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~5 minute read

Link to the story as always! Let me know any further analysis you have in the comments!

Throughout the collection of Lovecraft’s works, there are a number of common items, but one shown most prevalently is his use of setting. “Rats in the Walls” falls under no exceptions to the weird norm set by his stories. Lovecraft utilizes the setting to control the narrative and orchestrate complex themes and tones for the reader, culminating in an ultimately grotesque ending.

There’s quite a bit of dramatic scene development through Lovecraft’s articulate use of language to describe the horrors at the ancestral home of Mr. Delapore: Exham Priory. The author painstaking lays out the landscape to the reader, displaying the home in an air of myth and horrid legend through the townsfolk. Their stories of evil happenings there, as well as Delapore’s incomplete family history, let the reader understand that actual unnaturally evil occurrences are to be expected in this story, though it doesn’t let on just how far Lovecraft is willing to go. Delapore discards most of the rumors and relies on the remodeling to cover up the aging gothic residence. But like the described repairs, the home is a mask that disguises the nature of what evil lies beneath its walls.

The story is a variable descent into madness, which Lovecraft facilitates through the draw and movements of the rats. Delapore is able to hear the rats, as he is one of the family’s descendants, and it drives him to madness to try and find the source of this every night. The author uses an overload of sensory imagery to develop the resounding dread from the protagonist, and envelop the audience in the gross feeling of being surrounded by thousands of scraping bodies in the walls. It is a sound of intense disgust and revulsion, one that should be avoided, but it draws the protagonist into his descent by leading him to the truth of the estate. The ghost rats are depicted as literal denizens of the underworld, with the cats being a classic medium for warning of evil lurking. The abundance of detail on Lovecraft’s part is what engages the reader to be able to visualize the scene, and he depends on it to develop the sense of foreboding. The reader knows the rats are wrong, and that the protagonist will be led to his doom by them, but the interest is enchanting for both parties. Lovecraft creates a variable cookie jar. The images mustn’t be touched, but the resisting is too much to bear.

These settings darken the deeper Delapore descends. Cracking open the Roman seal with the excavation and archaeological crew opens a gate to the evil realm. Lovecraft instills the sense of despair and horror in his gothic images of enslavement of all races over time, showing through the setting that the protagonist’s position is hopeless against the greater powers of the world. He is led deeper and deeper into the abyss by the guidance of the rats, and descends into full madness at the culmination of a loss of mind and the grotesque image of the character the reader has been following becoming the evil and voracious rats he was enraptured with. Lovecraft spares no detail to show the reader the hopelessness of the protagonist’s cause. Even though the reader may have the desire to try and align themselves with the inquisitive nature of the man, they know that there is no good from witness the descent. The deeper Delapore goes, the darker the world becomes, and the more he becomes the rats.

This extremely descriptive use of setting is central to the narrative because it mirrors physically the mental darkness that Delapore is descending into. The anger he has at the death of his son in the Civil War pours out in the end in a rage as he’s placed in the asylum. Darkness had been consuming his soul long before he moved to Exham Priory, and when he took it over, it drew him into the madness of the Hell below in a welcoming fashion. Lovecraft wouldn’t have been able to draw this same mirroring effect without the keen use of perceptive sensory detail that fleshed out his gothic scenes and lurid landscapes.
~ 5 minute read

Feel free to interact below! I would love to hear someone else’s interpretation of Jackson’s work. Link, as always, to a free read of the story.

Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is an enormously de-centering narrative commenting on the classic notions of keeping to tradition, and the inherent flaw of blind faith. The driving influence for her message being so effective is how she designed the people of the village as characters, and their flat, even prideful, responses to a violent tradition because it’s simply always been.

Old Man Warner survived seventy-seven years of the lottery, and it’s all he’s ever known, year after year. When Mr. Adams talks to him about giving up the lottery, Warner responds with “Listening to young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to live in caves, nobody work anymore.” Through Warner’s dialogue, Jackson delivers Warner’s thoughts, which have invaded the minds of most the townsfolk. He’s proud of his background and how he was raised, and not willing to listen to new sensibilities. The younger generation with new ideas is a cancer to him, trying to break the traditions he was raised upon. Warner further knocks down the notion of ending the lottery by telling him and the reader that “There’s always been a lottery” and that the young generation is “a pack of fools.” Warner speaks for the community as the voice of wisdom in that the lottery is a good thing that needs to be accomplished for the greater good. Jackson uses his character as a base of understanding for the community on what’s sensible. As a reader from an outside perspective though, we are able to view the foolishness of his character’s blind faith.

