Throwing the Orange

08 March 2019 on Fiction, Storystorm   Tags:

Recently I read the short story collection Refund by Karen Bender. Her stories awakened something in me: I could finally make my characters do things! It sounds ridiculous, but I have written many stories where my characters just meander around a world in observation. You can write beautiful, vivid prose from observation. My character might feel the pocked texture of an orange rind, or feel the splash of juice as they dig their thumb into the meat, or inhale the sharp scent of citrus. I may be able to convey that they are heartbroken when they notice the orange split open looks like the ventricles of a heart, or convey their anger when they grind the rind between their teeth. However, unless my character hurls that orange at a person on the street, I beg to argue there isn’t a story at all.

For whatever reason, sometimes making your character “throw the orange” is easier said than done. In an essay titled “The Emotional Power of Verbs,” also authored by Bender, she writes: “I didn’t see the poetry in verbs, or in action; and, second, in my stories, I often didn’t know what would happen next.”

There shouldn’t be a choice between poetry and action, but I think I often give up one for the other. When I rely on action, I enjoy the architecture of my story, but not necessarily the line-by-line language (or vice versa). As the title of Bender’s essay suggests, the cure for this seems to be finding emotionality in action. Moving back to the orange throwing, if I change the “person on the street” to my character’s mother, the hurling of the orange is injected with more emotional charge. I’m also defining my character as the type of person to throw fruit, while simultaneously forcing the story to move forward. A character can’t commit assault via fruit and go on sitting there observing the world! The ending can naturally blossom from a rich beginning.

I’ve been told that if I’m having a hard time writing the end of a story, I never had the beginning. So if you’re stuck in a story, give your character and orange and let them throw it.

Rachel Bullock is one of Barnstorm's Fiction Editors.





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