Make the plot difficult for your characters

In 2006 I took a creative writing course in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. The main lesson I remember is that the author’s job is to make things as difficult as possible for the characters in the story. In my novel I struggled with this because of its diary-like, autobiographical nature. I didn’t want to make things hard for anyone! Hence the lack of conflict.

I am now learning that creative writing is not about solving lots of problems. I haven’t really worked out what it is about entirely. For me, so far, it is an artistic endeavour of personal expression that will hopefully resonate with the reader. In my PhD I asked the question: “why did people read?”. There were multitudinous answers that you can find in my thesis if you feel so compelled.

The reading lives of English men and women, 1695-1830 

I have received feedback on my short story now and it is so helpful. I am going to a writing group tomorrow to work on applying changes that will definitely improve the piece. I need to make things more difficult for the main character. This will make the story more universal.

While the process of writing is useful for me, ultimately the work needs to get out there. As a content designer I am constantly thinking about the user/reader. While it is not creative writing at my job, similar principles apply. Writing (and art) involves creator/expression and reader/reception. And that reception is not passive. Ultimately, the readers have licence to interpret as they will. Therefore, writing and art are acts of bravery and vulnerability.

The more challenging the plot line, the more rewarding the progression in the characters. The more rewarding the progression in the characters, the more human the story.

 

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Rough draft stage

This evening I have finished the first draft of my short story and sent it to a good friend who is one of my readers. I’m feeling nervous as I always do when sharing my work, but I know feedback is essential. I have joined a few different writing groups over the last several years and they have all been useful in this respect. I’ve enjoyed the community feel and mutual support.

An interesting dilemma I’ve had while writing the short story is, “what am I trying to say?” When I was writing for my history degrees, I was supposed to convey an argument based on evidence. That seems very rational and easy (relatively) compared to creative writing.

The lack of parameters in story writing brings with it freedom, but also fears of emotional exposure. Even though to study history, one must study the historians (it is famously said), reading about the factual past leaves less room to consider the historian than I’ve found with creative writing. Then again, all reading involves an awareness of the author. A book is not composed by a no one in the aether and we know this. So perhaps the historian and the novelist are not so different after all.

It’s a question for postmodernism, I think. In the meantime, the rough draft of the short story is finished.