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26 February 2008 @ 11:45 am
Challenge 6  
Write a story telling an anecdote about a memorable character.

People you've met are a rich source for your fiction. However, writing about your saints or monsters, clowns or heroes, turns out to be much harder than you might expect. You keep thinking, This is a terrific character, but I can't figure out how to tell the stroy.

Knowing too many incidents creates problems. There's the time Hubert climbed to the top of th LIttle River suspension bridge and did King Kong imitations, and the time he drove his MG into the Greyhoud bus station lobby, and the time he put a smoke bomb in the teacher's lounge. But many incidents don't necessarily form a satisfying story. The story needs a shape.

Choose (or invent) a single incident that is particularly revelatory, a Specimen. It should dramatize not just what the character does, but who he is - would could be going on inside him. You might tell a particularly hair-raising anecdote, like the time Hubert tried to get into the bank through the sewer system, but if the story stays on the surface of the acftion, what will readers come away with except the sense that this is a very wild guy? It might be better to tell about the time Hubert stole a major chemistry exam for a friend, but wouldn't look at the exam himself, even though he was in chemistry too. That incident seems more evocative, and indicates a character of some complexity. The bank incident seems more exciting, of course, but it has to be told in a way that is similarly revealing.

You have to ask: What kind of understanding do I have of this character? Do I know enough about Hubert's family and background to say more than he did this and he did that? Do I have the empathy to guess what went on in his head, how he thought and felt about what he did, and what he believed he was doing? And, how do I get that into the story?

A character comes out of a dense cultural, social, and psychological matrix. The more ricfhly this is suggested, the more resonant the portrait. Evocative details about the person's family, childhood incidents, intimate moments - all are clues that help us understand the character. And remember, too, that you are writing fiction; you're creating art. Actual facts are your raw material, not your boundries.

The story will focfus on a single main action that will provide tension, immediacy, and feeling. That means creating a setting, inventing dialogue, describing action, and rendering thoughts. While Hubert's stealing the exam, he's remembering last year, when his history teacher told him he'd probably end up in a state penitentiary.

Point of view makes a difference. For example, if you wanted to tell about an elderly woman who tried to convert the next door family to her faith in  baha'i by brining over wild strawberryjam and pictures of foreign children, the point of view is everything. To a busy parent, the story might be about an interfering, spooky old lady. To the child, the story could be of a fascinating, kindly eccentric. To the believe in Baha'i, it might be a story of her attempt to bring some life to a sad, sterile household.

If you write the story from the point of view of the memorable character, it forces you into imagining and rendering her thoughts and emotions rather than simply saying what the character did and said. A third-person central consciousness works well. Even more radical is doing it in first person, so that you must totally assume the voice and outlook of the character.

If you create a narrator character who tells about the memorable cfharacter, you can show their relationship, and their eeffect on each other. But the story must be about BOTH of them. If the narrator isn't developed enough, he'll seem an unnecessary character. And if the narrator is overdeveloped, he can take over the story like a garrulous guide who won't let visitors experience firsthand what they came for.

Specimen has multiple meanings. Colloquially it's a person who's different - "He's a real specimen." Biologically it's an example of a genus, a species, a type. And the medicfal sense is important too. The sample in the test tube is significant; the specimen reveals what's going on, unseen, inside a person.

Making Shapely Fiction, Stern, pg 21-23

Due Wed, March 5th.


Sincerely (without love),


Edit 2: To break up the 'strict' challenges we are going to have a little something different in the next coming weeks. It came one night while we were chatting that one word can be the door to a lot of different stories and interpretations. Therefore, a story entitled "Into the Woods" (5 points if you can guess the references) could be about  someone actually walking in the woods and what they find ; an anecdote involving someone encountering a hard part of their lives (find out they have cancer, other areas of uncertainty, etc) ; a metaphor for death.

You get the idea. Lots of angles, just off of one word or phrase. The challenge would be to write any kind of story, incorporating any themes or ideas we've prompted here - the only rule would be it MUST use that week's title prompt.

Everyone will comment ANONYMOUSLY with their choice for a title. First commenter will be 1, then 2, then etc. We'll randomly pick a place to start, and then every few weeks we'll pepper in this title challenge. So, if we start at comment 3, next time will be 4, then 5, then 1, then 2. Got it? Good.

We will also post these prompt submissions anonymously, but we'll talk about that later.

Comment here with your title submission.

After hitting "Post Comment" you'll see that box. Hit "More Options", circled above.

Make sure "Anonymous" is clicked!

Type in your ONE title submission (examples: 'Amanda' ; 'The Number Four' ; 'Yellow' ; 'Studying') and voila!

(Anonymous) on February 27th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)