Distinguish Your Characters With Dialect

BizarroDay-edDo your characters have their own voice or do they sound the same? I had a critique partner tell me that she couldn’t distinguish characters in my manuscript based on dialogue. They all sounded the same. If I hadn’t provided a dialogue tag, she would have had no idea which character was speaking. She was right.

This was something I definitely had to correct. So I did some research, watched a webinar, and took a class on dialogue. Distinguishing between characters is a lot easier than you would think.

One way to differentiate characters and determine who they are is through dialect.  We can learn a lot about a person based on their accent, grammar, and choice of words.

You don’t have to ask a person if they are from the North or South-just listen to how they speak and note their word choices.  While this is one of the most obvious examples for me, you can also distinguish education level, social status, race, and ethnicity from the way a person speaks.

One thing you want to avoid is coming across offensive or stereotypical(racist).  Look at your word choice or variation of syntax as tools to differentiate your characters and suggest their ethnicity.

Use slang, nonstandard syntax, or grammar to suggest race, social class, education i.e. gonna vs. going to,  kinda vs kind of,  holler vs hollow, don’t matta vs It doesn’t matter. If you have a character from abroad throw in some regional slang ( Scottish say-aye for yes and bairns for children).

The next time you read a book take a close look at your characters and their dialect. You will learn a lot, and the fact that you didn’t even think about it while reading the novel is a plus for the author. It was woven seamlessly into the story.

Creating a characters speech pattern is less about reproducing dialect and more about knowing your character. If your character is……

  • terse                –   short burst of speech
  • angry               –   speaks through clinched teeth
  • nervous           –  stammers or rambles
  • domineering  –  silent and threatening or rages

If you’re writing science fiction you can develop you own language and your own rules. There is no limits. Just be consistent.

Hope this gives you something to think about when writing dialogue. Remember to differentiate using dialect, and the dialect should match your characters position in society. Also remember to be consistent with speech patterns, unless an evolution in speech pattern is an integral part of the story (Flowers for Algernon, My fair lady).

-Jan R

 

Distinguish Your Characters With Dialect

Antagonists Are People Too (Usually)

untitledI have spent the last month looking at the characters in my novel. How do they relate? Are they effectively carrying out the roles intended for them? Are they unique and easily identified, or do they all present the same?

My main focus for this particular blog is antagonists. I have two in my novel. One is amnesia, and the other is a young woman determined to marry the man of her dreams, even if he belongs to someone else. She uses his amnesia to her advantage, manipulating and deceiving him.

When you are creating an antagonists, you must remember they are people too. Help your reader to empathize with them and understand why they act like they do. Even bad people have weaknesses and can show love towards others. They are more than just a device to move your plot in a certain direction. Flesh them out!

Get into your antagonists head. Help people to see things from his/her point of view if possible. I write in third person omniscient, which allows me to get into the head of any character I choose, as long as I limit myself to one per scene. If this doesn’t work for you, have your point of view characters mull over and try to understand the antagonists point of view. You don’t want him/her to be seen as pure evil.

Many professionals recommended that you not use abstractions, such as corporations, disease, or war as your antagonists. They are unrelatable.

If you do feel the need to use an abstraction, it’s recommended that you put a human face to it.  Instead of organized religion, you may consider a resentful pastor seeking revenge. Instead of corporate greed, you may consider a Bernie Madoff type. One of my antagonists is a medical condition that a second antagonist exploits to get what she wants.

You want your antagonists to be strong, smart, and capable. At least as much so as your protagonist. This serves to give the story balance and maintain interest.  It also helps to increase tension and suspense. You know the antagonist is capable of defeating the protagonist. The story could go in many different directions.

There is a lot of information on the internet about perfecting your antagonist. Hope this post provided a couple nuggets and got you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

Antagonists Are People Too (Usually)

Don’t Allow Your Characters To Steal The Show!

imagesGTB2JOL3I’m a little over half way through the revision process of the book I’m working on and dreading the next few weeks.

The first half of my novel flows. I love what’s happening and I love my characters. They all work together to accomplish what I need them to, but then it starts to get ugly.

I’m sure you have heard that once you start writing, your story can take on a life of it’s own. Well that happened to me with the introduction of  a new character. She took on a life of her own, stole the plot, and didn’t stop until almost the end of the story.

She did help in one area. She filled in the middle and carried me to the end, but I’ve never really liked the character, and I question where she went. She was nice, smart, and likeable, but  she totally disrupted the flow, and I allowed her to.  I had lost sight of the ending I had planned.