This sense of “civic duty” towards the tradition is also emanated quite strongly through Mr. Summers, as he carries out the tasks of the lottery, though no one seems to be pleased by it in anyway except possibly the children who don’t know any better. Even facing the terror in Tess Hutchinson’s eyes as she argues the fairness of the lottery in Bill’s losing draw, he remains coldly ignorant and dutiful to completing the task. Jackson creates a sense of militaristic repetition in him, having him focused on completing the task every year, though the business lacks any real logical standing. It was simply as he has been doing until he is told not to, but Jackson’s voice of “reason,” Old Man Warner, objects to throwing out the lottery vehemently. He performs his duty with a deadened nerve to the families he’s breaking apart. This character in Jackson’s story is representative of leadership following a code of laws or ethics which have been handed down to them to protect, yet are blind to the purpose and ignorant to the negative effects in play. The message is carried through his actions and demeanor.

The rest of the town is much like a congregation of followers, not particularly knowing why they’re following, or even what exactly, but they do so out of a sense of responsibility to keeping to tradition. Jackson uses these brief character interjections to show the reader their reserved questioning of the practices, but also how they trudge on as sheep to the feeding bell of tradition. Jackson has the characters frequently talking to each other as if they just made it, or were afraid another wasn’t coming, much like would happen in a church congregation if the regular members didn’t show for a religious holiday. The author designs their responses to show they know they need to be there or the community may shun them for not keeping to the annual lottery. Though their presence may not be mandatory, it is certainly expected.

Jackson has these people fall into line and greet each other with a false sense of cheer, having them pretend to want to be there. Jackson also keenly orchestrates their demeanor after the victim is selected. The village acts as if their purging a loose end, or sacrificing a part of them for a better year. Bill tears the paper out of her hand to reveal the spot to the crowd without a second thought, not even any amount of comfort for his wife. The children are pleased it isn’t them. The cold atmosphere of the characters Jackson designed send the message and let it linger with the reader. They are like real people, going about their yearly business without a second thought. Jackson uses all of her characters, and their uniformity based on traditions of long-since past, to associate reality with the readers, and show them the results over time of blind faith. The characters develop the plot and themes through their design and lead the reader to understanding the dark ending and its larger implications.
~5 Minute Read

Feel free to read this very short story ahead of time here! 2500/Readings for English 2500/Hills Like White Elephants.pdf

In his minimalistic story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemingway produces a compelling image and story grounded in realism through almost purely dialogue. He masterfully creates tension and drives naturally speech patterns for a character pair reaching the end of their relationship. The dialogue never directly states any of the conflict between the couple but infers their problems through unreliable speech and an argument over control.

This first thing to extrapolate from the speech is that it is likely about an abortion that the man is attempting to convince the woman to have. Hemingway gives the reader hints to this power struggle throughout. The man states that “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” clueing the reader in that he wants her to go through with an operation that she isn’t keen on doing. The woman also questions the man saying, “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” This implies that something happened between the two that’s causing concern for the man. The most likely thing would be that she was pregnant, and that he would like for her to have an abortion. The man spends the majority of the story trying different tactics in order to convince her, including heavily attempting reverse psychology. In fact, the reliability of what he says is often to be viewed as disingenuous.

Early in the story, Hemingway let’s the reader in on the man’s direction by showing the reader his ability to say whatever he thinks she wants to hear. After the girl asks him if her comment on the hills as bright, he agrees with her immediately just to keep her happy. But after she becomes pleased with herself and her comment, the man switches to talking about operation. Hemingway is clever in doing this because it is exactly like a man trying to convince a woman to get an abortion for a baby he doesn’t want. He tries to sneak it in after she feels a bit calmer with some alcohol and agreement. To Hemingway’s credit, this is an associable pattern of speech to the reader. The man is clearly pushing for the operation, as he says opposites such as “I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.” The woman understands this false direction behind his speech. She recognizes that the child is leverage she has on him, as he seems intent on leaving her after the operation. So, she plays along with his game in a manner of acting oblivious.

