Wordsmith Wednesday–Artistry and Writing

I spent a good part of the morning at the museum, preparing for a tour on Friday for 4th graders. The feature exhibit is Chester Arnold, a contemporary California environmental artist. In the center of the gallery is a display of the tools Arnold uses to create his work: palettes, oils, brushes–all the implements of painters. I like to ask the children what kind of tools artists use. When they’ve replied as expected, I take it a step further and discuss the elements and principles of art such as color, line, shape, texture… As I was thinking about my tour strategy, the thought came to mind that, as writers, we employ some of these same tools to give depth, perspective, unity and beauty to our art. Here are a few (only a few) to consider:

  • Balance–how do you achieve balance in writing? In fiction, it’s important to consider variations of moods, pacing, narrative and dialogue. For example, if you are writing a thriller, give the reader a chance to catch his breath now and again. This can be done by using pacing techniques. Ramp up the intensity by using short sentences, fast-paced action then ease up and throw in a little scene of description or reflection. Balance dialogue with narrative. Too much of either overwhelms (or underwhelms.)
  • Color–yes, color. Bring color into descriptions but also into character. When I wrote the first draft of my first novel all the characters resembled one another and they were boring (probably because they were all like me!) Give those people inhabiting your pages flaws, tics, obsessions, cultural variations–whatever it takes to distinguish them one from another. I find it helpful to think of people I know and to use the Myers-Briggs when developing personalities. (You may want to refer to my previous post on Myers-Briggs).
  • Perspective. Add depth to your characters and story by subtly including background reference. This can be done by careful inclusion of flashbacks or in the course of conversations. Be careful not to take the reader out of the story, though. Another way to add perspective is by judicious use of point of view. Many writers advise staying in a single viewpoint. If that suits you, be sure to choose the character and the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) that best suits your story. I like to shift points of view, usually keeping it to two or three maximum, with the protagonist maintaining center stage. If you do choose multiple points of view, be careful to differentiate by chapter or scene changes. Don’t confuse the reader.

I could go on and on, using the tools of art as a metaphor for writing, and perhaps I will in another post. I hope these considerations are helpful to you. I invite you to think about how they can be applied to poetry as well as fiction.

Myers-Briggs Post: https://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/character-development/

Wordsmith Wednesday–Effective Dialogue

I have to guess that there are entire blogs devoted to the creation of effective dialogue and I’m sure that this will be the first of a series of posts that I write on this subject.

Think about what dialogue can do to make or break a piece of fiction. Through dialogue the reader can get into the mind of the protagonist but also can come to a greater understanding of other-than-point-of-view characters. Dialogue is an effective tool in pacing your narrative. Consider the difference between short, clipped sentences and those that are pondering, reflective. Dialogue enables the reader to understand a character’s motivation and emotional responses to persons and events. The writer can use dialogue to set the mood and the setting of the story.

Today I want to consider only one factor that contributes to effective dialogue: the importance of remaining true to the personality of your characters. The manner in which a character expresses his thoughts and feelings must be consistent with his temperament, background, education and occupation. Take a sample of dialogue from a novel or short story that you have written and use these criteria to evaluate the believability of your character. Then rewrite the scene from the point of view of a character who is:

  • A white woman raised in a wealthy family who completed law school but never went on to practice because of her shyness;
  • A black police detective who escaped the ghetto of his childhood in his altuistice desire to help his community rise above the culture of crime;
  • A neurotic 60-year-old divorcee who has no family or close friends;
  • An immigrant from Mexico who has worked hard to achieve success in spite of a lack of education;
  • An artist living in New York who’s creativity is fueled by alcohol.

If you prefer, use this scenario: The character learns from a sibling that his/her estranged father has died. If you want, use comments to post all or one of your characters and I will select some to add to this blog. More on dialogue next week.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process.