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Some short stories have very few lines of dialogue, such as “Lust” by Susan Minot. Other short stories, such as “Hills Like White Elephants” , a short story written by Ernest Hemingway, are crafted with mostly dialogue.
Writers use dialogue to dramatize important moments in the story. They also use dialogue to make the story more believable, make a scene come to life, seem realistic.
Writers also use dialogue as a technique of characterization.
In this post, I discuss the following about dialogue in short fiction:
- Definition of dialogue
- Suggestions for using dialogue
- Conventions of direct dialogue
- Providing stage direction
- Writing indirect dialogue
- Dialogue and character
- Dialect in dialogue
- Using Stage direction
- Using dialect
Definition of Dialogue
What is dialogue in fiction? It is the spoken words of a character. It allows characters to speak for themselves. It shows what is spoken between characters.It is conversation between characters.The writer uses dialogue to show the reader how the characters interact, to develop character, to dramatize the story, to move the plot forward.
Most scenes in short fiction include dialogue. A scene shows, not tells the reader what is happening. Scene in fiction is like a scene in a film. Scene is the primary method by which the writer shows the reader what happens. Dialogue between characters is one way to show what is happening in a particular scene.
A summary doesn’t include dialogue. Instead the writer includes indirect dialogue to summarize or to some up or “tell the reader what was said.
Suggestions for Using Dialogue
Dialogue helps dramatize the story, makes the story believable, develops the character. Follow these suggestions when using dialogue:
- Dialogue should sound realistic, as though two people are talking to each other.
- Dialogue should not include mundane exchanges between characters.
- Dialogue should convey spontaneity.
- Use dialogue to advance plot, reveal character, dramatize moment of drama, create tension, show conflict between characters.
- So long as the reader knows who is speaking, you don’t need to include dialogue tags for each line of dialogue.
Conventions of Direct Dialogue
Writers of short stories and novels tend to follow certain dialogue conventions. When you write dialogue, follow these guidelines:
- Use quotations around the words spoken by each character.
- Use dialogue tags to show who is speaking. Conventional tags are “he said” or “she said.”
- Use a new paragraph for each new speaker.
- Use exclamation marks sparingly in dialogue. Use only for to show extreme emotion.
- Avoid using adverbs in dialogue tags.
- Use contractions for the spoken word. Example: Dave said, “I didn’t pass the course.”
“I was fired today”, Dave said.
“That’s awful”, Mary said, starting to cry.
“How are we going to pay the rent?”
“I will cash in my bond,” Dave said.
If dialogue is long, place the dialogue tag in middle.
“I’m going to start looking for a job”, said Dave. “I’ll create a resume, write a cover letter, start searching online. You’ll see. I’ll have a job in 4 weeks.”
Remember: The writer uses dialogue tags to indicate who is speaking in the scene.
When necessary, add narrative detail or stage direction to the dialogue. You can describe the actions of the character, reveal conflict, tell reader what the character is thinking or feeling. Stage direction shows the reader what the character is doing or where the dialogue is taking place. Most of all, stage direction provides context of the story to the reader.
Dave turned on the computer, logged on to the Web, started searching for a job.
“Here’s a job I can do,” said Dave. I’ll send a resume tomorrow.” You’ll see, I’ll have a job before you know it.”
“I sure hope so,” Mary said.
Indirect dialogue appears in summaries. The writer summarizes the dialogue spoken. It allows the writer to tell the reader what the character said. The writer uses indirect dialogue to provide a summary of what was said.
Dave said he was shocked to learn that he was fired. He also said that he will start searching for a job in the near future. His wife is anxious, and said she hopes that he can find work in the next few weeks.
Dialogue and Character
The writer can use dialogue as technique of characterization—to show how the writer thinks and feels. When using dialogue to reveal character, follow these suggestions:
- To make the dialogue realistic, create a unique voice for each character.
- Use dialogue to enable characters to speak for themselves.
- Before writing dialogue for a character, ask the following: Does the character use slang? Colloquialism? Profanity? Incorrect Grammar? Perfect English? Fragments? Complete sentences?
Dialect In Dialogue
Be careful when using dialect in dialogue. It is difficult to do well. It can be distracting. Beginner writers should avoid using dialect in dialogue.
