All writers bring a particular texture to a work just as all writers bring their own particular voice. Texture and voice are harmonious, but not entirely the same. Where voice can be found rooted in language, the writer’s authentic texture can be found in imagery and motifs. Joyce is known for not only his voice, but also his extraordinary textures and how he feeds these textures into the motifs and images and characters of his works: “He understands the tiny sins, the tiny virtues, the tiny venalities, the tiny advantages that people look for in life….”
Texture is a term applied to the elements remaining in a literary work after a paraphrase of its argument has been made. Among such elements are details of situation, metaphor, meter, imagery, rhyme—in fact, all elements that are not considered part of the structure of the work. The separation of texture and structure has been a strategy employed by John Crowe Ransom and some others among the New Critics. (A Handbook to Literature)
To both defer and differ. Originally suggested by Jacques Derrida as a Postmodernist critical consideration of conventions and aesthetics, to the writer, it alludes to the French différer (defer and differ). Différance can apply to many aspects of writing technique—i.e., a creative writer will both defer and differ from linguistic convention in order to form individual voice, texture and additional meaning within the narrative.
- A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (Barnes & Noble)
- A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (Audible)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Barnes & Noble)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Audible)
Texture in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
In the first chapter of Portrait, the reader immediately immerses into the world of baby tuckoo. The narrator establishes a musicality and repetitive texture so that we feel as though we are in a children’s story or rhyme, and yet, the context grows very dark. In this, Joyce has placed light then dark context ironically within the texture of the musicality and repetition creating an immediate chiaroscuro effect that grips the reader in a way few writers are able to successfully do.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.
O, the green wothe botheth.
When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.
His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor’s hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:
Tralala lala, Tralala tralaladdy, Tralala lala, Tralala lala.
Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.
Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.
The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen’s father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:
—O, Stephen will apologize.
—O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.—
Pull out his eyes, Apologize, Apologize, Pull out his eyes. Apologize, Pull out his eyes, Pull out his eyes, Apologize.
Texture in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
In Hurston’s protagonist, Janie, we find enormous strength and wonderment and a particular way of regarding the world that encompasses both an innocence and wisdom beyond her years. Janie’s voice grows in dimension as the reader not only respects Janie’s voice, but yearns for it. This dimensionality in Janie’s voice and motifs of water and movement and the female position create pattern and texture within the narrative. Wouldn’t her readers love to have Janie narrate their own lives? What would Janie see within us if given the opportunity?
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Chapter 1 Opening
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.
The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.
“What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ’oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?—Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?—Thought she was going to marry?—Where he left her?—What he done wid all her money?—Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs—why she don’t stay in her class?—…”
Character, Structure and Texture: Writing the Arcs
|Character Arc||Structural (Plot) Arc||Textural Arc|
Character vs. Self
*If you have not yet read Their Eyes Were Watching God I’m strongly encouraging you to read it now. See links above.
Story is built on conflict. As literary writers, we most often begin with the essence of our most intriguing character and that character’s primary internal conflict. Begin with character and internal conflict focus when drafting a first version of a short story, novel or even a single scene.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, we meet Janie as she returns home from burying her lover, after running off from her “proper” life. She is broken and vulnerable and her neighbors and friends in Eatonville assume Janie’s lover, Tea Cake, has “done her wrong.”
Character vs. Character
Janie battles not only the gender position of being female in Eatonville and a man’s world and a “white” run world but also the position of being human in a hurricane and “under God.” It seems that all the conventions are against her. She is a innocent, smart, strong, beautiful and capable character and we have the privilege of being with her as she takes her journey through multiple external conflicts. How does Janie, in some way, regardless of gender, ethnicity, community… embody something of you as the reader?
Imagery vs. Character vs. Place
Symbolism vs. Character vs. Place
Repetition vs. Character vs. Place
Time plays an important motif in the novel. We repeatedly return to Janie’s age and the repetition of returning home and how individuals, like water, can move out with the tide and come back to land again. Water also presents as motif in the different forms it can take: the sea and freshwater as in a lake or pond. Where Janie communes with her organic self, she not only moves out with the sea tide—leaves home, leaves Eatonville—she also communes with her “still self” when she wades and floats in the still freshwater. The repetition of age and water within the narrative creates a texture of human passage. Do we not all experience Janie’s movements within tides and stillness in our own ways?
Choose a scene, 1000 words or less, that you have already written. Create a character arc using Freytag’s Pyramid and focusing on the protagonist and internal conflict.
Create a structural arc using Freytag’s Pyramid and focusing on a main external conflict.
Create a textural arc using Freytag’s Pyramid and focusing on repetitive elements within both language and imagery.
What do the three separate arc focuses reveal about the scene?
Submit your scene, 1000 words or less, next week.
A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.
The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Literary Terms. Martin Puchner, et al.
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.