Saturday, October 04, 2008

Characters and a Sense of Place

The last few entries have made me consider the psychology of my own writing.  So much of my technique is unconscious.  How do I convey a sense of place, the personalities and motivations of my characters?  How does one describe a smell, a color, an emotion?  It helps to have a spectacular vocabulary, I’m sure, but it doesn’t seem to be the number of words a writer uses, but which words.  Genius is the ability to choose the right words and arrange them in just the right order to convey the perfect nuance of feeling and senses.

What, you may ask, is she babbling about now?  I’m actually talking about Ernest Hemingway.  I was never a big fan of Hemingway’s manly themes, but I have a great appreciation for the genius of his style.  He is terse in the extreme, but somehow he is able to create real honest-to-God people coping with situations that most of us will never face. His characters are so human that in the end, the reader feels she might really know what it’s like to be an anti-Fascist freedom fighter or an elderly Cuban fisherman.  How does he do it when he is so sparing with words?

Mystery is a fabulous form for exploring character.  In fact, mystery is all about motivation.  Why do people do what they do?  What is going on in a character’s head when he is driven to kill someone?  Why is the sleuth trying to figure out who did the deed?  What is driving him?  Do I think about these things when I write a mystery?  Yes, I do, especially when I’m creating the character of the murderer.  But then after I have written about her for a while, she separates from me, in a way, and begins to react unconsciously to the situations I put her in, like a real person would do.

I know this phenomenon occurs with all authors, but it does make you feel a bit like you’re possessed.  I wonder what Dr. Freud would have to say about it?

On another note, Rick’s entries on Paris have filled me with nostalgia, not to mention envy.  I lived in France once upon a time.  Not in Paris, though we went there many times, but in a beautiful little medieval town which I have mentioned before called Cagnes-sur-Mer, located right between Nice and Cannes on the Cote d’Azur. (Forgive me for not putting the diacritic mark over the o in Cote.  I don’t know how to work my keyboard correctly.)  We had a little apartment one block from the sea.  The beach in Cagnes was composed of pretty, little, perfectly round, black rocks, and the locals spent a lot of time there, wading in the surf and gathering mussels in buckets for their dinner.  Anyone who has spent any time on a French beach knows that the French are much more relaxed about nudity than we Anglo-types, and even Grandmere et Grandpere have no compunction about stripping down to their undies and basking on the beach on a nice day.  Toplessness is common, and it isn’t unusual to see young mothers clad only in a skimpy bikini bottom making sand castles with their toddlers.  

We enjoyed going down to the beach once a week or so, if for no other reason than because we were both raised in an oceanless land and loved to look at the water.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that neither of us saw much public nudity when we were growing up in Oklahoma, either.  When winter ended and the spring days grew warm,  the French began to shed layers of clothing right down to the skin so they could sunbathe and wade in the Mediterranean, For hours we would sit and stare out to sea or wander up and down gathering shells and stones.  Every once in a while, some gorgeous, long-legged Frenchwoman sans brassiere would wander across our line of sight. I loved our time in Cagnes, not just because it was so beautiful, but also because I reaped a lot of romantic benefit from that  lovely spring.  

1 comment:

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