We didn’t stop in to the high mill tower on the bank of the River Nith to view Dumfries through the camera obscura, the other day. But then again, it was closed so we’d not have been able to gain admission anyway. When it re-opens, we shall have to make another, better-timed bus trip to experience what’s said to be the world’s oldest working model of such a device, and to marvel at the landscape of Dumfries flattened in a plane upside down before our eyes.
It’s believed that Vermeer, he of the ‘Woman with the Pearl Earring,’ made use of a camera obscura to achieve perspective. Documentation is fragmentary, however, though Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch lensmaker who invented the microscope, was a contemporary. But today I’m not writing about what is revealed by a lens, but rather by what is not, the character, as we sometimes discuss in writing group, that is revealed by what is not said.
I confess that I’m not very good at this sort of reveal. I tend to write more directly, describing what I can. Indeed, I’m usually unaware of an author’s efforts to describe their characters in this way, absorbing the story and the ambience, the interactions, just as the writing flows. But in my stimulus image this morning, the reveal, the presence of the vase of flowers in the window, is indicated by the fact that we know they’re there because of the absence of light. It’s the shadow that creates the image.
‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows’. This immortal line, from the American radio show ‘The Shadow‘ was voiced by Frank Readick Jr, though Orson Welles broadcast a year of the series in ’37-’38. You can hear fragments of the show on YouTube. It was such an iconic phrase; my father used to use it as we boys shivered quietly under some disciplinary impetus or misconceived guilt. The search for Peter Pan’s shadow is the compelling dynamic in the first scene of J.M.Barrie’s classic.
So I am resolved to try to achieve some reveal of character by working around the edges, as if outlining a profile, a shadow, perhaps by using the reaction of supporting characters, perhaps by describing actions like pencil strokes around a vignette, that will be understood to expose the motivations driving them. It’s a fancy, challenging project, but that’s the delight. That is the joy, the challenge. I can’t wait to see if I can create a word shadow.
After the other chores, duties and responsibilities of the day are achieved, of course. The things that usually define me.