This is where the real power struggle comes in between the two, which is orchestrated entirely through a dialogue between the pair that plays out like a battle of wits behind words. A prime example of this parrying of blows starts off with the man saying that he “won’t worry because it’s perfectly simple,” implying that he is softening up the abortion process for the woman to make her feel more comfortable to get his way. Then she strikes back cleverly with the retort “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” Here the reader understand that she has the power because it is her body and choice. The woman knows how to push the man, so she puts the fear in him that she’s falling into a self-hatred cycle, which may cause her not to get the operation. His answer is expected and obvious: “Well, I care about you.” This allows her to play him right into the trap of “Oh yes, but I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.” She’s shaming him in a way, since she knows what he’s up to. But they’re landlocked in the power-struggle. She wants him to love her and be with her, and he wants to leave. The unborn child is all that’s keeping them together, and they both know this. They play against each other in a verbal battle, but Hemingway cuts the reader out from hearing the actual outcome. For all the reader knows, it could have gone either way.

The beauty of this story is in its spoken complexity. Weight lies heavily behind the characters’ words and are filled with double meanings. Both are unreliable in literal speech, but fight viciously in a silent way in public. Hemingway masterfully conducts a dialogue for the reader that feels both completely natural and painfully articulate in laying out an unresolved conflict, almost purely through the way of spoken dialogue.
~5 minute read

As always, feel free to read the story at the link and let me know your own thoughts on it!

David Foster Wallace presents to the reader a clear picture of what’s going through a person’s mind in those tumultuous moments of introspection when they wait for a difficult reply from another in his short story “Good People.” Through an excellent use of descriptive prose, Wallace leads the reader to visualize the narrator’s internal struggle with his own motives and perceived direction, leading to a more composed understanding of what he really wants. The reader is let into the protagonist’s mind by Wallace at this point in the plot, despite never hearing the answer to the problem, or even the original question for that matter. The story gracefully slips in media res and turns back out precisely when the protagonist rounds in character and contemplates his own values more closely.

Wallace sets up his last few paragraphs where Sheri decides she wants to keep the unborn child, gambling on Lane being a good man to stay with her, by spending the earlier paragraphs describing the character’s positions. This works to give the reader a solid connection, and understand the difficulties in the issue of the pregnancy. In the description of their religious lives, Lane’s loosely held beliefs and Sheri’s perceived stronger version, also plays an important role in the introspection Lane experiences. He sees himself caught between the trouble about what he should do and what he wants to do. Wallace describes Lane’s failing faith by associable means, letting the reader know “he was starting to believe that he might not be serious in his faith. He might be somewhat of a hypocrite…he was desperate to be good people, to be able to feel he was good.” Through this description of Lane’s thoughts on his faith, Wallace digs in deep on the concept of blind fellowship and doing what the society around the character says he should believe. Lane is in this conflict of faith because he believed when it was convenient to, and now that something has come up where he would have to face a reality where he may be obligated to care for a child.

Wallace continues later with “he promised God he had learned his lesson. But, what if that, too, was a hollow promise, from a hypocrite who repented only after, who promised submission but really only wanted a reprieve?” This description of Lane’s internal faith questions is common, especially to those experiencing this trapped feeling of uncertainty in future and relationships. Wallace set up Lane’s character description as being well on his way in business degree work, and likely infers that this pregnancy feels like a weight he can’t handle. The question of abortion clearly occurred, and even appeared to be agreed upon only partly earlier, but up until the end where Sheri doesn’t want to do it, Lane argues internally why it needs to happen for him. He wants the abortion, or for the baby to simply be raised away from him for a break from what he perceives as a mistake, and to go back to his regular life. He even goes as far to convince himself that he doesn’t love Sheri, but by the end this turns around.

Wallace designs Lane’s character in a cowardly manner, as he tries most any way mentally to shut himself away from the pregnancy issue. Wallace describes his struggle as “two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent…seeing therein something so different and alien from themselves that they could not understand…opposed and uncomprehending.” This imagery of a battle is the simple metaphor for Lane of doing what is right, versus what is easiest. This imagined internal battle by design is meant to exemplify the change of heart that occurs within Lane by the end.

When he holds Sheri’s hands at the end of the story, he rounds in character, questioning his previous thought. Wallace writes “what if he was just afraid, if the truth was no more than this, and if what to pray for was not even love but simple courage.” Lane understands that what he needs to be is the good person Sheri gambles on him being. Simple courage. This introspection and realization on Lane’s part, created by Wallace for the reader, drives the purpose of the story. All this lack of faith and fear of the unknown was just childish notions and dreams passing, and that courage is what he needs to face the issue and solve it accordingly; not for himself or the society around him, but because he is the good person he wants to be. Wallace creates through description a sort of inner morality question and finds its resolution through identifying Lane’s problem all along: courage.

