Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Subtle Blend of Light and Dark

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I recently bought a Simon Dewey painting that I’d been eyeing for months. It’s a painting of Christ, holding a child on his lap, with another one next to him, and they are on a shore with two boats full of fisherman in the background. It has a beautiful sunrise and faraway mountains, with some clouds in the sky, and to me, it is full of symbolism. But the thing that caught my eye from the very beginning was the way the picture plays with the light and dark. The shades are so subtle, which also makes the light look warm, real, and alive.

I think that’s how it is with our writing. Good characters have subtle shades of darkness in them, flaws that make them real, and make us care about them. The darkness that is shown in the character will generally blend with the light of a character’s personality, showing the humor, and bringing forth the feeling that these characters are three-dimensional and could be real. When we see the shades of darkness, the shades of light look even more warm and alive and give a character, a relationship, and a story depth and range that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I think that, as a reader, that is what attracts me to fiction---those stories that make me care and relate to the main characters, and stories that let me go through a problem or some difficulty with the character in a realistic way. When I close the book I can feel like I’ve really experienced the book instead of just reading it.

As a writer, it is my job to provide that for my readers. I want to find those shades of gray, and to contrast and blend the light and darkness within my characters to bring them to life. Brandon Mull once said that without great characters you don’t have a story, and you want characters your readers can connect with. All of us have our quirks, our failures, our flaws, but in addition, we also have endurance, talents, and humor. So when I am writing, I get to know my characters, where they are coming from, what their reactions are, and what they are dealing with so that I can connect with them, as well as connect them to my readers. I think that once that blend is established with the light and dark some story elements seem to more easily come together and gives a direction I might now have previously had with the story. It’s such a good feeling to have because you know when it happens. You can feel when your characters have that extra oomph that they needed.

Just like the light and dark of my painting makes it look as real as a photograph, it is the same for the feeling of reality in a book’s characters and story that make those who read it sit up and take a second look.

(That being said, I finally got my hands on Josi Kilpack’s Key Lime Pie and I can’t wait to dig in. And if you haven’t read Josi’s series, with Lemon Tart, English Trifle, and Devil’s Food Cake, then you should run out right now and buy them all. Hurry, before the stores close. Her culinary mysteries are really good, with great characters, mouth-watering recipes, witty dialogue, and a mystery that will make you second, third and even fourth-guess yourself.)


At 10/02/2010 12:27 AM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

A sunrise you think? I see Simon Dewey's painting being a rich twilight where the children are waiting patiently for their fathers to come home from a days fishing. The setting sun being veiled by the darkening clouds steals the light away from any stronger contrast, which makes the painting calming and peaceful. Even the gentle way the waves are rolling up on the sand illustrate a tiredness that might come after a hard work day.
Dewey’s an excellent realistic artist. There are some people who can only “see” images, as in viewing a painting, and as hard as they try, cannot “read” images, no matter how well they are described. I know one personally. I hope you buy the print. It’s beautiful.


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