Thursday, June 29, 2006

Character in Fiction


Complex characters are crucial to successful storytelling. You can develop them in several ways.

1. Concreteness- They have specific homes, possessions, medical histories, tastes in furniture, political opinions. Apart from creating verisimilitude, these concrete aspects of the characters should convey information about the story: does the hero smoke Marlboros because he is a rugged outdoorsman, or because thats the brand smoked by men of his social background, or just because you do?

2. Symbolic association- You can express a characters nature metaphorically through objects or settings. These may not be perfectly understandable to the reader at first (or to the writer!), but they seem subconsciously right. Symbolic associations can be consciously `archetypal', linking the character to similar characters in literature. Or you may use symbols in some private system which the reader may or may not consciously grasp. Characters names can form symbolic associations, though this practice has become less popular in modern fiction except in comic or ironic writing.

3. Speech- The characters speech helps to evoke personality: shy and reticent, aggressive and frank, coy, humorous. Both content and manner of speech should accurately reflect the characters social and ethnic background without stereotyping. If a character speaks prose, his or her background should justify that rather artificial manner. If a character is inarticulate, that in itself should convey something.

4. Behavior- From table manners to performance in hand-to-hand combat, each new example of behavior should be consistent with what we already know of the character, yet it should reveal some new aspect of personality. Behavior under different forms of stress should be especially revealing.

5. Motivation- The characters should have good and sufficient reasons for their actions, and should carry those actions out with plausible skills. If we do not believe characters would do what the author tells us they do, the story fails.

6. Change- Characters should respond to their experiences by changing or by working hard to avoid changing. As they seek to carry out their agendas, run into conflicts, fail or succeed, and confront new problems, they will not stay the same people. If a character seems the same at the end of a story as at the beginning, the reader at least should be changed and be aware of whatever factors kept the character from growing and developing.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tips for Wrting Flash Fiction

With the advent of the Internet, editors are looking for shorter works, more easily read on a computer screen. The current term is flash fiction, a tale between 300-1000 words long. Longer than micro-fiction (10-300 words) but shorter than traditional short stories, flash fiction is usually a story of a single act, sometimes the culmination of several unwritten events.

1. The small idea

Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you would need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they are not included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car. Middle child. Bad report card. Find a smaller topic and build on it.

2. Bury the preamble in the opening

When you write your story, do not take two pages to explain all the pre-story. Find a way to set it all in the first paragraph, then get on with the rest of the tale.

3. Start in the middle of the action

Start the story in the middle of the action. A man is running. A bomb is about to go off. A monster is in the house. Do not describe any more than you have to. The reader can fill in some of the blanks.

4. Focus on one powerful image

Find one powerful image to focus your story on. A war-torn street. An alien sunset. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture with words. It does not hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.

5. Make the reader guess until the end

A little mystery goes a long way. Your reader may have no idea what is going on for the majority of the story. This will lure them on to the end. When they finish, there should be a good pay off or solution.

6. Use a twist

The twist ending allows the writer to pack some punch at the end of the story. Flash fiction is often twist-ending fiction because you do not have enough time to build up sympathetic characters and show how a long, devastating plot has affected them. Like a good joke, flash fiction is often streamlined to the punch-line at the end.