Saturday, February 21, 2009

Methods of Characterization

In our everyday life we are continually drawing inferences in regard to the characters of those about us, and we do the same thing in a story. Some writers tell us as clearly as they can the natures of the men and women they are revealing to us, while others leave that almost wholly for us to conjecture.

We shall employ, then, two sets of symbols for character, one for direct statement of character, and one for character effects. The realization of character through direct statement may include presentation of motives, ideas, passions, will, special phases of development. It may come through report of the talk of others, or through statement of opinion generally entertained. c1 we will use for direct statement of character,—"John was a hard old miser,"—and we will add to this symbol the symbol a to indicate that this is only so far potent with us as to make us know the writer's understanding of the character merely, b to indicate that we recognize the writer's feeling for the character but do not share it, and c to indicate that the writer's feeling for his character affects us sympathetically to a like feeling.

Another group of symbols, c2, c3, and c4, we will use for character "effects," for such knowledge of character as we gain by inference. c2 is a symbol for a general inference regarding a group of people or a community; c3 and c4 are symbols for inferences regarding the individual, c3 indicating the recognition of type or class qualities, c4, the recognition of more individual traits of character. The distinction here is merely one of matter of fact, a distinction not always to be made with sureness, since it is one of degree rather than altogether one of kind. When the way in which a man is good or cheerful or avaricious is differentiated for us from the way in which another man is good or cheerful or avaricious, he is so far individualized.

Class characterization, c3, may be found along with individualization. The extreme accentuation of one or a few characteristics to the disregard of others gives the effect of individualization, but we shall understand this as in fact type characterization, since our natures are so complex that in almost no case can the conduct of any one be understood through knowledge of a few dominant traits of character.

Individualization gives us intimacy of acquaintance; type or class characterization makes us see merely the striking, peculiar, or controlling expressions of personality. Guy Mannering in Scott's "Guy Mannering" is but a type of the conventional soldier. Tito Milema in George Eliot's "Romola" presents so many sides of a complex nature that we easily distinguish him from all other characters in fiction whatever.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Two Things Requisite in Writing

Gardiner in his "Forms of Prose Literature" says very truly that the "essential elements, not only of literature, but of all the fine arts, are: first, an organic unity of conception; and second, the pervasive personality of the artist." It is true that much of our writing does not aspire to literary character, but in very little of our writing of any sort can we afford to neglect the first of these elements, and in very little of it do we care to leave the second out of account. Even in exposition of the simpler sort we may give to our writing the distinction of a more luminous style and the stronger appeal of a warmer personal interest, if we shape it into organic unity and make evident in it "the pervasive personality of the artist."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Studying Short Stories

The following is an outline that can be used for studying short stories:

1. a. Upon what is the interest of the story especially dependent? b. Are the incidents presented rapidly and coherently, or slowly and disconnectedly? c. Is there a clearly defined plot or not? d. Does the plot have a climax of entanglement, or does it fail in developing this feature of the story interest?

2. a. How is character presented? b. Are the characters well chosen for their reactions among themselves? c. Are the things they do and say continually consistent or not? d. Are they sufficiently individualized to escape the appearance of the conventional and to hold interest?

3. a. Does the story state facts and happenings merely, or does it get hold of vital sensations and revive them? b. If so, in what ways does it seem to do that? c. In general does it seem to you subjective or objective in method?

4. a. How much of the interest of the story is in the development of the plot and how much in the stirring of vital sensations, including sympathetic moods? b. Does the development of the story center about any idea or attitude toward life? c. What excellences and what faults do you find in the story?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The "Tale" Short Story

The "Tale" is the relation, in an interesting and literary form, of some simple incident or stirring fact. It has no plot in the sense that there is any problem to unravel, or any change in the relation of the characters; it usually contains action, but chiefly accidents or odd happenings, which depend on their intrinsic interest, without regard to their influence on the lives of the actors.

(a) It is often a genuine True Story, jealously observant of facts, and embellished only to the extent that the author has endeavored to make his style vivid and picturesque. Such stories are a result of the tendency of the modern newspaper to present its news in good literary form. The best illustrations are the occasional contributions of Ray Stannard Baker to McClure's Magazine.

(b) It may, however, be an Imaginative Tale, which could easily happen, but which is the work of the author's imagination. It is a straightforward narration of possible events; if it passes the bounds of probability, or attempts the utterly impossible, it becomes a Story of Ingenuity. It has no love element and no plot; and its workmanship is loose. The best examples are the stories of adventure found in the better class of boys' and children's papers.