For more information on how to use dialogue, you can read the following:
- Writing Fiction (Gotham Writer’s Workshop)
- Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway
Every short story requires the central character who is motivated to take action, or react to an outside force, in order to achieve some purpose. Many short stories also include one or more secondary characters who are part of the story, but not central to it.
The writer can create several types of characters, primary or secondary, flat or round, static or dynamic, even an antihero.
The writer must also create believable characters so that the reader will suspend disbelief, and read the story as though it was true. And so, writers have taken much time developing memorable characters, and characters that readers dislike, even loathe.
The writer develops the main character through different methods of characterization, which is an important part of writing short fiction. “Modern writers have tended to see characterization as an element of fiction that is equal to plot or even more important than it.” (The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn)
In this post, I cover the following aspects of character:
- Types of characters the writer can construct
- Stream of consciousness or interior monologue
Types of Characters
All stories require a central character or main character or protagonist. Most short stories also include one or two secondary characters. The characters in a short story can be classified as follows:
- Main character or supporting character, also known as primary and secondary characters
- Flat or round characters
- Static and dynamic characters
- Protagonist an antagonist
A short story has a primary character, and often one or more secondary characters. The primary character can change perception, experience epiphanies, sometimes narrate the story, carry the meaning of the story. The writer builds the story around a primary character. Often, the story also requires secondary characters who are less developed, don’t experience change, don’t experience epiphanies.
The writer can create a story of flat or round characters. Flat characters are stock characters, stereotypes, caricatures, stand-ins for ideas, don’t experience emotion, don’t react, or take action. Yet, the writer needs them to develop the story, but the writer doesn’t spend a great deal of time describing them in the story.
Secondary characters are often flat. On the other hand, round characters act, react, have the possibility of expressing emotions, are motivated to achieve a purpose or goal. The writer explores in depth the background, appearance, personality, motives, actions of the round character. The protagonist is a round character.
Writer can also construct static or dynamic characters. The protagonist is a dynamic character who will experience a change in perception, change in behavior, or experience an epiphany by the time the story ends. In contrast, a static character doesn’t change as the story progresses.
A short story has a protagonist, and often an antagonist. The main character is the protagonist, hero, even antihero of the story. The antagonist is the villain or opposing force in the story. The protagonist is always in conflict with the antagonist of the story.
Sometimes the protagonist is an antihero—a main character who is not at all like the archetype protagonist. The writer tells a story in which the protagonist is tragically flawed or has imperfections of character. For instance, the character might be selfish, fearful, bigoted. The protagonist might also have characteristics that are normally associated with the villain of a story.
What is characterization? It refers to the methods that the writer puts to use, in order to develop the main character and supporting characters within a story. In short fiction, the writer can employ two methods: Direct characterization or indirect characterization.
Direct Characterization: The writer tells the reader about the character’s personality using the narrator of the story, another character, or the main character revealing aspects about himself/herself.
Indirect Characterization: The writer reveals to the reader what the character’s personality through the thoughts, feeling, and actions of the character. The writer can do this in several ways:
- Describing the appearance of the character
- Describing the character’s actions/reactions/behavior
- Revealing what the character is thinking, such as stream of consciousness or interior monologue
- Using dialogue
- Describing the reactions of other characters
Dialogue is the written words of what character’s say. It allows the writer to move the story forward to its ending. It allows the writer to develop the character— personality, views, opinions, thoughts, impressions. It allows the writer to dramatize the story—to show readers what is happening, not tell them.
Some works of short fiction have no dialogue or only a few lines. Tom Franklin’s “Alaska” has only a few short lines of dialogue. Other short stories are composed of a great deal of dialogue. Except for the first paragraph, which establishes the setting, Ernest Hemmingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” is a short story composed of just dialogue between a guy and his girlfriend.
When writing dialogue, the writer should keep it simple: Only include dialogue that develops the story, moves it forward, reveals conflict, develops the character, and says something important about the story. The writer should not include insignificant, frivolous, unimportant dialogue in a short story.
When writing dialogue, the writer should use simple taglines of “he said” or “she said.”
Stream of Consciousness
The writer employs the literary device of stream of consciousness to reveal memories, what the character thinks and feels.
