by BLH on September 20th, 2010
If you’ve never learned the rules of using dialogue in fiction, it can be bewildering when you hand your first short story in to a teacher and get it back covered in red marks. Nevertheless, the rules of dialogue are an essential and rarely broken law, for good reason: without these standards of how to use dialogue, it would be hopelessly confusing as to who was speaking in a story. If you’re unsure about some of the unwritten rules for dialogue use, brush up on your skills and read on.
- Rule #1: A new speaker makes a new line.
If you have two characters speaking in a story, it’s important to keep it clear who’s speaking. Hemingway often makes things challenging by having long back-and-forths between characters without dialogue tags (tags are “he said” and “she said”). That’s allowed, as long as you make a new line every time someone else is speaking.
The wrong way:
“I wish I could fly,” John said longingly. “Why don’t you grow wings, then?” Sarah snapped back.
This is wrong because we don’t know it is Sarah speaking until we get to the end of the dialogue. The convention tells us that it is still John speaking.
The right way:
“I wish I could fly,” John said longingly.
“Why don’t you grow wings, then?” Sarah snapped back.
With the line break, it keeps the reader on track, knowing that someone else is speaking.
- Rule #2: Quotes, quotes, and quotes
Even a small thing like using the wrong quotation marks can reflect poorly on your story, particularly if it’s being read by an editor or agent. Here are the rules to remember for American standard dialogue use.
Two quotation marks for speech; one mark for speech within speech
“You wouldn’t believe how he treated me,” said Mark. “He said, ‘Go back where you came from!’”
This way, we know for sure who is speaking and whether what is said is a direct quotation or not.
After the jump: rules of thumb for effective dialogue.
- Rule #3: Break up dialogue into two parts
It’s awkward in speech to wait until the end of a speech to give the dialogue tag, because then we don’t know who is speaking for a long time. Instead, give the first thought, then a comma and tag, then go back into dialogue. That way, your reader will be able to picture who is speaking throughout the speech.
The wrong way:
“I can’t believe I failed the test. I studied and studied, but somehow I choked and left most of it blank. I’m probably going to have to retake it,” Mark said.
The right way:
“I can’t believe I failed the test,” said Mark. “I studied and studied, but somehow I choked and left most of it blank.”
- Rule #4: Avoid flashy dialogue tags.
Here’s a bit of shocking news: your elementary school teachers were wrong. They urged you to stretch your vocabulary by using every big word you knew for dialogue. If you do that, though, you end up with a clunky, distracting mess. Here’s an example:
The wrong way:
“You broke my heart!” she screamed.
“It’s not my fault!” he growled.
“But you cheated on me!” she wailed.
“I’m sorry — it just happened,” he stammered.
The problem with this passage is that the tags start overshadowing the actual words being spoken. They’re completely unnecessary. They are often crutches in our writing; in reality, the words themselves should suggest the tone with which they are spoken. In fact, using “he said” and “she said” is so familiar to readers that the words blur into the background, retreating so that the main action of dialogue can come to the fore. That’s why it’s best to keep wordy dialogue tags to a minimum and just use “said” for most of your dialogue. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear only two people are talking back and forth.
The right way:
“You broke my heart!” she said.
“It’s not my fault!” he said.
“But you cheated on me!”
“I’m sorry — it just happened.”
- Rule #5: Use action to show who is speaking
Now that you know dialogue 101, you’re ready to move on to advanced dialogue. It can still get tedious to have long strings of back-and-forth dialogue. Instead of using “he said” and “she said” back and forth endlessly, use action both to break up the dialogue and indicate who is speaking. If you have dialogue without tags, whoever is given an action afterward is the implied speaker. Let me show you what I mean.
The wrong way:
Sarah stood up. “I love you, John.” He shrank away shyly.
This is not technically wrong, but it is very unclear, because the convention is that the speaker is who is given action after the dialogue. In this passage, it sounds like it is John who has said “I love you, John.” Here’s how you can make it clear.
The right way:
Sarah stood up. “I love you, John.” She reached out to him longingly.
As you can see, it’s very clear in this passage who is speaking and how her words are linked to her actions. That’s another rule of thumb to keep in mind: most of us talk while doing other things. Don’t stop the story so that your characters can give soliloquies; instead, give them things to do as they talk, whether it’s chopping vegetables or fidgeting nervously.
