Looking at my two posts from last week I hope you enjoyed observing the techniques I have been teaching you for the last month. Hopefully this lesson, coupled with Thursday's post will further cement your understanding of good story writing.
Today's lesson focuses on part one of the short story. Here I wanted to make a point about dialogue.
Dialogue should be able to do two things at any given moment, that is build a mental image of the character, while revealing the world. When this is accomplished the reader will feel immersed and filled with the story's atmosphere. A great example of this I found today in Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors short fiction anthology. The very first story, Chivalry, among others, does a great job at showing how well an author can take a limited amount of words, and use them to build an atmosphere. Mrs. Whitaker in the narrative is clearly an elderly, though independent minded woman, which we know far before we find out her husband has long since died. It's the moment she finds the Holy Grail, and her meticulous, intimate knowledge of the antique shop that tells us she is concerned with age and novelty. This is all revealed in her language which is precise and to the point. It illustrates her clarity in age and the preservation of her wit, which is informed and outgoing.
In last week's short fiction we can get this from our characters: Stanley and Running Wolf.
Stanley's impetuous treasure hunting and exploration is well illustrated in the asides but a good way to build out a character's personality without always relying on exposition is employing the use of narrative pace. Imperative language ('Get to the car! or Stop that!) implies tension. Also, using brief, intermittent phrases in quick succession will drive home this mood of desperation. This is offset by Running Wolf's cool mindedness, who speaks in full, thought out sentences. Clearly he is simply observing the situation rather than becoming emotionally invested in Stanley's drama. This observational tone also conveys apathy.
Another aspect of this interlude is the use of conceptual science fiction to build the atmosphere. Sometimes authors want to lay out the whole deal right on page one, giving names, places, power figures, etc. Here I am not explicitly coming out and saying that the genre of the story is Science Fiction. Instead I use key words that require the reader to research themselves, forcing them to become involved in the narrative. Gliese is a real star and Vela, a real constellation, and therefore serve as atmospheric details but without explicitly pinning the story down as science fiction. On Thursday's post I will show you how I shift the nature of the science fiction from conceptual to philosophical, thereby providing it with some depth that gets the reader more interested in the world.
For now though I hope you enjoyed this analysis of last week's previous piece. Stay tuned for my discussion on the later half of the piece Thursday.