Friday, October 24, 2014

Writing: More Than A Painting

I wish I could recall who our pastor was quoting when he talked about reading the Scriptures, but whoever it was, the words started me thinking about their applicability to novels.

Some look upon novels as being like paintings. They can be appreciated for their art, for the way they portray events and scenes, pulling us in like the seascape in the illustration. But if that's all our books are, they aren't fulfilling their potential. If we read them and move on, we're like people who don't pause in front of Rembrandt's The Night Watch and study the characters, the composition, and even the message. I think our novels should be more than paintings.

Novels can be mirrors. Author and writing teacher James Scott Bell refers to a scene, generally toward the center of the book, as a "mirror moment." He likens it to a character looking at themselves in a mirror and seeing something they haven't perceived before--a needed change, a shift in direction. Likewise, the same thing can happen to a reader who has identified with the character having that epiphany. Ideally, a novel should hold up a mirror to the reader and say, "Look. Is this you? Do you know someone like this? What does this say to you?"

And finally, our novels can be windows, through which the reader can view the lives we create. How many of us have unabashedly watched people in restaurants, airports, and other public places as they interact? The view through the window our books open should ultimately give the reader impetus toward a fuller understanding of themselves, a change in their lives, or a desire for something more.

What novels have you read that have served all these functions? Writers, do your own works have these characteristics? I'd like to hear.

(Painting by Kay Mabry of Sugar Beach in Maui).

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11 comments:

Heather Marsten said...

You are right - our novels and memoirs should give the reader a chance for self-reflection. Re the Bible verses, two come to mind:
James 1:23-24 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror, for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see i a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Richard Mabry said...

Heather, great observations. Thanks for passing them along. Appreciate your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

U[ to now, my novels have been about Christians who are struggling with real life issues and I hope that they offer readers an opportunity to see how a Christian might resolve a problem. The book I'm working on now has a main character who is not a Christian but who comes to Christ, so hopefully if a non-Christian reads it...

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, we all write as we are directed, and all our novels serve a purpose. Thanks for what you do and the way you write. And thanks for your comment.

Susan Page Davis said...

Great insight, Doc, and sparking other thoughts. Thanks!

Ane Mulligan said...

So very true, and a well-written one is also a door in which the reader passes through and feels like they are part of the story. :)

I love JSB's mirror moment. When I learned that, it helped me slow down that moment and made a difference in my writing. Good psot, Doc!

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Susan and Ane, for your kind words and comments. And, Ane, I like the simile of a door.

Nike Chillemi said...

Yes, a good novel does have a mirror or epiphany moment when the character sees something in himself he's never seen before (for good or for bad). A great novel is when the reader sees is moved by that moment in the novel and sees that same thing (or something else) in him/herself.

I think a painting can have that kind of a moment too, as can music, or dance.

Richard Mabry said...

Nike, nice analysis to differentiate good from great writing. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

Patti Shene said...

Hi Dr. Mabry. Loved your post. As I revisit my WIP in preparation for NANO, I'm looking for ways to sharpen my characters and bring them to life for the reader. Really liked the mirror analogy, and hopefully my readers will see a bit of themselves in my characters, if the book ever gets finished - and published! HA!

I still have my copy of your Lethal Remedy. It was one of my favorite novels, and I keep promising myself that one of these days I'll get around to reading more of your work.

Richard Mabry said...

Patti, thanks for your comment. Good luck with your NaNoWriMo efforts--I think your incorporation of the mirror analogy will help.
And I hope you do get around to reading some of the other novels of medical suspense I've written.
I appreciate your stopping by.