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Part Three: Character, Voice & Setting

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Taylor Brown-Evans

on 30 May 2018

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Transcript of Part Three: Character, Voice & Setting

Introduction to
Creative Writing

(Character, Voice & Setting)
Elements of Storytelling
Character & Plot
Character = Plot
NOT a person but instead an
of storytelling -- a vehicle on which the action of the story plays out.
the story through their attempts to achieve their
& needs
IRL, we exhibit our personality through our

& human actions are driven by

In other words: we don't act unless we
& we don't interact, unless we

The What:
Character Wants
Th me
The How:
External Distinction
: What they wear, how they move, how they act.
Internal Complexity
: What they think, want, believe
Remember: Each character, no matter how minor or unlikable, is the hero of their own story
But also: A character is an element. Know a
about them, but only include what is needed to drive the story.
Arlene is both kinds of music: country and western.

When she stomps toward Earl, kicking up sawdust across the worn parquet dance floor, faux gold rings curved around her liver-spotted fingers and aquamarine rhinestones hanging around her neck, sweat beaded above her painted lips, eyelashes done just so, he sees his own hurt in her. He turns away and orders a beer.

"Earl, gaddammit, you're late." Arlene slaps his back.
"Sorry, honey, I've been packing."

"Packing? Something you forgot to tell me?" She runs her fingers along the marbled snaps on his shirt, tugs on his bolo, stands on her toes to reach his broad neck. "I oughta hang you for making me wait so long."

The first beer of the day is cold and goes down fast. The fiddles and dobro are loud and bittersweet. They stink like she does.

"You can't hang an innocent man."

"Baby, you're anything but innocent."
He laughs, pulls her in by the doughy flesh of her hip, presses his weight into her, and rests his chin on her head. Her hair is sticky and stiff but it smells clean. "You oughta know."

"I wish I didn't."

He drains his beer and sets it down. Nods for another. "Can't we have some fun tonight?"