Works Cited

Oates, J. C., & Wallace, D. F. (2013). Good People. In The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (pp. 816–822). essay, Oxford University Press.
~ 4 minute read

Set in the not-so-distant future, Bradbury’s pot-apocalyptic short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” paints the reader a narrative of the fall of man through the life and death of a home in automation after the nuclear holocaust. The author cleverly infuses key details in his setting in order to develop his narrative plot and message through inference and imagery, setting the pacing to that of the clock times, in reference to the Doom’s Day clock, which stumble towards the inevitable destruction of life.

Throughout the beginning of the story, Bradbury paints the house as a living ecosystem, though it is full of automation. This hits the reader on a few different levels, and lets them in on not only the environment, but also kicks off the central metaphor. He uses the technique of a slow realization for the reader, implementing strange images over common items at first to make the reader understand that the environment is both futuristic and able to grasp, yet lightly off-putting. An example of this would be “Eight-one, tick-tock, eight-one o’clock, off to school, off to work, run, run, eight-one! But no doors slammed, no carpets took the soft tread of rubber heels.” Here the reader starts to understand that the house is operating alone. Bradbury cleverly uses the reverse of action, the emptiness to set the tone of the work. Soon after, the reader is let in on the ecosystem within, a mirror of the natural set through robotics. “Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal.” The creatures are keeping the house in order and maintaining the natural rhythm of life in their ecosystem. This builds on the living metaphor of the house, but also clues the reader into what kind of future technology is present. Bradbury views the progress of man as reliant on the strict scheduling and assistant direction of machines they created. The contrast lies in that the house is devoid of real life, yet teeming in that which had been created.

Inference and realization are critical to understanding the post-apocalyptic world that Bradbury creates. Gradually, the reader comes to understand not only that the house is empty and alone, as the previous quotes assisted with, but that the humanity is indeed exterminated. Bradbury writes “At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.” The reader comes to realize that the world underwent a nuclear holocaust, and that the environment within this home is all that is left standing. Everything living seems to be dead or dying. When the dog enters the scene, Bradbury describes it as “once huge and fleshy, but now gone to bone and covered with sores.” This implies that there is little left alive for the dog for food, and that it is undergoing the extreme effects of radiation sickness. When it dies, the robotic mice clean it up quickly, and the last of life disappears from the story. This theme of dispersing death, and disappearing from existence is prominent throughout the story, stemming from the setting. Early on we see it applied to first the humans, but then all life through the dog. The latter half of the story removes that of the automatic house and its ecosystem of robots, completing the image full-circle in death.

Bradbury turns his setting against itself to drive home the theme of death in the story by the second half. The fire in the home, and the devolving cries of the various robots within the ecosystem as they collapse, affirm the destruction of life in totality from the nuclear war. The author creates action by destroying the setting without ever attaching the reader to a singular character. The setting is the character, and wall the “living” components of the structure make it come alive to the reader, so when it is destroyed, the reader feels for the setting itself. The death of the home is the end of life on the planet. The house is subjected to personification to enhance this effect. The last line cries out in finality the date in which life finally ceased to exist “Today is August 5th, 2026,” and the reader know that it was man’s squabbles the led to the death of life on the planet, complete eradication by that date.

The author’s story finds its power through the setting alone, without the use of characters at all. The house is personified, and though humanity is since gone, it carries a life of its own. But through a simple error, the entire microcosm burns in an instant, much like that of humanity. Bradbury’s setting is the story, and it drives the narrative and provides action in it’s own progression through the doomed clock of a single day.

You can read the story online from this link: Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury.pdf

Let me know your thoughts and analysis of it as well!

Works Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol, and Ray Bradbury. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 476–481.
This will be half a rant, half my experience with research - and the way confirmation bias can lead to missing information.


I visited the village of Austerlitz a few months ago, now called Slavkov u Brna in the Czech republic. An international Napoleonic research fund maintains a cozy museum dedicated to the battle of Austerlitz, and there is of course a beautiful memorial seated right close by - at the Pratzen heights, where the coalition's leadership formed their ranks and where they made one of the biggest blunders in military history, costing them over 30,000 soldiers slain or captured, and eventually the whole war.

My fascination looking down from the hill wasn't only with the beautiful and vivid Czech villages that sprung up and developed in the area, but with the sheer scale of the battle. I have read dozens of descriptions and accounts of the battle, and even as the landscape changed clues of the old age were there: the distant estate in Sokolnitz with its (largely abandoned) gardens, the buildings of Brünn (Brno) on the horizon - I couldn't see the fabled Satschan pond as it had since been devoured by irrigation and the many corn fields its waters likely fed.

