Start writing fiction: characters and stories
Start writing fiction: characters and stories

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4.3.5 Extraordinary versus ordinary

Figure 12

Fiction does not have to be about extraordinary circumstances. In fact, the best fiction is often the fiction that presents familiar concerns in a new and surprising way. Fiction will always be new and surprising if it is truthfully observed.

Raymond Carver writes:

It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about common-place things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine – the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it.

(Carver, 1981)

Sometimes stories are about extraordinary situations, of course. When tackling an extraordinary or huge theme, don’t try to say everything about everything. Sometimes a single focus on one or a few characters placed in extraordinary circumstances, will give a much larger sense of the whole. No matter how extraordinary the scenario, the reader’s primary interest will always be the characters. If you, the writer, don’t develop the characters well enough then the reader will lose interest.

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