If you have any other questions about the rules and conventions of dialogue, raise them in the comments and we’ll figure them out together.
Hello! I’m having a hard time with my writing. I seem to be having trouble with the whole “show, don’t tell” thing. If you could help me out, I’d really appreciate it. - anonymous
Show, Don’t Tell is simply a way of letting your reader connect to your plot, your setting and your characters better. It enriches your writing, but it also runs the risk of sounding boring to some readers.
First of all, Use it only when relevant and with caution. Overusing this method might make it look like you’re trying to show off your writing skills. But most of all - and this is the real risk of using this method - it make take the focus out of the story and slow down your plot. Specially when you’re writing an action scene, there’s nothing wrong with telling instead of showing. When you need fast-paced narrative, it might be a better idea to keep Show Don’t Tell to a minimum. Also, when there is no reason why your reader needs to connect with a certain place, story or character, don’t shove too much information down their throats. It’s always better to save this method to when it’s relevant.
Now, some real tips on how to master this method:
- Ask yourself what makes you say your character is *personality or physical trait* If you’re creating a stubborn character, ask yourself what makes you say your character is stubborn. In what aspects of this character’s daily life does it show that they’re stubborn? List those aspects, and incorporate them into your scenes - when relevant.
- Appeal to your reader’s senses. This is one of the best ways of putting your reader in your setting. If your character tastes, sees or smells something, let your reader figure out what it is alongside your character. Give your readers enough information for them to perceive the setting just like your character does, instead of simply telling them what’s around.
- Symbolism. Symbolism is a subtle way of showing instead of telling that works really well when you’re trying to hint at something that is going to be disclosed in the future or you simply want to leave your readers guessing. I have a full article on symbolism, that you can find here.
- Back story. Giving your readers a glimpse into what your character’s life or personality was like before your story started is also a way of show don’t tell. It helps your readers understand your characters, their motives and goals better.
- Let your readers judge your characters or settings. To me, this is one of the key points of this method. Try to be impartial when describing a setting or a character (when appropriate), because it helps your readers to form their own opinions. If you describe a certain character’s actions to your reader and leave it up to them to decide if that makes them a reckless, angry, stubborn, prideful, etc character, they will feel more connected and you’ll be a master of show don’t tell.
Also, there are really good resources about it scattered around tumblr - and the internet in general. So I put together a handful of really interesting articles on the matter that might help.
- What The F*ck Does Show Not Tell Mean? - FYWH
- Show Don’t Tell - Personality Traits - My article.
- Show Don’t Tell: A Whiteboard Writing Lesson
- Show Don’t Tell
- Show Don’t Tell: Robert J. Sawyer
- Grammar Girl: Show Don’t Tell
- Show, Don’t Tell
- The First Rule of Writing
- Writing in Pictures using the Show, don’t tell Rule
- Show Don’t Tell - But How?
- The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell
- Writing Tips: Show Don’t Tell
I really hope this was useful! All in all, just let your characters and settings speak for themselves.
1. Don’t use a Thesaurus—use a Dictionary.
While a Thesaurus can come in handy, it is really only useful if you have a very good vocabulary to start off with and just need a garage to keep them all in. A dictionary, is more useful in writing because in the definitions, it often says other synonyms in the description, as well as decreasing the chances of having those slight differences a Thesaurus will give you. For example, a smile is different than a smirk or grimace, two examples in a Thesaurus for “smile.” If “smile” is going by a definition, it is, “Form one’s features into a pleased, kind, or amused expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up: “smiling faces”; A pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.” This gives you a lot more information to go off of, and could also give you some more ideas as a bonus.
2. Think about the tone of the piece.
If you are writing a piece in a particular tone, be careful of the words you use. Make sure your word choice matches what is occurring in your story. For example, if a house is haunted or “bad news” for the characters, you typically don’t want the house to be described as “welcoming and bright,” unless you are attempting a sort of “Hansel and Gretel” plot-twist. Also be aware of the tone of your piece—make sure the way you want the story to head is the same as your words are suggesting.
3. Don’t get too fancy with impressive words.
While having a big vocabulary is definitely an admirable trait, especially as a writer, it is a good idea to be wary of clunky, huge, or strange words when writing your story. Not only does it disrupt the flow of your piece, but often jolts the reader out of the story. There is nothing more strange than reading a word like “anathema” when the reader could have said “taboo.” Keep in mind the fact that you don’t need to dumb down your story for the audience, but be aware of who your audience is, and the words most in that range are going to use or at least be aware of that word in their everyday lives. If you looked up “SAT words” on the internet, then there’s a good chance you are trying to make your story be more than it really is.
