Thursday, September 27, 2012

Books & Writing -- Creating Characters

We've spent several weeks on the topic of creating characters readers believe in and care about. Today some final thoughts.

Character's Voice
Listen to the voices of your characters. Every character’s voice needs to be distinctive. You don't want them all to sound the same. If you’re not careful they may sound like you. People have various ways of filtering the world’s input—some are auditory, others visual, or kinesthetic. These differences affect how a character perceives their surroundings and how they speak. 

What is voice?
• It’s what a character says and how they say it.
• It’s what they talk about, their interests and who they are.

Characters are the story.
If you give your characters freedom, they’ll write your story. The movie As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt is a great example of a character driven story. Jack Nicholson plays the role of an obsessive/compulsive author. His neighbor Greg Kinnear is an ultra sensitive homosexual who drives Jack Nicholson's character crazy. The love interest is Helen Hunt. Her character helps put Jack Nicholson’s character back together. These characters drive the story. If you want to study a well done character driven story this is worth every minute of your time.

As a writer, I love it when characters take over and carry me along for the ride.

You want to:
• Listen to your characters.
• Feel how the characters feel. Interview them if you must.
• Look at your characters from another character’s point of view.
• Be sensitive to a character's feelings.
• Don’t hold characters in a vise. Let them breathe, grow and run with their own stories.

You want your characters to change and to grow as the story moves along. After all, what fun is it to read a book where nothing happens to the characters on the inside? They've got to discover something or someone, grow, give up, accept . . . in their gut they've got to change.

Dialogue is part of your character.

What does dialogue accomplish?
  • Dialogue needs a reason to be on the page. You don’t want to simply fill up space.
  • It advances the plot action.
  • It pushes a viewpoint character forward to solve a problem or a wrong decision.
  • Makes characters real.
  • Reveals who your character is on the surface and on the inside. It should reveal basics of class, education and personality.

 Examples of two very different characters:

“I shall have a cup of tea, black, and a small salad. No tomatoes, as tomatoes upset my digestion.”

“Gimme pie and coffee, sweetie. Got any apple?”

It's amazing how much you can know about a character simply by what they say and how they say it.

  • Through dialogue you discover facts by the questions asked and answers given.
  • Dialogue sets a mood and reflects the character's mood.
  • It intensifies the conflict. Readers love the give and take between two characters who verbally punch and counter punch.
  • Dialogue conveys information to readers and helps a writer avoid long passages of narrative.
  • Dialogue brings immediacy to the story so readers feel like they are part of the action.
  • It provides a change of pace and can move a story ahead more quickly.
  • It should create suspense or tension.
  • You can use it to tie up loose ends.

Dialogue is more than just a conversation.

  • Combine dialogue with movements and gestures to create pacing.
  • Interject thoughts. Hidden responses often reveal more about a person than what they might have said.
  • Good dialogue is artificially concise. It's a balancing act, concise but not so concise that it sounds unnatural. READ DIALOGUE ALOUD SO YOU CAN HEAR IT.
  • Good dialogue is emotional. You want the choice of words to engage readers and convey emotion.
  • Bare dialogue speeds up a scene and adds tension. Bare dialogue is speaking only, without tags or pacing. There is no narrative. It is used for a brief exchange. Capture the character's speech patterns so readers will know who is speaking.

Common Mistakes Using Dialogue:
  • Using too many direct connections, such as names to identify the speaker or using tags such as he said or she said. Leave these off whenever possible.
  • Describing dialogue--examples--he said angrily. He extrapolated. Rather use a character's actions to convey the mood or the pacing of the dialogue, "I said stop. Stop now!" We know how this character feels without describing it. If he's really mad you might want to add an action to he says, such as, he brought his fist down on the desk.
  • Use of unnecessary dialogue. Remember that dialogue should move the action forward. Don't write it down if you don't need it.

Helps for learning realistic dialogue.
  • Listen to the way people talk. You can sit in a restaurant or bus station, or any place where people gather, and observe and take notes.
  • Listen for emotions. What do people sound like when they're angry, bitter, content, cynical or . . .
  • Read and study lots of dialogue.

 Quote by Dwight V. Swain.
“Always strive for the provocative line. Hunt for at least occasional new, fresh, original ways for your characters to say whatever it is they have to say. In their proper places, slang, colorful analogies, personification, and the like can prove very effective.

How do you find the provocative line? Write whatever dull cliches come handy, then go back and rework. Complex may then become as tangled up as a meatball in a can of spaghetti. Jumpy is reworked to jerking like a crawdad on a hook or wriggling like a barefoot boy on hot cement”.

I hope these sessions on creating characters have been helpful. It's time for you create the people who will tell  your next story. Have fun!

Grace and peace to you from God,


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