Repetition of Minor Actions
Revealing Characters in Flash and Beyond
I love specific and unique characters who are revealed by the pressure the conflict puts on them to act and react on the stage of the story! This is so difficult to do in such a small space, but when it’s done well, it creates stories of stunning resonance! Meg Pillow is a master of revealing characters through their choices!
“I also wanted to emphasize how easy it is to take tidbits of information and construct a human representation that seems real but that’s really just a shadow.” Interview of Meg Pillow
Making choices and decisions are how we get to know our characters, how they reveal who they are, and the possibilities of them shifting or changing at the end of the story. But also there can be power dynamics in who gets to be the narrator. Meg Pillow has two stories about her character Margo and both use the collective “we” point of view to form a character based on the judgments of the narrator. These stories would create completely different versions of Margo if Meg had used 1st or 3rd person POV.
We’ll Look at MARGO. TURN LEFT published at Atticus Review.
Even from over the fence in Amy’s backyard, we can hear it: the clink of her wedding ring against the glass, the same as she always does at parties, as if she’s getting everyone’s attention for a toast, but Margo never has anything to say. We watch her from our Adirondack chairs at the edge of Amy’s moonlit pool, and we all hear that clink, and it is the sound of summer.”
Almost like Gatsby’s “Old Sport” we get to know Margo by this specific and unique action and sound. Stories gain power through repetition of shifting action, image, and sound to create plot and escalation. Each time she knocks with that ring, something new and different can/will/should happen.
“Clink goes Margo’s ring against the glass, clink, clink, clink and Nicki brushes her baby’s hair but all she feels is the warm gold of Margo’s ring against her neck as she pulls her behind the bathroom door for a kiss. Clink and Amy drops a stitch in the scarf she’s knitting because it’s the sound of Margo tapping at her glass door at 3 a.m. again but she never says help me. Clink and Rachel nearly drops the tea she’s drinking because that sound is Margo, still flat-bellied, letting her mug clatter to the floor when Rachel cries and pressing her hand to Rachel’s swelling stomach and saying this, my love, is magic.”
Notice how many shifts we get in just one paragraph! Almost a microcosm of the story itself! But Margo and this collective narrator aren’t done yet! Because our narrator is afraid! Margo and her tapping, her unique character have done too much that could upend their lives! She has become real enough to become a threat!
“Margo. Turn left.
(because you got us all drunk on tequila in your basement once, and you sat us in a circle, and you said to us I have a secret and then you whispered:
To Nicki: I died here once.
To Amy: It’s too late.
To Rachel: I’m still watching MasterChef.”
Each of these lines of dialogue a mini-scene, something that we’re not given by the story, but we know Margo, now, and we can see how in these little scenes, the way it shapes the story of each of these characters, how their unwillingness to change, to shift, has them begging that Margo will do the changing for them! This is some complex use of white space to create a hundred ways these character interactions could go! And it’s relentless and even in the end I’m hearing that ring clinking, and I’m waiting, just like the narrator’s to see if Margo will finally turn left!
Prompt: Try on the collective “we” point of view. Conjure up a character that the narrator is trying to understand or is afraid of. Ground us in the specific details that this character is made up of! Help us see this character through some minor action or ticks. Make those actions or ticks repeat throughout the story! What danger do these actions or ticks create? How can you make them escalate or make it worse for the narrator? Focus on sound or smell. Make your Margo willing to do unconventional, maybe even socially deviant things. Create an aura and see if that aura cracks or grows larger! Who has the power in this point of view?
Try It At Home: Give yourself the next 5- 8 minutes to conjure up as many people or characters as you can think of. Free-associate anything from your life or the lives of people close to you. No need to put them into scene or action. Feel free to describe that one unique thing about them. A jagged tooth or the way they pick at their teeth with their fingernails after dinner. The way they say hello or goodbye. A particular smell you associate with them? Feel free to get deep into the senses. At any moment feel free to move toward your imagination, to start making things up. Maybe you think better about setting, about places? Who inhabits these spaces? Who are the gatekeepers? The secret keepers? Who can you trust? Who must you always lie to? Challenge yourself to see these in a new way or through the eyes of a character or persona.
If none of this jogs anything, try these story starters! “In a world where…” It was the year that we…”
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Morning Session 10-11 am EST
Evening Session 7-8 pm EST
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