In honor of the release of Secrets and Doors, I'm offering a few tips for creating characters in short fiction... like the title suggests...
Characters. That’s why I read. I want to meet interesting people and see them doing interesting things. I like to be in their heads. How do they think? Why do they feel the need to act this way?
In a novel an author can use pages and pages to create a character. Using the character’s past and present experiences, and internal dialogue, the reader slowly learns who this person is and they get very attached to them as they live through sorrow, trials, trauma, and joy.
So what does that mean for the short story? The author doesn’t get pages to set up a character. How can an author, make sure his/her characters are fully developed within a couple of sentences?
Essentially, in a short story, the reader is being dropped into the middle of a dramatic moment of the character’s life. Their backstory is a mystery and you don’t have the luxury of a prologue or cute anecdotes into their past except on a minute level. Here’s a couple of tips to help you create that fully formed characters in a matter of sentences.
1. Make sure you know your character and their backstory in all its sordid detail. Know them as well as you know yourself. Know what makes them tick, what trials they've had in their life that makes them soft spoken, or gruff, or funny. Having these kind of details in your mind will help to color every thought, word spoken, or motivation.
2. Now assuming this character is now fully fleshed out in your mind, add in tidbits of their backstory through your character's actions, reactions, and dialogue as though the reader already knows their backstory. This will give the impression of a real, incredibly interesting person the reader just hasn’t gotten to know yet. In Reflection, by Terra Luft, she artfully does this by giving her character an intense emotional response to something we would consider mundane: a sweeper on the street scattering a puddle of water. Make the reader curious.
3. Use dialogue and stereotypes to your advantage. We all speak in different tones, languages, and dialects, which help to pinpoint the place we grew up and possible experiences we endured as a child (aka backstory). You know a Texan is going to say what’s on their mind and probably try to shoot you at some point. A southern belle will speak sweetly and yet somehow make you feel small. Don’t try to go too far outside a stereotype. Use those kind of twists for a novel, unless the twist is vital to the plot of your short story. In Johnny Worthen’s piece, A Thousand Secret Doors, from the first section of dialogue you can glimpse a backstory and two distinct personalities simply through the phrases they use.
In short, (pun absolutely intended!) drop your readers into the middle of the story. Make sure your characters have a distinct personality from their first line. Keep backstory brief and relevant and above all don’t try to do too much. This is a short story, for crying out loud! The reader of a short story just wants a glimpse, they don't want your character's entire life story.
Open the door and unlock the secrets in eleven short stories from The Secret Door Society, an organization of fantasy and science fiction authors dedicated to charitable work. All proceeds from this anthology benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in their quest to cure Type One Diabetes (T1D).
In these pages you’ll discover a modern woman trapped in an old fashioned dreamscape, a futuristic temp worker who fights against her programming, a beautiful vampire’s secret mission disrupted by betrayal, a sorcerer’s epic battle against a water dragon, the source of magical mirrors—and more. There are tales for every science fiction and fantasy taste, including new works from award-winning authors Johnny Worthen, Lehua Parker, Christine Haggerty, and Adrienne Monson.