There was a scale to it; a scale I couldn't understand or feel right when reading those accounts or when glaring at maps.

The importance of the landmarks mentioned bore a special historical interest to me; it was Sokolnitz where Marshal Davout's III. Corps deployed during the battle and managed to push the coalition forces back, eventually into the fabled lake - reputedly its ice broke under the weight of French shelling, hundreds of soldiers drowning in its icy waters.

The heroism of the Marshal's Corps is one of those historical details often glazed over, for good reason: it's a detail that completely undermines popular / orthodox perception of early modern warfare with a conundrum researched in-depth by scholars to this day. The III. Corps was ordered to force march from Vienna to Austerlitz and join the battle. They did so in under 48 hours, deploying soon after - and while doing so, they covered a whopping 120km (75 miles) on foot, a feat seldom replicated in history as it's a far stretch even for modern infantry - the infamous Falklands march of the Royal Marines took a heavy toll on them despite being 2/3 a length, and despite them having one additional day to cover the distance.

Seldom replicated, except for the exact same time period - over, over and over again. In the autumn of 1806, Prussia caught Napoelon by surprise with a war declaration and an invasion launched. Opting to go on the assault, the French gathered what troops they had available in the theater for a counter attack and 19 days after the war declaration they entered Berlin, triumphant. Such velocity of action has been wholly unheard of and still baffles me; a campaign covering a larger distance than Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland, much faster and without machinery, motorization and airplanes - with soldiers on foot & horse. Similar feats achieved by the British troops in Spain, by Russian troops in 1813, by the French in Italy, by Austrians in 1809...

Far from a coincidence or isolated examples, but again - glazed over. I have read dozens of "worldbuilding resource" articles that dealt with advice on writing troop movements and armies. They each had one nefarious detail in common:

The missing Napoleon.

Why, though? Is it ignorance / lack of knowledge about the period? Or it might be easier to simply glaze over the Napoleonic wars / early modern warfare when writing these articles, as otherwise the author would have to insert a whole chapter on explaining why Napoleon's time had things different. This in turn has led to a whole in most of these articles. I ended up with a rule-of-thumb: whenever I open something of the like, I search the page for some quick references and if there's a Missing Napoleon, I take it with a grain of salt. You'd be surprised how many there are.

Wouldn't it benefit an article detailing troop movements or armies to dedicate at least some word to armies marching without a supply train? To cascaded movements? To discuss amphibious warfare and its roots? To detail rocketry, early terror bombing, ambulances, military organization, etc.?

The phenomenon is not unique to Boney; I have been trying to keep an eye out for specific details of the kind; topics within greater research that are contradictory to the mainstream /but/ are very much relevant and often glazed over. So sorry, no non-eucledian Geometry here. There's many, but they're hard to find - specifically due to the Missing Napoleon - how do you catalogue and learn about something that is baseline omitted from articles for being contradictory?

There's of course articles that specifically say "Hey, this is usually glazed over, but HERE" - I enjoy those, a lot to learn about Victorian times - tattoos, mannerisms, extreme sports, etc. It's how I originally learned that the Regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, had a gigantic golden-green dragon tattoo decorating his body. Then there's of course the fabled discussion on "Ramming", the practice of driving one military vehicle into another. Hot topic for tanks, interesting for airplanes and completely historical & plausible for ships, even in examples such as the USA's Civil War. Often we perceive "ramming" reserved to ancient warfare's triremes.

Napoleon hits close to heart because it's a favourite topic of mine, but also a period of history in which I'm immersed to a degree that permits me to shoot "Actually"s in discussions over politics and military. And that's pretty much how I learned of the Missing Napoleon.

Do you know any other topics of the kind? Where the mainstream is contradicted by a specific time period, a specific country or set of events - to the point people rather glaze over it than expand into a deeper explanation?
The layout of printed books is fixed so the number of words and their arrangement on a page are the same for every reader: same font, same font size, same margins. But the layout of an e-book is fluid so that text and graphics can be adjusted to fit the available screen space and user preferences. The result is that the number of words and their arrangement on a screen might not be the same for each reader.

