Tonight’s blog post, on the topic of negatives is brought to you by yours truly. OK, so I’m not a guest but today would have been my father’s 83rd birthday so I thought I’d write about using negatives in fiction, or in other words, what isn’t there.
What’s missing – using negatives in fiction
Whilst we write about what the characters are doing and what’s around them, it’s all too easy to forget about what’s not there. Sometimes what’s missing can be as important as what exists. A missing person (to whatever degree) can have a real impact on the character and the plot. The person who isn’t there can even qualify as an antagonist as they’re placing a barrier to the protagonist getting what (or in this case who) they want – the end goal or resolution. Recent examples of this would be the 2012 film Gone and the TV series Missing. With having what’s missing striving the hero or heroine to the same end, we are bound to feel more empathy for them because in most cases the reader (or viewer) will imagine themselves in that situation.
Just doing a search on Google (other search engines are available :)) for the word ‘missing’ brings up an article about some missing medals turning up on eBay, a perfect plot for a story, as would be the lost property office at a railway station or airport. I’d love to be behind the scenes in one of those!
Having the missing item or person of course doesn’t have to be the main focus of the story. Lee Childs’ strapline for his novel Nothing to Lose reads… Two small towns in the middle of nowhere Colorado: Hope and Despair. Between them, nothing but twelve miles of empty road. Jack Reacher can’t find a ride, so he walks. All he wants is a cup of coffee. What he gets are four hostile locals, a vagrancy charge and an order to move on. They’re picking on the wrong guy. Reacher is a hard man. No job, no address, no baggage. Nothing at all, except hardheaded curiosity. What are the secrets that Despair seems so desperate to hide? With just one ally—a mysterious woman cop from Hope—and many enemies, Reacher goes up against a whole town, hunting the rich man at its core, cracking open his terrifying agenda, asking the question: Who has the edge—a man with everything to gain, or a man with nothing to lose?’
Whilst most of us (hopefully) cannot relate to having as little as Jack, I’m pretty sure we’d all know how we’d feel if we were put into that situation. Another example is Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and there’s an extensive article about negation in fiction here.
Negatives also don’t even have to be obvious. Think of Romeo & Juliet or West Side Story and what’s missing? Parental approval. If you have a story you’re struggling with, take a look at its negatives – if you can’t find anything then the chances are that there isn’t enough of a dilemma facing your hero or heroine.
So next time you’re writing something, think about what’s missing… it could be something simple like a ring of dust where a mug used to sit, to a burglary or a character realizing that there’s no sound, no movement, not even birds (lists of threes work well too :)). We use our imagination to picture the description and characters, try using it to remove them… something different but hopefully something fun.
Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, freelance writer, and author of numerous short stories, novels, articles, has dabbled with poetry but admits that she doesn’t “get it”. Host of the fortnightly Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast, she also belongs to three in-person writing groups (based in Northamptonshire, England) and is Chair of another which runs the annual HE Bates Short Story Competition. Even her local British Red Cross volunteering is writing-related (she’s their ‘book lady’) and when walking her dog she’s often writing or editing. She also loves reading, though not as often as she’d like, but is spurred on by her new Kindle Touch. Somewhere in between she writes a short story a week for Tuesday Tales and has written a story a day (during May) for http://storyaday.org for the past two years (becoming 31-story eBooks), this year though she kept going, creating her 5PM Fiction blog slot. Acutely aware of how important a writer’s online presence should be, she has recently set-up an inexpensive blog-creation service.
She has a writing-related forum and you can follow her on Twitter, friend on Facebook, like her Facebook Author Page, connect on LinkedIn, find on Tumblr, look at her photos on Flickr and join her every Sunday (8pm UK time) on Radio Litopia where she is a regular contributor.
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The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with romance, paranormal, Gothic and comedy author Linda Hays Gibbs – the three hundred and ninety-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.