Desire

Most primary to a character's development is what you may know as motivation. I prefer to use that now familiar word, desire. Motivation implies a reason and purpose for action. Many writers would agree that a character needs a motive, a purpose, to make a successful story. Within a story, few would argue that some kind of shift must occur. That shift is fueled by motivation. However, a character need not be conscious of his or her motivation and this is why I prefer to use the term desire....

Sample Narrative

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlor of Lakesnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the whitehaired old lady knitting placidly by the fire. Hark at the wind, said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of...

Write Your Story

A wondrous dream, a fantasy incarnate, fiction completes us, mutilated beings burdened with the awful dichotomy of having only one life and the ability to desire a thousand. Fiction links us to our common longings. Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer, touches on this phenomenon in the quote above. He identifies the central catalyst for writing narrative in general and fiction particularly desire. Llosa acknowledges the split between reality and the ideal, between what we know of our lives and...

Magazine Guidelines for Submitting Stories

Usually, a magazine will have specific guidelines for submitting your story. They may have a word or page limit or minimum that you should adhere to. Importantly, many publications frown on simultaneously submitted work. For example, if you submit a piece to The Paris Review, the editor will expect that the stoiy is not being submitted to any other publication at the same time. On the other hand, if a magazine does not have a policy against simultaneous submissions, you can submit the same...

Building Blocks

Think of a kid with blocks as a way to overcome writer's block. Maybe you did not write as a child, but you probably played. Maybe you loved to help your mother fold the laundry as much as you liked to jump on the bed. Lisa R. Cohen, on her web site, The Writer's Block 2002 (http www.sff.net people LisaRC ) offers three definitions for block block bl k n 2. A compact, solid piece of substantial material worked for a specific purpose 3. A child's toy, permitting building activities Like any...

Sample Narratives From Famous Authors

The following classic short stories are often anthologized. You may have read one or more of these stories in an English class. Each story illustrates aspects of writing narrative that we have explored in this book. The first story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, is a haunting account of a man about to be executed that exemplifies a frame story. Paul's Case, by Willa Cather, is an interesting psychological exploration that highlights the influence of psychology as a discipline on fiction...

Reading Practice

Terri Martin's Three Hollows, which appears in Appendix B, Sample Student Narratives, is an example of another kind of nonfiction narrative. You may want to read it before continuing with this chapter. Very much located in Martin's personal consciousness, unlike Miller's piece, Three Hollows also is an exploration of death. But while Miller examines the 23 deaths in Sarajevo from a continental distance, and through the translation of Smailovic's music, Martin's meditation centers on three...

Sample Student Narrative

As soon as I arrived at the doorstep of Thaddeus Hall and noticed the two rather large gentlemen with slicked-back black hair glancing around before allowing the impeccably dressed young woman to disembark from the limo, I knew I had probably made a really big mistake. My parents had somehow convinced me that The Convent School of St. Jude would be a wonderful place for me, with an excellent arts program and sheltered atmosphere. Actually, the unspoken message that they had conveyed was that I...

Creative Nonfiction

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Writing is a way of discovering what you don't already know, of clarifying what you don't understand, of preserving what you value, and of sharing your discoveries with other people. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Creative nonfiction is a product of your exciting times. Obviously, writers have produced creative nonfiction essays,...

Freewriting

You may be familiar with the practice of freewriting. It is a useful brainstorming technique used frequently in composition classes. Sometimes the practice is called fastwriting. I prefer freewrite because free more closely suggests the intent of this practice. To freewrite is to write without ceasing, usually for a given period of time. Your pen or pencil should not leave the paper. Neither should you stop to erase or correct. Importantly, you are not bound, in a freewrite, to correct grammar,...

Enlivening Sci Fi Characters

Whether or not you want to think of your characters as robots, you do have the Dr. Frankenstein-like position of enlivening them. While fantasy, as I have suggested, pushes beyond the boundaries of possibility, it also requires a foundation of accepted parameters. For example, if Anne Rice's vampire was suddenly killed by a regular bullet, his death would be out of the realm of the possible in the world Rice has created. Rice has constructed a carefully detailed backstory and mythos for her...