This fluid layout has little effect on prose but can cause problems for poetry. The one that poets are most concerned with is that some lines will wrap at the edge of a screen and continue to the next line, making a line you intended to be one line become two lines. You could avoid that problem by not crafting poems with long lines, of course, because where and how lines break matter less than where and how a poem touches the hearts and minds of your readers, but here is what they’ll see if your formatting does not accommodate lines that exceed the width of their screen.

And here's what your readers will see if your formatting does accommodate long lines that exceed the width of a reader's screen.
The example above was accomplished with a hanging indent that wraps long lines with an indent, so readers know you intended those lines to be single lines on their screens. And it works regardless of the font size your readers select, or whether their device is in portrait or landscape.

Microsoft Word's hanging indent is selectable. In Open Office, you can create a hanging indent style with a positive Before Text Indent and a negative First Line Indent. In the Atlantis word processor, you can create a hanging indent style with a zero Left Indent and a positive First Line Outdent. When typing your poems into your word processor, use hard returns at the end of each line. Soft returns will indent every line after the first line, not just long lines. And that will confuse readers as to which lines you intended to be single lines. Below is the result of using soft returns with a hanging indent instead of hard returns.
After you've formatted your chapbook for long lines, put a note in the Introduction that tells readers what to expect when an end-stopped line is too long to fit on one line of their screen.

Dear Reader.jpeg
Hyphens join two words to make one word, and dashes divide one sentence to make two sentences.

Suzy took her yellow-feathered canary to school -– it flew away.

Some writers use one minus sign for hyphens and dashes, and some use an EN dash (Ctrl-Underline) for hyphens. I use two minus signs (--) or an EM dash ((Ctrl-Alt-Underline) to make it more obvious that there is a dash, not a hyphen between the two sentences.

Most style guides for printed books say that hyphens should join two words without spaces, and that dashes should divide sentences with spaces—unless an EM dash is used between the two parts of a sentence. In that case, there should be no space. Use the examples below to choose how you'd like your hyphens and dashes to appear in your writing.

Suzy took her yellow-feathered canary to school-it flew away.
Suzy took her yellow-feathered canary to school – it flew away.
Suzy took her yellow-feathered canary to school -- it flew away.
Suzy took her yellow-feathered canary to school—it flew away.

The only caveat for e-books is that hyphens and dashes without a space might create an empty space on the right side of the screen if the user selects a font size that makes the words before and after the dash wrap to the next line.

Suzy took her yellow-feathered canary to
school—it flew away.

Twenty Ways Your Characters Can Bring Truth to Fiction

Fact and fiction dance in every story. Some paint life as fatalistic and hopeless while others fill it with dreams come true. Some emphasize our deep connections with other people while others exaggerate loneliness and individualism. In some stories, people enjoy serendipity while in others they suffer bad luck. Stories can show people living authentic lives, being dishonest with themselves and others, choosing a wise path over a foolish one, or getting stuck in a rut.

In a purely plot-driven story, a macho, good-looking character gets involved in fist fights, gun battles, car chases and sexy encounters with another good-looking character while taking down the bad guys. We live in a world with problems that are often beyond our ability to solve. So it can be reassuring to read a story with problems we know will be solved by the hero in the end. But we know, deep down, that the kissing and killing are purely make believe, that the story is just an entertaining way to escape reality and therefore irrelevant to the sticky web of real life.

In a story driven by plot and character, the character's outer journey from one predicament to another is accompanied by an inner journey of thoughts and feelings. If those thoughts and feelings are psychologically valid and emotionally realistic, we know, deep down, that despite the make-believe kissing and killing, what is happening to the character is happening to us. The story becomes truer than if it had really happened because it’s loaded with clues for shaping and navigating the sticky web of real life. The story reveals a way to change reality because the storyteller has used fiction to tell the truth, and that empowers us to find something true about ourselves. We become the young hero, the wise old woman, the transformed fool, the boy who becomes a man.

We tend to polarize the traits and personalities of real and fictional people as being at one extreme or the other – optimistic or pessimistic, energetic or lazy, intelligent or stupid, cooperative or rebellious, loving or mean, kind or cruel, stubborn or malleable, serious or hilarious. The truth is that most people are capable of either extreme, or somewhere in between, depending on the circumstances. Sam Keene calls attention to this when he wrote…

“Few of us know the fantastic characters, emotions, perceptions and demons that inhabit the theaters that are our minds. We are content to tell a single story, to construct a consistent character, to fix our identity. We are thus defined more by neglected possibilities than by realized ones. We rehearse and repeat a monotonous monologue while heroes and villains, saints and madmen, ascetics and libertines wait in the wings for a chance to seize the stage and run wild. Be all those characters who wander around in your head. Discover your many selves. You become authentically public only by going to the depths of your private.”

