Explain Less, Write More

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When you write, the temptation is to explain everything because you want to make sure your reader understands your story. You don’t want to leave any stone unturned, especially if it has any connection at all to the story you want to tell.

You try to explain your characters’ backgrounds because you know that provides your characters’ motivation, why they behave in certain ways or say things the way they do or even just say whatever it is you make them say. As you do that, you talk about their upbringing, their family and friends, their family history. You try to develop a whole character report, including what could pass for a decent psychological evaluation. You include birth dates, places, schools, past jobs—a complete dossier on each character.

You try to explain the setting because you believe the readers need to see your characters’ environment, the environment of the story, where it is happening and where it all began. You present no less than an historical treatment of the village, town, city, or country your characters move around in. You describe every room, house, street, and building in detail because you don’t want your reader to miss anything.

All that work and you still haven’t started telling your story! All that preparation and the first thing your editor does is chop it all out. All those painstaking details and it gets thrown away. Really, I have seen psychological evaluations that run as long as forty pages. And all for just a single person. And that doesn’t even include a comprehensive background or family history. You argue and agonize and complain and try to sneak the material back in, maybe even dump your editor and find a new one because you think your writing was brilliant and detailed.

It doesn’t matter how meticulous or brilliant any writing is that went into background because that is all it is—background. Any time you try to explain things to prepare the reader for what will happen merely takes away from how much time and space you have to show the reader what is happening—the true action of the story. How do you avoid this common pitfall?

When I teach fiction writing, I encourage students to imagine they are in their character’s shoes—whichever character’s point of view it is—and provide descriptions for anything as the character encounters it. For instance, don’t describe a house until your character sees it, from approach to entry. That way, your reader sees the house from the character’s perspective. Refrain from describing anything inside the house until the character has opened the door and looked in. Don’t describe the upstairs rooms if the character is moving around in the kitchen—unless your character is thinking of the upstairs rooms. If your character never sees the basement, there’s no need to describe it. Unless you have another character who’s thinking of the basement or is in the basement. It’s the same thing with characters encountering other characters. If the character knows nothing about another character and you’re setting them up to meet, don’t describe the second character until your first character sees him or her. That way, your reader also sees others through your character’s eyes. That way, you can introduce action and dialogue from the very start of your story instead of providing details that the reader is likely to forget as the story progresses.

It’s somewhat different with novels, of course, but it also depends on the type of novel you are writing. If you can carry on a brilliant dissertation on the creation and evolution of an island over a thousand years before it becomes populated with people the way Michener did, then, by all means, go right ahead. Otherwise, cut it short. After all, not everyone is a huge fan of Michener.

To Be A Writer, Know Yourself

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Writing is a continuous journey that never ends and writers learn constantly from their writing. No one writer can claim to be such if they think they already know everything about writing, everything about what and how to write. If you know anyone who claims that, that person is a total sham.

In reality, writers need to dig deep inside themselves to write. They need to find out how long they can sit at a desk or wherever they like to write. If they can’t sit for an hour at a time and devote that single hour to pure writing, they won’t be able to sit for days on end, writing the stories that haunt their dreams in their sleep or their thoughts when they are awake. They need to know what motivates them to write. If they don’t know why they want to write—nay, if they don’t know what they need to write, they won’t be motivated to finish anything. They need to understand what makes them want to live, because that could be the reason their characters want to live. They need to know what makes others live, because that will be what motivates other characters. They need to know what moves them to act, to do things, to behave in certain and specific ways, because that knowledge is what will move their characters as well.

Imagine how boring and limited a writer’s works would be if they only knew one person. All their characters would think, feel, act, and react like that person. Imagine how egotistic that character would be if the writer thought he or she knew everything. Every story you write is based on something you learn about yourself, about people. Your story started long before you were born and will, most likely, continue long after you die. Your job, as a writer, is to understand the minutest details of your story, how it evolved and unfolded throughout the generations that resulted in everything your are, which means you need to understand everything and everyone involved in your story. Your writing will continue at least (hopefully) until you shed your corporeal being, thus you need to keep up with your life, with everything that evolves and unfolds inside and around you until the words no longer flow from you, because that will keep your stories going.

Every story you write is based on something you learn about yourself, about people. Your story started long before you were born and will, most likely, continue long after you die. Your job, as a writer, is to understand the minutest details of your story, how it evolved and unfolded throughout the generations that resulted in everything your are, which means you need to understand everything and everyone involved in your story. Your writing will continue at least (hopefully) until you shed your corporeal being, thus you need to keep up with your life, with everything that evolves and unfolds inside and around you until the words no longer flow from you, because that will keep your stories going.

