Monday, January 30, 2012

Timeless prose

My current burst of reading has taken me onto several classic novels I've meant to read for years, but haven't previously managed to tackle.

In the last week, the two I've read have been Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. I've loved them both- and as I've been reading, I've been struck by several things that make these brilliant and timeless stories. The first is voice- always, voice. Capote and Hemingway were assured and distinct authors, and the uniqueness of the way they use language, character and setting is surely at the heart of their longevity.

The second is character. Both novels are full of complex, larger-than-life characters with flaws, failings, and fascinating motivations. Their actions and their reactions are so unique that they jump off the page at you, as if you already know them. As if you're inside their heads.

And while there are many other reasons, another that comes to mind for me immediately is the sense of time and place imparted by the setting and the style. If I knew nothing about either novel, I think I'd still be able to figure out quite quickly where and when the stories were set. This is because the authors captured the language of the time, the character of the places, and all of these things are woven inextricably through the plots. Each story is a complicated whole that as a result will remain a part of literary history for decades if not centuries to come.

Good lessons, I think, for authors hoping to make an impact. Not that one can choose, necessarily, to be the next Hemingway- but there's no question we can learn to create authentic and unique characters, and to give our settings, plots and language all we've got. With practice, that kind of confidence becomes an authorial voice to be remembered- and once you have all that, hopefully you have a story for the ages.

1 comment:

  1. I've read Hemingway but not that Capote - I've only read one or two short stories. But setting and time - definitely. I think it's what makes the difference between a story that could be set in Anytown USA vs one of Stephen King's stories, which are so immediate because their settings are so real.