As people, Sam is urging you and me to look inside ourselves to improve our personal relationships. As authors, Sam advice can motivate you and me to look inside ourselves to improve our story telling skills. The former doesn’t tell us that we are schizophrenic or unsure of who we are. It tells us we can adjust our relationships with people in ways that make sense with who they are. The latter tells us to look inside ourselves to find characters who make sense with the story we are trying to tell. Your characters are your story, and they are waiting to seize the stage so your real-life passions and prejudices can slam the page like a lightning bolt.

So, the success of your story depends on choosing your characters with as much care as you choose the words to convey your story. The questions below are aimed at waking up the characters sleeping in your imagination. Your answers will bring them to life with meat on their bones, blood in their veins and reality in their words and deeds. And your readers will slip into your character's skin because your story is happening to them.

Scott Sheldon wrote, "Storytelling is the art of compelling us to admire and respect the characters, cheer for their success and identify with their problems. But every effort to escape the jaws of the enemy puts them in greater peril. We become more and more anxious for their safety and frustrated they are repeatedly unable to outwit and overcome an increasingly vicious and powerful enemy. Just when the conflict takes the darkest turn, the heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat."

>Are you a troublemaker, so your characters must deal with problems?
>Does the trouble you create convey internal and external conflict?
>Are the problems they face worthy of your reader's interest?
>Will your readers share your character's success or failure as if it were their own?
>Are the consequences the result of your character's actions?
>Or the result of luck, serendipity or divine intervention?

James Baldwin wrote, "You think your pain and heartbreak are unprecedented, but then you read something and discover the things that tormented you most were the very things that connected you with all the people who had ever been alive."

>Does your story empower your readers to identify with your main character?
>See the truth that fiction can bring to bear on real life?
>Will your story compel your readers to slip into your character's skin?
Peggy Lee sang "If that's all there is, my friend, then break out the booze--let's have a party."

>Will your story paint life as meaningless, deterministic, fatalistic and hopeless?
>Or make your readers aware of grace, serendipity and synchronicity?
>Does your character put on a happy face as if positive thinking will change things?
>Does your character have valid or invalid reasons for feeling good or bad about life?
>What kind of future do your characters see for themselves and the world?

Ray Charles sang "They say that time heals a broken heart, But time has stood still since we've been apart." Tragedy brings pain, fear, doubt and questions: Why me? Why this? Why now? When happier times come, our need for answers fades until something bad happens again. Time doesn't heal anything, but it does provide a playing field for things that do.

>Does your character bring courage, competence and compassion onto the stage?
>Are his questions buried, answered, transformed or forgotten?
>Do bad things happen to good people in your story?
>Or do good things happen to bad people?
>Are your characters punished by their mistakes or for them?
>Does your character solicit sympathy and keep it coming by rejecting solutions?
>Does your character solve problems by treating symptoms instead of causes?

The same wind that propels you across the lake of life propels my sailboat, too. Our course and bearing are determined by the set of our sails, not the wind.

>Does your character choose the path less traveled by?
>Or get stuck in one rut after another?
>Does your character believe dreams really can come true?

"Good writing," wrote E. L. Doctorow, "causes your reader to feel something--not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."

>Does your story help or hinder your reader's presence?
>Does it touch their sensory imagination with sight, sound, taste, touch and smell?
>Does it touch their semantic intellect with ideas and information, facts and feelings?

For centuries, a culture's focus was revealed by its tallest buildings: cathedrals in the Dark Ages, castles in the 19th century, and corporate skyscrapers in the 20th. Then reading material became a measure of a culture's focus: LIFE magazine in the 40's and 50's, PEOPLE and PLAYBOY in the 70's, US magazine in the 80's and then SELF.

>Who or what is an icon in your story?
>Does your character worship or ignore the icon?
>Does your story merge your character's conflict with the cultural context?

The Internet is a world-wide web of special-interest, compartmentalized connections.

>Does your character participate in the lives of other characters?
>Or remain outside the lives of others as a spectator?
>Coincidences are meaningful only when you see yourself as part of the web of life.
>Does your character meet just the right person at just the right time?
>Does he interpret the chance encounter as meaningful or meaningless?
>Does the outcome of his interpretation lead to inner and outer conflict?
>Does your character keep running into the same type of person or situation?
>Why does this character attract people and circumstances like that?