10 Tips to Dynamic Dialogue

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Sure, you find yourself talking to your characters. That’s not a bad thing at all, really. In the first place, you can use your dialogue with your characters in your stories. The downside is, you have to be about a dozen different people for each novel–a lot less for shorter fiction. If anyone accuses you of being schizophrenic or having a multiple personalitydisorder, tell them you’re an author. They’ll understand.

Here’s another big downside to creating dialogue and pretending to be different characters in your book: they start sounding like you. Yup. Every single one of them. Same pauses, same expressions, same intonation, same vocabulary, same expletives.  You might get your main characters right and give them a couple of unique identities with unique dialogue, but the rest of your characters could be a whole cast of mini-yous. That could be a real complication if you want to create spin-offs or create a sequel or worse, a series. The other major complication is when your dialogue is just a conversation that doesn’t really go anywhere, pretty much like your daily conversations about what you had for breakfast/dinner/supper, how your day went, what’s on TV, what you’re reading, what’s on the news, etc. This kind of dialogue is mundane and can just drag on forever, boring you readers, and getting your story nowhere.

The big question is: How do you get great dialogue and avoid the pitfalls? Here are 10 tips to improving dialogue in your stories.
1. Model your dialogue on different people. If your character is a cop, go watch a cop and listen to him speak. If he’s a detective, he’ll speak differently from a beat cop. If your character is a doctor, observe how doctors speak. Find a doctor to listen to so your character sounds like a real doctor.
2. Consult experts to test read your dialogue. If your character is in a highly specialized field such as law, consult a lawyer to make sure your dialogue sounds like a lawyer is speaking, especially in workplace scenarios, i.e., courtroom dramas.
3. Watch a lot of good TV or movies. It’s the next best thing to finding a real live expert to follow, model your characters after, and check your writing for authenticity.
4. Drop all the expletives, especially if they’re your favorite bad words. You can convey ideas effectively with accurate, precise language without having to pepper your writing with cursing. In the first place, it’s distasteful. In the second place, it’s weak, especially if you use it all the time. In the third place, it makes for difficult reading. Finally, it’s really pointless. It doesn’t do anything except make your characters a little more colorful, but if you need to resort to expletives to liven up your writing, then you simply are not a good writer.
5. Drop the foul language. As in real life, foul language is a major turn-off. Even if you have a character with the tendency to speak foul language because they never got their mouths washed out with soap, it doesn’t mean you have to fill your story with the same language. There are milder, more socially acceptable alternatives for all expressions, no matter how crude or foul. There are also more creative words that can be just as effective. Of course there are advocates of stark realism who will insist that it is part of the character. Challenge your vocabulary and skill by learning how to suggest or imply the foul or crude language. That way, each reader can supply their favorite bad words according to their tolerance or culture levels. Furthermore, see #5.
6. Drop all the filler words such as er, hm, mm, um, uh, unless they accurately represent what the character is saying at the moment. If you happen to have a character who stammers, it’s enough to show the stammer in a single conversational line and limit it to the occasional word spoken nervously. In some cases, punctuation is effective enough–or more effective. Use ellipses, hyphens, and dashes to indicate pauses or breaks in speech, or use a dialogue tag.
7. Drop word mannerisms such as now, so, like, well, and, and whatever other word mannerisms you find appearing at the start or end of most sentences. This works not only for dialogue but for the rest of your writing as well.
8. Drop the small talk. Unless it is extremely necessary to show small talk, skip it and go straight to the meat of the matter. In the first place, it distracts the reader. In the second place, it often digresses from the important topics. In the third place, it wastes time and ruins the pace of your story.
9. Drop the pleasantries. This is also small talk. You don’t need to talk about the weather or ask how everyone else is before getting to the point. Just get straight to the point. In the same way, you can dispense with long drawn-out goodbyes unless you’re trying to make a point or that’s what the story is about or it’s an important part of the story. In most cases, it probably won’t be.
10. Limit some word use. Dedicate a few words or phrases to specific characters. This usually becomes a character’s signature phrase. However, don’t have your character saying that signature phrase all the time. You don’t need to remind your readers that’s what a particular character says all the time, all the time.

Show, not Tell, with Dialogue

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Many of my writing students avoid dialogue because they struggle with it, and rightly so. Creating convincing, concise dialogue is a challenge that compounds writing stories. What they do not realize is that dialogue helps writers show rather than tell.

