Now I’m onto the third part of the rewrite for my short story – characters. In some respects this should be easier than some stories; there are only two characters (although to the reader there might appear to be more). Nonetheless, their relationship and interactions, to say nothing of their motivations, are critical to the story. A lot hinges on this.
Characters, even minor ones, have goals and motivation. Conflict is the essence of story telling, so there has to be antagonism even for characters that are friends.
Another key element is that the protagonist is motivated in the story by the actions of the antagonist. Even a hero seeking out adventure needs stimuli to start the adventure, and in the interests of story telling and providing conflict this must come from the antagonist.
In my story, all the motivations of the protagonist stem from the actions of the antagonist. I believe I have established this firmly in my own mind. However, since I do not wish to give the game away until the final reveal, the challenge is in the subtlety of providing clues and hints. I want the reader to be in two minds throughout; how much is real, how much isn’t. The risk is being either too ambiguous and frustrating the reader, or too obvious and boring the reader.
When I wrote the first draft of the story I included a fair amount of backstory. This was mainly because I was writing in the moment, so I was trying to establish the chief motivations and intent of the antagonist (a creature called the Darken) in luring the woman (the protagonist) into the forest.
I’ve whittled that away from the current draft, but I still need to find ways to provide insight about the Darken’s motivation and story into the broader narrative.
Dialogue is the principle way to do this, but that is the next stage of the rewrite. At this point I need to think more what I am trying to do, rather than focus on how I’m going to do it.
Since a key part of the story is that the Darken is not explicit about its intent (kinda gives the game away if it just turns up at the start), I need to consider how conflict is developed with those people explicitly present in the story – the woman and the stranger. It has to be real and meaningful. What I mean is that the conflict has to serve the greater ends of the story. The conflict is meaningless if it happens in isolation (since you could conceivably cut that section and still have the same conflict).
This is the area I need to think about. The stranger is an avatar in essence, so he has a particular role to play, and it has to be consistent with the overall goal of the Darken. For this reason I need to be clear on the Darken’s plan – what was it originally and how those the woman’s own motivation cause conflict. She cannot simply blunder into the trap, she has to do things that offset the antagonist and force him to change and adapt. If she simply does exactly as expected, it robs the story of the principle tension.
Her motivations need to be beyond the simple idea of staying alive. There has to be a deeper sense of what she is seeking and she chooses to respond to the crisis. The last thing I need is a protagonist that becomes a bit part player.
So that’s the idea at this point. Just some of my thoughts about what I bed to consider. Tomorrow it is about the tool of delivery – dialogue.