James Joyce used the literary device of stream of consciousness to tell the story of “Eveline.” The action of this story takes place in the protagonist’s mind, as descriptions of the heroine’s reaction to internal and external impressions and memories.
Virginia Woolf often employed this technique in her short fiction. For instance, the short story “The Haunted House” is composed of only stream of consciousness. The opening starts as follows: WHATEVER hour you woke there was a door shunting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure—a ghostly couple.
“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”
But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain, one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm.
Woolf reveals stream of consciousness by using “the you point of view” and internal narrative.
For short streams of consciousness writing, the writer can use italic to notify the reader that the content is stream of consciousness. Example: Steve thought to himself: I cannot go on, I cannot take one more day of this stress, this oppression, this hellish life.
In summary, short stories require a main character who experiences conflict, has motivation to change or achieve a purpose, who experiences revelation, who is altered in some way as the story progresses, or who experiences an epiphany by the end of the story. The writer can deploy different methods of characterization to reveal the character–dialogue, action, description, stream of consciousness. The writer deploys dialogue to advance the story, reveal character, reveal conflict, develop the plot.
In the next post, I will discuss point of view.
In writing a personal essay, memoir, travel writing, you must retell your personal experience.
To retell your story, you must recreate the scenes for the reader by using the techniques of creative nonfiction. The most important technique is “creating the dramatic scene.”
A dramatic scene is more than expressing your thoughts and emotions about an event or experience, or describing the setting/location. A dramatic scene is not expository writing or a summary of the events or experience. Both types of writing focus on “just the facts.”
Creating a dramatic scene in creative nonfiction involves using your memory, observation, and personal reflection to retell the facts in an interesting and compelling way. It also involves using dialogue, action, and details to capture the important events. Your goal is to present the facts as accurately as possible and to retell the story. Your goal is also to inform the reader and to entertain them.
This article will explain what is meant by the term “dramatic scene” and how to craft a dramatic scene when writing a personal essay, memoir, travel essay, and so forth.
Definition of Dramatic Scene
What is a dramatic scene? A dramatic scene is like a Hollywood film, which has a set, location, details, action, characters, and dialogue. According to Dinty Moore, the author of the Truth of the Matter; Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction, when you write a personal essay, memoir, literary journalism, you must craft scenes and not write expositions or summaries. A scene includes the following elements:
- Location/setting of the event or experience
- Concrete and specific details that are sensory details
- Action from characters who take participate in the story, event, or experience
- Sense of the passage of time
- Dialogue between characters to reveal something important about the character or the event or story.
Your goal is to make the experience come alive in the mind of your reader. Writing dramatic scenes is the way to recreate the experience.
Exposition or summary of an event:
This morning, I almost got into a fight with a stranger who attempted to run me over because of his careless driving.
Event based on scene:
This morning, while walking back from Tim Horton’s coffee shop, carrying my newspaper and cup of coffee, I almost got into a fight with a stranger who was driving a black Porsche. There was no sidewalk, so I had to walk home on the side of the road. Apparently, he didn’t like the fact that I was taking up the space where he intended to park. So rather than let me pass, he started to park as I was walking close to the curb. Attempting to park, he narrowly missed my feet by about 6 inches.
After he parked and climbed out of his car, I said, “You need to watch where you are going. You almost hit me with your car. There is no sidewalk, so I have to walk on the road. I have the right of way.”
He yelled, “Fuck off!”, and then walked up the street to get his morning fix of java, oblivious to how I felt or that he had done anything wrong.
I yelled back, “You are a rude person.”
I then continued to walk home. As I walked, I thought to myself: There is so much rudeness and a lack of civility in this big city of Toronto. And for a moment, I thought of going back to where he parked his Porsche, to wait for him, so that I could give him a piece of my mind. I thought of waiting for him, so that I could pour my cup of coffee on him. I thought of threatening him with bodily harm. I thought of calling the police. I thought of my mother who would tell me when I was a kid to “stay out of trouble.”
At some point during the walk home, my thoughts changed. I now felt relieved that the altercation had not escalated into something more serious or dangerous. I thanked myself for not reacting to my angry impulses.
Then I continued on my way, up the street, toward my home, enjoying the sunshine and mild spring day, one of the first since the end of the harsh, cold winter.
