#3 Out of Character Dialogue
I just can’t help myself. An interesting individual who crosses my path is going to get the once-over. I try not to intrude as I study the mannerisms, expressions, and speech rhythms of complete strangers. Any idiosyncrasy makes its way into my mental filing cabinet labeled ‘creating characters.’
If you are like me, you do a lot of people-watching. Given this, you’d think creating believable characters should come easily. In moments of glory, it does, but the rest of the time our characters baffle us. They ambush us with scenes we never planned to write, fall in love where they shouldn’t, say and do things that take a plot astray, and generally keep us on our toes.
Here’s the truth: if we don’t know, no one else will either. Yes, writing is a voyage of discovery, and part of our joy in the process is learning about characters as we create them. I won’t argue plotting versus pantsing here, because this is true whatever writing method you choose. It’s important for characters to stay in, well, character. For that to happen, at some point we’re going to have to understand them.
Without a thorough knowledge of the personalities involved, fictional conversations that take place on several levels can be tricky to navigate, resulting in out of character dialogue. That’s a shame, because dialogue is one of the best places in a manuscript to reveal characters.
Readers glean from what is said, but also from what isn’t said. Leaving out a comment your character should have made is as much a mistake as adding words your character wouldn’t have spoken. They are two sides of the same coin.
Revise out-of-character dialogue while editing. By this time you should have a better grasp on all aspects of your story, including the characterizations. Editing consistently, rather than in fits and starts, helps you see what needs fixing. Reading your manuscript out loud is another good way to identify dialogue that doesn’t ring true.
You can fill in character charts, answer pertinent questions about your characters, and even interview them. These are useful tools. However, there’s no substitute for fully imagining a scene, entering into your character’s skin and living in the story world.
But that’s the fun of writing.
Sometimes we get busy and stop letting ourselves daydream. Or burnout sets in. Your creativity is a delicate resource linked to your mental, emotional, and physical health. Nurture it and reap rewards. I’d be an unusual school teacher, I guess, cheering for the kid looking out the window during class.
I was that kid.
To make sure you receive all installments in this series, subscribe to Live Write Breathe.
Please feel free to share the image, below, at social sites to let others know about this article.