Is your work product or art?

Bit of a trick question, that.

Art is also a product. The question has more to do with production values. There’s a difference in the care put into producing a Velvet Elvis and the Mona Lisa. It has nothing to do with Da Vinci thinking, “Yeah, some day, hot dang, I’ll be remembered for this.” I doubt he did. It was commissioned work. But he definitely put more time into it than he made on the commission. He wanted to do a good job.

Not sure anybody on the Velvet Elvis production line has such thoughts. Ever heard anybody at a burgerjoint call from out back, “Wow, Charlie! That’s one damn good fry you made!”?

The “work versus product” question has been with me since January of this year (2020). I took a class with a recognized, award winning author.
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Character is… (Part 2.4) – Shading is…

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of StoryCrafting/StoryTelling posts I’m publishing for my own benefit; explaining something helps me determine if I’ve truly learned it or am simply parroting what others have offered. I learn my weak spots, what I need to study, et cetera.

Previous offerings include:

  • Atmosphere is…
  • Character is… (Part 1)
  • Character is… (Part 2.1) – Exposition is…
  • Character is… (Part 2.2) – Description is…
  • Character is… (Part 2.3) – Action is…

     
    And note that I’ll update/upgrade/edit these posts as I learn more.


    Shading – building a character by revealing contradictions about them.

     
    A favorite quote of mine is “If you want to know someone’s mind, listen to their words. If you want to know someone’s heart, watch their actions.” It’s a favorite because it demonstrates one way to understand someone. Their heart and mind aren’t coordinated, aren’t in sync.

    Specifically, it’s how their heart and mind aren’t in sync that matters. You may have heard the expressions “X says one thing and does another” and a personal favorite from childhood, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    A rich social example of this is pedophilia in the roman catholic church. Are these men holy or horrible? Or both? And do we need to recognize both aspects of their nature?

    Well, yes. Especially if we want to use them as a rich, complex character rather than a stereotype. It’s the shading – specifically how these dual natures are revealed – that determines if a character is a genre-trope or main, primary or central character. Does the main character have a side-kick he has to explain things to, such as Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson? Have you noticed that every detective novel since (and probably before) has had a sidekick to whom the main character explains things? Side-kicks regardless of genre are tropes. Sherlock Holmes was a genre trope until he developed weaknesses. Now a main character with a weakness is a genre trope.
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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“Arterial blood has sprayed onto the walls; the tannoy is breaking into a staccato and the student nurse, Linda, recalls a childhood wish for invisibility” – Terry Melia’s Tales from the Greenhills

“…has sprayed…”, “…is breaking…”, and “…recalls…” – I’ve written elsewhere that I need to know Melia sweated every word choice. If the word choice above was automatic and obvious, I’m giving up writing. The first sentence of Tales from the Greenhills is present tense, direct address, and action. You are there in the center of it and the action is intense. You see the arterial blood dripping down the walls. The tannoy (British for “loudspeaker”) is making terse, abrupt statements – probably operational rather than informative based on the “arterial blood” line – and we’re given a point-of-view character who is 1) a student – she’s young, 2) a nurse – she should know what she’s doing but from (1) we know she’s in over her head, 3) recalling a childhood – she’s looking for peace, comfort, refuge, safety, 4) invisibility – she wants to get away, hide, be free of what’s happening.

And in twenty-five words.

And it keeps getting better.

Tales from the Greenhills is a must read for authors and writer-wannabes. It is a textbook of style, voice, language, dialogue, setting, …

Sorry, if I’m gushing. It’s that good.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.

Steve Searls “A Little Chit-Chat”

If you haven’t read A Little Chit-Chat then stop reading this, click the link, and take the time to have a slow, luxurious read.

It deserves such attention and you deserve such fine writing in your life.

I don’t know if Searls worked on this or it just came out, fully formed, a rush of words and then done. I’m going with “it just came out…rush of words…” because there’s some awkward moments and I doubt most readers would catch them or care. It reads, to me, like an experiment.
Continue reading “Steve Searls “A Little Chit-Chat””

Terry Melia’s “Tales from the Greenhills”

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Now repeat that half a dozen times to get it out of my system.

I completed my third read of Tales from the Greenhills less than fifteen minutes ago. It’s going on my reread shelf.
One of my unwritten rules for realizing a book is stunning is getting to the end and wanting the story to continue, to find out what happens next to the characters (Melia says sequels are in the works. I’m holding him to that).

Another unwritten rule is having the characters sneak up on you such that you don’t realize you’re vested in their lives more than your own, that you care about them as people, not as characters in a story.

Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

 
American readers may have trouble with the language. Remember the first time you saw The Full Monty or Waking Ned Devine? You wanted subtitles for the first ten minutes until you got use to the accents? I had a similar experience reading the dialogue for the first time. I reread sentences to make sure I got the meanings correctly. Once I accepted the vernacular, I realized it was perfect.

Let me focus on that “perfect” part. Future anthropologists will pick up Tales from the Greenhills and realize they have a textbook for late 1970’s Liverpool, England, and the world. This book is so rich with cultural iconography is could be used as a time traveler’s guide to time and place.

Tales from the Greenhills is also a coming-of-age story meets Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, although I didn’t recognize this until half way through my second read and realized fully during my third read. Regarding the Hero’s Journey aspect, Melia couldn’t have done a better job of placing Le Queste de Saint Graal in modern England if he tried (don’t tell him I said that. He’ll prove me wrong and do it). It’s all there and I laughed when I finally recognized the separate characters for their Journey counterparts.

Again and again and again, Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

Do you need to read it three times to appreciate it? No, not at all. However, if you’re an author or writer-wannabe you must read this novel multiple times. Melia does an amazing job with scenes, characterization, mood, place, setting, voice, POV…I need to know this was by accident. If Melia set out to produce this rich a story, I’m going to hang up my writing shifts now, I can’t compete.

I did have the privilege of exchanging comments with Melia during my reading. His attention to detail — this is a movie or should be – think Trainspotting meets Oliver’s Travels — caused me to ask how much was imagined and how much remembered. I won’t give away his answer except that it increased my respect for both him and his work.

The book is also rich in quotable lines; “the only thing money can’t buy is poverty.” If Melia lifted that — good authors borrow, great authors steal — please tell me where so I can play in the treasure.

And last note; the opening scene. The book opens literally with the aftermath of the story. Not the conclusion, the aftermath of the climax. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! As I learned to say in Glasgow, “Pure Dead Brilliant, Jonnie!” Get past the first chapter and the rest of the book builds moment by moment, scene by scene, to the climax. You know it’s coming — you’ve already read the aftermath — and Melia keeps notching up the tension for what you already know is going to happen.

Again, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant.

Okay, the for real last note; the last three paragraphs. I read them and laughed. Oh, Mr. Melia, BRAVO!

Minor technical matters for American audiences
Editing styles in the UK differ slightly from their US counterparts. Some constructions don’t roll smoothly off the American tongue. They’re awkward, not confusing, much like I wrote above regarding dialogue.

I took them as an opportunity to increase my understanding of contemporary British literature and hope I’m a better all-around reader for it.