Show Them Inaction

When we're getting acquainted with friends, neighbors, classmates, or coworkers, we don't do so by reading their bios. We come to know them through what they tell us about themselves, what other people say about them, and what we observe about their behavior. With characters in a story, the readers' strongest relationships are formed in these same ways, with an added bonus In the case of viewpoint characters, we can listen to their thoughts. Providing a background summary is the easiest but...

The Interaction Of People And Place

Places shape people, and people shape places. This is why the effect of your choice of setting is so profound. The interaction of characters and setting plays a big role in determining what the story is. Take Jerry, a fifty-year-old flower child who has never recovered from the Summer of Love. He still dresses in tie-dye shirts and pulls back his hair, what's left of it, into a ponytail. Years ago he played bass in a rock band called the Bamboozles, dreaming of hitting the big time. The band...

Actual Settings Fictionalizing A Place Thats Real

Should you choose a real place or an imaginary one in which to set your story One could argue that there is no such thing as a real setting. An author who sets a story in an actual place uses it as a model on which to base a story world. He selects certain details, ignores others, and invents still more, bending reality to suit the needs of the story. The place depicted in fiction may bear considerable resemblance to the one on the map, but it is being viewed through a filter or a lens that...

Three Key Questions

To figure out what kind of conflict your protagonist is facing, ask her these three questions. The answers are the keys to her motivation and will drive her actions throughout the story What does she want to accomplish in the course of this story Just like any real person, a story character has desires and goals, things she yearns to obtain or achieve love, money, justice, recognition, to hide a secret, to be popular, to conquer the mountain, to win the game, to land a better job, to escape the...

Thinking Story The What If Game

Writers train themselves to think story to look at people, places, and situations with an eye to discerning what dramatic potential they might contain. Your subconscious constantly gives you clues about where to begin. Whenever something jiggles your mind enough to make you think, That's interesting or, I wonder , it's a signal that a story idea is there, waiting for you to discover it. The next step is to think, What if Make it a game to discover the story possibilities around you. Suppose...

Distinctive Voice For Each Character

When a friend phones you, you recognize without being told that it's Jim on the line and not Harry. Even before you peek at the signature on a letter, you can tell from the way she describes events that it came from Karen and not Melissa. Everyone sounds different. Not only does the sound of the voice have unique qualities high-pitched or low, breathy, raspy, musical but the words we choose and the way we string them together are individual as well. Listen to the three characters below. Each...

Fall In Love With Words

Your stories benefit when you appreciate how words work, keep them sharp and polished, and use them with care and accuracy. Writers delight in words the way skilled cabinetmakers take pleasure in beautifully crafted implements for their trade. Writers enjoy word games. They read dictionaries for fun. Okay, they may not curl up with one in front of the fire, but when double-checking a word they get caught up by intriguing new words and their meanings, derivations, and...

Exercises Constructing a Plot

Choose three short stories to read and think about. For each story, write brief answers to the following questions a. What is the organizing principle Is it plot or something else b. What do you think the central issue of the story is c. What is the inciting incident and at what point in the story does it occur d. What is the protagonist's goal, and what complications interfere with reaching it Are the sources of the complications internal or external e. Are there plot points or crises that...

Conflict With A Force Of Nature

Nature offers a convenient boon to writers a wealth of dramatic possibilities in the form of mountains, deserts, jungles, oceans, drought, heat, ice, and storms. To make life rougher for a character, pour rain on her parade. When the story's central conflict sets the protagonist against a force of nature, that force becomes the antagonist. The cliff she must climb or the blizzard she must survive functions as a character in the story. However, this doesn't mean you should anthropomorphize it in...

Scenes The Building Blocks of a Plot

The building blocks you use to construct the story or, if you prefer, the individual dominoes or the links in the chain are scenes. A scene is a unit of story action. At a particular time and in a specific place, something happens that is significant to the plot. For instance A character is introduced or has new light shed upon him. The nature of the relationship between two characters is established. An event takes place an action, a consequence, a complica-tion that moves the story forward. A...

Synergy Ideas In Teamwork

The truth is, one idea is seldom enough. Suppose you have come up with a wonderful idea on which to base a story, one that keeps nudging at your brain, demanding to be written. But all you have is a fragment an image of an old woman riding a train, an offhand comment made by a friend, a glimpse of an old house that surely must be haunted. The flour just sits there in the bowl, waiting for you to decide on the next ingredient. When you figure out what you want to add to the flour, that's when...

Pumpkin Coach And A Glass Slipper

To get a better idea of how narrative structure works, let's apply it to a familiar tale a Disneyesque version of Cinderella. You remember Cindy. She's the sad drudge who is forced by her evil stepsisters to dress in rags and do the household scut work while they preen in silken finery and indulge themselves in pleasures. The central issue of the story is Will Cinderella break away from the family's clutches and find happiness The inciting incident occurs when the household receives an...

Exercises Finding Story Conflict

Choose three short stories to read and think about. For each story, write brief answers to the following questions a. What is the protagonist's main goal or desire in this story How does it change as the story proceeds b. What is the central conflict in this story Who or what is the antagonist or main opposing force c. What obstacles or problems does the protagonist encounter in trying to resolve the conflict and reach the goal What sources of conflict does the author draw upon to create...

Exercises Making a Setting Vivid

Choose three short stories to read and think about. For each story, write brief answers to the following questions a. How important is the setting to this story b. To what extent does the author bring in physical, sociological, and psychological dimensions of the place where the story occurs c. How does the setting influence the events of the story, or of particular scenes d. Would you consider the setting to be a character in this story Why or why not e. If you changed the setting, how...

Choosing a Protagonist

Whose story is this Who will be your protagonist This is one of the first decisions you must make. The protagonist is the hero or heroine of your story. He or she is the central character, the person around whom the events of the story revolve and usually the one who will be most affected by the outcome. The protagonist is the person with whom readers most closely identify, with whom we form the strongest bond. You want readers to care about him or root for her to succeed. This doesn't mean...

Use Words To Show Not Tell

Introducing me as a guest speaker in a sixth-grade classroom, the teacher asked the students if they could tell me the number one rule for creative writing. In one voice, twenty-seven excited kids yelled out Show, don't tell Perhaps it's not the number one rule There are no rules, remember , but it's pretty good advice. The difference between showing and telling is this Telling Katie was humiliated when the other kids laughed at her. She tried to tell them that what happened wasn't her fault....

Bad Guys Hurricanes and Fatal Flaws

This brings us to a consideration of the kinds of conflicts and opposing forces your characters might face. What could get in the way of the protagonist's reaching her goal The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. Frequently the opponent is another character, but not always. Your main character may face impersonal adversaries events and circumstances that threaten to thwart her efforts to achieve her goal. She could even prove to be her own worst enemy. For example, in Bharati...

Tip Sheet Dialogue

How to Give Your Characters Distinctive Voices 1. VARY THEIR DEGREE OF ARTICULATENESS. Rambling Direct and to the point A user of filler words uh, ya know, etc. 2. VARY THE LENGTH AND STRUCTURE OF THEIR SENTENCES. Use short, clipped sentences Run-on sentences Drop words at the beginning of sentences Use incomplete sentences get halfway through and then switch gear into a new sentence Fail to complete thoughts, but let them trail off 3. VARY THE LENGTH OF THEIR TYPICAL SPEECHES. Talk a lot or...