Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Layering: An Enriching Technique For Books, Art, or Cakes!

A thick, layered cake. Moist. Sweet. Luscious! Tongue teasing. Anticipation of a saccharine treat makes saliva flow, nostrils tremble (Hey! A Dragon's nostrils tremble, OK?).  

Were all things equal, everything would evoke such a pleasant reaction in folk and Dragons. 'Layering' tends to make things larger, thicker, textured...more (something to avoid in terms of clothing, but what does a scaly Dragon know about clothes?). In this instance, I'm focused on books/stories/manuscripts , and, of course, Art (which will be discussed in the next blog), all of which already set my saliva flowing...

Like food, creative endeavors can be more for the sake of adding layers (stratum, as geologists say), a build-up/pile-on/grandiose texturizing over the basic frame of the work. Story characters should be three-dimensional, fleshed out, as it were, to fill the pages with squirming, hands grabbing, knees poking human beings.  And all that skin should be stretched around a stack of emotions, memories, psyche/soul/essence, experience--until the skin bulges like a sack of packed potatoes.
No! This is not what I mean by 'bulging'!
This is a better example of what I refer to as a human being with 'character':
Time has etched life on this face...'layered' it with wrinkles and expressions. One should do the same with the characters they create in their stories. Here, one sees emotions, memories, essence. 

And here...

This beautiful photo by Vic Orenstein reflects innocence, a pensiveness that borders on sadness.
 A characters strong emotions can generate equally strong reactions in readers.

People can connect and empathize with these kinds of characteristics; however, unless one is writing a graphic novel, chuck full of images, they have to elicit all that they want their characters to be in the words they use. Show, don't tell, is not an empty argument. 
Choose your words/descriptions/narrative wisely, richly...
Don't, however, exaggerate!  Unless you're writing comedy, never 'Photoshop' the people you create. Too many adjectives is like troweling the frosting on the cake. 

       "Penelope was  long, greasy, pale, narrow, limpid,
            pouty,  unfriendly, uneasy, jittery, angry, tense,
            jealous,  anxious, leery, disturbed..." 
           If you used every one of these adjectives, the sentence 
           would go comatose with weight! Worse, without action, 
           the words just sit there, staring with owl-eyes.

Too much makes for a heavy, overdone literary gorge! A gorging Dragon is one thing, but s'not so attractive in humans.

A few words of direct physical description are fine, but be subtle, restrained, learn to use descriptive words of action that show the characteristics. Or incorporate dialogue that expresses the characteristics. Or use another character's observations of the person being created. 

In other words, direct quotations, accounts of the person's habitual ways of doing things, and stories about events that reflect the person's character are the best ways to generate a realistic fictional character.

Layer all that information, gradually giving the character depth, essence, truth. What a yummy creation can be built!
I only provide the frosting. A little finger-licking, tasty advice. Here are some links to excellent and more comprehensive 'character building' resources: 
Look deep within. Write deep. Then climb from the depths to the surface...write worthy, my human friends!

The Dragon has I'm off to eat a slice of cake!

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