Edinburgh-based independent publisher Bright Red have, this week, given us a sneak peek inside their guide Learn to Write by Dr Christopher Nicol. On top of support for essay writing, there are large sections dedicated to honing your creative writing skills. Here, we look at the short story:
The aim here is to create characters that readers feel they truly know. That’s no mean achievement given that in short stories we have only a brief amount of time to make their acquaintance. So just how do you set about creating believable characters? Characters who come to life on the page need individual personalities to make them credible to readers, and this comes from detailed observation.
PUTTING FLESH ON BONES
For some people, character creation comes very naturally. But if you struggle a bit, here are some ways of thinking about this.
SHOWING NOT TELLING
Certain brief actions by a character can save you many words of character explanation. It may be something habitual and simple like cracking their fingers when they get nervous. If the fingers get cracked, you are telling readers your character is suddenly ill at ease. Why, we wonder? Sometimes the habit will be habitual, sometimes it will be violently out of character, such as a glass thrown at a mirror. At these points, you are signalling in your story that you have reached moments of real crisis, important for developments in the narrative.
In Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck first introduces the character of Curley using the ‘interpretation’ approach. Then Steinbeck shifts into ‘showing-but-not telling’ mode:
We know from these movements that we are dealing with a violent, dangerous person. The physical description did not give this away, but the body movements certainly did. Just minutes into his appearance in the novel his character is established.
More info: Learn to Write.