marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

smoke, or essences

In his how-to-write books -- more than one -- John Gardner talks about a game called Smoke, or Essences.  In which one player chooses a famous person and says, "I am a dead American" or "I am a living Englishman."  And the other players have to guess this character by asking questions such as "What animal are you?"  or "What kind of smoke are you?"  And the first player has to pick the right metaphor for that person in that type of object.

My first reaction to this description was to wonder what famous people I knew well enough to try this with. 

And my second was to ponder the examples he gave.  What kind of smoke -- pipe, cigarette, cigar?  I know that much about smoking?  Same thing with car models.  As for weather forecasts -- insufficient sensory detail to evoke a character for me.  Now weather. . . I have characters who are a cold, crispy winter night, with frost on the ground and no clouds; a thunderstorm with occasional lightning and plentiful rain and wind; an april shower with the sun shining through the cloud and the rainfall.  And animals.  And colors.

It gives an odd glance at your character, and helps develop them.  And sometimes you find it useful to actually develop the associations within the work.  And it helps develop that gift for seeing resemblances which Aristotle observed was the essential skill of a poet, and the only one that can't be taught.
Tags: characterization, how-to-write books, metaphor, writing technique

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