As I opened the front door to my basement apartment, I said to myself, “The black bears are out of their caves.”
How to Recreate the Scene
Before you recreate the scene, you need to remember what happened. Sometimes the event or experience happened recently. In this case, you can jot down the important details, action, and dialogue. Other times you will need to use your memory. You might also need to complete some research, such as reading a diary or personal journal”, visiting the place where the event took place, talking to friends or relatives who experienced the event. You won’t often remember every detail. But research and fact-checking will help you. You can also use the technique of “emotional truth.” It means that if it “feels right to you” you can write about it.
A dramatic scene has a sense of time and place. Time can refer to clock time, the time of day, the season of the year, or the time it takes for an event to occur. Place refers to location, which can refer to your family home, travel destination, nature, and so on. Be sure to include the time and location where the event or experience took place. It gives your story context and makes your story real. For instance, In September 1972, I saw the most important hockey game and sporting event in my life from the auditorium of my high school…
A dramatic scene also includes important details and descriptions. Details are concrete and specific. Details are also sensory images that appeal to the reader’s sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Details make your story come alive. Example: Walking in the snow, the wind howling, the cold biting my face, I could see the trail to the road in the distance. I was hungry, exhausted, my body ached from the two hour cross country skiing in the woods, along the trail to the frozen lake, a place where I swam on during the warm, hot summer months of July and August. Now, it was January. I wanted to get home to cook a juicy, spicy pepper steak on the barbeque, drink a cold ale in front of the fire place, and relax on my lazy boy chair.
A dramatic scene includes the comments you make or the conversations between two or more people. A dramatic scene requires dialogue that reveals character or advances the narrative.
A dramatic scene includes action. You can write about your own behaviour other people’s behaviour. Your goal is to not include any action but action that is important or significant, action that is related to the event or events.
A scene can also include your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. For instance, as the events or experience takes place, you can tell the reader how your felt or what were thinking. After the experience, you can provide the reader with your own view point.
As a creative nonfiction writer, your goal is to recreate the story or experience by using the technique of “writing dramatic scenes.” It involves showing your reading and not telling them what happened. You can show your reader what happened by describing the details, setting, and action, and by restating important dialogue. Writing dramatic scenes results in a compelling, entertaining, and memorable storytelling.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them to my blog.
Next, I will discuss point of view and voice as they apply to creative nonfiction.
Revealing Character through Dialogue and Action
Readers are interested the comments, conversations, and behaviour of real people. For instance, the public was fascinated about the sexual indiscretions of Tiger Woods. And the media was quick to report on the story. Some would call it tabloid journalism.
Your goal in writing creative nonfiction is to recreate the events or experience of the true story for the reader. But you must state the facts and write the story using literary techniques. Revealing character through dialogue and revealing character through action are two important literary techniques that you can use to recreate the story.
This article discusses how you can reveal character through dialogue and through action.
Developing Character through Dialogue
What is dialogue? It refers to the words spoken by real people. It can be a comment made by a person or a conversation by two or more people. Your job is to recapture the important comments and conversations. You can remember dialogue by carefully observing what a person says and then writing it down later. If you are interviewing a person, you can make notes or use a tape recorder. If you are attempting to remember dialogue, you will have to recreate the dialogue to the best of your memory. Often you will need to interview family and friends, look at old photos, or revisit the place where the event took place. Be forewarned, if you include comments, conversations, or dialogue that never occurred, you are writing fiction, not creative nonfiction.
Purpose of Dialogue
According to Dinty Moore, who is the author of the fantastic book, Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction, including dialogue in your narrative has two benefits:
- Dialogue changes the flow or pace of the narrative, providing texture.
- Dialogue gives the reader the opportunity to interpret or judge the content of the dialogue and determine what sort of personality/character you are writing about.
Your goal as a creative nonfiction writer is remember and write about important comments and dialogue. It must reveal character or develop the story. For instance, a conversation between two people can be an important event in the story. It can even be a turning point. Suppose you are writing your memoir, a story in which your wife tells you she is going to leave you. She wants a divorce. This conversation might be a turning point in your life, a significant event that you might wish to share with your readers.
