Writing Essentials: Characters Part Six: Bringing Them to Life Part 3

>> Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on writing. I am not a published author, don't have any sort of English or writing degree, have never taught English or writing and, in fact, do something entirely different for a living. I am simply stating my opinion and caution any reader to assume that every statement described as if it were incontrovertible be assumed to include an "in my opinion" on it. This series is my own opinion as an aspiring writer to describe things I work to do in my own writing and what I look for when I read.

The Mother mentioned "implied dialog" which I took to mean those things the character is thinking in addition to what they are actually saying and, I have to say, I'm glad she did. I use this all the time, probably in ways she'd never use it. I'll explain.

I mix dialog and implied dialog all the time. In fact, finding segments of dialog without overwhelming amounts of implied dialog in it was challenging. There were a couple of reasons for this. One is that I frequently have some form of telepathy in my books (often in the form of "familiars" of some sort). Another is that I like it, like knowing what people think. So, let's see what I can dig up. Ah, here's an early example.

She studied him intently. He had noticed her. The villagers no longer paid any attention to her comings and goings, treating her like the shadows she tried so hard to stay in. But he had noticed.
"Why do you like the flute so much? I play the harp and sing much better, but it is the flute you like."
She nodded and opened her mouth to tell him how it made her think of the wind, but no sound came from her mouth. Such was her curse. She bowed her head.
"Would you like to play it?"
She lifted her head, eyes shining with hope. He offered her the wood and silver staff, and she took it with shaking hands. Could she make a sound?
The implied dialog is important largely because my character (one of them) is mute. Her silence is what makes her feel unimportant, but Michel (the other character) not only sees her as a person, he offers her an opportunity to express herself with sound (and wind, which is key for a different reason). The ability for the reader to have insight into her thoughts make this far more meaningful for the reader, especially since this is a short story.

Let's see, what else? Ah, Tander and his ensemble support cast...
Riko’s prominent jaw locked visibly. “Let me be the first to encourage you to strike out on your own! Say what you will, I have seen what Tander’s magic can do and, if he feels he can find my Kena, I will follow him to the ends of the earth.”
“What if she no longer lives when you get there? Will you thank him then?”
The fireside hushed, a difficult question having finally surfaced, the same question on the minds of all who traveled to find their loved ones.
Riko, with a quiet calm, replied at last. “Aye. Tander cannot promise me that Kena will be there. But he is offering me a chance to at least know for certain.”
The silence after he finished grew in awkward length. Tander felt it all around him and in his own heart. Another responsibility he didn’t want was being added to the ever-growing list that dominated his conscience. They were all depending on him.
Without the implied dialog at the end, it's just sets up the interaction of the different relationships between the ensemble cast. The extra bit at the end gives us real insight into Tander and his personal struggles inside this public one.

And there's something else one can do, that I think is very important...humor.
Tiny would let her use it.
Tiny! Instantly, Laren's vision was clouded with a red haze. Tiny! That tall, blonde bastard was always hanging around Darma, panting over her like a puppy.
Laren turned back to his woodworking. Focus, man, he told himself. Build a boat. Let it go. You don't need a girl in your life especially a contentious human like this one.
"Wait until tomorrow," he told her with a negligent shrug. "Tiny's on guard. He'll likely let you use it as long as you want."
Canny. Shut up, you.
"I don't want to wait," she insisted. In one of her lightning mood changes, she sidled up to him, smiling down from her slightly superior height. Blinding him with that face. Her warmth and scent hit him like a hammer to brain. His heart rate escalated in response. Why did she always smell so damn good?
"Please, Laren?" she wheedled.
It was impossible to work with her that close. It was damn near impossible to breathe. Maybe, he should just turn and dive into the river, cool his temper and everything else that was hot and bothered by this stubborn girl in its chill depths.
"Would you stop bothering me? I'm trying to work here," he said instead.
Laren is a teenager. Without the implied dialog, you'd have to have some experience with teenagers to necessarily catch how different what he thinks and what he says are. If you have that experience, you might not need me to tell you that he's just sixteen years old. The items in bold are examples of telepathic dialog, in this case with his sarcastic shipcat. The mental dialog going on in concert with a different physical dialog can be quite humorous, but it can be confusing, too, so you have to be careful. However, play it right and it can be very effective, or so I hope.

Not sure I have anything else on characters, so, when I think of what else to write about, I'll go into something else.


  • The Mother

    I do use it a little differently. My characters tend to actually talk to themselves, silently, especially about the other characters.

    Another technique to mention in characterization is Free Indirect Discourse (FID). This is when the narrator takes over the "voice" of the character for a while. It's a very valuable tool (or has been since it was invented around the turn of the century).

  • Stephanie B

    True. I have the first thing happen as well, though it can be introspective as well.

    I used to use FID all the time, since I favored 3rd person omniscient but I was attacked and eviscerated by the POV police and I may never recover.

  • The Mother

    The POV police?

    1st and 3rd person are writing choices. It depends on what you want to do, what you want to say. I don't think I'd let anyone talk me out of what I want, artistically, as a writer.

    For instance, if the story requires you to follow several plot lines at once, 1st person is right out. You just can't. What's the narrator going to say, "I didn't know this was happening then, but later I found out"?

    That said, I have been thinking more about first person. My latest work is in first. I'm playing with it.

  • Stephanie B

    No, I always write in third person (or nearly always). I personally find first person irksome, though not as irksome as those people who try to write in second person.

    But, everyone is looking for first person limited so, if my main character smiles, they start screaming at me that he wouldn't know what his smile looked like or whatever or wonder whose head I'm in.

    My favorite authors routinely head hop without causing me the slightest inconvenience. I don't know what the issue is.

    Now, I try to be cognizant of the perspective, but I won't constrain myself to one viewpoint unless it's working for the story.

    Since I frequently do ensemble casts, limiting myself to one viewpoint is rarely a good option (though I did it effectively, I think, in my last novel).

  • The Mother

    I have no idea who "everyone" is, but there are a lot of books being published in 3rd omniscient, so I have a word for those "everyones." But it's not polite, so I won't repeat it here.

    Jane Austen would have been very different in first. You can't do social commentary from inside.

    Sherlock Holmes had a few stories in first. They were terrible. You always felt like he was holding something back.

    Thrillers written in first (and yes, there are some) always seem clunky, because you can't know ANYTHING about what the bad guys are doing. And that's no fun. Or they're pedantic, as the narrator "discovers" pieces of the puzzle and you get to hear him think "gee whiz."

    Yeah, there are some stories that work great in first. But it is VERY limiting.

    Perhaps the POV problem is in the same scene--even in 3rd omniscient, you can't be in the head of more than one character at a time. It gets confusing for the reader.

  • The Mother

    Okay, I don't know where my head was this morning. All of the Holmes stories are in first--they're mostly narrated by Watson.

    I was thinking of the few narrated by Holmes himself. Dreadful.

  • Stephanie B

    The thing with head-hopping - if it's done right, you don't even think about it. It naturally goes from person to person.

    I never have really enjoyed first person. It always feels contrived to me. I probably have something in first person, but it's a rarity. I can't think of any favorite books that are in first person. ANY.

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