Monday, September 22, 2014

The Absence of Dead Baggage

Over the past two years, I have always gone back to the short stories of William Sansom because of his approach to character.

Often, he has no interest in the typical details of a character's exterior life, and any mention is either passed over quickly or ignored. Job? Social background? Type of clothing? Brand of shoes? Favourite this or that or whatever? He has no compelling interest in these things, and so the dead baggage that weighs down too many stories is usually absent from his work.

Instead, he puts the characters into awkward or alien or harmful situations, and looks at their efforts to conceptualize these events, to define for themselves how they think and feel about their sudden crises.

This might seem abstract in theory, but in execution, Sansom gives his characters an almost paranoid awareness of their physical surroundings, and he describes their conceptualizations in terms that are equally physical. The result is like a prose poem of sweat and cold fire and gooseflesh. It goes right to the heart of who these people are and of how they respond to the wind and the rain and the grit of a terrible place.

The result, for me, is fascinating and refreshingly clean. It would hardly work in a novel, but in a short story, it opens ominous doors.

For years, now, I have tried to write in my own way, on my own terms. Discovering Sansom, and watching him achieve his own peculiar goals, has made me want to continue on my own particular paths.

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