Consider the effect, for instance, of writing:

She wore an attractive, brightly-colored dress.

This is you, the author via your narrator, telling your reader what she wore.

Compare that to the effect achieved by the following:

“Do you like my dress?” Darlene said as she twirled in a full circle, flouncing the skirt as she did. “I think yellow looks good on me,” she smiled.

In the first example, your writing presents the reader with adjectives for a dress, but does not provide any action. The reader will either gloss over the sentence or, if imaginative, create an image of “she” in the dress, which could be yellow, orange, red, yellow-green, or some other bright color or a mixture of colors. Neither does the reader have the vaguest idea what the dress looks like. Is it long or short? Loose or fitting? Straight or flouncy? Unless you elaborate on that sentence by adding more descriptions, there will always be a lot of room for interpretation—sometimes more than you want.

In the second example, we know who “she” is—Darlene. We know she’s wearing a dress and it has a skirt that flounces as she twirls. We know the dress is yellow. More than that, we know Darlene likes the yellow dress and is light-hearted, expressive, and in a good mood. How can we tell? Because someone in a bad mood wouldn’t care much about wearing a bright, cheerful yellow; a more serious person would not be caught twirling to show off a dress; nor would an introverted or shy girl twirl, show-off a dress, and more than that, think aloud that they looked good in anything.

While the color or style of a character’s outfit might not always be relevant, sometimes we need to include more vivid descriptions because they provide readers with a clearer picture of your story. The trick is not to weigh down your story with bulky descriptions that can be made more memorable and effective with dialogue.

Get It Right

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As a beginning writer, you are still feeling your way around words, sentences, stories. You might struggle with finding the right words or the best way to say something. You might even struggle with keeping your story together or even just putting it all together. Even experienced writers who have published multiple books and garnered prestigious awards need to work on their manuscripts, sometimes multiple times before it is worthy of sharing or showing to the rest of the world. One continuing debate is whether to check mechanics and grammar before content. As an editor and language teacher, I find it necessary to work on all aspects that need correcting before making another pass to work on improving. What’s the difference? Things that need correcting involve spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If a manuscript contains so many errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation that it is unreadable, it is too difficult to overlook that and focus on more intricate details involving content, consistency, plot, and language. Blatant errors in spelling and grammar prevent our minds from making sense of what is being read. It’s like wading through a stream littered with all sizes of stones and rocks. Rather than wade through the stream, it would be much easier to walk on the banks—which is the literary equivalent of not reading the work—not what any writer would want readers to do.

Misplaced or missing punctuation can change meaning and convey an idea completely different from what was originally meant. A look around you shows signs and other communication lacking punctuation and conveying confusing messages as a result. One of the most common is SLOW MEN WORKING. Literally, this means the men working are slow, which is often the case with government road work. I saw another similar sign, SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING. Now, this could mean the children move slowly as they play, or the children playing in this area are developmentally slow—something that could also apply to the men working. I imagine it could be frustrating for drivers to encounter the sign SLOW PEOPLE CROSSING. If I were the driver, I might think, “How slow are they? Will they take forever? I’m going to be late if I have to wait for all those slow people to finish crossing!” I don’t think any writing mentor, teacher, or editor can ever say this enough: clean up your writing as best you can before you share it with anyone, your editor, included.

Write Like an Expert

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At the risk of sending certain words into oblivion or exhibiting them in some museum of dead words, I have to remind writing students longer words are not always the best choice in writing. I have students who think they should not use the same word more than once in an essay and search assiduously for synonyms to replace a single word should they need to use that word a second or third time. There is such a thing as introducing variety in your vocabulary and using the exact word. If there is no alternative to the exact word, by all means, use the exact word instead of using alternative words. If a word can replace a phrase, choose the phrase over the word to avoid the downfall of many a writer: wordiness. If a plainer word exists that more people will understand, use the plainer language. Throwing in exotic, long, fancy words when simple language suffices is more likely to repel readers. Besides, when words are used out of context, you risk conveying the wrong meaning or creating the wrong impression. Probably the best rule to follow in choosing words as you write is to use mainly words in your active vocabulary. When those words are not enough, go ahead and rummage through the rest of your vocabulary. If you still cannot find the right word, then do consult a thesaurus but check your choice for the most apt meaning and usage. When in doubt, search for nuances and implications, because the word you choose could have a special significance or usage. If you are writing in a particular genre, for instance detective, crime, or espionage stories, you need to familiarize yourself with the terminology used within those professions. Not knowing the right lingo reveals you are no expert in that area and the last thing you need is to lose credibility. Yes, there is a Dictionary of Espionage.

