This is a part of a seven part Q&A with Eric Witchey, interviewed by M.K. Martin. To see the introduction to this craft talk series click here.
M.K. Martin: Several of the Fiction Fluency Seminars,  for example “Characters are what they do” and “Character lives, desires, & conflict” focus on the character. Why is character so essential to storytelling?
Eric Witchey: I’m fond of saying, “Character IS story.” I’m also fond of saying “Conflict IS character.” Both are true. Of course, a full answer would require seminars that explore how all aspects of character influence all aspects of story, but here’s an example based on dialog:
Character 1 (C1): “I’m going to take the kids to school.”
Character 2 (C2): “Okay.”

Eric Witchey giving a class during Writing on the Sound, 2015

Here is a situation we all know. Notice that both characters are in agreement. No issues. No stress. No demonstration of who these people are. No story. Nothing. We have seen a speech and a response, and we have nothing else. Consider this revision:
C1: “In the car, kids. School!”
C2: “I need the car. Therapy’s in ten minutes.”
Same situation, but each character now has a mutually exclusive agenda. If C1 gets what they want, C2 can’t get to therapy on time. If C2 gets to therapy on time, the kids making it to school will be more complicated than just loading up and leaving. We now have a couple with minor, normal issues. We haven’t seen them. We haven’t seen their house. We don’t know anything about their kids, but we know that at the very least they have communication and planning issues. We have also seen each of them attempt to solve a problem using a normal but specific tactic. This choice of tactics implies aspects of personality—psychology.
Character has begun to appear because conflict created a contrast that demonstrates the two distinct styles and desires.
In the first set, we had two people who in agreement, normal, just creating a solution for the morning. No sense of who they are or what kind of story might be possible. Boring. In the second set, escalation is likely because who they are begins to become apparent through what they want. We can already see that a scene will develop, if you’ll pardon the double entendre. From scene, we can believe story will develop.
Now consider C1 inhabiting setting. Note that I did not say that C1 is describing setting. Take a look at the actions C1 takes and how her actions and personal emotional state create the sense of setting.
Her cold coffee pot had timed out at least a half hour ago, which meant the school bus had come and gone. Smart pot, my ass. She pressed both palms against the cold polish of her Brazilian granite countertop and took a deep, cleansing breath. Upstairs, Sicily and Megan squealed and giggled over something that was certainly not part of getting ready for school. Streaming NPR News rolled out of Allen’s front study, along the hardwood hallway, and toward her back. It was going to be one of those days. She yelled at the coffee pot. “In the car, kids. School!”
Here, C1’s experience in the kitchen implies backstory, some family social dynamics, a physical world that allows the reader to bring their experience into the narrative to fill in a gross cut on lifestyle socio-economic status, and an emotional state. In short, Character IS Setting, too. Finally, the text implies a decision that is organic to her situation and history. She demonstrates that decision when she speaks. Notice also that the attitude and emotion displayed in the narrative of coffee pot and kitchen influence the reader’s internalized interpretation of the words she speaks and how she speaks them.
I could go on and on, but I think it’s starting to be clear that character influences absolutely every aspect of story. Consequently, the seminars spend a lot of time on character development, character testing, the relationship of character to themes, and on and on. Character IS Everything.

About Eric Witchey: Eric Witchey is known for teaching clear, useful skills that allow students to create salable fiction. His classes draw from his experience teaching at two universities, a community college, countless conferences, and in many corporate and private settings. He has sold work in ten genres with over 140 short stories and six novels in national and international markets. His work has been honored by Writers of the Future, New Century Writers, Writers Digest, Short Story America, the Eric Hoffer Award Program, the Irish Aeon Awards, among others.
His articles have appeared in The Writer’s Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and other online and print magazines. Visit Eric Witchey online at

About M.K. Martin: M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at