Writing dialogue is an important way to show, not tell your readers what happened. It helps to dramatize the story. It helps to recreate what happened. It is part of recreating the scene.
Developing Character through Action
What is action? It refers the behaviour or conduct of a person or people. In writing about a personal essay or memoir, your responsibility is to recreate the action in the story. Action moves a narrative forward and provides meaning to the readers. By writing about the conduct or behaviour of a person, you give the reader the opportunity to form an opinion about the personality or character of the person. Describing the action is part of recreating the scene and part of dramatizing the story. Without action, you have no story.
Developing character through action can involve writing about your own behaviour or other people’s behaviour. If you are writing about your own behaviour, you should be honest with yourself. Readers want to know who you are. Your foibles, character flaws, follies, and vices are part of you. If you are writing about someone else, you need to be able to observe the person’s behaviour and make note of it. You also need to become aware of your own prejudices and biases, and then explore them.
When writing about the conduct or behaviour of real people, you must show, not tell your readers. When you show readers how a person acted or behaved, you are dramatizing the story, recreating the event, and composing a realistic story, one that can engross readers.
Good creative nonfiction recreates the scene. In part, scene is composed of dialogue and action. Developing characters through dialogue and action are two techniques that allow you to dramatize your story. A dramatic story captures the attention of the reader and inspires them to read your work.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them to this blog.
Next, I will discuss how you can dramatize a scene, another important technique in writing creative nonfiction.
What is dialogue? It refers to the words spoken between characters in a short story or novel. It also refers to a character speaking to himself or herself within the short story or novel. The fiction writer uses dialogue to reveal the personality of a character, create conflict, and advance the narrative. In “The Art and Craft of Storytelling”, author Nancy Lamb suggests that the “goal of writing dialogue is to not mimic how people speak; the goal of the writer’s dialogue is to create the illusion of authenticity.”
This article defines the two types of dialogue, identifies the purpose of dialogue, and provides twelve suggestions on how the aspiring fiction writer can compose dialogue.
Definition of Dialogue
A writer can create two types of dialogue in a story: Inner dialogue and outer dialogue. Inner dialogue refers to the words spoken by a character to himself or herself. To do this, the writer uses the literary device of “dramatic monologue” or “stream of consciousness.” Outer dialogue refers to the conversations spoken between characters. Both types of dialogue require the fiction writer to follow the rules and conventions for writing dialogue.
Stream of Consciousness
It refers to the inner thoughts of the character. Stream of consciousness is also called an internal monologue. It is a literary technique used by William Faulkner, James Joyce,Virginia Woolf, and many others, to reveal what the character is thinking to himself or herself. Typically, the writer identifies the internal monologue with:
- The word “thought.” The man thought about how difficult the life had been…
- The phrase “I thought to myself.” I thought to myself, “How I loathed the neighbour next door.”
- Italics. He thought about his failed marriage, the death of his son, and the abject poverty facing him.
Dialogue as Character
One of the tasks of the fiction writer is to create interesting characters, ones that the reader likes. Writing good dialogue is one way for the writer to craft interesting characters. Good dialogue reveals something about the character, creates conflict, or advances the story. Good dialogue also requires that each character’s speech is identifiable. The dialogue should allow the reader to distinguish each character in the story. To craft authentic dialogue for each character, the writer can:
- Use different diction or word choice for each character.
- Use different syntax to represent speaking pattern.
- Use profanity or slang.
- Use colloquial expressions in the dialogue.
- Use idiomatic phrases in the dialogue.
- Use dialect. (Only expert writers should use this.)
The writer can also identify each speaker by using:
- Dialogue tags, such as “he said” or “she said.”
- Quotations for each speaker (“”).
- Separate line or paragraph for a new or different speaker.
(Argument between a boyfriend and girlfriend. )
“I want to end our relationship,” he said, from the hallway.
“Why?” she said, slamming the front door.
“I don’t love you anymore,” he yelled.
“You have met someone else, haven’t you,” she screamed.
Purpose of Dialogue
When writing dialogue, the fiction writer needs to keep in mind the purpose of the dialogue. The dialogue must not be “filler” or “gossip” or “small talk.” It must have a point, purpose, or function in the story. The writer must use dialogue for the following reasons:
- To develop the plot of the story. For instance, the antagonist might say something that angers the protagonist. This anger causes the protagonist to take some sort of action, moving the plot closer to its conclusion.
