Novels or stories belong to two categories. Either driven by character or driven by plot or story line.
Of the novels based on character, who can forget Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, or Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, or The Brothers Karamazov, or Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heap, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, or even Hemingway’s Santiago?
But how can you separate the two; character and plot? For without character there can never be a story and without a story a character doesn’t exist.
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” Ernest Hemingway
People don’t exist in a void. After all characters, like people, behave and react in the way they do only if faced with a situation, a crisis.
But whether the story is driven by plot or by character one thing all these great writers have in common is that their stories are based on the ordinary, simple life of people, written in the simplest possible prose. As Hemingway once wrote:
“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
But simple sometimes means dry, lifeless. Years ago, in 1988 I read a book by Natasha Brodsky called “A Daughter of The Nobility”. I liked the story and all but what struck me most about the book was the way you could feel the presence of the writer in the story.
“Stevie dropped my cold hand grown inert in his, stepped away and looked at me somberly. I stood up, put my hands over the bands of my nurse’s headdress…”
You can feel the effort the writer has made to put these words together to produce these sentences. A good style should show no sign of effort. The writer shouldn’t be visible in the story.
Santiago on the other hand in Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea thinks;
““God knows how much the last one took,” he said. “But she is much lighter now.””
While Saroyan’s young man in The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze wonders;
““If they would only allow him to sit at a desk all day and add trade figures, subtract and multiply and divide, then perhaps he would not die. He would buy food, all sorts of it: all manner of beef, lamb, fish, cheese; vegetables of all sorts, meat; he would buy life.””
If you want to follow in the footsteps of these great writers, no matter what the nature of your story, your writing can be as good as their works if:
“You could write lucidly, simply, euphoniously and yet with liveliness you would write perfectly.” W. Somerset Maugham
Do you have a favorite writer whose work you want to share? I would like very much to hear from you.