Suspension of Belief

Science fiction requires a suspension of belief on the part of the reader. However, that suspension of a particular belief, say that people cannot fly, must be compensated with a plausible alternative or explanation. That is, you could write a piece of viable science fiction about humans flying if you explained the phenomenon with a reasonable technology or biological adaptation. Again, science fiction operates in the realm of the possible. The famous Star Trek series proposes some fantastic...

Creative Writing Guides

What If Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter Writing Creative Nonfiction, Writer's Digest Books and Associated Writing Programs Writing Fiction A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg Revision A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, David Michael Kaplan Bird by Bird, Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lajnott Mystery and Manners Occasional Prose, Flannery O'Connor

Novel Publication Agents

Submitting a novel for publication is a more involved process than submitting a short story to a magazine. Most publishers prefer to read agented fiction. You can research different publishing companies and submit according to their guidelines, but you may want to go ahead and find a literary agent. Literary agents represent writers to publishers. Most agents specialize in fiction or nonfiction and some represent specific genre writing. Guides to finding literary agents, like other Writers'...

Literary Magazines

Black Warrior Review Creative Nonfiction Fourth Genre Allende, Isabel. The Little Heidelberg. The Stories of Eva Luna. New York Macmillan, 1992. Bailey, Tom. A Short Story Writer's Companion. Oxford Oxford University Press, 2001. Butler, Octavia E. The Parable of the Sower. New York Warner Books, 2000. _. The Parable of the Talents. New York Warner Books, 2000. Burroway, Janet, ed. Writing Fiction A Guide to Narrative Craft. 4th ed. New York HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996. Calvino,...

Personal Experience

Most creative nonfiction writers write from personal experience, with varying degrees of self-revelation. Scott Russell Sanders' disturbing, cathartic essay, Under the Influence, describes his childhood with an alcoholic father. In the passage below, Sanders contextual-izes the term alcoholic, setting up a contrast between his own life and what he knew of alcoholism. How far a man could slide was gauged by observing our back-road neighbors the out-of-work miners who had dragged their families...

Writing from Borrowed Experience

You have probably heard the advice that you should write what you know and as I've suggested, you certainly should write from your own experience. The things you have seen, tasted, heard, touched, and smelled with your own senses are most often more easily conveyed than sensual experiences strange to you. For example, you may describe the sensation of kayaking level 3 rapids on the Green River while you would be at a loss to write about being a bicycle courier in New York City. But we are...

Fantasy and Horror

Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, while certainly familiar as allegory for our world, is peopled with impossible beings, such as elves and hobbits. Similarly, J. K. Rowling's wildly successful Harry Potter series sets up a parallel world in which budding witches and wizards refine their magic skills. Unlike regular humans, or muggles, Harry and his friends in Rowling's books practice impossible acts and encounter impossible beasts. Characters in horror stories can be ridiculously...

Writing Basics

A good foundation in writing basics is necessary to writing strong narrative. Initially, you need to trust your competence to write rationally. You need to know how to write sentences and paragraphs. You might like to brush up on some of these skills. There are many excellent guides for grammar and other technical aspects of writing, including Barron's Writing The Easy Way. Another I strongly recommend is Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, a wonderfully playful guide to...

Perspective or Whose Story Is This Anyway

Stories emerge from various perspectives. In a narrative, it is not safe to assume that the perspective is the writer's. As we have heard from some of the writers whom I quoted in earlier chapters, the story sometimes has a will of its own, as do the characters that impel it. Of course, everything you write comes from you and, on some level, speaks your truth. But fiction, and fictive techniques in nonfiction, allow us that magical leap of imagination. Even though an Alice Munro story is told...

