Simply Character

Some of my favorite windows into character are revealed in the smallest of gestures, those seemingly benign details that exist between action and dialog.

The Maltese Falcon (1st edition cover)

Here’s how Dashiell Hammett describes Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, published in 1929:

“He talked in a steady matter-of-fact voice that was devoid of emphasis or pauses, though now and then he repeated a sentence slightly rearranged, as if it were important that each detail be related exactly as it happened.” [The emphasis is mine.]

And here’s how Sam Spade describes the man in the story he’s relating:

“He went like that … like a fist when you open your hand.”

It’s an act of writing almost like sleight of hand, but with an impact in the imagination that reveals far more than the sum of the words.

3 thoughts on “Simply Character”

  1. Thanks Monique! Just read a great book, The Crimson Petal and The White. Michael Faber does this really well.
    “The invalid, still escorted by a maid servant, moves not as a lame person does (that characteristics three-legged step), but bears down upon her walking stick as if it were a railing at the edge of a vertiginous cliff. She’s as pale and thin as a stripped branch, and the left hand which hangs over the servant’s arm looks like a twig; the right, wrapped tightly around the handle of her cane, looks more like a knotted root. In the torrid heat that’s giving everyone around or (in the case of some of the more elaborately dressed ladies) red faces, hers is white, with two mottled crimson blushes on her cheeks that flare and fade with each step.”

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