- To reveal conflict between characters. For instance, the dialogue between two characters might be hostile or full of invective, which reveals the conflict between two opposing forces.
- To develop the personality of the character. Both the tone and content of the dialogue tell the reader about the nature of the character. For instance, if the character speaks well and uses eloquent words, the reader draws the conclusion that the character is educated and intelligent.
- To reveal background information about a character. The writer can use dialogue to reveal something that happened in the past.
Suggestions for Writing Dialogue
Dialogue is an essential component of a good story. So, an aspiring fiction writer must learn how to craft dialogue correctly. He/she must learn the rules and conventions. Here are twelve suggestions to help the aspiring writer compose dialogue:
- Create dialogue that reveals character and mood. The writer can ask himself: “Does the dialogue reveal something about the personality of the character? Does the dialogue reveal something about the mood of the scene?
- Break up dialogue with action scenes. Long streams of dialogue are boring, so break up dialogue with action scenes.
- Compose meaningful dialogue. It should reveal personality, create conflict, or advance the story. The writer should not include small talk.
- Use profanity sparingly and avoid faddish slang.
- Avoid using dialect or accent. It is a distraction to readers.
- Create an authentic voice for each character. Use different sentence patterns and language/diction for each character.
- Use a tagline and action to move the story forward. Example: “I hate you,” yelled Patrick, walking out of the door, slamming it.
- Avoid using the names of characters in the dialogue. Example: “Well, Patrick, I can see that you are angry,” said Steve.
- Use italics to show inner dialogue or dramatic monologue or stream of consciousness. For instance, the writer can begin: I said to myself, “I must leave this job…”
- Use a separate line or paragraph for each new speaker. Dialogue spoken by a single character, interspersed with action, can be kept in one paragraph.
- Use the dialogue tags and quotations marks to indicate who is talking. “He said” or “she said.” Avoid using fancy dialogue tags. Instead keep them simple, so readers won’t get distracted.
- Write dialogue in sentence form and use correct grammar.
What is most important about writing dialogue is to avoid wasting words with small talk, to identify each speaker with dialogue tags and quotation marks, and to keep the dialogue brief and succinct.
In the previous post, I wrote about setting. In this post, I will discuss character and characterization.
Characters and Characterization
Character is an important element of fiction. Without a central character, there is no story. The goal of the fiction writer is to create characters that are likeable and memorable. Charles Dickson’s is well-known for his memorable characters. He created David Copperfield, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Oliver Twist. Most memorable characters are heroes. Sometimes, though, the writer makes the anti-hero the central character of the story.
But a good story needs more than memorable characters. A good story includes an inciting incident that impacts the main character. It includes a main character who has a goal or desire. It includes a main character who is confronted with some type of conflict. This conflict might exist within the mind of the character or be external. Often, the antagonist is the opposing force in the story. A good story includes a main character who is faced with challenges and obstacles.
A successful fiction writer knows how to develop characters by using description, dialogue, action, and more.
This article discusses the following aspects of character:
- Types of characters
- The character profile
Types of Characters
There are several ways in which the fiction writer and reader of fiction can define characters in a story.
Protagonist and Antagonist. A story needs a central character, or hero, or protagonist. Often this main character must oppose a villain or antagonist. Both are major characters in the story. The fiction writer must spend a great deal of time developing these types of characters by using the techniques of characters description, action by the character, and dialogue.
Major and Minor Characters. Stories include major characters, such as the protagonist and antagonist. Stories often include minor characters. These are characters who the fiction writer defines by a single idea or quality. These types of characters are necessary for the story, but they are not important. These are secondary characters to the story.
Flat and Round Characters. A character can also be identified in terms of flat or round characters. A flat character is a minor character in the story. This type of character doesn’t change as the story progresses.
Round characters, on the other hand, must deal with conflict in the story and are change by it. The writer develops these types of characters by using character descriptions and dialogue. Round characters are all the major characters of the story, including the hero and villain.
