Concise Characterisation by James Gault

Please enjoy this guest post by author, James Gault, and feel free to share your thoughts.

Ogg Paperback

Name of Books :
Hard Times, by Charles Dickens and Ogg by James Gault

The extracts:
The beginning of Dickens’ Hard Times, where we hear Mr Thomas Gradgrind’s speech to the pupils of the school.
‘NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’ 
from Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Ogg and Antonia have been transported in time and place to a shady night club in fifties USA.
A squat balding fifty year old tuxedo with a cigar stood before them. 
“You havin’ a good time?  I ain’t seen you ‘round here before.”
“We’re from out of town,” Ogg drawled, and Antonia choked on her sparkling water.
“Well, you sure picked the right place for good entertainment. I’m Harry. Harry Biaggi. This is my joint.  D’ya like it?”
“Well, yeah, Harry, I do. It’s a real nice place you got here.”
“We try to be classy. Howd’ya find us.” Harry snapped his fingers as he said this and a bow-tie appeared and slid a seat under him. He sat down.
from Ogg by James Gault

The explanation:
If we read the opening few pages of Jane Austin’s Emma we see a common way for authors to introduce characters. Emma’s family, biography and character are presented to us in intimate detail, and before we start her story we feel we know her like a good friend already, and we can sympathise with her successes and failures and feel the delights and angst which follow. For this particular novel, the detailed early establishment of the character is important because the author needs to arm us with the tools to judge Emma.
This kind of approach to characterisation is out of fashion now: it slows up the action and needs inspired writing to keep the reader’s attention, and is especially distracting for any but the very main characters.

Nowadays, we expect to discover our characters rather than be asked to judge them. We expect to get to know the characters slowly as we read their story. We form first impressions, then we develop these impressions and sometimes we misjudge and need to correct our assessments. The discovery of the characters is as important to us as the development of the plot.  The characterisation is drip fed to us, and the personality of each individual has to permeate each part of the story.
For protagonists that first impression is of prime importance, while for minor roles it is the only information we get. So we expect the author to imbue our first meetings with the characters with indications of what kind of people they are: by what they say, by what they do or by both.

The excerpt from Hard Times is only six short sentences of dialogue, but how much does it tell us about the speaker? He is self-opinionated, he at least claims to be rational, he expects to be listened to and obeyed. He speaks in short sharp sentences, in commands and assertions. No debate is permitted. We don’t know what he looks like, we don’t even know his name, but already we don’t expect we’re going to like him very much.

In the second extract, all the elements are employed to create an impression of Mr Biaggi: description, dialogue and actions.  All of this is condensed into a short dialogue. Biaggi is presented as middle aged and overweight but well dressed. He has the strong accent of a man from the gutter who has made it to the top – others jump to satisfy his every wish. But he also has an aura of feeling inferior: he is anxious to please and be liked and appreciated. In the novel his is a walk on part, we never meet him again, but he leaves an impression and sets the tone for what follows.

The point of both extracts is to note the denseness of the character information which is presented at the same time as the plot is developed. The reader has to work hard to catch all the points, but the ongoing development of the story never flags. This is what I am calling Concise Characterisation.

 

About the author:

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James Gault, born in Scotland, has recently retired to SW France after spending ten years in the Czech Republic. There he enjoys the sunshine, writes novels, short stories and English Language textbooks.

He also produces the on-line literary magazine Vox Lit with monthly notes by writers for writers and readers, news, features (short stories, poems and extracts from novels.)

He has written three novels, all available on Amazon as e-books and paperbacks:
Teaching Tania (Young Tania tries to put the world to rights with the help of her English teacher – a comic detective story)
Ogg (Supernatural being tries to teach teenage Antonia how to think rationally as they try to save the world from destruction – comic philosophical thriller)
The Redemption of Anna Petrovna (Young woman in ex-communist country tries to build a career in a totally corrupt society – political psychological thriller

He is currently working on a detective thriller set in Scotland, France and Spain.

As well as ELT books and his novels, he has written short stories published in various reviews and magazines. In 2007, he won the writing prize from the British Czech and Slovak Society for his short story ‘Old Honza’s Day Out’.

