Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Addendum to Character Intros - some books

Just an addendum to the previous post: I've been wracking my mind for an example in prose that handles a large number of characters in a way similar to Bad Day at Black Rock does in a movie.

I think one of the best ways I've seen this done is in non-fiction.  Walter Lord's book about the sinking of the Titanic, A Night To Remember, uses the voice of an omniscient reporter to quickly dip in and out of the point of view of many characters. While his prose can't move as quickly as a camera can in a movie, his technique is definitely a well-established one for giving us a relatively fast picture of many individual characters.

You can check out a sample of the Kindle edition at Amazon.  A Night to Remember.

That brought another book to mind, The False Inspector Dew, a mystery novel by Peter Lovesey.  Lovesey  borrowed from Lord's style to set up some back story to the book's mystery: the  sinking of the Luisitania. He actually has two set up scenes, so this one happens as chapter 2. This is also in the sample available online.  The False Inspector Dew.

I know there are many more. I suspect there are quite a few such scenes in various hard-boiled novels and in short fiction and literary fiction.  I think John Le Carre has also included such scenes (he's fond of interesting points of view like omniscient.)  But none come to mind immediately.  I remember the stories, not the styles.

ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM: the first few comments here have got me thinking.  I'm going to make the next post about introducing a large cast of characters -- in a different way than Bad Day at Black Rock did.   This is the way books more or less have to do it: as individuals.

I will probably talk about one or another of Robert Altman's films.  (Probably Cookie's Fortune.) But here is where we can also talk about books -- mysteries and some kinds of romance in particular.  Georgette Heyer did both good and bad work with this sort of thing.  Christie didn't often have a huge relevant cast... but when she did, she did it masterfully. (Murder on the Orient Express, anyone?)

But I'll also talk about the delayed entrance, which helps with a large cast, but also is a dramatic technique that works fine with smaller casts.We'll see if that turns into more than one post....

See you in the funny papers.


David Michael said...

The Godfather, the book, maybe? It's been a long time since I read it, but I remember being impressed with the opening and introduction of characters. Also remember thinking how the movie did it was a great translation.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'd be interested in reading more books that do this well...it's really tough to do so. For my first Memphis book, my editor wanted a large cast. I delivered it, made the characters very different from one another, and tried not to make it confusing. But I think it *was* confusing. Since then, I've really tried to keep it simple when it comes to my cast.

The Daring Novelist said...

David: as a movie buff, I am ashamed to admit this, but I don't really remember much of the Godfather, except the opening (Brando at his desk in the dark), the closing at the hospital, and the line about the cannolis. I'll have to get ahold of a copy and take a look.

Elizabeth: You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the specific thing I was getting at about Bad Day at Black Rock simply isn't doable in a book. That's a different technique.

But maybe I'll talk about introducing that large ensemble cast more next time. That is usually a technique you do one at a time. (Whereas Block Rock introduces the town as almost one single character.)

It also has a lot to do with the next subject I wanted to get to anyway: introduction by reputation.

David Michael said...

Yeah, I sometimes feel jealous of movies. A well-dressed set and some well-dressed extras can set a scene in a matter of seconds. Seconds that would take pages and pages of prose to put across.

On the other hand, what I love about writing (and reading) is being inside the head of the characters. And that's a lot harder to do in a movie/TV show.

Take The Godfather movie, add in the flashbacks of Vito in The Godfather 2, and you've almost "read" the original book. =) I've never seen TGp3.


PS Haven't been commenting much (until this week), because I started reading your blog on my tablet, and it really sucks for leaving comments.

The Daring Novelist said...

I know how it is with reading blogs on device. (I use KindleFeeder to feed me some of my blogs.) It's the perfect way to read, but not so great for commenting.

This blog, though, isn't like Passive Voice, where all the action is in the comments. I tried reading that on Kindle and couldn't. (Kris Rusch, though, it's a good medium for hers, because you want to stop and think a bit before commenting anyway.)