How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: dialogue

 

Welcome to Part Thirteen of our popular fiction series. This week, Lucy looks at how to write dialogue – a particularly important part of writing good fiction. For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

How to write dialogue

A large part of “showing”, as opposed to “telling” your story is about creating scenes in which the characters interact – and interaction means dialogue.

Fiction dialogue has to appear realistic, but, paradoxically, if the reader is to believe in it, cannot be genuinely life-like. If you pasted into your novel a slab of real-life conversation, it would be unfocused, long-winded, boring and – strangely – would appear unnatural. If you’ve ever tried to read verbatim transcripts of interviews, you’ll know how hard they are to plough through. Readers don’t want to see in print the ums and ers, pauses, digressions and waffling that everyday chat consists of.

As a fiction writer, you need to give readers the essence of what your characters are communicating with the flavour of verisimilitude. So how do you do that?

First you need to find the individual voice of each character – especially your main characters – in your head. Don’t try to write their dialogue until you can hear them speak; recognise the pitch and tone of their voice, their accent and intonation; understand the way their speech reflects their thought processes; and the verbal tics that are uniquely theirs.

If a character doesn’t come easily to you, the simplest way to find their voice is to base it on that of someone you know well, whether personally or from the media. Find someone whose distinctive style of speaking is easy for you to reproduce in your head and apply to your character’s dialogue. As you keep writing, the character will come to life and subsume the style of your original model until you don’t need to refer back to them.

Give your characters character

small__4961660735Each character in your story – even the minor ones – should have an individual style of speaking. The test of this is for someone to be able to read a page of dialogue between two or more of your characters and always know, without referring to the tags (‘x said’, ‘y replied’), which of them is speaking. A sure-fire way to lose a reader’s interest is to have all your characters talking in the same style, despite their different ages, backgrounds, education, gender etc.

One shortcut to identifying a character through dialogue is to give them a couple of verbal habits – though subtlety is the key here. For example, an older man could always call other men ‘old chap’ and women ‘my dear’; a teenager might punctuate their speech with ‘like’ and ‘you know’; an academic could habitually use longer words where a short one would do; a hesitant woman might regularly start sentences with, ‘Well, …’. Using such words or phrases initially as an identity tag will help you define a character’s verbal style, and you might later be able to go back and remove the more obvious ones.

Don’t write phonetically

If a character speaks with an accent of any kind, do not try to write it phonetically. Everyone speaks with an accent of one kind or another, whether we consider it ‘received English’ or something else. Your readers themselves may come from any part of your country, or the world, and might find it offensive for their own manner of speech to be written in a different way to what you, the writer, consider ‘normal’ English. The best way to indicate national, regional, or age- or class-based accents is in the style and tone of the language along with a few judiciously placed words (spelled correctly) which are natural to and typical of your character’s accent. Along with the context you give them, the reader will ‘get’ what you intend and supply the appropriate accent as they read.

In general, when you are writing dialogue, use contractions (‘don’t’, ‘he’s’, ‘shouldn’t’), as almost everyone does in real speech, unless the character is very formal and not to do so becomes their verbal tic. Allow characters to speak in verbless phrases and incomplete sentences in a way that sounds authentic and  contrasts (probably) with your narrative style. The occasional ‘um’ or ‘er’ can sound natural, but a life-like amount would become tedious. Similarly, allow characters to interrupt and cut across each other occasionally, but not as much as people really do or your dialogue will become impossible to follow.

Make dialogue valuable to the story

In using dialogue to “show” your story, make sure that every exchange contains something that either furthers the plot or adds to character development and ties into one or more of your themes. Don’t use dialogue to give the reader information or back story in an obvious way, unless one character is telling another who doesn’t already know and needs to know this information.

Use dialogue judiciously. Readers don’t want or need to be shown an entire conversation, including exchanges such as: ‘Pass the salt.’ ‘There it is.’ ‘Thank you. And the pepper please.’ Summarise between significant pieces of dialogue – readers are quite capable of understanding ‘jump cuts’. Remember to keep your dialogue interspersed with action and description. People continue to eat, walk, drive, wash up etc, while they are speaking and you need to keep ‘showing’ this.

Use the right grammar rules for dialogue

There are grammatical rules for writing dialogue. Speech should be enclosed in inverted commas which contains the punctuation related to the dialogue. Start on a new line each time a different person starts to speak. Some publishers indent new lines of dialogue in typeset, but it’s easier for editors and typesetters if authors do not indent new lines of dialogue in a manuscript. If you insert a tag (‘he said’) after a sentence of dialogue, the dialogue sentence ends with a comma and the full stop/period is postponed until the end of the tag:

‘I would be happy to recommend you a very good hotel,’ said the taxi driver.

If you insert a tag into the middle of a sentence of dialogue, this is how the punctuation should go:

‘I would be happy,’ said the taxi driver, ‘to recommend you a very good hotel.’

Be sparing with tags; if your dialogue is well written for individual characters, you shouldn’t need to say who is speaking after every sentence. Try to refrain from using tags to ‘tell’ – as in:

‘That’s awfully good news,’ Eleanor shouted excitedly.

The context and the dialogue itself should tell a reader that Eleanor is speaking loudly and with excitement. Some experts say the only verb that should be used in a tag is ‘said’ and never with an adverb; that seems to me to be unnecessarily restrictive, but less is usually more.

