Thursday, May 10, 2012

Character + Setting = Story (Almost)

Part I: Character
A recent Facebook discussion on my wall led one of my FB friends Leslie Guccione, an author of 30 books, to blog about the importance of totally knowing your character and setting. 
Leslie Guccione

I have often thought how stories are built from the inside out.  Appropriately, her blog on character is named, "Know Your Characters Inside and Out." She listed a variety of questions writers should ask about their character. This list is similar to an handout that is in Teaching the Story which you can download here

I hope you'll read her entire blog, but here is her ending advice:

Whether your character works against the background you’ve devised or reflects it in stereotypical detail, you’ve provided a solid frame on which to weave voice, behavior, attitude and goals as you hook your reader with their tale you’re telling.

By the way, I highly recommend Donald Maass' book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. His exercises are probing and will make you get to know your character in such a way that you can portray him or her authentically.

Part II: Setting
On Leslie's blog about setting, "Your Character's Physical World," she uses two fantasy books to demonstrate the importance of creating extensive, believable worlds for characters to live in. She lists several aspects of a fictional world that the writer must create. You can also download my handout, "Set the Scene" or "Create an Imaginary World" to help you begin this brainstorming process. 

Leslie summarizes that blog with, "Your goal is to breathe life into every individual & create atmosphere for every setting. You have to take your readers there. And they have to want to stay."

I found Richard Russo's article, "Location, Location, Location: Depicting Character Through Place" in Creating Fiction (Story Press, 1999) to be helpful on this topic.

Part III: Plot
What about plot and conflict? Let me recommend two books to help you tackle that most important story componenent. The first is Many Genres One Craft: Lessons in Writing Genre Fiction which, according to Leslie, is crammed with good advice. She should know--she contributed an article and it just won its second "Best" award for a writing how-to book in 2012.

Second, consider purchasing Becky Levine's book, "The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide." She has an excellent chapter on critiquing for plot along with a great deal of other useful information. 



Leslie Davis Guccione said...

Well done! Thanks for the shout-outs & links.

Barbara Younger said...

It took me a long time to understand that I need to really know my characters. I just plow in and then get myself in trouble for not knowing them better ahead of time.

I'm nuts over the Donald Maass book. I'll look for Many Genres. Plot is my downfall.

Carol Baldwin said...

Barbara-I hear you! Plowing in feels pretty familiar to me too! But I'm also learning that the longer I "live with" my characters, the better I get to know them. Thanks for stopping by.

elysabeth said...

Very cool. When I teach my basic writing workshop to kids and teachers, the first thing I ask them is what three things do you need to write a story?, and the answers I get range from a title to an ending to everything in between. Rarely do I get the answer of characters, plot and setting.

That brings me to my latest wip, Imogene: Innocence Lost. Since the story is inspired by several pictures (they all will be worked into the storyline), I've not had a chance to really get to know my characters or setting at all. So, I'm in a bit of a stuck zone. I haven't a lot of time to do the research necessary to advance the story. I also haven't gotten to know my characters that well since the story is just coming to me in pieces. This is going to be a long-term story for me and I'm so used to doing quick, short stories where it isn't necessary to really know your characters inside out or your setting as most of the times the stories have preset settings or characters (I usually write for contests). I've got to get past the block or procrastination and just get to it. I also doubt this story is going to work well since it is time dated and setting specific but the timeframe and setting may not be condusive to the plot.

Thanks for posting this much needed topic reminder - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery

Linda A. said...

This post is a goldmine of riches for all who enter. Thank you very much. I plan to prospect here often.
Linda A.

Carol Baldwin said...

THanks, Linda--You are such a wonderful cheerleader and blog follower!!!
And ELysabeth-I hope this blog (and the books mentioned) will you help you along your path to publication!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

A great showcase of excellent books on craft for all writers! Thanks, Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, CLara!

Jean said...

I really appreciate your generosity, Carol. You are consistently helping other writers by sharing valuable info on this blog.


Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Jean. I appreciate your support and I'm glad the information is useful.

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