Friday, June 16, 2017

Take two characters and create a conflict.

In the creative writing class I am teaching at this time, we are talking about characterization. I favor character-driven stories and books, so I pay great attention to how I form my characters.

I think it is a mistake to spend a paragraph or two describing a person in your story. We want to learn about this person as we read the story, just as we learn about someone in real life. 

We can describe a person's looks as soon as we see him. And we can describe the person's voice as soon as we hear him speak. But it takes a while to understand the motives and actions of a person.

A recent assignment I gave my students was to help them give the reader a good image of a  person without overtly telling the reader what he looks like, sounds like, thinks and does.

Put two people in a setting together. Let them have a conflict. Have the two  people work out the conflict and resolve it. In doing so, help us to see the two people and understand why  they feel as they do and why they act in a certain way. 

As author, Terry Kay, said at our recent conference, A Day for Writers, there are three major players involved in your story. One is the author, second is the characters, and the third is the reader. What we leave out is as important as what we put in. We can show by the character's actions and his words that he is angry, loud, a bully and more without telling the reader, "he is angry, loud and a bully."

Describe what the character looks and sounds like when he is angry, loud and his actions when he is a bully. The reader will fill in what you leave out but you give the clues.

In a short story I wrote, Big Al grabbed his ex-wife's wrist and squeezed it, hard. 
He yelled at the waitress complaining about his food. 
He demanded his ex-wife come home to him, and later threatened her.
He ran his  hand over his ruddy face. 
He laid his  cowboy hat on the seat beside him. He opened the two top buttons on his cowboy shirt. 

The reader creates in her mind just what Big Al looks like from the actions taken and the  type of person he is. 

My students wrote some excellent short stories with their two characters and their conflicts. Maybe you can do the same. 


Elephant's Child said...

I love Terry Kay identifying readers as major players. Players who bring something of themselves to the table, just as the author does.
And, as a reader, little irritates me more than being 'told' rather than shown. It implies that I am too stupid to work things out for myself. Not a good start to the relationship...

Glenda Council Beall said...

I love readers like you, EC. I will quote you to my students.
Thanks for taking your time to leave a comment.

Abbie Taylor said...

This sounds like a good exercise. I'll share your post with a couple of my writing groups. Thanks.