I have read through my manuscript many times. I hesitate and play with this character and the events perpetuated by her existence, every single pass through.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that she needs to go. If I’m not comfortable with the character and her role in my story, It’s bound to come across to my readers. It’s time to cut my losses and move on.

This of course means a lot of work for me. I can salvage some of scenes she is involved in by replacing her with existing characters that can fill the role, but I am still cutting about 25,000 words and reworking the latter part of my book to follow the path that I originally outlined.

I’m sure I’ve made a million novice mistakes that brought me to this point, one of the major ones was to give an unplanned character free reign over my manuscript. I allowed her to walk in the door and take my story to places it should have never gone.

I was amazed and thought, how great is this, my story is writing itself. Well in some instances that might have been a good thing, but in my story, it definitely was not. Some may consider it a great exercise in creativity to let a rogue character take off with your story. I would say as long as it’s controlled and she/he isn’t in a free fall. You have to maintain control.

What do you think?

 

Don’t Allow Your Characters To Steal The Show!

Don’t Forget Your Minor Characters!

quote-respect-your-characters-even-the-minor-ones-in-art-as-in-life-everyone-is-the-hero-of-sarah-waters-43-27-03I’m in the revision process with my novel and one of the areas I am focusing on is character development. When you hear character development, you usually think of main characters or supporting characters. Well my main characters do need some work, but for this particular blog I was talking about those ‘fly by’ characters that step into your novel, do what you want them to do, and then disappear never to be heard of again.

I received a critique a while back in regards to four minor characters in my novel. “A lot of new characters have been introduced, and they all run together in my mind. I think more time needs to be spent developing these characters as individuals rather than some generic group of friends.

The lady that provided the critique was right. I didn’t provide any description of these characters. Except for the fact that they had names, you would have had no idea which one I was using in the scene. I didn’t think descriptions were necessary. They served one purpose and one purpose only. They did their job and disappeared.

Well shortly after receiving the critique,  I bumped into an article on Minor Characters in the Writers Digest I was reading. Maybe somebody was trying to tell me something.

According to Elizabeth Sims, who wrote the article, if the person is important enough to exist in the world of your story, let your readers picture that existence.

When you introduce minor characters, you should have one or better two details.  He was as wide as he was tall, and talked with a lisp.

Even characters who exist in passing should exist in the readers eye. For a literally glancing description, make it visual. The freckle faced boy stuck his tongue out at us, then turned to go inside.

If you have a group-Pan the crowd and then zoom in. Give one or two details describing them all, and then move in to one person as the representative.  The demonstrators walked down Main street waving their signs and shouting obscenities.  “Where is  Mayor Blackman? ” shouted a tall, gray haired man at the front of the line.

So there you have it. One of the things I will be looking at during my revision is those minor characters.  I guess I need to go back and give them some life 🙂

-Jan R

Don’t Forget Your Minor Characters!

Creating Multidimensional Characters

imagestjy0h2vcI’ve just completed the God knows what number revision of my novel(I lost count a long time ago). While I have to admit it is one-hundred times better than the first draft, it is still not where it needs to be.

I hope this isn’t coming across too negative. To be honest, while I’m not where I want to be, I’m a lot closer than I use to be, and from my way of thinking, I have a cake that needs to be iced. My icing is a mixture of character development and imagery.

I made a comment not too long ago that my characters were just too good. Nobody’s that perfect. So I did some research on character development to find out what I needed to do to rough them up and give them some dimension.

There are actually three dimensions of  character development. I’ve used them all at times, but never made a concerted effort to  put them all together in one particular character until now. Yeah I seem to do everything the hard way. Comes from inexperience.

So what are the three dimensions I’m working on?

The first dimension is surface traits, quirks and habits.

This one is easy. We all know we’re suppose to describe our characters and help the reader picture them in their mind.  Is their hair blonde, red or brown.  Do they have blue eyes, green eyes or brown eyes. What about that annoying mole on the chin that makes you think of a witch.

Maybe they have an annoying laugh, or have a nervous habit of tapping their left foot up and down. I play with paper clips when I’m the lead in a group meeting. It calms my nerves.

These are all things you can see, when you look at the person.

The second dimension is backstory and inner demons.

Backstory allows us to see where they came from, and why they act the way they do. We see the scars, the memories, and the dashed dreams that leave them with resentment, fear, and weakness.

We understand where they came from so we can empathize with them and form an emotional attachment.

The third dimension is action, behavior, and world view.

This dimension looks at moral substance or lack thereof. It’s defined not by backstory or inner demons, but by actions and behaviors.