In his time James has been an IT specialist, a businessman and a teacher as well as a writer, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe. He has worked with and taught English to students of many nationalities. He has an international outlook on life and his writing reflects both this and his other interests.

Apart from writing, his passions are politics, philosophy, film making, computer system development and his grandchildren.

Books by James Gault:

OGG (Kindle Edition)

The Redemption of Anna Petrovna (Kindle Edition)

Teaching Tania (Kindle Edition)

TREASURES

old-books

As I read Peter Cottontail to my son for the third or fourth time, feeling a bit tired, I bungled a line.

He said, “No, mommy, he lost one shoe amongst the cabbages and the other shoe amongst the potatoes.”

Yes, that is important! I hugged him dearly for that.

It was quite an improvement from six months earlier when he ripped Alice in Wonderland to shreds.

I wanted to be a relaxed, nurturing parent. I did not want to raise my son in a palace of dangers. I childproofed. I permitted him to take books from the bookshelves, sit in a pile of them and explore. When he tore up the book, that party was over. I had to tell him only once, because he knew already, I was reasonable and always for him, on his side. I taught him, we love books. We respect books. We read them. We enjoy them. We never destroy them, and we never crush the spirit of their creators.

The love affair with books began in my own childhood. I fell in love, first, with writing and reading. Writing is still the love of my life.

The fantasy genre inspired me – Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, fairy tales. It provided me with a much-needed escape from reality.

As I grew, the books I cherished most fit into the category of literary fiction, which is reality-based and generally more profound and philosophical. However, I never heard the term ‘literary fiction’ or all this talk about genres. Many people are still confused about it and have no idea what literary fiction is. I was confused myself.

I struggled to categorize my work. Yes, there is a love story. There are quite a few. There is a psychologically thrilling mystery. There are many of those. Yes, it is dark and intense with elements of gothic fiction and quite a bit of horror, but the ongoing saga does not revolve around any particular theme. Do you know why? It is literary fiction.

Literary fiction is pretentiously termed ‘serious’ fiction, though that could be misleading. It indicates a profound work with literary merit, a celebration of language, a critically acclaimed classic. However, genre fiction can also be poetry in motion and a work of art worthy of acclaim.

If I have to answer as to whether I am working on ‘serious’ fiction, well if it means painstaking torture, yes, I am quite serious, and this is as serious as it gets.

bella-i-write-literary-fiction

The well-constructed plot in literary fiction should be riveting, but it is not the focus. Literary fiction has a slower pace with many rewards for your patience along the way.

It is character driven with well-developed, introspective characters. The story is about the character’s journey. We become emotionally involved in his or her reality, the struggle, the challenges, the losses and triumphs. We glimpse into the character’s psyche, experiencing the love, the hate, the joy, and the pain. Works of literary fiction are good human-interest stories that move and inspire those of us fascinated by the human condition. Genre novelists can create deep characterization, but this is the hallmark of literary fiction.

Literary fiction defines some of the best books ever written: Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Rebecca, Little Women, 1984, Brave New World, Anna Karenina and many Shakespeare tales. The list goes on. My favorite authors, including Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters, wrote literary fiction in classic Victorian-style, which I love with all my heart.

I believe creative work in every category has potential for greatness. I have yet to find a genre unworthy of respect. I don’t think we should make fun of people for enjoying some nonsense book or series where the writing isn’t up to par. As professionals and critics, we may seek a certain quality, but I am of the opinion, if there is a mass audience for a book or series, and it made scores of people happy, it has earned its place in the world of literature. I am simply another writer in an endless sea of writers and one of billions of readers. It doesn’t matter whether I like it. Readers, by consensus, have the final word.

Here is the bottom line for those of us who share this passion: books are a treasure. I feel fortunate in a world of books. I am infinitely grateful. I am giddy with delight. This is our inspiration, our high, our bond. There is plenty of room for everyone, and I am beyond thrilled to be on this journey.

I would love to hear from you about what you love to read or write. In the meantime, enjoy these videos as part of my celebration of literary fiction with an appreciative nod to all genres.

 

© Copyright August 2014 by Kyrian Lyndon at kyrianlyndon.com. All rights reserved. No reproduction of text permitted without permission.