It’s an ongoing joke in my family that in the figurative paintings that Scott has done where he’s used me as his model, my face is always turned away from the viewer. At the point that it becomes a painting, it is no longer me or the model in the photograph; it becomes something new. People sometimes ask him why his figures are posed in that way. It’s really very simple. A painting that reveals a model’s face doesn’t have nearly the mystery and doesn’t leave nearly as much to the viewer’s imagination. Time and again I’ve been at art shows or read email queries about paintings Scott has done and a viewer has remarked that he has to have the painting because it is the essence of his wife or girlfriend. A figure posed with her face
turned away can be anyone.
The same holds true for Scott’s landscapes. He rarely titles them after the actual places he’s painted. Frequently, people are certain that these are places they know – they are someplace that’s familiar. Most of the time, people who are sure they know where the painting is are completely wrong, but he’s learned not to dissuade them from whatever they see. The painting is what the viewer thinks it is.
In fiction, we delight in reading about places we know, but I think we may be even more caught up in a story when the place is fictional, but very familiar.
One of the writers interviewed in the movie Stone Reader noted that reading is not a passive activity. A book needs a reader's imagination to really bring it to life.
I was thinking about a resistance on my part to write detailed descriptions of characters faces and physical characteristics – I like to focus on a few things that provide enough information to let the reader assume what he will. One or two pieces of information about place also suit me as a reader, but not description so specific that I can’t participate in building the story too. Tell me about a ceramic poodle and a petrified dish of ribbon candy in an old lady’s parlor and I can imagine the rest. Tell me about gangly teenage girl who constantly pushes her limp, shapeless hair behind her ears and I get the picture. Show me an old man leaning over his cane with milky blue eyes staring out from beneath caterpillar eyebrows and I’m with you.
Movie adaptations fall prey to viewer disappointment many times because the screenwriter and/or director stray too far from strong imagery we’ve been given by an author. I absolutely loved The Shipping News and the movie adaptation was quite good, but with one distracting flaw: Kevin Spacey was far too attractive. Annie Proulx’s Quoyle was clearly a pitifully unattractive man.
The study of fiction and the development of my own style over the last several months have given me a much greater sense of confidence about the type of fiction I’m striving to write and clear confirmation that there are many people who share my taste and many who do not.
How much description do you like to be given when you read a book? Would you prefer to read very detailed descriptions that provide very specific images of characters and place, or do you prefer to have most of it left to your imagination? What authors are you drawn to when it comes to their ability to “show” you their story?