Backstory and Subtext

One element of narrative time is the backstory. You may want to think of the backstory as the story that happened before the story. These events linger in the story and influence the plot. Characters may refer to the events that comprise the backstory, or the backstory may emerge as the story's subtext. Subtext refers to the emotional underpinnings of the story. Often, what characters do not say or do reveals as much about the story as their dialogue and actions. In many ways, the backstory and...

Robots

While I've been suggesting that sci fi and fantasy characters work because they embody human struggles, science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer posits that sci fi characters, at least, are actually robots. Real people, says Sawyer, are quite accidental, the result of a random jumbling of genes and a chaotic life. But story people are made to order to do a specific job. In other words, robots Sawyer suggests that science fiction characters must be constructed according to their premises. While...

Flashback and Foreshadowing

Two popular techniques for moving through time are flashback and foreshadowing. Usually, a flashback is a specific character's memory. The character or the narrator might recount the memory, which may be written as a scene. Foreshadowing is a technique that suggests events that occur in the story before they happen. In The Monkey's Paw, the father's impulsive, fatal move in chess foreshadows his decision to use the paw, to disastrous ends. Other aspects of the story are foreshadowed, as well....

Short Story Form A Brief History

The short story as a literary form is relatively new to western literature. In the late 1300s, Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales witnessed the emergence of tales in poetic form. Chaucer drew great inspiration from the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron. Written after Europe had been devastated by the Plague, The Decameron 1351-1353 is often credited as the precursor to the short story, as is Antoine Galland's French translation of the classic Arabic Thousand and One...

Time And Space Setting And Perspective

At this point, you may have pieces of a story emerging from the exercises you completed around character and dialogue. Now your task is to begin stitching your pieces together. Your characters move and speak within a specific context, what you may think of as setting. Eliciting that setting through specific detail will locate your story in your reader's consciousness. We also will discuss perspective in this chapter, the point of view from which the narrative is told. This chapter will discuss...

The Value of Storytelling

The oral tradition of storytelling is as old as human memory. Most of us still grow up hearing stories, or tales, meant to teach us something, or, as the early Roman poet, Horace, suggested, to delight and instruct. Folk and fairy tales often do both, with a specific lesson imparted to the audience through the entertaining vehicle of the story. Contemporary stories often offer similar instruction but successful storywriters, and creative writers generally, abandon the latter half of Horace's...

The Novel

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim is not to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain. Expansion, that is the idea the novelist must cling to, not completion, not rounding off, but opening out. I wrote a novel. I have started two more. Beyond that, I don't have much to say about it. That's almost a joke....

Precision of Observation

Creative nonfiction is a genre located in the precision of observation. As much as it is afforded the benefits of fictionalization, creative nonfiction is more concerned with the observed world than the world of the imagination. This concern is what draws readers to creative nonfiction. We, as readers, desire the truth of the observation. We want to experience that truth through the creative reconstruction of the writer's experience, much as we want to experience the events in a short story....

Dialogue

We hear language as fluid and vibrant speech, singing, poetry, storytelling. We understand that the conventions that guide written language are not always applied in conversation. Similarly, dialogue should convey your characters' vibrance, but the conventions of conversation do not necessarily provide good dialogue. Dialogue is not speech. Dialogue is a verisimilitude of speech. Good dialogue can read like an actual conversation, but it is carefully crafted in its imitation. Dialogue...

Formula

My theory, and it's nothing new, is that mystery and romance fiction are big sellers because they rely on formula. We enjoy reading a mystery or romance because we have read something similar before. Usually, we can rely on the crime being solved and the couple being reunited. And like science fiction and fantasy, crime novels allow us to experience vicariously our greatest fears. Romance provides fodder for fantasies we would not indulge in everyday life. Perhaps the comfort romance oilers...

The

This book is dedicated to G and Z, who inspire me daily, to Wendy who inspires from afar, and to my creative writing students, past and present. Heather L. Hirschi has an M.F. A. in Creative Writing from the University of Utah, where she is currently an instructor in the university's writing program. She has published short stories in a number of literary publications and is the editor of What There Is The Crossroads Anthology. Copyright 2004 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights...