Category Archives: Dialogue

Develop Stunning Characters

There are books written on the subject of character development. The reason is quite simple – characters form the central stage upon which you paint your masterpiece. Characters create the mood for your story. They inject the energy that is needed to innervate the action which carries your novel from start to finish. Without character development you have only words. A great novel with poor characters is called recycled paper!

Characters take on a life of their own

Some writers like to sit down and work out a full life’s worth description of their characters. Even going as far as describing their underwear or the date they lost their first tooth. However doing so can create too rigid a profile. A good character should be developed with respects to:

Appearance (including sex, height, weight, eye color, skin color)
Occupation (do they work at McDonalds flipping burgers? or lead a major corporation as the CEO?)
Values (respect rights of others? Or is he a chauvinistic womanizer?)
Goals (immediate goals – like paying the rent for the month; long term goals – swim the English Channel)

Answering these questions help seed a character with enough traits that allows him or her to grow during the development of the story. Not knowing some details is good. That’s because the character grows into requiring the right trait at the right moment. This provides the writer with spontaneity and injects fresh new life into a story.

When should character development occur?

The ideal place to work out your characters would be right after you decide what it is you’re writing. Mind you knowing what you have written may mean you have an idea for a central character or two, character development isn’t that. It’s delving deeper into the part of your character that others (like your readers) will never know.

Some writers work differently. They sometimes start a story with a character in mind and move from there. Woody Allen has made a franchise out of developing stories purely from character. Anyone of his characters goes on living outside of the story. You are convinced Woody can pen another 20 minutes at any random moment of the characters life – and it would be as exciting as any moment selected to represent the movie!

Creating characters before the story comes to be

A useful tool writers sometimes employ is to create a database of interesting characters. One way is to create an index card for each character and jot down some details about the character. Some writers go as far as to go searching for a photo to attached to the card. In the end the writer develops a database of dozens to hundreds of available characters. When the moment comes, the writer simply auditions the character for the role in the story.

This audition can be in the form of a real verbal dialogue. To do this begin a dialogue in a new document that looks something like this:

Writer:

So you want to audition for the role of Sheriff in my latest book “Treasures”?

Character John

Yea. Think I’ll pull it off.

Writer:

What makes you so confident?

Character John

For starters I’m not afraid to shoot anyone.

You get the picture…the dialogue goes on and the writer is able to create a map of exactly why the character fits the bill for the new story idea.

Using Subtext in Writing Dialogue

Some people just have a knack for writing dialogue, however it takes more than just a “good ear”.   There are other important elements that go into effective dialogue writing.

Some writers may believe that eavesdropping on  a conversation on a subway car provides instruction for how dialogue should be written.  Sure it may sound great.  After all how much more real can you get than hearing people engaging in real conversation?  Surprisingly their conversation may sound great but it will rarely make it to an award winning work of art.  Why?  Because writing good dialogue that makes readers fall in love with your characters and drives them to want to continue and finish your novel involves Subtext elements.

To understand what Subtext is all about, consider the following dialogue:

 

MARY:    “What did you do to your hair?”

KATE:  “I tried something different.  Do you like it?”

MARY:  “Well, to tell you the truth – no.  It makes you look like a hooker.”

KATE: “Well you don’t have to be so mean about it.”

Now consider the same exchange but with subtext:

MARY:  “Did you forget something?”

KATE:  “What?”

MARY:  “Red Lipstick, and shoes and dress to match? You know something to go with your new hairdo. “

While the first exchange falls flat, the second one provides more dramatic style.  Mary simply suggests that Kate looks like a hooker rather than tell her.  But even then, the subtext could be even more subtle.

Let’s look at the following exchange between a couple who hate each other – on the day of their wedding anniversary.

BILL:  “Happy Anniversary Honey.”

JANE: “Twenty years already.”

BILL:  “Twenty happy years.  We should celebrate.”

JANE: “It’s so underrated.  Let’s do something we both enjoy.”

BILL: “Agreed.  There’s a ball game this afternoon.  I’ll see if Pete wants to go.”

JANE: “And I’ll ask Betty if she’d like to go to the mall.”

In this exchange, “Something they both enjoy” translates into something that doesn’t involve each other.   It works because it falls under the rule of showing not telling.  We are showing the feelings each other have for each other.

Next time you write dialogue ask yourself the question Can I write this exchange by showing how the characters feel without being direct? In other words can you use subtext to convey the dialogue?