Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creating Short Stories 08 – Characters

Did you have a good look at the story Kate Chopin: Story of an Hour

Did you see the beginning, the middle, and the end? Did you notice how close to the end the story began?


What made that story interesting to read? We might venture, the plot and that might be true, but only partially. What makes a story interesting, whether a short story or a full-length novel, resides in the characters in the story. The people in the story need believability; they must interest the readers. Maybe more importantly, the writer must somehow make the reader care about the characters—especially the protagonist. Think about it. If you don’t care one way or the other about the central character, why read to story?

How does a writer get to know and understand the characters in a story so he or she may impart that information to readers? I mentioned earlier in Creating Short Stories 05 - Kurt Vonnegut Speaks

about people from our lives. Some people may have enough people in their lives that and can just open memories and have all the interesting, loveable people readers can root for. I’m not one of those lucky souls.

I get many of my characters from my home away from home: Starbucks. Some mornings, I arrive there early to watch the people grabbing their morning beverage. Or listen to the one-sided cell phone conversations such as this:

“Hi, how are you?”

“I love you.”

“Did I wake you up?”

“You pig!”

Really, you can’t make up some of what you hear.

When I studied writing poetry, I sat and watched people so I could write poems about their faces and other attributes. I still do this with a more comprehensive bent.) I’d try to imagine what joy or sorrow motivated their expressions. Some cues to watch were the smiles, frowns, or looks of puzzlement. Another clue to their feelings came by observing their posture. What do you think someone sitting with his or her shoulders hunched over and staring at the floor might feel at that particular moment?

Later, I used the captured feelings for characters in stories. Perfectly fun!

Other ways exist to capture and develop characters. For instance, keep a journal. A notebook will suffice; even an electronic version will be adequate. I use a NEO from Renaissance Learning

. It boots up in a few seconds. You can type in the notes and power it down with the push of a button.

A journal provides a continuous document, and you can use it for ideas and notes or whatever. Even how you feel that day, or write about interesting things that happen. And if nothing interesting happened, make it interesting. You are a writer.

Next week we’ll continue with characters.
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