Photo by Aaron Burden
As a child, I loved E.B. White’s, “Charlotte’s Web.” So recently I decided to rent the movie to share the experience with my four-year-old son. Unlike today’s action-packed, fast-moving, vibrantly colored 3-D animation this movie’s characters were dipped in muted colors and trudged along at a slow pace. Nonetheless it was refreshing to watch the gentle striding of carefully created characters imbued with the virtuous qualities that most of us strive to possess.
Admittedly over thirty years of advances in animation definitely made the movie, with limited action and few surprises seem dated but the story—of one creature selflessly helping another—remains timeless. “Charlotte’s Web” is the perennial story of friendship, kindness, self-sacrifice, life and death.
E. B. White undertook these profound and daunting concepts and expertly explained them in a way that children understand. He doesn’t tell them, he shows them through the love of two friends. White skillfully demonstrated how the synergy of love can cause one creature—a selfless and talented spider and another—a humble and kind pig to not only save one another but also themselves.
After revisiting the story, however, a particular question came to mind. Why didn’t anyone notice Charlotte?
Charlotte was the one, after all, who accomplished the spectacular feat of writing in her web. Not once in the story did someone remark on the incredible ability of a spider to weave a web of words. Instead, the focus always remained on Wilbur and the wonderful things Charlotte wrote about him. Charlotte’s web was never perceived as a means to exhibit her own talent instead it was simply the medium in which she could proclaim Wilbur’s specialness while hers went unnoticed.
In her web, Charlotte writes that Wilbur is “some pig,” “terrific,” “radiant,” and “humble.” Wilbur does possess, of course, all of these qualities. It is Charlotte, however, who brings them into view—literally as it is scrawled across her web—his wonderful traits. It’s Charlotte’s keen choice of words and timing, it is her writing that draws the eye of everyone to Wilbur, perceiving him differently than before the words were written.
Charlotte goes unnoticed not because is a lesser creature but rather because she is a writer—the writer and a good one, one who carefully chooses her words to construct the character of Wilbur to be one in whom others can believe. It isn’t that others disregard Charlotte rather it’s that she goes unseen because she’s so expertly engaged her readers. As does any good spider or good writer, Charlotte catches her readers in the web of her story.
Ultimately, it is the goal of a good writer to use the power of words to create and develop a character so convincing that no one remembers the writer. This is precisely what Charlotte accomplishes. Her story of Wilbur is so well told that no one perceives her existence in the process.
Have you ever read a story so well written and so engrossing that you completely lost sight of the writer? A story so engaging that even as you held the book in your hand with the author’s photo scrawled across the cover and his photo on the back, only the characters and their lives exist.
A good writer gives life to the characters just as Charlotte gave life to Wilbur both literally and figuratively. So, our question now becomes how does a writer achieve this? Perhaps we can learn from Charlotte.
Choose your words carefully because they construct the emotion. Allow your characters to develop and show the qualities most interesting to the readers. Use the power of your words to make people care about your characters and what happens to them. Remember that when telling a story you, like Charlotte, are weaving a web. So make it intricate, make it interesting, and make it your own.
Thank you for reading. I am excited to hear what you think.