Sunday, October 19, 2014

Beauty and the Best

America’s literary giants had plenty to say on the subject. Romantic Edgar Allan Poe asserted that “Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” Who could argue with that? Or with Ralph Waldo Emerson observing that “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.”

It’s no newsflash that interpretations of “beauty” or “art” vary widely. In fiction, though, beauty comes from characterization, from causality, from imagery and rhythmic syntax.

~ Characterization.

The more rapidly and insightfully you can develop a character, then the more exquisite the impact. In Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie does it in one sentence: “She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks. ”

*** Are you gathering examples of characterization that strike you as particularly  concise and true? Are you seeking ways to accomplish this yourself?

~ Causality.

Jane Austen’s novels end happily because the characters mature enough to earn their happiness. Darcy overcomes pride and Elizabeth overcomes prejudice because neither can bear to lose the other.

***Are you noticing examples of causality? Does causality drive your own novel? Shouldn't it?

~ Imagery.

The best imagery works both literally and symbolically. It infuses the trivial with significance; it makes the ordinary extra-ordinary, but without calling attention to itself, like this example from Bernard Malamud’s The Natural:

Roy Hobbs pawed at the glass before thinking to prick a match with his thumbnail and hold the spurting flame to his cupped palm close to the lower berth window, but by then he had figured it was a tunnel they were passing through and was no longer surprised at the bright sight of himself holding a yellow light over his head, peering back in.

*** Do you catch yourself using three or four or five images? Does this suggest vague awareness that you haven’t found the right one?

~ Syntax.

Rhythm and emphasis can transform prose into poetry in prose. Like this: “People hide their truest nature. I understood that; I even applauded it. What sort of world would it be if people bled all over the sidewalks, if they wept under trees, smacked whomever they despised, kissed strangers, revealed themselves?” ― Alice Hoffman, The Ice Queen

*** Are you rationalizing sentences that don’t quite sound right? Are you aware that either craft or psychological obstacles often originate such sentences?

Tip: Savor beautiful writing. Collect it. Isn’t that the start to your own beautiful writing?

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