Short story news and Characters in Fiction

News: We are still accepting stories for the Generations XYZ short story contest. The deadline is October 15, 2017. Be sure to get your story in before then.

Judging is underway for the Baby Boomers Plus 2017 book. The judges are finding it very difficult to choose the top 15 because the stories are all so good.

Characters in Fiction by Henry Peavler

I often wonder if it’s possible for an author to completely divorce herself from the characters and plot that she creates, or he creates, whatever the case may be. I think of characters that I’ve created. I usually model them after someone I know or a character from a movie, that way I can be consistent in the personality development. In fact, I might say, in my notes, ‘this character is modeled after Jack Nicholson. Not the Jack Nicholson from The Shining but the one from Chinatown’. I don’t want the reader to picture Jack Nicholson, as they read along, I want the reader, in this case, to imagine a sophisticated character, in control and doesn’t take crap off anyone, yet has a sensitive side.

I tried to create a totally evil character in one of my short stories. I struggled mightily and ultimately fell short of what I wanted. I kept thinking ‘how can anyone be this heartless and cruel?’ Yet I see on the news every night that some people are. So I tried to pattern my character after a man in a news report who was described in detail. That made it easier.

I don’t believe that an author can completely remove his personality from the story. Thinking of a few of my favorite writers, and there are many–Dickens created characters that were good or bad and no stone was left unturned in making that distinction for the reader. Was that a trait of Dickens’ that he saw people that way?  If it was a literary devise, used for effect, I think he overdid it. But then Dickens lives on forever and Peavler will fade into that family and friends reader sunset.

Hemingway wrote of flawed, alcoholic men. His heroines were strong women, in most cases, and his experience with his wives was often tumultuous as was reflected in his writing.

East of Eden is my favorite Steinbeck novel, but, of course, it is auto-biographical. I don’t know if that’s what makes it my favorite or not. Of Mice and Men is a wonderful short novella and is considered fiction but the story is about Steinbeck, one hundred percent, from his days as a wandering bum. Lennie was a real insane person that Steinbeck knew as a young adult.

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five, is fiction, obviously, but it’s a result of his real life experiences in World War II. My daughter, Ashlee, is an English Literature teacher and she used Vonnegut’s book in her class when she student taught in Iowa. The students thought that his portrayal of aliens was absurd or ‘stupid’ as they probably phrased it. Some of them came to realize that the aliens were symbols or parallels to the absurdities (stupidity) of war. To me, an alien from the make believe planet of Tralfamadore is no more absurd than a young American soldier from Indianapolis–captured by the Nazi’s, forced to work for them in Dresden, Germany—and then getting firebombed by his own country while he hid in a slaughterhouse cellar meat storage locker—and, one of the few inhabitants of Dresden to survive. That is the ultimate in absurdity and Vonnegut used the experience in a satirical way to make his point.

Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and my own father was also in that conflict. Maybe their paths crossed somewhere along the line. That would be astonishing but not absurd or stupid.

Fiction is make believe but it has to come from the soul of the author or it risks being ineffective. I do believe that good authors can create characters that are completely fictional but, for the most part, literature that will stand the test of time is a reflection of the person who writes it.

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