Friday, July 31, 2009

Coraline Was Bored

Rereading CORALINE for the umpteenth time. Haven't seen the movie yet; I'm a little nervous that it will taint the way I see the story in my own mind.

Here is one of my favorite scenes from early in the book, before the adventure begins.

Coraline was bored.

She flipped through a book her mother was reading about native people in a distant country; how every day they would take pieces of white silk and draw on them in wax, then dip the silks in dye, then draw on them more in wax and dye them some more, then boil the wax out in hot water, and then finally, throw the now-beautiful cloths on a fire and burn them to ashes.

It seemed particularly pointless to Coraline, but she hoped the people enjoyed it.

Why I find that tiny scene so charming is tough to figure out. To my mind those few words go a long way toward making Coraline a real person, rather than just a character in a book. But exactly how they do that, I haven't figured out.

This is something that I have been struggling to understand for quite some time as I work on a story. My characters have not yet come to life. They still seem to be just characters, being pushed around by an author.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are real living human beings in my world. I know them like I know other people. Well, almost. Huck and Tom are real people who step off the page into our lives. Topsy, Eva, Eliza and Uncle Tom never seemed like just characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin. There is a deep reality to them.

Meanwhile I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, yelling at my monsters, "LIVE! LIVE!" But they don't live.


Rosa said...

Take heart, Doug. They will live.

The Masked Badger said...

LIVE LIVE! - but they don't live.

The novelist's cry...and some church minister's too...

Doug P. Baker said...

You are so right, Badger! Novelists and pastors are doing a very similar work here, or at least have similar frustrations.

And thank you, Rosa. Your confidence is encouraging, especially because you know those corpse characters whom I mourn.

Cass said...

Is it, perhaps, the girl's response of bemused compassion to another's experience of (ritualized) futility?

Have you read Tolkien's essay 'On Fairy Stories'? I suppose that you would very much like it.

He says something there about at least one brush with danger, dread, terror--one glance into the abyss--being necessary to the reality or greatness of any work of fiction. It seems our hearts can't wake up fully, without at least for a moment looking Death in the face. Something like that.

Here's the essay online, if you don't know it already.