Monthly Archives: October 2018




Chekov’s characters] do not exactly forget to be themselves. they forget to act as purposeful fictional characters; they mislay their scripts; they stop being actors–James Wood, The Broken Estate

Writers are hopelessly dependent on characters. Besides being the chief elements readers can identify with,  they’re the only elements besides the writer that can change what happens. It’s what characters want or don’t want that changes things, and narrative arcs (and plots)  that don’t flow from their desires are rarely believable. (We all know about stories that end with lottery wins, people dying or another act of God.)

Characters are the victims or the heroes of the story. They are effected by events and push back against them–or don’t.  In fact, fiction depends on characters so much there’s a myth that you have to start with a clear idea of a character or characters. But characterization is a notion invented long after people began to tell stories. Some writers start their stories with an image, a plot, a title, a or scene and meet their characters later. And writers who start with characters may seem luckier, but often these characters resist a narrative arc. What is true is the eventually, the plot must flow from the motivation of the characters.  Characters either transform or don’t.  And transformation or resistance to transformation is a key element in creating the  illusion of time in fiction.


In the beginning of almost every good story, whether it is intentional or not, almost all writers consistently reveal the following information about the character. If you read any number of beginning pages, you’ll discover that this is true:



level of education


Except for one dramatic event (and sometimes not even one) the plot should flow from the motivations of the characters

You don’t have to start a story because of an interest in a character;; but ultimately the characters must begin to guide the story.

The writer is always separatefrom the characters.

Characters usually change stories by acting out of character in convincing ways orby having an opportunity to act out of character and thus change their lives and not taking the opportunity.

Most dialogue between characters reflects a relationshipbetween two people, rather than a monologue.

Although almost every good story identifies characters quickly, neverinclude something about a character that doesn’t interest you.


A Short Lexicon

Narrative persona— The narrative persona is the cloak–or personality–that the writer assumes in order to tell a story. One might think of it as the narrator behind the scenes—so even in first person narrations, there is an invisible puppet master guiding the unfolding of the story.

The narrative persona defines the writer’s relationship to the characters—whether the narrator feels distant from them, close to them. It also includes the writer’s sense about the truth of the story. Characters may believe things that the narrative persona isn’t convinced of, and may not believe things that the narrative persona is convinced of. Narrative persona is conveyed by tone, pacing, use of language, distance from characters, and concentration on (or lack of concentration on) description.  The persona in Felicity’s Journeyis a different persona from the one who wrote William’s Trevor’s short fiction.

Narrative personais different from point of view, which defines the various perspectives from which a story is told. Pont of view intersects with the work of the narrative persona because writers often feel a tension between the narrator, who in some sense is inthe story and  the omniscient writer (who is in some sense outsidethe story). One might say that the writer, who knows the story, is always banished from the story precisely because the knowledge prevents the unfolding and discovery of the story.

Embodiment—is the literal sense of a character’s body, moving through space and taking up room as a physical presence. A kinesthetic sense of a character lets you have  transmit a character instinctively.  Sometimes, it can create a character without a lot of description.  If you’re character is embodied, it’s often easier to convey how characters relate to the space around them—how they walk down the street, what objects are important to them.



Suggested Text:THE BROKEN ESTATE-by James Wood, Essays on Literature and Belief