Color or b/w?
Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Books & Such Nashville Office
Weather: 70 and cloudy
We are definitely in the time of nature’s full color. Driving down the Natchez Trace last week, I was thrilled at every turn with a new array–the golden browns and yellows of elm and poplar, the bright orange to apricot of maples, the brilliant red of dogwood and deep crimson of sumac all interspersed with deep evergreen cedar and pine. Hard to keep my eyes on the road.
That same evening on television I happened to see a segment of 60 Minutes showing a remarkable b/w film of a San Francisco street scene made just days before the great earthquake and fire, which destroyed much of the city, including what the film had recorded. They also showed a b/w picture of the same scene after the devastation. Somehow the b/w photography seemed to imprint the effects of the terrible event more than color photography would have. It brought to mind the sickening b/w photos from bombed cities in WWII.
The comparison of these two visual impressions made me think about several things pertinent for those of us who paint pictures with words alone. How do we create pictures of what our characters see for readers? With more glowing narrative descriptions? With more modifiers, using the adjectives and adverbs that are almost verboten? Or with the emotional response of the character(s) viewing the scene?
One author who uses a combination of the above is Lee Smith in her book The Last Girls, which I’ve just started to read. In the first chapter, one of the characters has checked into the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and is reminiscing about the trip down the Mississippi she and 11 other college girlfriends had taken in the 1960s after studying Huck Finn in literature class. They are to meet again here, and the view of the river and the setting sun from Harriet’s hotel room window seem to open all sorts of windows on her past and her relationships. In a startling moment, the light from the river forces her to turn on the light in her room. I don’t want to over-deconstruct, and I have to read more before saying more, but it’s interesting to see the role of nature’s color in calling up the character’s thoughts.
How do you paint scenes in words and what do your characters feel as a result of what they see?