Give me a painting of a shipyard over a regatta, a work boat over a pleasure cruiser. Give me the smell of diesel, sweat, and fish. Might not be pretty, but it works.
For me, art that works–that shows scenes of toil and industry, of creating and crafting–appeals more than art that features placid scenes. Sorry Manet, Monet, and pretty much anything on a rou de someplace.
Why? Well, there’s the Rust Belt influence, the legacy and lore of waterways that sustained the heavy industry that built places like my native Cleveland, Ohio, along Lake Erie, and like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with its three rivers.
And, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the late artist, Donald Stoltenberg, was born in 1927. Stoltenberg was new to me, until a recent visit to nearby Annapolis.
While I gravitate to industry and toil in art, I look for the same in the literature I read–and write. To me, a character is never more him- or herself than when working. Why? Simple. Work breeds conflict and conflict drives story.
Some of the best advice I received as a writing student was to introduce characters to readers by showing them at work. This gets the characters out in the world, acting and reacting–and soon (as we all do) facing big problems, problems that will need to be, ya know, worked out.
So, as I think about the characters of my current WIP*, I’m putting them to work, testing their mettle, and seeing what they’re made of. Works for me, and I bet it’ll work for you.
What are you working on right now? A blog post? A story? A piece of art? What works for your characters? For you?
*Speaking of my WIP, I’ll be taking much of the month of November off from actively blogging to focus my attention on research and work for my WIP, as well as submitting to journals and agents before the end of the year. But I will be back! In the meantime, please see my categories above for writing advice, author interviews, publishing journey woes and successes–and keep on reading and writing (the Rust Belt and everywhere else).