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Developing Characters That Live Through Dialogue And Action
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If characters don't come to life on the page or computer screen, a writer has failed to create a good story. Yes, other components are also necessary to provide a complete story, but characters must live through the author's words. Believable dialogue and action breathes life into characters.
Dialogue can reveal character. According to Ellen Macaulay, one of the first things editors do is "skim a submission for effective, realistic dialogue; words that sound like they would actually come out of your character's mouth."
Since dialogue reveals the speaker's personality, emotion, and relationships to other characters, an author needs a few techniques to use. One way is to use different varieties of English: slang, dialect, formal English, or other speech patterns. Another technique would be for a writer to indicate how the characters speak: murmur, shout, advise, console, whine, brag. Manner of speech reveals much about personalities and emotions.
Observing and noting the world around us helps us choose the right details and to write distinctive dialogue. Listening to the way people talk, express themselves gives us the details that cause characters to live.
Actions of characters are often tied closely to dialogue. One way this happens is when dialogue shows what is happening rather than expository details telling. Another is to have the character act before, during, or right after he speaks.
Dictates of writing once insisted that anything other than the word said should be used. Then the cycle went towards using only said. Now the cycle swings back to avoiding said as much as possible. One way to avoid using said or any synonym is to the have the character act.
Jane sighed and shook her head. "Why can't I ever learn?"
In the example above we know that Jane spoke, and we learn something about her at the same time.
Bharti Kirchner states in "Get Started," The Writer, March 2006, "Action speaks louder than description. Nothing delineates a person better than her actions." Action of characters not only makes them breathe and live, but it moves the story along.
Knowing how characters move helps the reader "see" them. However, such details should be worked into the story not explained in detail all at one time. If Jane has a habit of tossing her head, nibbing on her lower lip, and twisting her fingers around each other, those actions should be revealed if and when appropriate in the story. Choosing only a few details and weaving them into the story rather than lumped into one paragraph not only allows the reader to have a visual impression of the character, but also adds to the believability.
Other ways exist to help make characters live, but dialogue and action are two that make them breathe and also help keep the story moving.
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