A hero takes a stand, takes risks, and makes decisions.

A villain rationalizes behavior and is insensitive. He refuses to take responsibility.

As a story teller, it is your job to integrate all three realms of character development convincingly and compellingly. Nobody wants to read a story with one dimensional or shallow characters.

What’s your thoughts. Any suggestions or tips that might help me flesh out my characters during this revision.

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Creating Multidimensional Characters

Creating Memorable Characters

imagesIt’s hard to overstate the importance of strong characters in a narrative. Think of all of the characters from fiction that you never forgot (Scarlett O’Hara-Gone With the Wind, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Dorothy-Wizard of Oz).

Our goal is to have our characters stay with the reader for days after they finish reading. Characters who readers think about as though they are real people, as though they know them…or wish they did.

Know your characters before you introduce them in your story.  J K Rowling spent 5 years doing complete biographies on all of the characters in her Harry Potter series before she even started writing the novels. It’s that important.

  • What does your character look like?
  • What are your characters thoughts?
  • What actions and deeds are typical of your character?
  • How does your character talk?
  • What is your character’s name?

Love your characters, but don’t be afraid to let one go if he or she isn’t working for you. When you lovingly create a character, warts and all, it shows. Take your time and be thorough. Chances are if you fall in love with your character, the reader will too.

Make every character unique. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s important that even minor characters have something that distinguishes them from everyone else in the story-something to make them more than a name on a page. This distinguishing trait or tag could be anything, and as insignificant as chewing a toothpick, or always saying, “exactly!” Perhaps the character has flaming red hair or grins like a Cheshire cat.

The minor characters only need one distinguishing trait/tag but your main characters need to be more complex. The main character should have 4-5 distinguishing traits and at least one on the negative side. You need a negative trait so your character seems believable rather than someone out of a child’s fairytale. The negative trait doesn’t need to be a serious flaw, just something that makes the character seem like a real person that people can relate to.

Writing a novel can take a long time and it is important to be able to quickly remind yourself what traits a particular character has without having to thumb through pages and pages of work. Creating character profiles can save you huge amounts of time, prevent you from creating inconsistencies, and really help you build upon their individual journeys. I  had to thumb through pages and pages of my manuscript during my first draft and then I got smart and started cheat sheets for each character.

QuintessentialEditor recently posted a blog on Character Arcs. The post offers great insight on building your characters, and showing their growth as they journey through the world you’ve created for them.  Check him out for more information on character development.

I would love to hear any comments you may have or suggestions on how you handle character development. I would also like to request that you consider following my blog. I post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You will receive an email informing you whenever a new blog posts.

-Jan R

Creating Memorable Characters

Character Development

It’s hard to overstate the importance of strong characters in a narrative. Think of all of the characters from fiction that you never forgot (Scarlett O’Hara-Gone With the Wind, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Dorothy-Wizard of Oz).

Our goal is to have our characters stay with the reader for days after they finish reading. Characters who readers think about as though they are real people, as though they know them…or wish they did.

Know your characters before you introduce them in your story.  J K Rowling spent 5 years doing complete biographies on all of the characters in her Harry Potter series before she even started writing the novels. It’s that important.

  • What does your character look like?
  • What are your characters thoughts?
  • What actions and deeds are typical of your character?
  • How does your character talk?
  • What is your character’s name?

Love you characters and don’t be afraid to let one go if he or she isn’t working for you. When you lovingly create a character, warts and all, it shows. Take your time and be thorough. Chances are if you fall in love with your character, the reader will too.

Make every character unique. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s important that even minor characters have something that distinguishes them from everyone else in the story-something to make them more than a name on a page. This distinguishing trait or tag could be anything and as insignificant as chewing a toothpick or always saying, “exactly!” Perhaps the character has flaming red hair or grins like a Cheshire cat.

The minor characters only need one distinguishing trait/tag but your main characters need to be more complex. The main character should have 4-5 distinguishing traits and at least one on the negative side, so your characters seem believable rather than something out of a children’s fairytale. The negative trait doesn’t need to be a serious flaw just something that makes the character seem like a real person that people can relate to.

Writing a novel can take a long time and it is important to be able to quickly remind yourself what traits a particular character has without having to thumb through pages and pages of work. Creating character profiles can save you huge amounts of time, prevent you from creating inconsistencies and really help you build upon their individual journeys. I  had to thumb through pages and pages of my manuscript during my first draft and then I got smart and started cheat sheets for each character.

-Jan R

Character Development