14:14 PB ELEMENT Blog Review: CHARACTER – Looking at Lightship by Brian Floca
Fond of ships and the sea and sea stories, I was attracted to this book. I had heard of Brian Floca’s “Locomotive” picture book in a recent review that teased my interest. So I selected “Lightship” as a review practice for this challenge.
The ink and watercolor illustrations are rich with detail, and definitely provide at least half of the fact-fuel for this piece of non-fiction. Even the crew depictions, with their diverse roles, facial expressions, and looks (including the deckhand’s tattoos and the cook’s bald head) add reality to the story. Even the ship’s cat is introduced, who appears throughout the book as a faithful crew member.
What seems to be the substantial and core picture book element in this title is character. The way Floca introduces the lightship in the first sentence declares that the ship herself is the story:
“Here is a ship that holds her place”
On the next spread the author introduces the captain and crew. But to me it seems as if the ship is introducing her own children. Then the next spread returns to the vessel as the main character, using a lyrical description of her unusual duty:
“She does not sail from port to port.
She does not carry passengers
or mail or packages.
She holds to one sure spot
as other ships sail by.
The story then describes the crew’s life and duty on the ship. It almost sounds like a proud mother citing her children’s hard work and accomplishments, which are to:
“…keep her anchored in sun and calm…and snow and cold.
…keep her anchored when other ships come closer than they should.”
The crew does this and more, all to be certain the lightship “holds her one sure spot.”
Floca continues to alternate crew life with statements of the ship’s purpose. With this back-and forth banter between the ship’s role and the crew’s support, an aspect of character is exposed which is basic to most character-driven stories. That aspect is relationship.
While words and thoughts and expressions and reactions are used to define a player in a story, a character is best known and understood by the reflection of that person, animal, (or inanimate object in this case) to those secondary characters they interact with. Other characters are often why they speak and think and express themselves and react. That interaction between characters may involve support, association, inspiration, or conflict. But the relationships help to validate and define the character.
Floca has masterfully chosen to use relationship as an avenue to reveal the lightship’s dutiful, steady, faithful, and brave character.
Can an inanimate object have character traits? Why do we call a ship a ‘she?’ Why do we personalize institutions, like our country, or our churches? Why might someone fondly describe a favorite car as “my baby” or give names to favorite animals or things?
It is the relationships that people have with each other, usually involving things or places or associations, that often give those things character. This can be a powerful tool in non-fiction about inanimate things that I had not, myself, previously recognized.
Is your inanimate object, are your animals, characters whose traits and personalities are enhanced and validated by their relationships with others in your stories?
Perhaps you can share in your comments how you have used relationships to build up the strength of character as an element in your writing.