"Fun seems to be the only thing you know."
On the dance floor, Earl holds Arlene tight, her hand damp in his, the tips of his fingers firm on her spine. He smiles as he leads her; they slide in swirls of sawdust, float in and out of other couples, counterclockwise around the room to the twang of Don Williams. He twirls her like a tiny doll, her eyes wide, boots gliding and stepping, thighs and calves brushin in long strides. Their silver belt buckles click when they come together.
He is not a religious man, nor does he carry a great deal of faith in himself unless a woman puts it there. An ache of sadness tugs at him when he brings her in close again and whispers that he's leaving in the morning, that he'll be gone for a few days to see his brother. And when she pulls away and stops dancing, he's certain he has already lived the best part of his life.
Two Step
, by John Vigna
(Take note of how Vigna reveals his characters' internal complexities. How does he make them externally distinct?)
Consider their:
• Physical description
• Emotional description
• Dialogue
• Actions
The language you use as the author. Your particular quirks of speech or the persona you adopt when telling the story. The tone you adopt for storytelling
How your characters speak. Their voice and diction.
David Mitchell's
Black Swan Green
Mum was at the dining room table... Dad's fireproof document box was out and open. Through the kitchen hatch I asked if she'd had a good day.
"Not a good day, exactly." Mum didn't take her eyes off her calculator. "But it's certainly been a real revelation."
"That's good," I said, doubting it. I got a couple of Digestives and a glass of Ribena. Julia's snaffled all the Jaffa Cakes 'cause she's at home all day revising for her A levels. Greedy moo. "What're you doing?"
I should have gone upstairs. "What's for dinner?"
One unsarky answer to one simple question, that's all I wanted. "Doesn't Dad usually do all the bak statements and stuff?"
"Yes." Mum finally looked at me. "Isn't your lucky old father in for a pleasant surprise when he gets home..."
A couple of things:
Who's talking and how do we know?
What's happening and how do we know?
Diction: The vocabulary, syntax and level of speech of a character. Were they educated at Yale or the School of Hard Knocks?
Voice: A particular character's (or narrator's) individual linguistic quirks. Are there turns of phrase they are more likely to use? How they use their language and diction.
Isn't It Ironic?
Verbal Irony
: the device by which we say one thing and mean another.
Dramatic Irony
: the device by which the audience has crucial information that the characters do not.
Cosmic Irony
: our understanding of the human condition, in which efforts are thwarted despite our best intentions (like rain on your wedding day)
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled...
Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"
September.............Seen too much, man
1. Survivor
2. Assassin
3. Funeral Director
4. Magician
5. Small Claims Lawyer
6. Cellist
7. Scientist
8. Single Parent
9. Smuggler
10. Prince
11. Vampire Slayer
12. Socialite
13. Paleontologist
14. Bus Driver
15. Wedding Singer
16. Barbarian
17. Paparazzi
18. Post-Apocalyptic Scavenger
19. Thug
20. Villain
21. Stylist
22. Mercenary
23. Dancer
24. Cowboy
25. Orphan
26. Baker
27. Outsider
28. Priest
29. Journalist
30. Android
31. Ninja
A. Unusual Voice
B. Sweaty
C. Bald
D. Meticulously Groomed
E. Into Body Piercings
F. Constantly Licking Lips
G. Vestigial Tail
H. Unusual Hair Colour
I. Extra Thumb
J. Pipe
K. Remarkably Ugly
L. Remarkably Beautiful
M. Thuggish Looks
N. Very Old
O. Exceptionally Short
P. Permanently Scowling
Q. Scar on Face
R. Poor Posture
S. Allergic to Everything
T. Strikingly Fish-like Features
U. Nebbish Looks
V. So Many Muscles
W. Unconventionally Attractive
X. Non-human
Y. Often Mistaken for Others
Z. Overpoweringly Pleasant Odor
Physical Description
Internally Complex
Well defined
motivation & wants
Complexity can be added through
and inner turmoil
Externally Distinctive
Relies on concrete,
But it is important characters remain
in their action & motives
(what you know about your character)
(how they show it)
Emotional Description
they say and
they say it
who your characters are. Actions speak much louder than words
How your
understands and
their emotions
Text & Subtext
what is said v. what is implied
"Is he smart?"
"He knows a lot about cars!"
Cormac McCarthy's The Road
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita
Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son
Who said it?
"We have so many things because of technology, we have – unbelievable — of the last seven years, we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet. So much wealth. Especially when you have $20 billion in debt.
I will bring our companies back. They will make money. They will pay off our tremendous budget deficits which are tremendous."
"I do think the use of special forces which we're using, the use of enablers and trainers in Iraq which has had some positive effects are very much in our interests and so I do support what is happening, but let me just–" [speaker is interrupted here]
"Number one, I pay a tremendous amount of taxes"
"I have tremendous respect for women"
"You know, with prior [other party] nominees, for president, I disagreed with them --" [speaker is interrupted by something large looming behind her]
"If you've noticed the Canadians, when they need a big operation, they come into the United States."
Voice & Diction
Lack of Setting
Overwrought Setting
"I'm fine." he said, grinning at the mirror to check the shine of his teeth.
"I'm fine." he said and when he left, he closed the door so hard the pictures rattled in their frames.
of place
Describe what's relevant to your characters
Describe what's relevant to your scene
Consider your characters' POV. What do
see and how does it strike them
Consider the mood of the piece, what aspects of the setting support this?
What are the most telling specific details of your scene?
The 4th is still three days off, but traffic is jamming into Frenchy's Gulf and through the parking lot at Pelcher's Market, citizens shouting out greetings from the dry cleaners and Town Liquors, as the morning heat is drumming up...all merchants are staging sidewalk "firecracker sales," setting out derelict merchandise they haven't moved since Christmas and draping sun racks with patriotic bunting and gimmicky signs that say wasting hard-earned money is the American way.

Independence Day
by Richard Ford
A server is woken at hour four-thirty by stimulin in the airflow, then yellow-up in our dormroom. After a minute in the hygiener and steamer, we put on fresh uniforms before filing into the restaurant. Our seer and aides gather us around Papa's Plinth for Matins, we recite Six Catechisms, then our beloved Logoman appears and delivers his Sermon.

