Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Week 41 - What Kind of Smoke?

7 Oct - 13 Oct: Where there's smoke... there's a character?

In On Moral Fiction, John Gardner describes a game he used to play with his boffin friends, called ‘What Kind of Smoke?’ The object is to guess the well-known figure being described through abstract association. Let’s see how I do….
Q: What kind of smoke?
A: Earthy clouds rising from a crackling campfire.
Q: What kind of car?
A: An old pickup, a bit beaten up, but still going strong and looking good.
 Q:What kind of animal?
 A: An Alsatian dog.
Q: What kind of sport?
A: Cross-country skiing.
Q: What kind of fruit?
A: Hmm… cantaloupe (rock melon to us Antipodeans).
Q: What kind of dance?
A: The classic waltz.
So who am I?

I’ll give you a clue: I opted for very individual ‘traits’ rather than the stereotypical associations, that is, all things western and cowboy.

Give up? I was thinking John Wayne. Agree? Disagree? Whether my answers are accurate or not depends on how your mind works, I guess. How would you answer the questions for the Duke?

So what’s the point of this exercise?

Three things:
  • We should know our characters well enough to know what sort of smoke they are;
  • How we paint characters is limited only by our own creativity (as if that isn't stating the obvious); and
  • We can trust the reader to associate creative images with the traits of an individual or type of person.

Let’s try again because this is kind of fun. Instead of me describing these people as manly, sexy, evil, and homely, try matching them up to their kind of smoke, or think of your own:
Cat Woman
Osama bin Laden
Oprah Winfrey
A wisp of smoke that slinks from the tip of a panatella.

The black, odorous cloud from the tailpipe of an unmaintained lorry.

The steam from a fruity, homemade sauce simmering on the stove-top.

The heady smoke from a Cuban.
Exercise 81. Think of the main characters in your story and describe ‘what kind of smoke’ they are. Think of the actions in the story that will have the reader associating characters with their kind of smoke.

Exercise 82. Think about how you have described your characters. Are the descriptions original or unoriginal? Can creative word or image association, weaved into actions, dialogue, setting and narrative make the characters more real?

Next week, I will attempt to relate how and what travel can add to the writer’s toolbox (or not).


  1. Wonderful little exercise, E. (I sometimes don't know if I'm addressing Egg or Eureka). Instead of coming up with The Duke for the smoke test, my mind veered toward Clint Eastwood. Eh...close enough.

    1. As long as you didn't associate the answers with say, Paris Hilton, I reckon your mind must be functioning reasonably okay.

      Thanks for dropping in. I always knew my blog was just the thing for a big-eyed goldfish. (Or perhaps a big-eyed goldfish is just the thing for this blog.)

    2. Paris was my second choice. :o)

      Your blog is perfect for this goldfish. The blues keep it feeling like home. I'm going to go through the previous posts (as best I can - you've had a busy year) and do these great exercises!

    3. Ha ha. I hope you surprise yourself with what comes out of the exercises... or at least have a bit of fun.

    4. Hey Eureka,

      I'm putting my real name, ML Swift, on my blog now. When I started, I didn't really know what I wanted or needed to do and didn't want to infringe on any family members' privacy. But the point is to market, platform, and get our names out there, is it not? Feel free to call me Mike (or Ishmael on the prompt board). :o) Treading Water in the Goldfish Bowl.

  2. I went to no one! This is like a personality test. Much too abstract for me. (Not sure what kind of smoke or car that makes me!) Maybe for women you need to think in terms of wine, dessert.... my character is a dry cabernet, dark 60% cocoa, lounging on a beach....

    1. Ha ha. No one? Really? Not even a cranky old teacher who you knew was a softie at heart? With your descriptions, I thought of Kay Scarpetta, except for the lounging on a beach bit. I hope your character at least plays the mandolin when lounging....

  3. By the way, Egg, you are the recipient of the Liebster Blog Award. I love you blog and am glad to see it get the notice it deserves. You can stop by my blog and read about it and post the badge and respond if you so desire.

    1. Gee, I'm humbled... and become jelly under pressure. Thanks, though. Your questions will force me to face that dreaded honesty thing that good writers are always harping on about. It's a challenge for some of us, you know? I admire your openness and really appreciate your support.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Tammy. I'm trying to follow Gardner's advice, that is, learn the craft like you'd learn any new skill: focus on one bit at a time, pay attention, and practise as much as possible.

      I hope you find something useful in this makeshift classroom, and of course, any snippets of wisdom you would like to share are always welcome. Thanks for dropping in.