Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Genesis of a Character-led Story

I've been a published short story writer for many years, long before getting that first contract as a novelist last year. One of the of the most common questions asked by new members of our writing group is "where do you get your ideas?" The next consideration is often whether characters or plot are more important. I'm sure most writers use a combination of both, as one cannot work without the other.

However, I've discovered with all most of my published stories that I'm definitely a character-led writer. Since I don't plan out a story in advance, it's important to have a character who is just waiting to star in his or her own story - and the plot unfolds from what they do, who they are, and how they behave. I'll use the example of my latest short story that won an international competition, The Artist's Wife, which is now published online on the competition website.

As an inspirational day out some years ago, our writing group visited the famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. One of our occasional members, who also worked in the art gallery and local museums, set us a task. Each of us chose a card that was face down and on it was written a type of character. The object was to find a painting that might inspire such a character. My card said: a villain.

As I enjoyed examining the wonderful paintings on view, one particular portrait kept drawing me back and in the end, I chose the woman depicted in the painting as my villain. But why should she be a villain? And what had made her so? Well... there-in lay a story waiting to be written! The painting dated from 1937 and there was only a short paragraph about the artist. And that's when my writer's imagination kicked in and I sat down in the gallery and started writing.

If you want to read the result, it's published here! You can read the judge's comments then scroll down to click on The Artist's Wife.

Rosemary/Romy

 


http://ros-readingandwriting.blogspot.com
http://romygemmell.blogspot.com
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13 comments:

Big Mike said...

I've collaborated on three novels with female author budettes and in each case we both noticed the polar opposite direction from which we constructed the story. I derive the theme/storyline first then construct characters that personify the story while the ladies started with character first and worked from there. Not sure if its a gender thing but the different strategies is interesting.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I've been dying to read that. Hold on, I'll be right over!

I agree that the main character should guide the story. Yet sometimes his most significant relationship, be it friend or lover, is partnered in the plot.

January Bain said...

Thanks, I'm going back to read the story! What an inspiring post!!!

January Bain said...

What an amazing story, Rosemary! Genius!!!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Mike. That's really interesting - I've never come thought about that gender difference before and it makes me want to investigate it further!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Julie - yes, you're quite right. I guess one affects the other very much.

Thanks so much, January! It was fun to write something quite different form my normal stories.

Linda Rettstatt said...

Proof that characters and their stories are everywhere. I love when that moment of inspiration strikes and you just have to write it down. My characters lead me all over the place while they reveal their stories. It's such fun.

linda_rettstatt said...

Proof that characters and their stories are everywhere. I love it when that moment of inspiration strikes and you just have to write it down. My characters lead me everywhere. It's such fun.

Ute Carbone said...

Fabulous story, Romy. And proof that characters are the heart and soul of story.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Wow! What a great story. As January says, chilling, but so real. I could feel everything and your use of color compliments the artist's portrait.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Linda - thanks for commenting. That's what makes it such a creative occupation!

Thanks a lot for that, Ute!

Many thanks for such a lovely comment, Julie!

Richard Hacker said...

Great story Rosemary and congrats on winning the contest.

Richard Hacker said...

Great story Rosemary and congrats on winning the contest.