You can compensate for your lack of expertise in an area you want to write about by consulting other experts besides dictionaries and encyclopediae. Find someone familiar with the area you are writing about and solicit their advice on technical details. Ask them to beta read your story and help you straighten out your details and terminology. Do your research, whether by reading expert and reliable sources extensively or interviewing expert sources. Read works by writers you admire in the genre you want to write so you can emulate them, if not at least get an idea of the language they use. If at all possible, you can immerse yourself in the environment. If you are writing a cop story, hang around a police precinct, talk with them, get a feel for their language. Unfortunately, there will be severe limitations to how much you can actually witness, as well as how much can be revealed to you or that you can reveal in your stories. We can’t all be as fortunate as Frank Castle who can run around with police detectives and observe them solving crimes in person, using their stories as fodder for his best-selling novels. That’s where the fiction comes in. There will be greater difficulty observing actual detective work, espionage, or even other branches or areas of law enforcement. I have heard real cops say nothing you see in all the tv cop series is anything like the real thing. That’s the cold hard truth. It’s all fiction. Really, if you can’t have a real-life model, all you need is your imagination to craft a meticulously well-planned world with all the details worked out so your characters interact with consistent surroundings. You create the world, you make the rules, you play god. That’s how you create your fictional world.

On Writing: Vividness, Vocabulary, and more on Said

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Vivid descriptions are key to drawing readers deeper into your writing, whether prose or poetry. Your challenge as a writer is to create images and scenes with words, to reproduce intense emotions and experiences with descriptions so your readers can experience what you have. It’s creating vicarious experiences for readers, affording them a glimpse into your world, into your mind. Writers who do not take advantage of the wealth of words available in the English language create their own handicap and limit their writing to the mundane. Besides limiting their potential, writers who do not stretch their vocabularies where the language takes them also limit their potential to teach their readers the beauty and power of language. As a writing teacher, I am committed to helping my students improve their vocabulary because vocabulary is essential to writing. A writer with a poor vocabulary is like a runner with only one leg.

I have written several times about using exact language, especially in writing, and it’s not something I will ever stop writing about. Society is no great help in this regard, especially when it promotes vague language by using words such as “stuff” and “things” for objects, or “nice” and “great” for anything positive. Writing teachers have been trying to teach their students year after year how to use more precise language, more vivid words. After all, writing is about creating images for the reader in words. If your writing cannot provide the reader with sufficient details to recreate the picture or scene you, as the writer, imagined, then you have failed. Let me revisit “said is dead”. If you haven’t yet found enough words more vivid than “said”, here’s a short list of “a” words to get you started.

Acknowledged, acquiesced, added, addressed, admitted, admonished, advised, advocated, affirmed, agreed, alleged, allowed, announced, answered, approved, argued, assented, asserted, assumed, assured, asked, attested, avowed.

As a reminder, I admonish writers not to use a dialogue tag to merely repeat or state the obvious. In this case, I refer to writing a question in dialogue and ending it with a question mark, then using the dialogue tag “she asked” or “he asked”. The use of a question mark to end a sentence, in itself, indicates a question has been asked, hence, the dialogue tag can be dispensed with and replaced with a description of an action or expression, instead. For instance, what do people do when they ask questions? Some might raise an eyebrow or both eyebrows, frown, shake their head, raise their hands to their sides with palms facing up, scratch their head, or rub the back of their neck. As in previous writing, I continue to recommend keen observation of behavior because that is what will give you, as a writer, the images you will recreate in your writing.

On Writing: How Much Detail Do Characters Need?

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“In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!”
~ Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov, May 10, 1886

Some of my students have asked me how much detail they needed to include when creating character descriptions or character profiles and I have always told them there is no such thing as too much. In fact, I encourage them to invent as much detail as possible, because those details will make their characters more real. How do you decide what details to include when creating a character profile? I tell my students to look at their characters from different angles: physical, psychological, professional, and biographical.

