A moralistic Scottish busybody is suspicious of the quiet foreigner who moves to town. She is determined to “out” his secrets, though he does his best to keep his past hidden from the local community. At last the nosey gossip discovers that he is a German who fought with the Nazis. The German’s deep shame and guilt evokes the busybody’s compassion. She chooses to keep his secret safe, finally realising that it is not her place to cast judgement.

[SHORT STORY] A young woman loses her husband in a sudden accident. Following his death, she tries to distract herself by throwing endless parties and dinners, despite her increasing exhaustion. She tells her small daughter she is “keeping away the monsters”. One night (Christmas Eve) no-one is free to come. The little daughter, armed with toy sword, bravely offers to fight off the monsters by herself. The woman realises that her feelings are not to be battled or banished. She acknowledges her “monsters” as Grief and Loneliness, and at last allows herself to truly grieve.

An ineffectual man returns from an unsuccessful business trip to find that his wife has left him and his home has been burgled. Fearing a complete nervous breakdown, he sets off with his cat for a sanatorium in the far North of Scotland. His journey is long, and along the way he must overcome many challenges, but the thought of sanctuary drives him on. At last he reaches the retreat, only to find it all shut up. The man realises that it does not matter – simply by completing this arduous journey, he has uncovered his own inner strength.

Instructor Response

Nicely Done!

Each story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. And you’ve expressed an emotional arc and enlightenment in each. In the stories, be sure to keep conflict in the writing and the scenes, conflict that will relate to the overall theme and purpose of each piece.

In the next phase–you’ve got the stories down–think about developing your characters. You have the talent to conquer this stage, but spend time on this. The process can be endless, but you’ll know when you reach sufficient development in each character and where further work has less value.

Look into the soul, thoughts, and feelings of each of your protagonists and any other major characters. Develop each character through action, feelings, thoughts, dialogue as well as narrative description (which is the least effective for the literary fiction writer and needs much broader support from other modes).

As you develop your characters, remove yourself from the development character thinking and feeling and develop characteristics, thoughts, feelings that directly relate to who the character is becoming. For example, the Scottish busybody. What is her core desire in life? (Don’t let it be necessarily be something you want. Make it hers.) Is it to impose her moral view on the world? Is it to take out her frustrations at life failures by exposing others? Et cetera. (Needs much more thought.) Then live in the character for a while. What would she think about the Royal’s scandals. What does she think about sports violence at games. What does she think about global warming? How ill it affect her garden? Does she believe in God? What is her concept of a deity, afterlife, fatalism? What does she think is beautiful (images or sounds or thoughts or feelings that please her). Is she happy with the position of women in contemporary society? What does she think needs to be done.? What are her feelings about justice? Are there injustices that inflame her? Then think about how she’d respond to situations and conflicts you observe everyday. Think about the dialogue she’d use in conversation. How she’d respond to anger, pain, sorrow, happiness, ridicule, et cetera. Keep your development consistent with theme and purpose in the story that the characterization will logically support.

This entire next phase of the exercise is to encourage you to create the most dynamic, logical, credible, unique, engaging character you can. It’s what makes stories grow. Plots are secondary. It’s the characterization that grows the story and fills out the plot action . . . and contributes to your theme and purpose for the story.

You have all my encouragement. You’re great at this. Submit if you want further comment and direction on one or all three of these really good stories. I would look forward to how your work develops.

All the best and Happy New Year!

Bill Coles

  1. Dear Bill,

    Many thanks for your feedback and encouragement. I found this exercise invaluable, as plotting is something I have very much been struggling with. I also really like your ideas for developing the characters, and knowing them inside and out.

    I very much look forward to trying more of your assignments – and hopefully developing the above stories!

    Many thanks again.

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