Wednesday, February 17, 2010

James A Michener Insights 3

from The World is My Home: A Memoir by James A Michener

The next paragraph that I want to discuss has two major points. So I’ll discuss one today and one tomorrow.

“What I did was what I would do in all my later books: create an ambience that would both entertain and instruct the reader, invent characters who were as real as I could make them, and give them only such heroics as I myself had experienced or found credible” (266).

What does he mean by ambience? Ambience refers to the atmosphere of a setting. It has to do with the environment and the vibe it gives off. Every story must have a credible setting that puts readers into that scene. If you’re at the ocean, then let the readers hear the water break upon the beach, smell the salt-filled hear, and feel the hot sand beneath their feet.

Characters should always be real. Real people have faults and hurts and joy and goals and a host of other things. People are not one dimensional. Characters in a story should be well rounded and readers should be able to relate to them. Why is Spiderman more popular than Superman today? Because we can relate to Spiderman. We understand that being a hero is a curse for him. We understand that he must deny some of the things that he wants just so he can be this hero. Who can relate to Superman? Nothing can stop him, except kryptonite, which is some rock from outer space. Superman has no other fear. He has no faults. He is perfect and is therefore unrealistic.

The heroics part is completely up to you. It depends on the purpose of your story. If your hero needs to discover the ark of the covenant and beat the Nazis while he’s at it, then more power to you. The story calls for it. But if your story is a real life tale, which is what Michener wrote, then your stories have to be real. Stories don’t have to be fantastical to be great, but they do have to be real.
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