The physical description is straightforward: What is your character’s physical appearance? You should include everything from gender to height, weight, girth, hair and eye color, skin color, nose, ears, mouth, teeth, hand size, feet size, and so on. While highly detailed physical descriptions do not always play a huge part in stories, they can certainly be part of the main character’s problem, if not the main problem. Otherwise, a character’s physical attributes will affect how that character will interact with other characters or the environment. For instance, an unusually tall character might have to stoop to go through certain doorways, look down when speaking with others, or push back a seat to fit in a car or at the dining table. Physical descriptions should also include any physical defects, abnormalities, or diseases. Not to be overlooked are physical issues or distinctions such as moles, birthmarks, limps, missing fingers, a broken nose.

Character psychology ranges from personality type to personality disorders, phobias, insecurities, likes and dislikes. This would also include habits and mannerisms that distinguish this character, such as nervous habits, tics, stutters, and the sort. Beliefs can also be included in character psychology, as these shape the way people think and act. Our gangly tall character might be uncomfortable with his height and this would show in a slouch or a general discomfort or uneasiness when interacting with shorter people.

I recommend separating professional and biographical characteristics even if a character’s professional description could be included in biography. This helps distinguish a character’s past from present. Biographical details would include information you’d find in a birth certificate: date of birth, place of birth, parents, and birth order. It would also include family history, places lived, educational background, religion, work background, affiliations, achievements, and awards. This is also where knowledge and skills can be described. A character’s professional description would focus on the character’s current job or occupation, skills, and knowledge. This can be significant because a character’s current job could explain a great deal about habits, work hours, milieu, relationships, preferences, economic status, and so on.

Creating characters can be tricky. After all, you are trying to create real people–or beings, as the case may be–on paper through nothing more than words. We know real people are not perfect, so there really is no reason your characters should be perfect. In fact, they will be the most perfect if they are flawed. That is what makes your characters more real, more human. All the best literature in the world, from the age of classics to contemporary times, reveal characters with a particularly fatal flaw which becomes the cause of the character’s downfall. It can’t be just any arbitrary flaw, either, That fatal flaw must be part and parcel of your character’s complex being–just like any human being. The more intimately you know your character, the better you can lead your character through your story. You will also know what your characters will do, how your characters will think, feel, act, and react because you know every little trait and quirk your characters possess. All those details come from a well-written, highly detailed character description. As I also tell my students, whatever you write in your character profiles and character descriptions don’t necessarily have to appear in your story. Your character profiles and descriptions are your guides to how your characters will behave throughout the story, what they think, do, and plan to do. At no time must you feel obliged to dump your whole character description on your readers in one sitting, unless you plan to choke your readers on unnecessary information. Sure, the information might be important, but not all at once. The way to reveal your character to your readers is gradually. We do not get to know any one person we meet in real life in a single sitting. As a matter of fact, it sometimes takes us years to get to know people–and even then, we sometimes never get to really know every little thing there is to know about them. In the same way we reveal the setting in a story as it is encountered by the characters, we should reveal characters in the story as they are encountered, and character traits and details as they would be revealed in real life. Think of it the same way you meet a real person: the first thing you notice are physical details. Their appearance, their dress, their mannerisms. If you are in the same situation, you might discover that person’s professional attributes–what their job is, what skills they have, where they work. As you continue to interact with that person, you discover a little more–maybe a bit of their family, where they live, where they used to work or study. The longer your relationship and interaction, the more you learn about that person. That is just how your readers should encounter and be acquainted with your characters. Of course, there are ways to accelerate the process, for instance, in an interview or a tragedy–nothing reveals character more than a tragic event. This is when people are at their weakest and also when we see just how strong they really are. Regardless of the scenario you create to reveal your character, remember that not everything will be revealed at once. It’s always good to keep some things a mystery. It’s one of the reasons people are interesting.

On Writing: Developing your Fictional World

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Writing fiction requires the creation of the world within which your characters exist. The shorter the fiction, the smaller the world, simply because you don’t have much time to include or describe a very large world in short stories. In fact, one of the limitations of a short story is restricting the action to a single scene. On the other hand, if you write a novel, your world will necessarily be as big as wherever your story takes your characters.

