Lee teaches in the MFA program for creative writing at the Ohio State University. I’m not in that program, but he also occasionally teaches at regional workshops, and I’ve had the good fortune to see him at a couple. At one of them that I attended in the early 2000’s, he read a passage from “The Open Boat,” a short story by Stephen Crane. With his voice and Crane’s words, he recreated the rocking motion of that lifeboat so clearly I wound up feeling a little motion sick. That was an epiphany for me: that the cadence of words (not their meanings but just the sounds of them) can generate sensation.
I just discovered that Lee has a craft book out: Telling Stories, the Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life. I’m just started working my way through it, but here’s a tiny example of the wonderful stuff you’ll find within its pages. These are the highlights of a deeper discussion on how to intensify the trouble your character encounters.
- Increase the pressure from a source outside the realm of the original trouble.
- Make the character’s choices lead her into deeper trouble.
- Make the character’s troubles worse by having her let people believe something is true when it isn’t.
- Have the character create trouble for herself by trying to run away from what she’s done, or us afraid she’ll do.
As I was reading through these suggestions, I realized I tend to rely very heavily on #2. Having the character’s choices lead her into deeper trouble creates a really strong cause-and-effect linkage.
I also use #1. Sources outside the trouble are great for throwing a wrench into the best laid plans, making your character scurry.
I’m not sure I’ve ever used (or even thought about using) #3 and #4.
Numbers 3 and 4 are less confrontational than the first two. Number 3 is less about action than inaction–failing to step in and set the record straight when the opportunity presents itself. And #4 is the opposite of confrontational. These seem like believable actions for a character with a gentle, non-confrontational personality.
Hmm. I’m starting planning work on a series about five siblings who inherit their parent’s tour company and I’ve been thinking about how to differentiate them. Their level of willingness to confront others is a definite category for exploration.
Which of these intensifiers do you use? Which do you enjoy reading?