4. Use words that do more than just fill up space.
In a story, every word is important. So make sure you aren’t just paying attention to a word limit, and make sure the words do more than just state the obvious. “He was sad, disappointed and alone, sitting on the curb watching cars on the highway zoom past him,” does very little for the reader. “He sat by the concrete curb with hands covering his chapped lips, as he glanced at the passing cars with a glance common to beggars” says much more about the character.
5. Make sure you understand the connotation of a word.
A good example are the words “skinny” and “slender.” Both words mean almost the exact same thing, but generally speaking, “skinny” is more negative, and “slender” is more positive. Understanding the connotation of a word can make the story less confusing and more consistent.
Flat characters, as opposed to Round Characters, are characters whose personality, goals and motives remain, for the most part, unchanged throughout your story. These characters rarely undergo any character development in the course of a book and they often play supportive roles to the main character. However, as we will see below, main characters can be flat too. When you’re writing a secondary, flat character, whom doesn’t require much character development, ask yourself what is their role in the story. What would happen to your story if this character didn’t exist?
Main Characters can be flat or static too. Some great examples of flat Main Characters are Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones. Their goals remain the same throughout the story, and their personality doesn’t develop that much during the course of the narrative. In spite of being flat characters, they’re interesting and relatable.
Flat Characters are characters nevertheless, and they shouldn’t be neglected. While these characters’ personalities are going to stay the same during the course of your story, they need to have goals, motives and a personality of their own. They need to be believable, relatable; they need to be more than your MC’s pawns.
The reason why Secondary, Flat Characters’ personalities and goals don’t develop throughout the story is because, the main conflict does not revolve around them; it’s not their story that’s being told. You should never go against their personality or wishes for the sake of your main character’s success. If anything about them is getting in the way of your main character, maybe you need to start developing this secondary character and make it relevant too. When writing a Main, Flat Character, they don’t undergo any development because the conflict revolves around something that happens to them. If the event is more important than the way your character reacts to it, you don’t always need to show how that event affects them.
Voldemort (Harry Potter saga) is a flat character, while being one of the most important characters in all 7 books. His goals and viewpoint remain the same throughout the series of books and we don’t ever see him vacillating. However, we know a lot about Voldemort. This shows that flat characters don’t need to be irrelevant, uninteresting or even secondary. It’s all about what your characters are looking for.
To sum up, make all your characters matter, even those who aren’t very relevant to the development of your plot. These characters aren’t going to take up much of your time, as you don’t have to worry about developing them and giving them as much depth as you need to give other characters, but you can’t let them be a part of the setting. They don’t need to be pro-active and they don’t need to be too complex, but they need to have their own ideas and morals. Even flat characters can be relatable.
For further reading on Flat Characters:
Index of All Articles by Title:
- Characters - Too Many Unnecessary Characters!
- Description - Body Types, Male, Large
- Description - Body Types, Male, Medium Size / Athletic
- Description - Body Types, Male, Small
- Description - Eye Color, Examples of Great Descriptions
- Description - Eye Color List
- Description - Eyes, How to Describe
- Description - How to Describe Hair
- Description - Hair Color List
- Description - Physical Description Clichés
- Description - Physical Descriptions, How to Write
- Fantasy Fiction - Character Names
- Fantasy Fiction - Clichés to Avoid
- Fantasy Fiction - Everyone’s Most Hated Fantasy Fiction Clichés
- Fantasy Fiction - Titles, How to Choose
- Writing - Find Your Thing
- Writing - How to Finish Writing Your Novel
- Writing - How to Finish Writing Your Rough Draft No Matter What!
Val Kovalin has also written books on describing characters!
In order to create a relatable character, you must think about them as having several layers. Knowing and choosing character traits is important because you don’t want them to be one dimensional. It’s all not as simple as saying “this person is mean” or “this person is kind”. Think about the people you know in real life. They all have some sort of defining trait that makes them different from everyone else. You usually know more than just one thing about them and they most likely have many interests. Your characters must be just as diverse.
I’ve listed some examples of character types:
Adventurer: high levels of energy, bold, dominant, competitive, fickle, leader. Can be aggressive or have poor judgment.
