Saturday, December 4, 2010

Character Studies

Our newspaper ran an interesting article yesterday regarding a local reporter's perception of Norman Rockwell paintings. He'd just gotten back from Stockbridge, MA where he visited the Norman Rockwell Museum. One of the paintings on display was "Freedom From Want", the famous Thanksgiving painting, but what struck the reporter was the character Rockwell was able to paint into his subject's faces. No botoxed, face-lifted, expressionless models here. The faces are weathered, worn, and wrinkled. They sag sometimes, and have warts. They've been used. What, one may ask, happened to these people to make them look this way?

While Rockwell the painter told a story through his pictures, we writers are charged with using words. It's up to us to make our readers see our characters, their personality, their actions, joys, sorrows and struggles through a different medium. We have to make our characters' sing through our written descriptions, sometimes a not so easy task.

I'm going to find a copy of one of Rockwell's joyous paintings and hang it above my desk. When I get stuck working on a character, I'll just glance up and use his painting for inspiration. Now that's what I call bringing the arts together.



G Thomas Gill said...

Interesting post, CK. I think it was George Orwell who said "At age 50, you get the face you deserve."

Or as I tell people who think I'm older than I am, "It ain't the years, it's mileage."

Sunny Frazier said...

I'm hitting 60, and while I'm content with how I look more than I was at 20 (why are we so critical so young?), I have for the first time felt the aging process. Not in my body (although after a bad fall I'm more careful on the step stool) but at the idea that years are limited for writing and harder on the body for promotion. Realistic expectations setting in.

Love Norman Rockwell. As a kid, I used to scour libraries to find copies of the Sat. Eve. Post for his artwork.

Holli said...

I think it's important to have something to help focus your writing, especially when you're stuck. The painting is an excellent (and might I add kind of romantic) idea, and I might try something like that myself.

One secret I've never told anyone and am revealing for the first time here is that I tend to use music when I'm trying to get a feeling out of my writing- I have most of my CD's downloaded on my computer, as well as some extra I-tunes my daughter wanted, and I find that is the best way for me to go to those dark places when I write, or to try to get certain emotions across that I'm not necessarily feeling at the time, like when my character is hopeless or depressed, or when my killer is feeling psychotic. Those are feelings I don't normally have, or at least not when I'm trying to write about them, so I find some music that helps set the mood.

It's like method acting. Is there such a thing as method writing?

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice
Jambalaya Justice, coming 2011

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

What a great idea! I think we ought to look like we've lived. I'm 70plus (a lot of plusses) and look it, but don't think I act it.

Some of the actresses and actors who've had plastic surgery and inserts of cheek bones, chins, etc. look downright freaky.

Love Norman Rockwell too, I was there during the period he was painting.


Carol Crigger said...

Most of the books I've written have a hidden theme song. I use that particular song to send me to the world in which the story is set. But then I have to turn the music off, because in later years I find I need silence to write. Wasn't always this way--my first stories were written as the music played. We older ladies have funny quirks, do we not?

Monti said...

My father always had a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post, and I looked forward to seeing new Rockwell paintings grace the covers. What a great idea to use his paintings to inspire you, the writer!