At first glance this statement appears erudite, but stripped down it is possibly nothing more than a pretentious declaration of the obvious. Any analysis of writing could be approached from either end of this dictum.
If a writer’s schtick is characterisation, then it is through characters that universal truths or observations are transmitted to the reader. Obvious examples abound in Shakespeare’s plays where characters loom sufficiently large that they have become standard fare for signifying human strengths and weaknesses. The counterpoint to this is that Shakespeare deals with human behaviour and action, be it individual or collective, using his characters as the vehicles for displaying common personality traits.
By over-simplifying the two emphases, readers can possibly deduce which end of the spectrum a particular writer or particular work sits. Is it the character who is the vessel used to illuminate aspects of the human condition or is it the depiction of aspects of the human condition out of which characters emerge?
It is often difficult to speculate on which of these two approaches a writer is drawn to. The best writing does not perhaps have its genesis in an author’s decision on which end of the canvas to splash his paint but more to do with how and why the words which spill out onto the page are generated by forces which even their creator might not fully understand.
Of course, good writers combine the individual and the universal seamlessly, so much so, that the reader absorbs both the characters and what the characters represent simultaneously. If this symbiosis is not achieved we might ask, ‘Is this “the best” writing?’
Copyright Lawrence Goodstone
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