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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Your Character In Short Fiction by Karen M. Gross

In short fiction it is vitally important that you convey a strong character as quickly as you can.  Your reader needs to be able to identify emotionally with your character within the first couple of paragraphs.  To do this you need to know as much as possible about your character.  

So where do you begin?

In the first stages of story development, your plot will often fill in some details of your character.  To play the starring role your character is going to need special skills or knowledge.  Does your heroine need to run up 50 flights of stairs or fly a spaceship?  Jotting notes about how these skills were acquired can give you the seeds of your character.  You might even get a name for your hero or heroine.

Physical description can be peppered through a story to build an image.  The Internet is the world’s greatest tool and the world’s greatest time waster.  When I need to see a character, I can spend hours searching galleries to find just the look I want for my character.  Magazines, sketches drawn on scraps of paper and other visual aids can help you keep your character’s appearance fresh in your mind.  

There is nothing worse than a character who goes through several different eye colors without the aid of contact lenses or a girl who’s hair bobs around her shoulders on one page and curls down her back on another.  A picture goes a long way towards keeping these details straight.  

Beyond job skills and looks, your character needs to have a personal history.  This is what brings fictional characters to life.  Snippets of back-story can be used to provide motivation.  Motivation is what makes your character move forward through the action of your plot.  You can also consider any racial or cultural issues.  A fifteen year old girl in the 15th century is going to have a very different on than a girl from America in 1960.
Example: You build up a lot more tension having an off-duty police officer walk in on a fast-food joint robbery than if your character was a librarian armed only with a book…although that has possibilities.

Your character also needs a name.  If you didn’t get one you liked earlier, try again now that you know a bit more about your character.  Does he/she have a defining character trait that is important to the story?  Is there something that defines your character? Example:  Is your character strong willed?  Brea, Bryan, Dickon, Godrick or Melissa. Is beauty what defines him/her?  Ami, Hatsumi, Sherman or Tiara. For last names a census report or a telephone book can be extremely helpful.  

Now you are dealing with a person, one with feelings and desires that your reader can connect with.  Now when your character walks into a fast-food joint in the middle of the robbery your character’s reactions draw your reader in and through their actions and perceptions bring your story to life.  They care about the out come and will follow along breathlessly as our heroine saves the day.

The final ingredient in creating a short fiction character is choosing how you are going to tell your character’s story?  Are we going to see into the minds of several characters?  Third person point of view allows the author to describe multiple characters by using he and she. Example: He stood on the porch, the wind blowing drops of rain to sting his bare arms and upturned face.  Being outside just made him feel better.  Of course, not a lot made him feel worse than one of her rants.

Do you want to tell the story looking through the character’s eyes?  This is harder, but can be very rewarding, putting your readers right into your character’s shoes. Example: I had seconds to take in the scene, the cashier with his hands up, the two men dressed in all black even to the stocking masks that covered their faces.  The situation could go south, fast, if I didn’t act.  Anger flooded me.  Didn’t these scumbags know I was off duty?  Hell, I had just finished a double-shift.  “Everything is okay.”  I said, raising my hands to show that they were empty.

Do you want to write it from the reader’s point of view?  This is the style that was used a lot in twist-a-plot stories. Example:  You open the door and the scent of dry dust and the stink of rotten wood carries to you on an outward rush of air.  The house seems to have been vacant for a long time.  To the left of the door is the light switch.  You reach out and flip the small lever. 

With a strong character you can convince your reader to suspend their disbelief, to shut out the rest of the, and come on an adventure with you.  Romance, Horror, Sci-fi or Fantasy, your reader will feel what your character does and experience your tale vicariously.


Title: The Killer Wore High Heels
Author: Karen M. Gross
Author Group
Publisher: XOXO Publishing
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BLURB: She's a vampire with a penchant for high heels and feeding on bad guys, with a band of hunters close on her trail.  When she decides to turn the tables on the hunters who stalk her, the results are...fiendishly appropriate.

2 comments:

  1. I use pictures, too. It helps in keeping character details straight. I also make a glossary & notes document where I list that sort of thing, so I can refer back when needed.

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. if wannabe writers would pay attention to things like this, they'd be a whole lot closer to being an author. great advice.

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