Cloud Atlas
, by David Mitchell
We are woken up at four-thirty by he alarm clock, and have breakfast in our dorm room. After taking a shower, we put on our pants, and head to work.
We go to church, sing hymns, and listen to the priest's sermon.
, sensory details
Character + Voice:
Show through actions, interact with the environment, how they talk
My father walked beside me to give me courage, his palm touching gently the back laces of my bodice. In the low-angled glare already baking the paving stones of the piazza and the top of my head, the still shadow of the Inquisitor's noose hanging above the Tor di Nona, the papal court, stretched grotesquely down the wall, its shape the outline of a tear.
"A brief unpleasantness, Artemisia," my father said, looking straight ahead. "Just a little squeezing."

The Passion of Artemisia
, by Susan Vreeland
Make the familiar strange
Make the strange familiar
"It's time I be going," Jim said.
"You're sure?" Jane wasn't. But Jim picked up his stuff and left. Jane ate and went to sleep.
"It's time I be going," Jim said.
"You're sure?" Jane wasn't. But Jim picked his keys off the swaying ikea coffee table, and went out the door. Jane sucked the last of the sauce out of her pizza pocket and curled up on the pile of sweatpants on her futon.
"It's time I be going," Jim said.
"You're sure?" Jane wasn't. But Jim grabbed his club from where it rested against the damp cave's wall, and disappeared into the light of its opening. Jane finished sucked the last of the marrow out of her elk femur, and curled up on the pile of musky skins at the back of the cave.
Wants & Needs
What a character
they need. Often money, power, a horcrux, some White Castle, etc...
What a character
needs. Companionship, acceptance, agency, respect, some White Castle, etc...
you don't always get what you want
but if you try sometimes
you might get what you need
Character gets what they
, but not what they
Character gets what they
, and what they
Character does not get
they want, or what they
Character does not get what they
, but does get what they
Happy Ending!
Happy Ending?
"It is the full truth that the 1st law of God’s tremendous universe is order!"
“I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created.”
Ted and Mick find themselves sharing a booth on a train. After getting settled, Ted strikes up a conversation.
"Where are you off to?" he ask Mick.
"My daughter's wedding, you?"
"I'm presenting at a conference on transit safety."
They quickly bore of the conversation and both decide to spend the rest of the trip politely trying not to start another. Instead they watch peaceful the mountains slip past the window.
Glenda was a little tipsy when she hopped off the skilift, which might have been why she swerved out of bounds and onto a hillside of loose shale. Her skis catch on the rocks and she can only watch as a boulder slips, then rolls, then hits another, which itself rolls and hits more rocks and more until, through some unlucky chain reaction, several thousand tonnes of stone are thundering down the side of the mountain to the distant train tracks far below.
Ted and Mick find themselves sharing a booth on a train. After getting settled, Ted strikes up a conversation.
"Where are you off to?" he ask Mick.
"My daughter's wedding, you?"
"I'm presenting at a conference on transit safety."
They quickly bore of the conversation and both decide to spend the rest of the trip politely trying not to start another. Instead they watch peaceful the mountains slip past the window.
There's a girl named Delores who they call Dolly at school, but also goes by Lo, Lola or Lolita

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Rewrite this poem using a distinctly different voice:
Gordon Ramsey
That guy from Nova Scotia who screams the weather
Ilana Glazer
The girl from the 'cash me ousside howbow dah' meme
Michelle Obama
Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Elmer Fudd
Describe a familiar place as if it were fantastical. (How sci-fi might a boring 2017 classroom look to someone from 1982?)
Describe a fantastical setting from the point of view of a character who is familiar with it. (How mundane are the Lich Tombs of Arlok-Tung to the zombie janitor who does the dusting?)
When is this?
Where is this?
How do the characters feel about the setting?
What is the mood of the scene?
= a series of
, taken by
, towards their wants, needs or desires.

wants, needs or desires.
Who is:
Arya Stark?

(all we usually get to see of a character, is those essential wants and needs that make the story)
and usually: the shorter the story, the more focused on these aspects
"Ben is a person, Jerry is a person. Ben and Jerry's is not a person!"
Who is?
a young noble-woman loses her position and is thrust into poverty and servitude.
she wants to regain her rightful title and position
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
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