Call Me Ishmael. Call Me Al

I’ve been thinking about character development, having come across a list of questions (Thanks M.E.) that writers might consider in developing characters for their stories, much like actors preparing their characters for the stage. I’ve added some and put them up as part of my “Writing” pages. I’m writing stories now, or at least, learning how.

DIGRESSION I’m reading David Bezmogis’ novel The Betrayers, quite enjoying it until I was stopped by a flock of question marks on page 149 (though beginning back as far as page 141) as part of a Free Indirect Discourse monologue by one of the two protagonists, fit in between dialogue, where questions and answers work perfectly well. I admit this may be a quirk of mine begot by writing too many grant and sponsorship proposals where assertion in the active voice is the dominant mode with just one question in the entire document whether 1 page or 100 pages long bracketed by a please and thank you. “Thank you for your (past) support. Please give us some money to do good deeds.  Thank you.” It seems, even that question can be asked without a question mark.

The opposite could also be true, how else do we get to know a character, if not by the questions he asks himself? And by the answers he gives.  Is it satisfactory to carry, to imply, the question in the answer, to a reader?

emptypocket1In a long ago forgotten English highschool class I was taught about character development, and how readers were eager to know about the protagonist and major characters right off the top. So we diligently bent over our foolscap with our Bic pens and described a character including his size, his height, his girth, the colour of his eyes, while listening to the short guy in the tie explain the importance of first impressions and naming. Call Me Ishmael.  I started this entry because I was taken by the simile “empty as a pocket” (from “Diamonds on the soles of her shoes”) being sung by Paul Simon, which was followed by Call me Al.”

DIGRESSION: Naming has been around since Genesis, and is not likely ever to be less important.  Naming has survived post-modernism, and will survive logo pollution and branding driving the desiring herd to purchase.

Back to The Betrayers, not for an explication of the theme clearly marked and expertly executed by Bezmogis, but for a classic physical description revealing character, but only on page 139. The strategy is more robust than one would think, at least in the hands of a capable storyteller.

“In the chicken yard, Tankilevich came into view. His legs moved stiffly, arthritically, as if they had lost the greater part of their utility. He still had the presence of a large man, but he was sapped of strength, his arms depleted of muscle, the elbows bulbous in their sheath of skin. He carried weight in the stomach and chest, but it was slack and unwholesome. The only sign  of vitality was his full, almost overfull, head of white hair, below which his face was drawn, his skin loose at the mouth and the throat. He gave the impression of dissatisfaction and ill health.”  Yes, this description probably struck me more actuely because the man described looks a lot like me. Except I’m almost bald.

DIGRESSION; Yes reader, you say,  “everything is about you.” I say “we bring what we bring when we read.”

I’ve given Tankilevich’s  description in the wrong context. What makes this passage work so well for me in the novel is that the description of the antagonist  is given in FID,  by the protagonist, watching through a window. A voyeuristic image, as well as a doubling.

I count on the novel to continue pleasing me. I hope others will read it to.






This entry was posted in Quotations, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Blog Subscription

To receive notification of new articles.