For me, writing short stories gives me the freedom to wing my characters a bit. A novel requires planning and creating a character sketch so that you stay true to who that person is as the story takes its course. But with a short story, you are giving a glimpse into who a person is, a small piece of the puzzle. You could even say that a short story is a sort of character sketch, at least the way I write them.
One of the things that helps me make my characters feel like real people (I hope) is to give them little quirks or interesting background tidbits, most of which are stolen from real life. It could be a phrase that my mother uses, a family pet name, or some quirky behavior. I think it feels more real when it is real. Of course they say that truth is stranger than fiction, so it’s possible these things seem as if I made them up.
Paring down things to their bare minimums helps me keep things authentic as well. I try not to get too much into a story; that’s for longer works. Short stories, for me, are like peeking into someone’s window at a critical moment in their lives. It’s a heartbeat, a deep breath, an exhale. Who they are plays into how they got there and their reactions, but it’s not the full picture. It’s a person at a pivotal point in their day or their life. It may or may not be an accurate portrait of who they are, but it should be spot on for the person they inhabit in that moment. I try to achieve that by not bringing too much background into the story’s space, otherwise things get crowded.
I’ve heard from readers who’ve said that my stories are different from others that they’ve read, and I take that as a point of pride. I write what’s in me, without thought to what other people are doing, no matter how much I admire it.
What makes a story or character feel real to you?