Bossy: confident, competitive, stubborn, close minded, serious, lacks shame or guilt, wants a high status.
Creator: artistic, observant, persistent, sensitive, introverted, becomes easily absorbed, enthusiastic, likes his or her own company.
Extrovert: outgoing, talkative, not easily intimidated, expressive, enjoys being with others, seeks social situations.
Fearful: driven by fears of rejection, unhappy, withdrawn, avoids stress, uncomfortable in social situations, problems being assertive.
Loner: might be directionless, little attachment to anyone, likes to be alone and avoids social situations, rarely expresses anger.
Passive-Aggressive: reserved, sulky or resentful, jealous, always assumes the worst, doesn’t know how to express their feelings, behaves in indirect ways.
Resilient: happy, productive, is able to overcome adversity, has a good sense of humor, high standards, able to go through life with minimal stress.
Victim: feels weak, pessimistic about life, acts like a burden, no deep emotions, feels helpless when left alone.
I also wanted to discuss some psychological disorders in case you’d like to include them in your manuscripts:
Anxiety: tense, shy, depressed, feels worthless, afraid of social situations, lacks confidence, worried, cries frequently.
Autism: can show delay or lack of language in severe cases, might be bossy, dislikes social rules, fights, blows up easily, can lack self-control, uninterested in others.
Depression: feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, negative self-image, intense sadness, can feel worthless.
Hypochondriac: pessimistic, self-centered, complains about aches that can’t be explained by a medical condition, worries, low energy.
If you’re thinking of a specific disorder, you should do the proper research and remember that a disorder can affect everyone differently. Not everyone will have the same traits.
Here are some lists for finding the right vocabulary and coming up with diverse character traits by combining them:
List of POSITIVE character traits: adaptable, alert, ambitious, aware, brave, calm, capable, certain, committed, compassionate, considerate, consistent, curious, dedicated, determined, efficient, expressive, faithful, happy, honest, independent, intelligent, loyal, nurturing, patient, playful, polite, productive, punctual, responsible, strong, trusting, warm, wise.
List of NEGATIVE character traits: angry, aggressive, arrogant, bossy, cruel, careless, cold, conceited, conniving, dishonest, dangerous, egocentric, evil, foolish, flaky, gloomy, grumpy, hateful, harsh, inconsiderate, immature, indulgent, ignorant, insensitive, jealous, lazy, malicious, miserly, mean, mistrusting, pessimistic, pompous, rude, scornful, thoughtless, timid.
Remember that most people have both good and bad traits, so combining them should help you form a well-rounded character.
a massively extended version of ruthlesscalculus’ post
- Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips
- Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
- 34 Writing Tips that will make you a Better Writer
- 50 Free resources that will improve your writing skills
- 5 ways to get out of the comfort zone and become a stronger writer
- 10 ways to avoid Writing Insecurity
- The Writer’s Guide to Overcoming Insecurity
- The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers
- You’re Not Hemingway - Developing Your Own Style
- 7 Ways to use Brain Science to Hook Readers and Reel them In
- 8 Short Story Tips from Kurt Vonnegut
- How to Show, Not Tell
- 5 Essential Story Ingredients
- How to Write Fiction that grabs your readers from page one
- Why research is important in writing
- Make Your Reader Root for Your Main Character
- Writing Ergonomics (Staying Comfortable Whilst Writing)
- The Importance of Body Language
- 10 days of Character Building
- Name Generators
- Name Playground
- Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test
- Seven Common Character Types
- Handling a Cast of Thousands Part 1 - Getting To Know Your Characters
- Web Resources for Developing Characters
- Building Fictional Characters
- Fiction Writer’s Character Chart
- Character Building Workshop
- Tips for Characterization
- Character Chart for Fiction Writers
- Villains are people too but…
- How to Write a Character Bible
- Character Development Exercises
- All Your Characters Talk the Same - And They’re Not A Hivemind!
- Medieval Names Archive
- Sympathy Without Saintliness
- Family Echo (Family Tree Maker)
- Behind The Name
- 100 Character Development Questions for Writers
- Aether’s Character Development Worksheet
- The 12 Common Archetypes
- Six Types of Courageous Characters
- Kazza’s List of Character Secrets - Part 1, Part 2
- Creating Believable Characters With Personality
- Body Language Cheat Sheet
- Creating Fictional Characters Series
- Three Ways to Avoid Lazy Character Description
- 7 Rules for Picking Names for Fictional Characters
- Character Development Questionnaire
- How to Create Fictional Characters
- Character Name Resources
- Character Development Template
- Character Development Through Hobbies
- Character Flaws List
- 10 Questions for Creating Believable Characters
- Ari’s Archetype Series
- How to Craft Compelling Characters
- List of 200 Character Traits
- Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex
- Making Your Characters Likable
- Do you really know your characters?
