ASK YOUR CHARACTERS HOW THE STORY IS GOING
Do you ever wonder if you have a real plot in your short story––something that an editor will find satisfying and complete? It can be tough, but one way to find out is to imagine your main character in front of you and just ask him or her some questions. What questions? Ah, there’s the key.
Kurt Vonnegut said, ”Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
The first question to ask your character is what he or she wants. A character who wants for nothing is probably not someone an editor is going to find interesting. Let’s ask that question of the main characters in two short stories––one for young readers (Penny) and two from two different stories for intermediate readers (Hannah and Carter).
Author: Hi, so, tell me––what do you want most in the world right now?
Penny: I want to go back to my old preschool where all my old friends are.
Hannah: I want Olivia to move back to Texas before she ruins my life.
Carter: I want to make enough money to buy another new cell phone, but I don’t want to be bored to death doing it.
All of these wants are very serious for the main characters. Now, Penny and Hannah aren’t going to get what they think they want––Carter will, but he may learn something about being careful what you wish for. Penny’s family has moved, and they aren’t likely to move back. And Hannah’s nemesis isn’t likely to move away just because that’s what Hannah wants. We can sense the problems inherent in their desire right from the moment they tell us what they want. And that leads us to the second question.
Sol Stein said, “Our instinct as human beings is to provide answers, to ease tension. As writers our job is the opposite, to create tension and not dispel it immediately.”
For tips on providing that tension and more questions to ask your characters, listen to the episode.
Listener Question of the Week:
If I’m writing with an American readership in mind, should I downplay any cultural differences when writing a story from another country?
Listen to the episode for the answer!