I have been writing fiction off and on for over half of my life, and I never really considered how difficult it is to make up characters and stories until I started teaching Creative Writing at the high school where I work. I mean, my characters typically come to me almost fully developed with personalities and problems unique to them. All I have to do now is tell their stories. I’m realizing it’s not that easy for everybody, especially new writers.
Case in point – last week’s lessons on creating a scene with a character and placing characters in conflict. I taught the lessons using powerpoint notes. I provided examples of relatively well-known authors. Then, I assigned my students to write page-long narratives utilizing setting and conflict with their characters, which they dutifully completed. Some were excited for me to read their work, others were just relieved to get it done.
As I read a few of the samples thrust at me by eager students, I noticed that many of the pieces contained an awful lot of “telling” and not much “showing.” My budding wordsmiths would describe what the character was wearing and where he was, and who was with him, even what he said (though not as dialogue), but it was all stifled and, well, boring!
I mean, I could clearly see in my mind how I would have rewritten the scene. Since the short story requirement this semester is only three-to-seven pages, I would have started the story very near the action so as not to waste any words or pages. I would have included vivid descriptions of actions being performed by my characters, the reactions by other characters, and the conversations (with or without tags) between them.
I cringed for these characters, and for my fledgling authors, realizing that a nine weeks’ period is too short a time to learn the necessary skills to develop an idea into a readable work.
But as I sit here writing this post, I recognize that these are not my characters. They’re not asking me to write their stories; they’re asking some of my students. It’s my job to help these novice writers, by encouraging them to draft the stories that they are required to write for my class to get a grade, by supporting them when they get those obnoxious characters, like mine, that just won’t shut up until their stories are told, or by teaching them the narrative skills I have been practicing all of my adult life and have yet to master.
Tracie Roberts Westberry is a married mother of two who squeezes in precious writing time between teaching at a local high school, completing her Master’s classes, couponing for grocery deals, and preparing for the possible economic collapse caused by the closing of the Twinkie production plants. She is simultaneously working on three novels in her Élan series: Echo, Bound, and Blurred. You can learn more about her by visiting her website at: http://www.tracieroberts.wordpress.com.