WELDON BURGE

Publisher/Full-Time Editor/Freelance Writer

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Developing Characters Via Dialogue

November 30, 2015

Tags: writing, characterization, developing characters, dialogue

Many fiction writers have difficulty developing real-to-life characters in their work. One of the ways to pull this off effectively is with dialogue—something most of us enjoy writing. But, as an editor, I often see short stories that miss the mark. How? With dialogue that doesn’t truly differentiate the characters, much less help define them.

Have you read fiction in which the dialogue has one tone, one voice? Typically this is because the author is writing in his or her own voice instead of getting into the characters’ heads and talking in the ways they would. The dialogue must fit the characters. I’m often guilty of being lazy when developing dialogue myself, and often have to go through my drafts to hone the dialogue.

Let’s consider an example.

I’m currently working on a police procedural novel. Of course, there are a number of detectives and other police officers in the story, and each has a distinct character. My main character, Matthew Marrs, is a by-the-book, straightforward detective with a heart, who is highly intuitive and superb at his job. His partner, Gordon O’Daniel, constantly looks for the humor in situations, is something of a lady’s man, and is quick-witted and street-smart. Anthony D’Oro is an older, gruff detective, something of a curmudgeon. Now, let’s hear them talk.

“Give me a break,” Marrs said.

“Gimme a break,” D’Oro said.

“C’mon!” O’Daniel said.

The detectives react to the same situation and say pretty much the same thing, but with different voices that portray their characters. Even if I didn’t add the attributions, you’d probably know who said what from my earlier descriptions of their characters. (more…)

Writers at the Beach, 3/27/10

March 27, 2010

Tags: writing, characterization, fiction writing, websites, branding

The second full day of workshops was just as packed as yesterday! Here are the events I attended, again with some thoughts. (I skipped the readings scheduled 10:00-10:45.)

Want: Character and Motivation (11:00-1:15)
The workshop leader was Jami Attenberg, author of the recently released novel The Melting Season and The Kept Man. I was impressed with Jami, not only because of her advice about characterization techniques, but because she was open about the writing business, how she came into it and how she lives the life. Her insights about writing were illuminating.

Jami had us do two writing exercises. I never write well in those situations (“Take 15 minutes to write about this scenario about this character”); I need time to think about the angles on an idea before it gels enough for me to write anything worthwhile. But I was amazed at the quality of work the other participants were able to create in short time!

A couple of things she said rings true to me. When talking about characterization, she said that “thought” (getting into a character’s head) “is where fiction shines, more than any other art form.” I’d never really considered this, but she’s right. Even film can’t go that deep into a character’s psyche. The writer wields great power in this regard.

Another piece of advice I found worth remembering concerned how to get “unstuck” when you’re not sure how a character should handle a plot situation. Jami suggested writing the scene in as many ways as you can think of, every alternative available, and see what works best. Another option is to simply ask people what they would do in a similar situation. Why not?

Lunch on Your Own (1:15-3:00)

The Story of You: Developing a Brand and Web Presence (3:00-5:15)
This was a great workshop, the one I participated in the most during this conference. Franklin Parrish, Creative Director of M19 Media, was the workshop leader. His focus was on defining branding for the freelance writer, and how to translate this branding to a strong Web site. I agreed with Franklin on virtually everything he said today. He’s a sharp guy.

My problem, when it comes to branding my Web site, is that my writing is all over the place (gardening, travel, educational management, suspense and horror fiction, a children’s book) and it’s tough for me to develop a singular brand. Franklin suggested branding myself as “multi-talented” on the umbrella site, and then focusing on branding the other elements separately, all under the umbrella of “me.” I’m still not sure how to pull this off. I think if the main site reveals my personality and style, the rest will fall into place. But, I still need to determine marketing strategies.

Keynote Dinner (6:30-8:15)
A wonderful dinner in the Swan Ballroom tonight. The keynote speaker was Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghost.

Just one more day! One more workshop! Then back home, looking forward to next year’s conference!

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