Monday, January 31, 2011

Fiction Characters

Oh, dear! Where to begin?

I'm muddling my way through Chapter Five "Fiction Characters" in Picture Writing: A new approach to writing for kids and teens by Anastasia Suen, and there is so much wonderful stuff in this chapter that I am in a quandary as to what to tell you and what to leave as a surprise.

As I read through Picture Writing I'm finding a lot of information that I've read or heard before. But Suen says it in such a clear way that, almost without exception, the tidbits become much clearer to me. Maybe her style just strikes a familiar chord with me. Or maybe we're on the same wave-length or something mystical like that. Or, maybe these principles are finally making it through my thick head.

No matter. I'm finding so much worth repeating that I'm going to hop through this chapter sharing some of those tidbits with you today. Can you please leave a comment and let me know if any of these statements sounds familiar and where you may have read or heard them before? That would be splendiferous, dear readers!


Fiction tells the truth in a way that nonfiction can't. While nonfiction is about truths you discover outside yourself, fictional stories are about truths you discover inside yourself. The reader discovers these truths by living vicariously through the characters of a story.  (page 86)

Is that one of the reasons Jesus told so many stories?

...sensory details draw readers deeply into the scene, making it real.  (page 88)

Draw readers into the story be using words that allow them to use their senses...  (page 88)

What the character says and does in a story shows readers what that character wants. What the character says and does is the external plot. What the character wants is called the internal plot.  (page 89)

...The more specific you are, the easier it is for readers to see the character...Action shows readers a picture.

Is that why Jesus began most of His parables with something like, "There was a certain farmer...?"


With dialogue and action, you can show readers what the main character wants, or the internal plot. With dialogue and action, you can also show readers what the main character does, or the external plot.  (page 90)

You create round characters by imitating real life. Real people have strengths and weaknesses.  (page 92)

Time and again, conflict between characters comes in threes. A character triangle is a natural for conflict.   (page 92)

Hmm...how many of Jesus' parables involved character triangles? The Prodigal Son? (Luke 15:11ff) The Unmerciful Servant? (Matthew 18:23 ff) The Father with Two Sons?  (Matthew 21:28ff) The Talents? (Matthew 25:14 ff) The Friend at Midnight? (Luke 11:5ff) The Rich Man and Lazarus? (Luke 16:19ff) The Sower and the Seed? (Matthew 13:18ff)

Picture books tend to have a single triangle...

Middle-grade and YA novels, on the other hand, have hundreds of pages to explore triangles...The more characters you have in a book, the more triangles you can explore! Each triangle comes back somehow to the main character and his or her journey of discovery.  (page 94)

Telling gets to the point more quickly, so it may seem more efficient. But telling comes from the outside, not the inside. Telling talks about the character. showing lets readers see the character in action.  (page 95)

Weave the action and the dialogue in your story around your character's biggest concern. Who your character is and what he wants is the story.  (page 96)

Summary isn't story. Summary is background information. Summary is the author talking about the story.

Scene, on the other hand, should make up the majority of your story. The details that show what the character says and does are the story, not explanations from on high.   (page 96)

The character's emotions are the heart of the story...

Allow your readers to get to know your character the way they would a friend, bit by bit...

Write the pictures you see when you look through the eyes of your character. Character is story.  (page 98)

So, Jesus occasionally taught in summary. He told His disciples truths from God. Often, very often, Jesus taught through parables. He showed His followers truths from God in well crafted stories.

That's the kind of story teller I want to be. An "Ah-hah!" story teller. A picture-writing story teller. Like Jesus.

p.s.  Have you registered yet? You know, for Write2Ignite!

3 comments:

Linda A. said...

Hi Jean,

Fundamental skills brought to light in a way you can remember. Good deal!

Carol Baldwin said...

I have been wondering about internal and external plot for awhile. Thanks for defining them. The stuff about sensory scenes I've heard before. Will add this blog post to my class "reading list" in my Writing for Children class.

Jean said...

Thanks,Linda and Carol. /Picture Writing/ is a great book.

Jean