- Character Development: Virtues
- Character Development: Vices
- Character Morality Alignment
- List of Negative Personality Traits
- List of Positive Personality Traits
- List of Emotions - Positive
- List of Emotions - Negative
- Loon’s Character Development Series - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
- Phobia List A-L (Part 1), M-Z (Part 2)
- 30 Day In Depth Character Development Meme
- Words for Emotions based on Severity
- Eight Bad Characters
- High Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types
- How Not to Write Female Characters
- Writing Female Characters
- How to write empowering female characters
- Why I write strong female characters
- Red Flags for Female Characters Written by Men
- Writing strong female characters
- The Female Character Flowchart
- Eight Heroine Archetypes
Tips for Specific Characters
- Writing A Vampire
- Writing Pansexual Characters
- Writing Characters on the Police Force
- Writing Drunk Characters
- Writing A Manipulative Character
- Writing A Friends With Benefits Relationship
- Writing A Natural Born Leader
- Writing A Flirtatious Character
- Writing A Nice Character
- Fiction Writing Exercises for Creating Villains
- Five Traits to Contribute to an Epic Villain
- Writing Villains that Rock
- Writing British Characters
- How To Write A Character With A Baby
- On Assassin Characters
- It’s Not What They Say…
- Top 8 Tips for Writing Dialogue
- Speaking of Dialogue
- The Great Said Debate
- He Said, She Said, Who Said What?
- How to Write Dialogue Unique to Your Characters
- Writing Dialogue: Go for Realistic, Not Real-Life
Point of View
Plot, Conflict, Structure and Outline
- Writing A Novel Using the Snowflake Method
- Effectively Outlining Your Novel
- Conflict and Character Within Story Structure
- Outlining Your Plot
- Ideas, Plots and Using the Premise Sheets
- How To Write A Novel
- Creating Conflict and Sustaining Suspense
- Plunge Right In…Into Your Story, That Is
- Tips for Creating a Compelling Plot
- 36 (plus one) Dramatic Situations
- The Evil Overlord Devises A Plot: Excerpt from Stupid Plot Tricks
- Conflict Test
- What is Conflict?
- The Hero’s Journey: Summary of Steps
- Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes
- Plotting Without Fears
- Novel Outlining 101
- Writing The Perfect Scene
- One-Page Plotting
- The Great Swampy Middle
- How Can You Know What Belongs In Your Book?
- Create A Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps
- How to Organize and Develop Ideas for Your Novel
- Create Structure in your novel using index cards
- Choosing the best outline method for you
- Hatch’s Plot Bank
Setting & Worldbuilding
- Magical Word Builder’s Guide
- I Love The End Of The World
- World Building 101
- The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help Bring Your Settings to Life
- Creating the Perfect Setting - Part 1
- Creating a Believable World
- Character and Setting Interactions
- Maps Workshop - Developing the Fictional World Through Mapping
- World Builders Project
- How To Create Fantasy Worlds
- Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds
Creativity Boosters* denotes prompts
- *Creative Writing Prompts
- *Ink Provoking
- *Story Starter
- *Story Spinner
- *Story Kitchen
- *Language is a Virus
- *The Dabbling Mum
- Quick Story Idea Generator
- Solve Your Problems By Simply Saying Them Out Loud
- Busting Your Writing Rut
- Creative Acceleration: 11 Tips To Engineer A Productive Flow
- Writing Inspiration, Or Sex on a Bicycle
- The Seven Major Beginner Mistakes
- Complete Your First Book with these 9 Simple Writing Habits
- Free Association, Active Imagination, Twilight Imaging
- Random Book Title Generator
- Finishing Your Novel
- Story Starters & Idea Generators
- Words to Use More Often
Revision & Grammar
- How To Rewrite
- Editing Recipe
- Cliche Finder
- Revising Your Novel: Read What You’ve Written
- Writing 101: Revising A Novel
- 20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes
- Synonyms for the Most Commonly Used Words of the English Language
- Grammar Urban Legends
Tools & Software
- Tip Of My Tongue - Find the word you’re looking for
- Write or Die - Stay motivated
- Stay Focused - Tool for Chrome, lock yourself out of distracting websites
- My Writing Nook - Online Text Editor, Free
- Bubbl.us - Online Mind Map Application, Free
- Family Echo - Online Family Tree Maker, Free
- Freemind - Mind Map Application; Free; Windows, Mac, Linux, Portable
- Xmind - Mind Map Application; Free; Windows, Mac, Linux, Portable
