Month: November 2012
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CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNERS FOR 2012
Cover Image Section
Winner: Cindy Keong, Water Drops
Short Story Section
Winner: Erol Engin, Sea Monkeys
Runner-Up: Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones, The River Man
Beverley Lello, In the Web
Luke Thomas, Bumper
Julie Twohig, Helen Shoots the Messenger
Tanya Davies, The Boy on the Trampoline
Winner: Glenn Ewing, In Peak Hour One Day
Runner-Up: James WF Roberts, Hot White Kiss
John Carey, One of Those Difficult Letters
Carla Sari, The Call
Bronwyn Evans, Farewell
Fran Graham, Two Balinese Flies
Peter Malapanis, Suck This
David McLaren, Silent
Vanessa Page, Confessional Box
Amra Pajalic, Drill Sergeant
Simon Petkovich, Dead Society
Marian Spires, mnemonic of love
Mary Stone, Sticky Note
Andrea Louise Thomas, The Little Red Wagon
Helen Thurloe, Shelf Self
November 14, 2012
Something we hear a lot about in writing is to ‘show, don’t tell.’
Showing allows us to paint a scene so that the reader experiences it as a character (usually the protagonist) does. It helps create the world of the story and is much more atmospheric than simply stating what’s going on, i.e. effectively talking at the reader.
Consider for example the following sentence:
- Bob was angry at Gloria.
Now you might question what’s wrong with that sentence. It tells us exactly how Bob’s feeling. He’s angry. At Gloria. Nice and simple. But that’s also a big part of the point. It tells us. It doesn’t create mood or setting or really help us understand an angry Bob or really contextualise the relationship he has with Gloria at this point (other than to establish the angry bit). Think about other ways to communicate Bob’s anger, e.g.
- Bob clenched his fists and glowered at Gloria.
That’s the most basic example, but it creates an image of Bob. We start to visualise him. We can see his reaction in anger. The reaction also implies potentially other consequences, e.g. with Bob clenching his fists, will he strike Gloria? Is he trying to refrain from striking Gloria? Already this very simple scene – five words when we tell it, eight words when we show it – has taken on a whole new meaning.
Another issue that occurs with telling is exposition. E.g.
- Bob had been a computer programmer for five years. He didn’t like it, but it was a living.
Here, we’re being told Bob’s circumstances. Some stories have reams of exposition where it’s really just the author telling the reader the backstory to set up the rest of the narrative. Be on the lookout for this. Lots of authors use it in digressions, sometimes to the point that you forget where the story was by the time you return to it.
Showing this can be difficult, and we can’t always do it exactly in the same place as the source material. Sometimes, it requires taking this information and finding another opportunity to seed it into the story. For example, Bob might be having a conversation with Gloria earlier, e.g.
- ‘So what do you for a living?’
‘Yeah? That sounds interesting.’
‘It’s not. Need to find something else. After five years, enough is enough.’
Again, this is the most basic example, but we’ve found a new way to relay this information and now learn it as one of the other characters learns it. It’s no longer exposition but discovery. More than that, it creates mood and shows us a bit about Bob. From this self-deprecating answer, Bob seems to be a bit sullen. We didn’t get that when we just told the reader this information.
- Bob was heartbroken when Gloria left him.
How else could we convey this information? Think about it for a moment. Here’s just a few alternatives off the top of my head:
- in a conversation with another character
- he might ring her, leave a message on her voicemail
- he might stare mutely at a picture of her.
The list could go on. And on.
When you write, think about how you relay information. Sometimes, telling is unavoidable. But try to minimize it when possible. It not only makes for more effective, evocative storytelling, but will challenge you to look at the structure of your story in a new light, and reconsider how it unfolds, opening your mind (and imagination) to new possibilities.
November 7, 2012
So far, we’ve looked at the following aspects of character-building:
- the character’s name and how it defines them.
- the way they look and how you introduce description into your narrative.
- the psychology and motivation of what drives your characters.
In this last instalment, we’re going to look at filling out the details of the character’s world. Many of these details might seem irrelevant, but when writing – particularly if working on a novel – it’s amazing how these details can influence the evolution of your story.
For example, consider diagramming your characters’ (or at least your protagonist’s) family tree. Who are his parents? How long have they been married? Are they still alive? If not, how did they die? Do they have siblings? Are they married? Do they have kids? (This would make your protagonist an uncle or aunt.) There’s lots of fascinating minutiae which can come just from a simple tree.
What about your character’s environment? Where do they live? Who are their neighbours? Consider blueprinting their residence, so you can always know where they are at any given time, or where they have to go to get from Point A to Point B, e.g. if they’re in the bedroom and somebody knocks at the front door, what does it take to get there? It mighn’t factor in the story at all. But there are times your story might demand an awareness of space and how your character moves through it.
Another consideration is your character’s everyday routine and whether they have any hobbies. When they wake up, what’s the first thing they do? What do they do in their spare time? How about their job? Where do they work? Who do they work with? What are their hours?
There are lots of these little details, seemingly meaningless in isolation, but which comprise your character’s world. Think of yourself as a person and a day in your life. Think about how these things influence your day. It could be as major as waking up and going to the gym first thing in the morning, or as small a cup of coffee to kick off the day.
Let’s say, for example, we’re writing a relationship story. We’ve decided the woman is going to be conscientious (if not obsessive) about her weight, so she goes to the gym every weekday morning, whereas the man must have his morning cup of coffee to function.
So, this man and woman have been dating. They have a romantic dinner, go back to her place, and sleep together. Morning dawns. Where does each character go from here? Their patterns are now compromised. Because the woman is a gym junkie, does she shoo the guy out? If she’s conscientious of her weight, does she even let him see her naked in daylight? Maybe she shoos him out right after sex the night before? Is the man surly in the morning? Does he rifle the woman’s kitchen looking for coffee? Perhaps she’s a health nut and has only decaffeinated, or nothing at all.
There are a lot of possibilities and, as you can see, those little details we’ve attached to each character are now directly influencing the story’s evolution, whereas previously we might’ve just let the story blandly run its course. At the very best, these little details help stimulate new ideas and outcomes we might not have previously considered. These can be far more authentic than anything contrived. What’s more, they can help propel your story when writer’s block threatens. Unsure what comes next? Well, what does your character usually do at this given time?
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine just how many details you need for your character(s). If you’re writing a short piece – a story of only two thousand words, for instance – you mightn’t need such exhaustive details. If you’re planning a novel, you might want to get into your character’s world and truly plan it out.
It’s worth considering, as knowing as much about your characters as possible can help layer your story, provide consistency for the way your characters act (and react), and influence what happens next.