Friday, 16 October 2009

Deeper into character, part 2

I am trying to get back to doing this blog on Tuesdays, as I did throughout last year, but our oven sort of blew up -- well, dramatically shorted -- this week; fair amount of upheaval, but now all is sorted.

Continuing with the question of building characters, how to deepen. And how deep need they be? I began noticing characterisation a lot in my reading over the last few years -- I suggest you do the same, and get students to do so too. This is why it is good for a creative writing class to all read a book in common each term.

I like to ring the changes among genres. I have encountered one or two snooty students who refused to read sci fi or chick lit (not that I chose only those). One can learn from all genres, even cereal box backs. In fact, maybe learn more easily, because one is more detached in reading out of one's fav genre.

I have just finished reading Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Now that's character depth. And illustrates the rule -- depth of character requires time with the character, ergo, different genres, different depths of character (a) possible and (b) expected by reader. ULoB has essentially 3 characters (plus the narrator, a strong 4th) and the whole book is about getting to know them; indeed as they plumb their own depths. A fascinating, curious book. For contrast, as mentioned last week, read Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code: tons of characters, lots of action and pace, no time to get to know characters. But it works, of course, in its way. So it all depends.

One of my fav eye-openers to bringing a character alive is a paragraph in Anna Karinina early on, where Tolstoy has Kitty looking in the mirror, just about to descend to the dance where she will see both Levin and Vronsky. I call it 'the hills and dales of thought'. It gives insight into her state(s) of mind, and we live through it with her.

Currently I'm reading Elizabeth George's For the Love of Elena, Inspector Lynley working on a crime. I think she has a good balance of character depth (Lynley, Havers) and intermediate depths and quickly sketched characters. All of them ring true. What do you think?

Good news, my November Hero's Journey course has sufficient numbers, so it will run, hurrah! I have found that re-doing some of its character exercises has let me surprise myself with things I didn't know about existing characters I am working with. Particularly the Mentor's Gift.

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