… the mystery of character versus genre …

Flicker, flicker, speed, speed – time is flying – here is a genre – an inviting golden bowl – let’s drop a story into it. A well-defined genre promises the best route to financial success for many aspiring writers.

the golden bowl of genre Human traits that make up characters are unfathomable in their combination, which is why we traditionally veer to an index of types. The adage of the writing guru – don’t tell, show – suggests character is revealed through traits that imply qualities. Traits fascinate us, but if they are mechanical in their emotional and logical processes, they seldom surprise. In such case the page-turning tension must be provided by the plot.

During the nineteenth century’s advent of psychology and individuation many writers moved away from the Greek model of plot-driven stories. Curiosity shifted to the complex inner life of characters and their individual way of creating meaning was employed to unfold narratives.

The search for a unique self beyond the collectively orientated ego personality is relatively new, and while time-engraved archetypal energies hold us in their emotional grip, we have now psychological maps to help us become more conscious of their compelling powers, more conscious of our personality, which, for the writer, informs their fictional characters and opens new worlds and new choices. Irrespective of the rich psychological and scientific knowledge available to us, the process of character formation present us with the greatest mysteries of our time – as exciting as discovering new territory, new planets, new eyes on the universe.

Here I am making up a scene from scratch:

He stiffly dragged his feet along the polished marble floor of the shopping mall, his head forward as if pulled by a rope, though his eyes did not focus forward, nor up or down, they swivelled, left, right, left right, alert for what? Alert for anyone who might observe him? Nobody did – apart from one person who sat still on a seat moulded into the stone replica of a toy train. She raised her eyes from her book and looked straight at him …

Now as reader, and as the writer of this entry into a scene without blueprint for a story, I’m curious – where is he heading, where is this going? I search for a deeper layer, a narrative unfolding from the mysterious core of the character walking through the mall. I want a substance to chew on, to extract a flavour from his unique world.

The woman’s stare broke his set rhythm of surveillance. His face contorted in fear, his feet lost touch with the marble floor, sailed on air, while his arms flattered like duck wings failing to lift. All he could think of before his fell flat was – she knows, she knows I’m not present in this body. All he perceived were veins of light in a glittering darkness. He chose to vacate.

Are you hurt? While approaching the sprawled body of the man, the woman shot a stern glance at her boy who stood by guiltily. She had noticed him drop the sweet wrap. She had noticed the man stepping on the slippery cellophane. She had caught his eyes – and what she saw in that instant had made her shiver …  

I’m not going to follow up this scene. Anyone who reads this is welcome to do so. It would give me a thrill.

We all enjoy our stock characters and their antics, types set into situations and conflicts we can readily identify with, heroes we can like, villains we can despise. We enjoy themes that fall into definite genres that entertain us away from tedious daily concerns. I’m not knocking these stories. I enjoy them myself.

But hey you, all writers out there, why not take a risk and be drawn to the mystery of the unpredictable that challenges you to think in new ways, why not evoke characters who, even while using known containers, allow their (your) unconscious past and future to fill in the content, characters who explore their personal experience to a depth where it becomes universal, characters who play with time and space and are directed from their inner spirit, even when it requires a new container?

In my writing, I like the adventure of discovery, a nut to crack. I like to allow my character to walk ahead and unfold the story, and if it spills over the frame of a convenient genre, so be it.

P1100981And here my little gripes with how-to-does:

The advice-filled internet spheres turn and turn like gyres.

Answers sum up being and are full of promised abundance – yet they are dead.

Questions sum up becoming and are full of challenging limitations – yet they are alive.

 

 

‘One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.’

Andre Gide

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “… the mystery of character versus genre …

  1. I have to say that you have spoken many of my own thoughts in this although you have done it much more clearly and proficiently than I would have done. A very interesting post – thanks you .

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  2. silentnovelist

    Impossible for this to have been ‘nutshelled’ more eloquently than here. I am awed, as ever, on reading your posts.

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    • Thanks. Nutshelled – he, he, good to hear, since I’m sometimes unsure whether stuff I try to express makes any sense.
      btw – you may be aware of this, your gravatar does not contain a link to your website.

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  3. Once, I wrote a blog post about symmetry and how it may or may not manifest in fiction. Should stories be balanced and resolved? Myself, I like when they end with a bit of ambiguity, unfinished, questions remaining. Like life. And I like characters who stay unknowable to some degree, imperfect, unsure perhaps of their next “container,” as you put it. Like people you may know.

    A lovely post and a perfect start to my day of writing. Sometimes we have to trust our character and he will lead, guided by forces on the shore that are out of sight but magnetic nonetheless.

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  4. Another rapturously engrossing post! Very interesting points here. Gaze abroad and lose what is closest to you…avoiding the obvious and exploring the unknown is surely what every writer should strive to achieve. Avoid cliche wherever possible – a tricky thing to do in genre writing!

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  5. It’s not easy for any writers, given that the words for every natural object have been over-burdened with meaning, and branded, take – apple – 🙂 to strike the right balance.
    The endless wonder is that each individual since Eve has a different relationship with apples. I thank her for biting off a big chunk out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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