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Character-driven Fiction: Toward Believabilty

Walter Butts, MFA's picture
BFA in Creative Writing Blog
Character-driven Fiction: Toward Believabilty

The novelist Paul Auster has written, “As long as there’s one person to believe it, there’s no story that can’t be true.” 

And what compels that one reader to believe, especially if the narrative consists of characters that might be difficult to identify with?   The challenge here is to create characters in a way that goes well beyond identifying who they are, where they work, or where they live. It’s when a given character is revealed through what they think and feel, or through behavior that implies, subtly or not, something significant about that character that will eventually prove integral to the plot. 

To establish intimacy between character and reader, writers must first experience that intimacy with their characters.  As much as the reader should believe, so should the writer.

Here is an example of character-driven fiction writing from one of our very own Goddard graduates, alumnus Joshua Amses (BFAW '11) of Brooklyn NY, who has a new novel, Raven or Crow, forthcoming from Fomite Press this spring 2013.

An excerpt from one of the novel’s chapters:

"It occurred to me on the ride between Julian Falls and Dayton that I had not actually seen the surrounding area in daylight since my mother and I had driven through it four months earlier. If anything had changed, I didn’t notice. There were the expansive fields of corn burning in the toilsome earth beside asphalt meadows in which shoppers sheltered beneath the concrete arcades, perhaps weighing the distance between themselves and their automobiles cooking in the lot. This was all I knew of Ohio, America, a place without transition, no median between the functionally bucolic and tiresome pavement of this dreadful country, this place I might have stayed. But I discovered the upshot as we, the driver and I, careened past a modernist chapel whose ample yard abutted the thruway, and in which was sunk a fabricated pool or duckless duck pond, containing a gargantuan rendering of Jesus Christ, the water lapping at his chest, one of his hands raised toward the sky, the other clutching his robes to himself, his stone eyes, each the size of a dinner plate, raised father-ward, or toward the sky, his mouth contorted in that horrible way that has become the standard among churchmen. It was unclear whether he was being boiled or drowning, but I realized upon viewing this grotesque diorama that, questions of equity and poetic justice aside, there was very little here I would miss about Ohio, America."

Josh explains the premise of its intriguing, character-driven plot:

“Marlowe has recently moved back home to Vermont after flunking his first term at a private college in the midwest, when his sort of girlfriend, Eleanor, goes missing. The circumstances surrounding Eleanor’s disappearance stand to reveal more about Marlowe than he is willing to allow. Rather than report her missing, he resolves to find Eleanor himself. Raven or Crow is both an adultolescent noir, and a story of mistakes rooted in the ambivalence of being young and without direction.”

What has been your experience writing intimate characters?

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