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Make a careful observation of the kinds of incidents which the writers choose as suitable for the purposes of fiction. You will probably notice that the great writers use simple incidents, discarding such matter as would make a sensational news story for the daily papers. The unpracticed writer is likely to select something unusual or startling for his plot, believing that a set of incidents would naturally make a good story because they had actually happened somewhere. He is prone to believe, too, that something that happened a long time ago or in some far away place is much more interesting than the simple occurrences of his own town or county. A skillful writer recognizes that many incidents which make interesting reading in the columns of a newspaper have no "fictional value. This may be due to the fact that the set of incidents do not illustrate any phase of life, cannot carry a theme, or that the facts are so much truer than fiction that they do not bear the appearance of truth, verisimilitude.

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In your reading observe the plots carefully to see whether the writer gets his materials from a source near at hand, and whether he selects the simple incidents rather than the remote and complex.




INCE the Short Story has for its main purpose the exhibition of some phase of life, usually human life, it follows that characters must be selected and used in some plot in order to embody the theme. An essayist might in an abstract philosophical essay show that a certain thing is true about humanity, and do it without using characters, but the materials of the story-teller are people concrete things, and not abstract observations. The story writer chooses a theme, makes a plan, and then selects his people. He may not proceed in this order but these three things he has to do.


The story is short in the actual number of words. The theme may be a great one-some profound life. truth but the author must embody even such a theme in three or four thousand words. The lower limit is about one thousand, and the upper, seven. Of course there are a few stories that fall below a thousand words and some which go beyond seven thousand even as high as ten thousand but these are unusual. The writer of a Short Story wishes, of course, to make his theme stand out as clearly as possible and to make the truth of it convincing; yet he must do this in about three or four thousand words. To do so he must draw


upon every resource at his command to produce intensity, and at the same time practice a rigid economy in the use of means. These necessities seem to oppose each other and to place the author in a dilemma, but in reality they work together. The author who succeeds in placing one or two characters in a single tense situation so as to produce conviction of the truth of his theme really gains in intensity of impression over the novelist who may use a wider range of characters and plot incidents.

In practice the story writers have found themselves most successful when they have employed one or two or three characters. The Prodigal Son has three characters, all necessary; Poe's Ligeia has only two real people; Stevenson's Markheim has but two, only one of these being significant.


In the first place, the characters must be real people not abstract qualities in human form and name, nor mere types. They must be and act like the people one meets in the actual world. Most people are so constituted that in a given situation they will act just as one might expect them to act. Their actions should be consistent with their predominant traits of character. Still, human beings have personal characteristics and idiosyncrasies which must be taken into the account. They do not always act alike in like situations. The author who creates a character whose conduct can be accurately predicted by the reader from the beginning has not drawn a man or woman, but a type. To be real, characters must be both typical and individual-and individual first.


Either the character must be unusual, such a person as we do not commonly have the opportunity of meeting; or if he is such a one as we meet every day, we must in print meet him in some striking situation not frequent in every-day experience. If he is an ordinary person, and the plot-incidents ordinary too, the story writer has just one possible excuse left for bringing his character into print. He can reveal the deep impressions which such experiences make on such people-impressions intellectual or emotional-which lie too deep to appear to a casual observer at a chance meeting.


For most of us the points of contact with life are limited in number, and we are not conceited enough to regard" The rustic cackle of our bourg, the murmur of the mighty world." We welcome the readings of life which the skilled observer and interpreter can bring to us from his part of the world of experience. There are portions of the world that we cannot visit and could not understand if we were there. There are levels of society too high and levels too low for some of us. There are some people whom we cannot meet face to face and know intimately, and others whom we would not meet if we could; but in our own rooms, being properly introduced by the story teller, we may consort with principalities and powers and not feel out of place, or with knights and ladies of low degree, or no degree, and profit by the meeting. The writers of stories make such meetings possible for us.


As with the characters, so it is with situations. We are all earth-bound. We cannot go everywhere; we cannot see everything that we should be interested in, if we could meet those situations as first-hand experiences. But as readers we can make servants of authors and ask them to see for us and show us their characters as they pass through experiences that we cannot have. Having a thousand of these trained observers at our command the world over, we can draw upon their knowledge of things and people and emotions beyond our range of experience. If they deal with the commonest situations of life, they have yet a means of instructing us, for they can give us interpretations of life that lie beneath the surface of things observed. They can present a condensation and simplification of actual life that is more illuminating than the casual experiences of life can possibly be to us.


Then, too, we must remember that every effect of experience with life does not show upon the countenance of the chance-met person. If you go out upon the street, you may meet a man or woman who has just passed through some tragic hour of intellectual or emotional experience, and yet you may not be aware of it from any look or action. They may show no outward sign of the stirred depths - at least no sign that you or I can read. Here the trained interpreter steps in and sees for us and makes us see. The writer of fiction also can, from his knowledge of life, set up a problem in imagination and ask himself what would happen if certain characters

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