What I'm Reading

Character

Mon, 09/17/2007 - 5:18am

It's hard to believe that the new semester is in full swing. This is already the forth week! While Fall is my favorite time of year, I'm still hanging onto the last few moments of summer. This one having been such a great one (the photos are from a day I spent on Fire Island). 

The novel continues to eek along. I'm excited about the upcoming readings. Both of the undergrad classes that I'm teaching, Craft of Fiction and Characterization, are proving to be most helpful in prompting my imagination to continue to layer the story.  

One of my favorite things to say is that I'm the luckiest person I know because I've always wanted a job that I could 1) do in bed and 2) would still make my momma proud. 

The largest part of my job as a creative writing teacher is reading, observing, and thinking. A huge chunk of those things can be done from bed. See? Life is good! (I also enjoy the beach, cafés, parks, airports, other cities and countries—they, I find, are also perfect places to work). 

Then the meatiest part of my 70 undergrad students' weekly homework is handed-in to me on a little three-by-five index cards

(Those are Nabokov's. Did you know that he wrote most of his novels on index cards?) 

When studying something so vast, something so subjective as fiction, especially in a studio environment (where the focus is the application of techniques rather than the discussion of agreed-upon interpretations), that the condensing of ideas, training the eye and subconscious mind toward something seemingly small and specific, is the best way to expand...I really do...

...but don't you also love a week's work that fits into the inside pocket of your blazer? Or your beach tote? 

The (re)reading I'm doing for characterization, which lately has been from a yet-to-be-published book on the craft of fiction by Michelle Carter alongside Toni Morrison's Sula, has me jumping up from the bed and into my novel. 

The ideas of Contradiction and Juxtaposition within characterization have me captivated. Each example I see in fiction where a writer offers the reader a tradeoff beyond "likability," I'm engaged.  (There's an old-guard idea in workshops that characters in fiction will alienate the reader if they're not likable). Morrison's characterization goes so far beyond likability. Her characters make extreme and harrowing choices. While maintaining their full humanity. 

Janis, my novel's main character, has seen better days. And in her current state it's not always easy for her to muster up those qualities that would make her a lovely dinner guest. 

Bernard, a good friend of my cousin (who I stayed with while in New York), is interested in fiction writing. We've been chatting about it for a while, and in an email conversation he recently wrote this line that he said "came to him." He said that he didn't "know where it would land" but asked me what I thought. Here's the line: 

"I like to think I'm an optimist - the kind of optimist who, deep down, knows that things are probably not going to work out in the end."

What do I think? I think it's wonderful. This is a character, who so far, I'd like to know. What will keep me wanting to know him (or her) is what Bernard does with the character. Will I see him act/interact/react with others in challenging and engaging ways that will push the clever line into scenes I can sink my teeth into?  

Two quotes on Characterization: 

 "Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things. The honest thief, the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist." - Robert Browning

"The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. It is that crossed border (the border beyond which my own "I" ends) which attracts me most. For beyond that border begins the secret the novel asks about. This novel is not the author's confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become." -Milan Kundera

Ok. Time to get back to work. All of this is making me want to write. 

Will be checking in again.