Some people make...
There are a zillion ways to begin and end a story -- narration, dialog, conflict, setting, showing, telling, reflection, action, quotations and so forth. Like the other articles I've posted, this one is a mix of subjective and objective criteria, so it may or may not resonate with your criteria for crafting a story. At the very least, however, it might sharpen and clarify something you already know, or call attention to something you'd like to know.

This article focuses on ways to begin and end your story but not the middle. The middle of a story is the bridge between the beginning and the end, but I'm skipping it because I want to focus your attention on my criteria that 1) The beginning of a story can and probably should be embedded in the end of the story; and 2) The reverse is also true, that the end is subtly or explicitly embedded in the beginning.

Let me deepen that idea by referring you to the phrase Story Arc, sometimes referred to as Narrative Arc, which is typically defined as the sequence of events from the beginning to the middle and end of the story. Most definitions differentiate Plot from Arc by explaining that Plot is the events of your story, whereas Arc is the sequence of events. Kurt Vonnegut is famous for calling attention to the shape of a story's arc...

Most definitions of Story Arc, however, say nothing about the front and back matter of a story, nor do they call attention to the title, an essential part of every story. The following is food for thought regarding the front and back matter, the beginning and ending, and the title of your story.


Foreword > someone other than the author introduces the author and the book and typically recommends both. Positive feedback from a reviewer, famous or not, can enhance the likelihood that a reader will be encouraged to read your story.

Preface > the author explains the origin of the story, introduces the main characters and overall plot, and acknowledges people who helped with composition, editing and research. Charles Eliot, an editor of the Harvard Classics, brings this into sharp focus. "No part of a book is as intimate as the Preface. After the long labor of work is over, the author speaks directly to his readers, disclosing his hopes and fears, seeking sympathy for his difficulties, offering defense or defiance against the criticisms he anticipates." You can also use a Preface to promote other stories you've written, such as the next story in a series.

Rick likes to play his guitar and travel around America meeting people, making friends and helping them with problems they can't be fixed by calling a lawyer, a private detective or the police. In [Story Title] Rick convinces Beverly to join his team of troubleshooters. If you like this story, download the next adventure of Rick and Beverly at... [Link]

Prologue or First Chapter > the narrator or main character sets the stage with a preview of coming attractions -- something that happens later than what happens in the first chapter to create suspense, to make readers eager to get to the scene where the flash forward event happens.

"To heck with suspense." wrote Kurt Vonnegut, "Give your readers as much information as possible, as soon as possible, and start as close to the end as you can.” Well, okay Kurt, but your beginning can foreshadow coming attractions without laying all your cards on the table. And you can't craft the beginning or the ending of your story until you have a rough draft of what happens between your beginning and ending. As mentioned earlier, the end of a story should reflect its beginning, and vice versa.

The same is true of your Title, so wait until the arc of your story from its beginning to its end is in place before you brainstorm a title. It's the opening line of your story because it's the first thing a reader sees so it should grab their attention and leverage them into your Prologue, or your first chapter. It should also reflect the arc of your story from beginning to end.

Whether you begin your story in your Prologue or in your First Chapter, start with a compelling character in conflict with a unique, attention getting problem. Something that foreshadows your character's struggle with inner and outer conflict. Something that sets an exciting, relevant stage for your story's middle and end. Something that makes them eager to turn the page to whatever happens next. Something that implies they are about to take an emotional, intellectual journey in which they'll be inspired to see the world and themselves differently than they did before they read your story.

If you decide to put your opening sentences in a Prologue, make sure the difference between the who (character), where (place) and when (time) of the Prologue and the who, where and when of your first chapter is clear to your readers. The segue between a Prologue and your first chapter, in other words, should not confuse your readers.


Epilogue or Last Chapter > The narrator or main character brings closure to the story so that readers are not left with a confused or to-be-continued feeling (unless it's a series). Finish in a way that resonates with the beginning so your readers see the deeper significance of the story.

Afterword > the author engages the intimacy s/he began in the Preface by speaking directly to the readers to solicit feedback and/or to inspire them to think more deeply about the effect your character's journey from the beginning to the end had on them. It can also be used to put the story in the context of the next book in a series.

So [Story Title] ends with everyone living happily ever after, right? Well, we don’t know, do we? And we don’t know when Rick and Beverly’s day will come. But we do know it’s not the end of [Series Title]. The next episode is waiting to run wild in the theater of your mind at... [link]
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