- Liquid Story Binder - Novel Organization and Writing Application; free trial, $45.95; Windows, Portable
- Scrivener - Novel Organization and Writing Application; free trial, $39.95; Mac
- SuperNotecard - Novel Organization and Writing Application; free trial, $29; Windows, Mac, Linux, portable
- yWriter - Novel Organization and Writing Application; free; Windows, Linux, portable
- JDarkRoom - Minimalist Text Editing Application; free; Windows, Mac, Linux, portable
- AutoRealm - Map Creation Application; free; Windows, Linux with Wine
So, I’ve been noticing that our ask box is full of questions about POV problems: What point of view should I use? I want to use first, but there’s a scene where my MC isn’t there. Should I use third and first? What about writing Multi-POVs? And what’s the difference between Third Person Limited and Third Person Omniscient, anyway? How do I write in Multi-POV?
Don’t get me wrong; I have no problems answering these questions. Actually, I’m happy you asked! POVs are something I can at least help with. I just am surprised at the vast ocean we got.
But fear not! I’m going to attempt to answer these questions by explaining what a Point of View is, the different kinds of POVs that you can use [with examples], and hopefully help you on your way to picking a damn pronoun.
Anonymous asked: Can you help with conversation starters? Like how to get your character interacting with a character who is more on the recluse side?
Sure thing, anon! Here a a few tips for encouraging believable interactions between reclusive characters and their peers:
- Ask a question. This is my favorite tactic. Right off the bat, at the very onset of dialogue, have a character (not the recluse) show up and ask a question. A few examples:
These questions all have two notable things in common.
- “What are you doing here?”
- “How can I help you?”
- “How do you take your coffee?”
- “Where were you this morning?”
- They are about the recluse. They use the word you. Get the recluses to talk about themselves or things that they know, and you’ll have a much easier time of it. If they have to respond to questions when they don’t know the answers, reclusive characters may not be prone to productive runs of dialogue.
- They’re open-ended. The more outgoing character is asking a question that must be answered with something other than a “yes” or a “no”. You want it to be something leading, something that forces the reclusive character to either give a legitimate response or be totally rude.
- Give them something worth talking about. If you hand her a bomb or him the front page of the September 11th, 2001 issue of the New York Times, you’re essentially passing along a conversation piece. Now the characters have something in common: they’ve both witnessed something worth exploring through dialogue. It might be that they’ve both encountered an odd person or survived a plane crash or witnessed a crime or eaten crappy pizza. Regardless, give them something notable in common, something worth taking about, and the reclusive character might even kick off the dialogue!
- Physically give or take away. This is a bit more specific than handing a reclusive character something worth talking about. If the reclusive character wants or doesn’t want something, and the more outgoing character is the person that can give or take away that thing, there’s a conversation there. You might start by the more outgoing person presenting a thing like:
Now have the reclusive character react through dialogue.
- hot tea
In a few of those responses, the reclusive character did an interesting thing: they asked a question. Questions are a cheap and easy way to keep dialogue going. Get both sides asking open-ended questions that the other can answer or that they can answer together, and you’ve got a full-on conversation started.
- hot tea: “Wow! That’s so nice! You didn’t have to do that…”
- pen: “Thanks. Mine just ran out of ink. How did you know?”
- gun: “Why would I need this?”
- textbook: “That’s not the right edition.”
- infant: “Can’t you get someone else to watch your kid?”
Enough with the giving. What about the taking away? Imagine if the more outgoing character was taking that thing away. How might your reclusive character react to having an infant grabbed from his arms or xer hot tea spilled or the pen taken right out of her hand while she’s try to write? That would make for some dialogue, no? How can you invent interesting situations for your characters to have items taken away or given to them in such a way that it would spark a verbal reaction?
