Characterization Creating Credible People
Minot took a very interesting approach in creating credible characters. He treated this section more as a lesson, and almost made exercises based upon what he had said. Basically, Minot came up with three ways that we use to learn about a character; through dialogue, through thoughts, and through actions. These are all important in defining a character, and they exploit the readers need for variation when used to convey the same message. I read Play Me Something by John Berger in the Art of Short Stories.
Dialogue is a wonderful way to get to know someone. As I said before in my minot diary about dialogue, we are defined by the way we speak. Our character shines through our words. Not only that, but we have the ability to change how we appear by the way we speak. In a manga I’m reading, the heroine is desperately lonely and wants to have friends, but her anguish is conveyed by her insulting those around her. Not the best way to make friends clearly, but the way in which she insults people really conveys her loneliness. The majority of those around her just thinks she’s nuts. In Play Me Something, the majority of the story is based on dialogue between the narrator and the woman. Through the dialogue, we learn much about both. We learn he works on a cow farm, she a chemist’s shop. We learn their names, Bruno and Marietta. We learn he plays the trombone, and she likes to dance. We learn about his mountain, and her village. All conveyed through dialogue. We solidify basic ideas about each through the way they speak to one another. She speaks her mind, he tries to restrict his.
Thoughts, though grouped together with dialogue in Minot’s section, are very different. For starters, you usually have access to one character’s thoughts. Anymore than that and the story becomes jumbled, and it’s troublesome to determine whose thoughts are whose. We can also learn more about the character when we hear his thoughts when he is talking to others. The narrator in this story thinks one thing, yet doesn’t say it.
You, do you live down here?
In Mestri, across the bay, where the oil tanks are. And you – I’d say you work on a farm.
How do you know?
I can smell the cows.
If she had been a man, he would have hit her.
What do you think I smell of?
Correct. I work in a chemist’s shop.
One look at your hands told me you didn’t work with them. Do you know what my father calls that?
He said nothing. Perhaps it was a Venetian expression.
This story was interesting, as it didn’t use quotation marks to indicate speech. Yet it is clear where thoughts break from speech. We learn much about the woman, besides where she lives. She does feel free to speak her mind, and does so. Maybe another person, more polite and more tactful, would have asked the narrator what he does for a living, instead of telling him he smells like cows. But it’s the thoughts of the man that we are able to see that defines him better. If you took out the thoughts, we would have no reason to believe he was annoyed with her at all. But he thinks ‘If she had been a man, he would have hit her’. This shows his morals, coming from a society where that would be frowned upon greatly. So he continued politely, as if nothing was wrong. His last thought, when he didn’t know what she was saying, showed much more of his character. He didn’t question her, or asked what she meant. He was too proud to admit he didn’t know what that meant, possibly because this woman seemed less intelligent to him. I believe that because we would look at the woman as a person without tact, and impolite people are often regarded as unintelligent. Through his thoughts, we learn much more than we would have than with dialogue alone.
The last way to define a character is through his actions. Bruno, the narrator, is alone in the beginning of the story. He is approached by this woman who asks him to play something on his trombone. He refuses, but she doesn’t leave him alone. She tells him she could find him work here in Mestri. In his thoughts, he is apprehensive, saying ‘everything between a man and a woman is a question of how much you give up of one thing to have another’. To us, this shows us his fear of having a wife and giving up things for her needs. We think he will leave her alone, but instead she takes his hand and they dance together. They make love in the bottom of a boat, and he finally plays her something on his trombone. She asks him again to come to Mestri, but he ends up on the his bus at 3 am, completely alone, watching wives rest their heads on their husbands and vice versa. Though much of the story was told through dialogue, his actions are almost contrasted to what he thinks. He believes having a wife is more trouble than it’s worth, but his actions dictate that he desperately wants one. His actions also show his fear, and they place him back on the bus he began in. We learn much about him through the sets of actions, and how people can think one thing and do another.
I listened to Shakespeare’s Memory by Jorge Luis Borges. The first thing the host and reader noticed about the characters was that they were extremely bland and the things they did were mundane. I completely agreed. The characters, all of them, were very empty and they never did anything meaningful. And they were the focus for the entire first half of the story. Even when the narrator obtained Shakespeare’s memory, it was drab too. Shakespeare was described as a grey man, a dull man, just like the rest of them. Of course, to us this makes no sense. Shakespeare’s works are full of colourful characters who do the exact opposite of mundane things. To think of Shakespeare as a drab man is almost unthinkable. The reader attributes this to the narrator. The reader believes the narrator initially connects with the mundane of Shakespeare, since the narrator is mundane. It is later when the true darkness of Shakespeare comes out, when the narrator is consumed by him. He starts speaking in a 16th century accent, he sees things in ways he’s not supposed to. The reader feels that it was important to have the characters be dull, as they created the vessel for Shakespeare’s memory to explore itself. In a way, the characters were the carriers for all that is good and bad in Shakespeare’s memory, and illustrates that he was not only just a brilliant writer; he was just a man.