Writer’s Craft #16 – Making a Statement
Making a statement through your characters
Do you express your values through your characters? Author Justine Graykin gives us her take on the question, below, as this week’s guest writer. Please share your thoughts about the question, with or without examples from your writing. (lynda)
by Justine Graykin
The protagonist reflects, the antagonist rants. The reader is left to ponder both sides of a situation with sympathy, if not full appreciation, for the opposing points of view. Even simplistic plots and one dimensional characters designed purely to entertain send a message of some sort: subtle affirmations that submissive women are desirable, or violence for a good cause is justifiable. We as authors can either take responsibility for what statement we are making, or simply shrug and go along with the market, popular culture, or the genre.
We can make a case for some idea or ethos through the way the plot turns, and even by our choice of setting. But the actions of characters, their choices and fates, most often make the statement. We can choose to exalt the nobility of war through a virtuous warrior, or condemn prejudice and persecution through the sufferings of an outcast. Or it can be something simple, which nonetheless makes a statement about what is valued in a culture.
Making a statement about what is valued in a culture is the example I’ve chosen to illustrate, through Brinnalamaya, a character from my Elder Light series. She holds a position rather like a supreme justice in a technologically advanced republic. It gives me an opportunity to make a statement about a contemporary issue, books versus eBooks, but something a little deeper as well. Of necessity we make pragmatic choices for the sake of convenience. But our lives are richer if we do not abandon the authentic experience entirely.
The rich wealth of story collections and novels produced by their culture over the centuries was stored in the data vaults of the Museum and Archives, accessible to anyone with a computer or other reading device. Brinnalamaya always kept pleasant and interesting reading material stored on her computer for when she had a moment or two to relax. She also drank the tea that was quickly made by machine, generically flavored, served in mugs easily washable and not easily broken. Such was the necessity of having a busy life with many obligations; one needed convenience and efficiency.
But when she had genuine leisure time, a luxurious expanse of hours during which she could turn off the messenger, pretend she was not at home, and do just as she pleased, she would make tea from boiled water and steeped from choice selected and blended leaves, perhaps sweetened with a drop of honey, served in a lovely mug of unique and somewhat fragile design. From a shelf, especially made for their storage, she would choose one of the books she had collected, favorite texts turned into old-style, bulky, inefficient, obsolete and splendid artifacts. She would take it down, feeling the smooth texture of the cover in her hand, touching the pages and turning each leaf. She would settle in her most comfortable chair, one with good lighting above it, wrap herself in a particularly soft blanket, sip her tea, and read.
The beautifully rendered illustrations and the carefully chosen print style of a well-made book pleased the eye in a way that no screen image or hologram could. Mere information could be shared on demand through networks. Even works of art could be reproduced electronically for the benefit of the masses, for their appreciation and education. But for that education to be complete one had to at least once see the object as it was meant to be seen, physical, present, unmediated. Paintings, sculptures, performances of music, theater, all were best appreciated when one was there, in the same room, sensing all the subtle nuances of the experience. Books performed that service for written text. If it was truly art, it needed to be rendered into a form that did it justice. Not virtual images on a screen to be quickly scanned, consumed, discarded, but a book which endured, had presence, continued as a palpable reality even when it wasn’t being actively read.
Justine blogs at http://justinegraykin.wordpress.com/