WEEK 4: Character, Craft, and Complication I


"Peace of Mind" by T.C. Boyle (from "If the River Was Whiskey)

"Balthazar's Marvelous Afternoon" by Gabriel Marquez (from "Collected Stories")


  1. In Pam Houston's story, Homer remains an unsympathetic character. He tries to get nice towards the end, but too little, too late. Imagine if Houston had made Homer sympathetic. How would this have changed the story?
  2. Don't we have to like David? Why?
  3. Does Pam Houston's story strike you as one that simply got written after pen was put to paper, or do you think some planning went into this one ahead of time?
  4. Does the narrator of "The Angry Man" have a tragic flaw also? If so, what is it?
  5. What about the narrator of Toon Red Nav? Is there a facet to this character that motivates him to final madness?


  1. We've chosen a single work-in-progress to go forward with. Here are six of the seven criteria (original story being number seven) from New Beginnings I:

    - Major Complication, Cause of Predicament, or Focus of Tension
    - Minor Complications
    - Major Catalyst Character (-e.g., the angry man, Homer, the motel clerk, etc.) or Antagonist
    - Sympathetic Protagonist
    - Setting

    Your current work-in-progress must account for each one of these. Please note. Keep your response for each to one sentence. In the case of the protagonist (the protag does NOT have to be the first person narrator), please provide a character sketch using the following criteria:

    - Bio and Physical (one sentence for bio and one for physical description)
    - Tragic Flaw(s)
    - Goal(s) (in the context of the story)
    - Potential or Actual Epiphany (depending on how much you understand about the story)
    - Empathy/Sympathy Factor (what makes them capable of gaining reader support?)

    Keep each response to *one* sentence. Be succinct.

  2. Write what you believe will be the first scene of your story. Include pre-scene narrative as necessary, segue from beginning as necessary. Action takes place in fictive present. We see the characters as if on stage.

    Make use of dialogue. Have two or more characters interacting in the scene. Remember that each scene has a purpose, and a BEGINNING, a MIDDLE, and an END. Consider the purpose of this one before you write. Keep the scene short to medium length (or longer if necessary).