“In all major genres, vivid detail is the life blood of fiction…the reader is regularly presented with the proofs—in the form of closely observed details – that is what is said to be happening is really happening.” - John Gardener, The Art of Fiction
“When people ask me the personal-experience question, my response is that I write from my personal experiences, whether I’ve had them or not…I treat it personally; if it is not personal, I don’t want to be involved. If it is solely intellectual, some concept of puzzle I’m tempted by, I will explore it until I find the personal element and something sparks. Having a feeling for my material means sending myself on each journey, whether I’ve actually been there or not, and it involves the powerful act of the imagination that good writing requires: empathy.” – Ron Carlson, Ron Carlson Writes A Story
I was recently asked to do a professional workshop for middle school teachers. I had never done one before--and so I was told to teach what I know. My first young adult novel, LIE, had ten distinct point of view characters; my upcoming novel, BEFORE MY EYES, has three. I've spent a lot of time figuring out to write compelling, realistic characters. But the older I get, the less I know, particularly about writing. Or, I've discovered how much I still need to learn. One thing I've spent a lot of time is developing characters. I feel like I've spent my whole life observing people but as a writer I've worked at looking, thinking, reflecting, dreaming about the characters I've writing.
Still, I'm a student of writing. So for this workshop, I read a book that an on line group recommended to me from a master teacher -- Ron Carlson. And I re-read a book that my first writing master, Raymond Carver, suggested that I read: The Art of Fiction.
Here are two character-writing exercises,inspired by Ron Carlson Writes a Story
and The Art of Fiction:
1) Take a simple act, say unbuttoning a shirt, pulling on a sock, pouring a cup of milk, and write it in slow motion, on that is, give it two hundred words. Don’t automatically lapse into hyperbole (and thereby the comic), but think of the effect: make it matter-of-fact, sinister, gross, full of touch, feel, sight, and smell. Go from a wide lens on the room to a close up on the details. Let the details show you the emotion of the moment.
2) Write two hundred words on a character entering a space (a car, a classroom, a kitchen, a backyard, etc). Inventory all the sense of the space as she moves toward the one thing that she desperately wants in that space. Take your time and describe in detail what the character sees, hears, smells, senses and knows – and doesn’t know—about the surroundings.
3. Bonus – Revise one of the above into a “flash” short story of 500 words. Delve deeper into the character with dialogue or more details on setting, other characters, and conflict. Read your story out loud to yourself before finalizing the work. Ask yourself: have you created a fictional dream or movie in the reader’s mind?Have I created it in my own?
And keep writing! And reading... look for my new novel:BEFORE MY EYES, the story of three fragile young adults at the end of a long, hot summer, from St. Martin's Press in February, 2014!