WELDON BURGE

Publisher/Full-Time Editor/Freelance Writer

Bullets and Butterflies: A Blog by Weldon Burge

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, 3/26/10

March 26, 2010

Tags: writing, screenwriting, dialogue

Today was the first day of workshops for the conference. Quite a packed day! Here are the events I attended, with some thoughts.

Building Dramatic Scenes That Work (10:30-12:30)
The workshop leader was Khris Baxter, a screenwriter. Using scenes from film (The Silence of the Lambs, Doubt, When Harry Met Sally, Good Will Hunting), he explained the different ways dramatic scenes are structured for maximum impact, and how fiction writers can use screenwriting techniques to improve their stories. “Dramatic scenes are the true engines of story.”

Another insight I found interesting involved dialogue. Consider point of view in each scene, and use the POV of the character who best drives the scene. Dialogue must (1) reveal character, (2) provide information (exposition), and (3) advance the plot. On the subject of exposition, Khris used a scene from a John Sayles’ film to illustrate the major rule for flashbacks—the scene you flash to must be inherently more dramatic than the originating scene.

Khris said, “We’re in the emotion business, folks.” Write what you feel uncomfortable writing; those things you naturally avoid writing; the hard, visceral stuff you’d rather keep hidden. These are usually the emotions that truly involve the reader, and are the essential content of the strongest dramatic scenes. Dig deep!

Lunch, Opening Remarks, Readings (12:45-2:15)
During lunch, I sat with Joanne Reinbold, founder of the Written Remains Writers Group in Wilmington. I'd like to join such a group, for feedback, networking, and just working with other writers as they hone their craft. I'm seriously considering joining the group. Depends on the time requirements involved. We'll see ...

A Solid Stable Business (2:30-3:45)
This was a roundtable discussion of alternative publishing options (self-publishing, small press, POD, etc.), moderated by Fay Jacobs, a small publisher here in Rehoboth. It became clear during the discussion that writing a book is only a fraction of the work involved if you go it alone with publishing, or even go with a small publisher. Marketing and distribution are major considerations, and should be well planned and orchestrated for any hope for success.

I’m considering self-publishing a gardening book, but I still need to give this idea far more serious thought.

A Conversation With Doug Stewart, Carolyn Parkhurst, and Jami Attenberg (4:00-5:15)
This was another roundtable discussion, this one about agents and their relationships with writers. Doug is the agent for both Carolyn and Jami. Nothing really new here that I didn’t already know, but many others in attendance found this enlightening. All three reiterated time and again that persistence is key to finding an agent. And they all advised finding an agent who loved your work—a fan of your writing—rather than an agent who takes you on just for the $$.

“Meet the Author” Cocktail Party (6:00-7:30)
This took place at Browseabout Books on the main strip in Rehoboth. I grabbed some food, bought two books (that I hope to get signed tomorrow), shared a few conversations, then split. I didn’t stay for the readings. I wanted to get back to my room to write this blog entry and work on a few story ideas I developed during the day.

Looking forward to more learning and networking tomorrow!

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