lie less in the suspense of how this type of character will respond to people and situations, but more with the depth and poignancy of the response.

I'm currently reading a novel, "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet," by David Mitchell.  Mitchell seems to have done a good job of starting out with emergent charcoal portraits of two main characters, Jacob, a clerk in the service of the Dutch East Indies Co. in Japan at the end of the eighteenth century, and Orito, a Japanese noblewoman.  Mitchell rather slowly reveals their psychological makeup, filling in the blanks as the characters are stressed, and all to good effect.  It's a wonderful read.

Till next month.

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