For a character to come to life, usually we need to have a strong motivation (desire or fear), and a negative one might work even better than a positive one—namely fear of a perceived threat. Many genres are based on the generative and imaginative force of fear—murder mysteries, horror, ghost stories, war stories, disaster stories, etc. So we’ll do a few character sketches and setting sketches, and put the characters into the settings, imagining the potential threats. The threats could come out of the setting directly or from other characters in the setting or even better, from the character as an inner demon of temptation. The threat could be a result of misperception, from the POV of an unreliable perceiver and narrator.
Another option in evolving plots is to start from a predicament, from the outside circumstances, and to work our way inward to the heart and the soul of the protagonist. Eventually even the outward events become inward ones, experiences, grounded in the basic psychology and motivation.
We will read a few exemplary stories—all available online–where this principle is at work: “The Blue Hotel” (fear of being murdered in a Western setting); “Father Sergius” (fear of succumbing to one’s own desires).
We’ll aim to draw up scenes with the character facing the threat. We’ll write convincing descriptions, engaging as many of our senses as we can, and we’ll employ fully our paranoid talents. At the end of the week, you will have a groundwork for at least one awesome story, and quite probably a draft of one.
About Josip Novakovich:
Josip Novakovich emigrated from Croatia to the United States at the age of 20. He has published a dozen books, including a novel, April Fool’s Day (in ten languages), five story collections (Infidelities, Yolk, Salvation and Other Disasters, Heritage of Smoke, and Tumbleweed) and three collections of narrative essays as well as two books of practical criticism. His novel, Rubble of Rubles, is scheduled for publication in 2022. His work was anthologized in Best American Poetry, the Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Prize Stories. He has received the Whiting Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Ingram Merrill Award and an American Book Award, and in 2013 he was a Man Booker International Award finalist. He has taught at Penn State, University of Cincinnati, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and now at Concordia University in Montreal.