Friday, June 24, 2011

Writing Prompts and Insight about Creating Realistic Characters with Mark Konkel

For the weekend, we have creative writing prompts by a friend of mine, author Mark Konkel.  He has also has provided us with an article about how to create believable characters.  Teachers take note--you might want to use this article as a resource for your class.  I hope you enjoy the article and the prompts.  Please leave us a note and let us know how you like them.  Also, feel free to give us a little bit of what you come up with from a prompt.

Happy weekend!


Creating Realistic Characters
by Mark Konkel

Fiction is driven on two wheels: plot and character.  Oh, books on craft and writing teachers will highlight all the elements of fiction, setting, conflict, symbolism, etc., and all of those things are important, of course, but they’re little more than accessories.  Change the setting of a story, and the same story can still be told – those familiar with the twenty-seven (27!) James Bond movies will agree.  The setting changes, but Bond himself stays basically the same. Change Bond, and what do you have: Austin Powers.  Not the same kind of story at all. 

Plot is the most important thing in fiction, because it encompasses all the other elements.  It’s pretty hard to change the conflict, the characters, or the setting without changing the plot, too.  Despite that, plots are pretty easy to come up with (notice I didn’t say good plots are easy to come up with) primarily because there are just a few basic plots, seven or twenty or thirty-two, depending on which site you choose to believe. 
Characters, however, are a different story.   Creating real characters that aren’t flat or clich√© is one of the most difficult things for a writer.  Until now. Creating memorable, compelling characters is simple (notice I didn’t say “easy”)  Just give your characters these three traits: Strong, but restrained emotions, self-justification, and surprise. 

Consider one of the most famous characters from literature: Huckleberry Finn. Huck’s emotions are strong, but restrained, he justifies or rationalizes his own behavior, and he surprises.  Take his emotions. He doesn’t share them with other characters; Huck only discusses them with the reader. He’s frightened of his father, but never actually says that.  He’s suspicious of the Duke and King, but reveals that only to the reader.  And he’s in anguish about slavery in the Bible compared to the slavery that he sees.  But he never challenges that hypocrisy; he only challenges himself.  His emotions are restrained.   

Huck also justifies his own behavior.  He explains why he takes off in the raft (to get away from his father), he explains why he goes south on river rather than north to the free states (to connect with the Ohio river, then head north), and he explains why he tears up the note to Miss Watson telling her about her escaped slave, Jim (because freeing slaves is wickedness, and Huck was born to wickedness.)   

And Huck surprises.  The most common forms of surprise are contradictory character traits, the minister who swears, the monster who’s afraid of a tiny mouse, the prostitute with a heart of gold, etc.  Huck surprises by his intelligence, his sense of morality, and his resourcefulness.  Raised by a drunken father, but Huck is able to resist the propaganda of the Duke and the King.  Huck is destitute, but he sees money as a burden.  And unlike the adults around him, Huck, the poor, uneducated, son of a drunk – he’s the one who understands the hypocrisy of slavery.   

The secret to creating memorable, compelling characters lies in these three traits:  strong, but restrained emotions, self-justification, and surprise.  Simple, but not easy. 

Writing Prompts by Mark Konkel

1.  Pick out any domestic or business situation - husband and wife talking, mother and child watching TV, two kids playing any sort of a game, colleagues working on a business presentation, boss firing an employee, two coworkers falling in love -- anything at all, just make sure there are no more than two characters.  The twist is that one of the characters is clearly extremely frightened by something unknown AND the frightened character will NOT reveal the source of his or her fear to the other character, OR to the reader.  

2.  The beginning lines are: 

The woman wore a white dress which, despite that it wasn’t tight-fitting, short, or exposing desperate cleavage, nonetheless interrupted the board meeting.  She wasn’t even that sexy, what with her big hips and varicose veins, but she was standing on the ledge outside the executive conference room.  I took the floor, and made a motion for a break, Carlisle seconded it, but before we could vote on it, Gardner said “For God’s sake, Michael!”, then rushed over to her, presumably to see if she had an employee badge on.  If she did, we might be liable.
Continue the story from there. 
Poetry Prompt:  For those looking for a poetry prompt this weekend, Anjie recommends stopping by Adele Kenny's blog, "The Music In It" for an awesome prompt about rain.

Happy Writing!!!
Mark Konkel

Based in Wisconsin, Mark Konkel has been writing and teaching for ten years. He’s fifty-one years old and works full time as a teacher and a certified public accountant. He earned his accounting degree from Lakeland College and his Master of Fine Arts from Vermont College.  His primary hope is that readers find his stories meaningful and enjoyable.   His writing appeared in  Faraway Journal, Quality Women’s Fiction (the special Men Write for QWF issue), Read This Magazine, Kaleidotrope, Abacot Journal, Cause & Effect Magazine, River Oak Review, Mississippi Crow, Nano Fiction, Heartlands, American Drivel Review, The Binnacle, Sinister Tales, Free Verse, Timber Creek Review, and Transcendent Visions, he’s been a guest writer for On The Brighter Side, and his first novel, Disaster Park, a sci-fi work, is available from Blue Leaf Publications.

Mark admits he can’t listen to television, radio, especially commercials, and overheard conversations without automatically noting and correcting grammatical errors.

To learn more about Mark and his writing, please visit the following links:


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