Static and Dynamic Characters. Another way of defining a character is in terms of “static character” or “dynamic character.” A static character is a minor character in the story and plays a supporting role to the main character. Static characters don’t change as the story progresses. The fiction writer spends little time developing static characters.
In contrast, a dynamic character is a round character. This type of character grows and develops as the story advances. The fiction writer spends a great deal of time developing these types of characters. They are believable and can be memorable.
What is characterization? It is the means by which the fiction writer presents and reveals a character in the story to the reader. Although the techniques of characterization are complex, writers typically reveal characters through the following methods:
- Action. How the character acts or behaves throughout the story.
- Appearance. What types of clothes the character wears. His/her hygiene.
- Dialogue. What the character says and how the character says it.
- Thoughts and Feel. By what the character thinks and feels.
- Relationships. The types of personal relationships, such as friends and acquaintances the character has.
Characterization is the process by which the fiction writer reveals a character’s personality to the reader. This process is very similar to the process real people go through when they encounter new situations or person. People form an initial opinion about a situation based upon what they see and hear. The fiction writer can reveal a character in the following ways:
- By telling the reader directly what the character is like (not a very subtle approach and not used often by writers);
- By describing how the character looks and dresses (What type of clothing does the character wear?
- By letting the reader hear how the character speaks (Does the character speak with a dialect? Is the character loud or soft-spoken?);
- By revealing the character’s private thoughts and feelings (What does the character think about other people? About himself?);
- By revealing the character’s effect on other people (Do people want to associate with the character? Do people do whatever the character asks?)
- By showing the character’s actions (Does the character treat people who respect and courtesy? Does the character make good decisions or poor ones?).
The Character Profile/Character Sketch
Author Nancy Lamb wrote in “The Art and Craft of storytelling” that the challenge of the writer is to create characters that live and breathe on the page. To achieve this, the writer must create characters that are:
- Grab the attention of the reader.
- Appealing to the reader.
One method of developing a character is by using a character profile.
Before constructing the story, the fiction writer ought to have a good idea of what sorts of characters he/she will include in your story, such as the protagonist and villain. To help you write about characters. You can create a character sketch or profile for each character. For each character sketch, include the following:
- Likes and dislikes
- Important traits
- Body language
- Name and moniker
The aspiring writer can ask the following questions to develop a character sketch:
- Where is the character from?
- What is the character’s social milieu or environment?
- How old is the character?
- What is the name of the character?
- What does the character look like?
- What does the character do for a living?
- How does the character deal with conflict and change?
- What is the character’s goal or motivation in the scene or story?
Much of what a reader learns about a character comes from what the character says and how the character says it. Keeping points in mind, the aspiring writer can use dialogue for the following purposes:
- To advance the plot. (Sam screamed, “I am going to kill you.”)
- To reveal and express character emotions and traits. (The mother said, “You are lazy.”)
- To allow characters to confront one another. (The boyfriend replied, “I am leaving you for my secretary.”)
- To crystallize situations and relations. (“I love you.”)
- To comment on the setting. (“I loathe this country.”)
- To introduce a motif, symbol, or allusion. (“You look like the Mona Lisa.”)
- To transition to a new scene or narrative summary. (“I will call you tomorrow.”)
For more information on how to use dialogue, read The Passion for Narrative.
How to Create Memorable Characters
There is no single method by which the fiction writer goes about creating memorable characters. Some get their ideas from real people. Others read about a character in the news. Some use themselves as a basis of a character sketch.
To create memorable characters, the aspiring writer can follow these suggestions:
- Early in the story, define the main goal or purpose of the protagonist.
- Create conflict throughout the story.
- Create a struggle that the character must endure and overcome.
- Create characters that are interesting and appealing to the reader.
- Create convincing motivations for your characters.
- Craft a story that the reader can relate to.
- Create multi-dimensional characters.
- Create characters that are able to defend themselves and overcome their antagonists or enemies.
- The hero must be the instrument of his own salvation.
Resources for Writing Fiction
There are several good books available to help you learn about the elements of fiction. The following books—and resources that I recommend— were used to research this article:
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway
- Creative Writing: A Guide and Glossary to Fiction Writing by Colin Bulman
- The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
- How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
- The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
- A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction by Jack Hodgins
Next, I will discuss the theme of a short story or novel.