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06 March 2008 @ 10:56 pm
Challenge #7  
Look how unslackerish I am peeps. Next challenge for your pleasure.

DUE: Friday, March 14'th
EDIT: Since we've all been especially slackerish, what with Spring Break and all on mine and Michael's end I'm extending the due date. The new due date will be Friday, March 21'st. This time, no slacking off kiddies. ;)


Put a main character in a situation that draws people together--a party, a competition, a meeting, a holiday festival. For example, Rosa Ciro is a young history lecturer at the retirement dinner for Professor Clarke. She's holding a cup of red punch in one hand. She can hear the Civil War historians teasing a woman graduate student about her feminist research. The Europeanists are complaining about parking spaces. Rosa sees how the professors fondle their vest buttons and comb their hair over their bald spots. She watches the bored spouses take up defensive positions on the sofas. It's the odd, minutely specific details that make a culture vivid on the page.

Create tension by telling the story from the point of view of a character who knows the culture intimately, has been raised in it or belonged to it, but now feels alienated. In a way, she knows it too well. The strain makes her rendering of the event crackle with tension. Rosa has been an adjunct teacher for four years. She knows that most of the faculty can't stand Professor Clarke, that even if she gets her dissertation published, the department won't hire her full time because the Medievalists are plotting to get the position, and also, there's no alcohol in the punch.

Another strategy is to tell the story from the point of view of a newcomer, a stranger. The outsider can see with fresh eyes what the group accepts as too ordinary to notice. Your character could be the wife of a first-year history professor. She overhears the casual sexist jokes or notices the way the professors never listen to each other. It's important, however, that you know the group well enough to be perceptive. Whether it's a meeting of Parents Without Partners or a Cajun homecoming, if you don't know the subculture intimately, your character is likely to notice only the most obvious mannerisms, or the story will simply reveal your own prejudices.

Don't let one person or a few people monopolize the story. Let your character hear snippets of talk as well as longer conversations. Keep her own dialogue short, and don't give her any speeches that would explain the story away. How can a such a story end? The event itself can supply a natural end. The character doesn't have to act out what she feels. The drama between her and her surroundings is enough for a story.

Pages 25 & 26, Making Shapely Fiction