- Super-size the awkward factor. So much so that they have to actually say something. If you’ve got two people trapped in an elevator, for instance, or if they’re sitting side-by-side in the only two seats left on the bus, or if someone just fell off of their horse into a pond, there might be room for some dialogue in there.
- Don’t forget why dialogue exists. Dialogue exists, at least in part, to reveal a character’s motives and personality, give the reader information about the plot, and move the reader through the narrative in an interesting way. If you stray from these goals with your writing just to coax a reclusive character out of their shell, you might not be using your dialogue most effectively. A reclusive character can stay quiet for chapters without any problem if you have no good reason to make them speak.
For more on dialogue, check out This is a Towel: Dialogue. Also consider reading The Passion of Dialogue to learn more about why a character, and by extension a writer, might choose to communicate through dialogue.
Thank you for your question! If you have any comments on this article or other questions about writing, you can message us here!
Made rebloggable per request.
Anonymous asked: Can you do a how to play a rebellious character guide?
This has been sitting in my inbox for obnoxiously long a time, and I apologize for that. I was going to get back to you much sooner, but there were some obstacles in the way. I hope you might still have some use of this, however.
I suppose we must first define “rebellious”, correct? According to the dictionary, being rebellious means defying or resisting some established authority, government, or tradition; insubordinate; inclined to rebel.
In my experience, rebellious characters tend to have no sympathy for authority figures of any sort—not to mention how they tend to come with their own moral compass, a solid idea of “right” and “wrong”, which may or may not differ from the rest of society’s. Rebellious characters march to the beat of their own drum rather than someone else’s, so to speak, and are not inclined to take orders from others—especially not without asking questions and raising a little hell first. They don’t like the rules and traditional values set up by society for some reason, and thus break them or refuse to conform to them instead.
I also find that rebellious characters, while defiant and not abiding by norms, also tend to be willing to fight for what they believe in. Sometimes rebellious characters also come with trust issues, which lead them to work alone, rather than with other people. The source of the character’s rebellious streak can be, but is not limited to, them being subjected to oppression or some sort of suffocation of freedom in their past.
When you take on a rebellious character, I would recommend you start by pinpointing the source of the character’s behavior, which most likely will be found in their backstory or upbringing. Some characters are so-called rebels without a cause, but for most, there is an underlying reason. Perhaps the character’s parents or guardians were unnecessarily strict or overprotective as the character grew up, leading to them rebelling once they got older, in an attempt of gaining some sort of freedom. Maybe the character has ran into a lot of trouble with law enforcement, bullies, or other authority figures, and is now rebelling against them as a result. Or, perhaps the character is part of an oppressed minority or group of people, perhaps in a post-apocalyptic or dystopian setting of sorts, and is rebelling in order to gain control again. These are all very valid, but very different, types of rebellious; and your character’s motives as well as actions would depend on the underlying cause for it. Always begin by identifying the why, and then move on to the how.
When people ask me for advice on portraying a character with a certain personality trait, I also tend to remind them not to build the entire character on that one trait. Yes, it might be their most dominant characteristic, but don’t forget to focus on their other traits as well, both positives and negatives. Just because your character is described as rebellious, that doesn’t mean they have to rebel 24/7 either; basically, be careful not to overdo it. Perhaps your character only has a problem with a certain type of authority figure, rather than all of them—and perhaps there are people in the character’s life they trust enough to take “orders” from, even though they might not listen to other people. It depends entirely on your character, really, and is something you will need to evaluate on a case by case basis.
There are plenty of characters who could be described as rebellious in popular culture—books, television, films—so, if you want some further inspiration, you could try to read up on a few of them. Some well-known rebellious characters from pop culture I could think of right on the spot include Harry Potter from Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Dean Winchester from Supernatural, Faith Lehane from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mal Reynolds from Firefly, as well as Wolverine from the Marvel Universe.
I’ve also gathered some links for you where you can do additional research or find more inspiration, aside from the things I’ve already said. Check these out, for instance:
- Rebel Character Types on NaNoWriMo
- Top Ten Rebels in Fiction
- Rebellious Spirit on TV Tropes
- Icon of Rebellion on TV Tropes
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority on TV Tropes
- Rebellious Princess on TV Tropes
- TV Tropes Monday: Rebellious Spirit
- How to Be a Rebel in 6 Steps
- Words Used to Describe Rebellious People and Actions
- Characteristics of a Rebellious Spirit
Hopefully this helped!