I’m currently reading “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell since it was the 99 cent deal-of-the-day on Amazon’s Kindle books a few weeks ago. I’ve never read it nor seen the movie; everything I know about it, I know from pop-culture references and a few discussions from film/screenwriting classes in college. I’m having fun catching up on who Scarlett O’Hara is and being uncertain of what’s going to happen between she and Rhett Butler.
(Confession: I saw “Django Unchained” recently, and that view of the south is messing with my ability to read this novel very seriously. I keep half-expecting one of the slaves to pull out a gun and start mowing everyone down).
Anyway :) the introduction of Rhett Butler is powerful. Even someone with no background whatsoever in the story can understand that he’s important. Look at this thing!
From page 96:
“As she chattered and laughed and cast quick glances into the house and the yard, her eyes fell on a stranger, standing alone in the hall, staring at her in a cold impertinent way that brought her up sharply with a mingled feeling of feminine pleasure that she had attracted a man and an embarrassed sensation that her dress was too low in the bosom. He looked quite old, at least thirty-five. He was a tall man and powerfully built. Scarlett thought she had never seen a man with such wide shoulders, so heavy with muscles, almost too heavy for gentility. When her eye caught his, he smiled, showing animal-white teeth below a close-clipped black mustache. He was dark of face, swarthy as a pirate, and his eyes were as bold and black as any pirate’s appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished. There was a cool recklessness in his face and a cynical humor in his mouth as he smiled at her, and Scarlett caught her breath. She felt that she should be insulted by such a look and was annoyed with herself because she did not feel insulted. She did not know who he could be, but there was undeniably a look of good blood in his dark face. It showed in the thin hawk nose over the full red lips, the high forehead and the wide-set eyes.
She dragged her eyes away from his without smiling back, and he turned as someone called: ‘Rhett! Rhett Butler! Come here! I want you to meet the most hard-hearted girl in Georgia.'”
I’ve gathered a very distinct picture of Rhett, both visually and with a good sense to his character overall. The imagery and similes are great. Keeping an eye out for the way authors introduce their important characters can be an important study for writers; I always “knew” that, but when I reached this page and read that chunk of text all about Rhett, it felt really hammered home.
Now, “Gone with the Wind” is about 1,000 pages, and that’s not my goal with any of my novels. But Mitchell takes the time to describe the places and people so her readers get a solid sense of what everything looks, sounds, and even smells like. It breathes a lot of life into the story and is done in a bright, interesting way. She never gets dry with her descriptions like even dear Tolkien can get with his. (Of course, I’m only about 15% through the book, so my opinion is subject to change). Overall, though, it’s teaching me a lot about how to add description into my own novels. I don’t take a lot of time to set the stage, and while I describe character’s features, I never hint at what they’re wearing, and that’s a huge part of who they are too–especially since Varankai is a coastal town and has very different standards of dress than somewhere like the Kingdom nestled in the mountains. Once again, I have to slow down, stop focusing so much on action and dialogue, and remember to paint the scene with my words so the readers can be fully, totally, drawn in to the experience.