World creation is not simple and becomes less so as the world expands. You need to know every single detail of your story world, whether it is modeled after a real setting or completely fictitious. The easiest way to do it is, of course, to pattern your story world after the real world you know. Whether it is a single room, a house, or a whole village, you can create your story world with better details than if you have no idea what the story world looks like. Is your character a teenage male? Pattern that after your teenage son or nephew or brother’s room. Is it an old house? Use your grandparents’ house or some old house in town which you have access to. Is it a museum? Visit your local museum. Do you want to use a complete village? Get a map of your village or some little village you want to use, rename the streets, change the names of the commercial establishments, put in your landmarks, and voila! You have your own village. You can add or remove buildings as you need, but regardless of the changes, you will have a complete setting where your characters can come alive. It’s a little more difficult if you’re writing fantasy and creating a whole world because you don’t have much to go by. Despair not! All you need to do is take a detailed geographical map of a particular area, region, island, country, or continent. The geographical map will give you a land with the physical features you want. Throw in forests, add a few more mountains or water systems and you’ll have a wonderful land your characters can explore and adventure in. As usual, I advise students to take advantage of the Internet. Get your maps from Google maps or Google Earth. You can also use Google to explore specific areas by using street views or searching for photographs that give you incredible details of nearly any place in the world. The Internet also provides you with boundless information on architecture, history, culture, anthropology, economics, technology – just about everything you need to create your own world in such minute detail the information could overwhelm you. Unlike the past when writers were limited to write only what they knew or imagined, writers nowadays can travel around the world and experience different cultures enough to include that in their stories. Your biggest problem will be how to become more selective, what to include, what not to include, and how to make use of the information you gather in your writing.

With the glut of information available on the Internet, writers can be overwhelmed and end up creating an information dump. Beginning writers, in particular, need to restrain themselves from including every bit of information they write when developing their setting. This is often the case with my writing students, who have felt so attached to the settings they developed, they felt compelled to include everything in their stories. The point of creating detailed settings prior to writing the actual story is to know the setting so intimately your characters can walk through them blindfolded–or, at the very least, not walk right through a wall another character just bumped into. Creating a detailed setting description helps you create consistency in the physical environment so it is clear your characters are moving around in the same space. What you should not do, however, is to describe the whole setting before the story begins. As far as I am concerned, the best way to describe your setting is to reveal it as the characters encounter it. If your story begins in the bedroom, by all means, describe the bedroom, but don’t go ahead and describe the rest of the house until your character leaves the bedroom and moves through the house. If your character stands at the bedroom window and looks out, by all means, describe the scene outside the window, but don’t describe what the rest of the neighborhood is like. If your character eventually goes down into the basement, don’t describe the basement until your character goes there. That way, you will never be in danger of dumping a load of irrelevant information on your readers. You will have less of a tendency to digress, as well. The same rule of thumb should be applied to other characters in the story, as well. Do not describe them or introduce them until your active character meets them or encounters them. It’s a good way to keep your readers involved and keep your writing focused.

Writing Short Stories: Beginning with Character

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In my short story writing classes this year, I started a new approach that’s working wonders. We started with creating the main character, the protagonist and giving that character a problem. I’m going out on a limb and saying that’s all you really need: a character and a problem. You might wonder how that becomes a story. The story comes from how that character reacts to the problem. Usually, you’d think a character with a problem would want to solve the problem. Not all the time. Sometimes, characters will try to avoid the problem or ignore it. Or they will try to get rid of the problem–not necessarily solving it–but hiding, disguising, or pawning it off on someone else. Does that sound familiar? That’s because that is exactly what people do when they’re faced with problems: they try to solve them, avoid them, or get rid of them. There is a requirement before you can even write how your character approaches the problem: you need to know your character intimately–possibly even more than you know yourself. You need to know your character’s traits, which I identify as physical, psychological, and professional. Remember, not all traits are ideal–just because nobody is perfect. All human beings are complex and have one or more shortcomings, flaws, or faults, and this reality should reflect in your characters. Physical traits include all physical characteristics, down to crooked yellowing teeth and a mole on the left elbow. Psychological traits include personality, emotional profile, even personality types. An easy way to get general psychological traits is using zodiac personality traits or look at personality profiles based on different tests (Enneagram or Myers-Briggs are easy to find). You can also include habits and preferences, similar to a slumbook — favorite color, favorite song, favorite clothes, favorite movie, favorite food, and all other favorites as well as any particular dislikes. Professional traits don’t necessarily mean your character is a professional. This is just a way of describing what a character does–and professional can simply be a housewife or househusband, student, or retired navy captain. After identifying your character’s traits, you need to create a biographical history, a background, family, friends, associates, milieu. You need to know where the character grew up, lives, works, studied. You need to know what your character has for breakfast and where he or she gets coffee. Finally, you need to examine your character’s motivations: Why do they do what they do? Why do they think, act, speak, or feel a certain way? What makes them happy, sad, angry? What are they passionate about? Only when you know how your character feels and thinks will you be able to write how your character will react, what your character will do when faced with a particular problem. Then you will have a story.