More about sentence structure and punctuation next week.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy

Managing Editor, Rethink Press.
www.rethinkpress.com
www.facebook.com/RethinkPress
www.twitter.com/RethinkPress

 

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD now available!
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

photo credit: Cesar Mascarenhas via photopin cc

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: show and tell

 

Welcome to Part Twelve of our popular fiction series. This week, Lucy looks at “show and tell.” For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Show And Tell

You might have crafted a killer opening to your story, or you may have decided to come back and polish it after you’ve got to the end. Either way, you know that hooking your reader at the start depends on not giving too much away at once. That continues to hold true throughout your writing.

“Show, don’t tell,” is a piece of advice frequently given to new fiction writers, and there is a lot of value in taking this on board. What it means is that, instead of summarising action and telling your reader what is happening, you demonstrate and illustrate, allowing your readers to draw their own conclusions and make the links that draw them through the story under their own steam. For example, an author could tell you that a character was a controlling and mean-spirited man. As a reader you would have to accept this, but not be able engage your critical faculties in coming to this decision.

small__2987049195In Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks writes:

“Do you drink wine?” said Azaire, holding a bottle over Stephen’s glass.

“Thank you.”

Azaire poured out an inch or two for Stephen and for his wife, before returning the bottle to its place.

From this, and further dialogue and details in the scene, the reader gains the pleasure of creating their own picture of Azaire and his character without Faulks ever having told us this in so many words.

To “show” as opposed to “telling” your story means that you need to break down much of the action in terms of scenes, similar to a screenplay.

So as you come to each chapter outline in your fiction “bible”, decide what scenes you need to “show” in order to move the plot along. As you write each scene, remember to use all your senses in describing what is going on: not just what you (and the characters) can see, but what is heard, felt, smelled and experienced.

Consider this sentence:

He went to bed late, hoping his wife would be asleep so he would not have to talk to her, but she was not.

This gives a reader the same factual information as Elizabeth Jane Howard does in the following passage from The Light Years, but lacks the visual, sensory and emotional power – as well as additional, subtle knowledge we gain about the characters – that she includes by “showing” the scene:

“He opened the bedroom door hoping that Zoe would be asleep. She wasn’t, of course. She was sitting up in bed, her bed jacket on her shoulders, doing nothing, waiting for him. He fumbled with his tie and had dropped it on top of his chest of drawers before she said, ‘You’ve been a long time.’ Her voice had the controlled quality that he had learned to dread.”

“Showing” as opposed to “telling” also helps you to avoid the type of narration that is often called “And then, and then…”. This is when an author takes the reader through the plot via a series of events, one after the other, frequently not discriminating between the interesting/important elements of the story and those which link them but have no intrinsic significance to the theme or plot. The opposite to “And then, and then…” writing is known as the “Why? Because” style. In other words, the choice of scenes, description etc, is governed by motive, character development and interaction.

You will notice, however, from the above excerpts and my paraphrases of them that the “told” version is much shorter than the “shown” scene. . And, of course, a novel or short story are not the same as a screenplay for the very reason that, unlike a script, they include description, linkage, exposition and the interior thought processes of the characters.

So is there a place in good fiction writing for “telling”? The answer, of course, is yes.

Excellent narrative combines a majority (usually) of “showing” and some strategic “telling” to link scenes, provide contrast in pace and content, and provide information quickly and which can’t always be given in another way.

When you are deciding which are the key scenes to “show” in each section of your story, make sure that they are essential to the development of your plot, relate strongly to your theme and demonstrate character development.

Linking your key scenes and providing a change of tempo and style, use “telling” segments to get across information and get through less crucial events. The idea is to find a good balance of “telling” versus “showing”, summary versus action.

One tip is not to go into detail about, or develop dialogue for, characters who are unimportant or not going to reappear in the story. For example, an interchange with a receptionist when checking into a hotel is best summarised rather than “shown”, although a few specifics, as opposed to generalities, when describing the hotel foyer or the receptionist will always give the reader an additional picture to add into the rich mix of your story.

Next week we will tackle writing authentic dialogue for fiction.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy

Managing Editor, Rethink Press.
www.rethinkpress.com
www.facebook.com/RethinkPress
www.twitter.com/RethinkPress

 

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD now available!
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here
photo credit: tarotastic via photopin cc

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: plot development, beginning and ending

Welcome to Part Six of our popular fiction series. This week, Lucy looks at plot development – specifically the beginning and the ending. 

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Over the last four weeks, you have written a plot overview, developed your characters, understood your setting and explored the theme of your work of fiction. The fundamental building blocks are in place – congratulations!

Over the next few weeks, we are going to expand your plot, taking the eight sections from the one-page breakdown, and turning each into a full chapter outline (which you may choose to break into more – or fewer – actual chapters when you start writing). Once you have this extended plot outline, the detailed skeleton of your work will have taken shape and the job of writing – adding flesh to those bones – will be so much less daunting.

Some writers claim to skip this stage, to write from instinct and let the plot and their characters develop freely without plans or preconceptions. My guess is that most successful authors who work like this have written many books (not necessarily all published), during which they have internalised the process that we are making explicit. If you are in the early stages of your fiction writing career, working rigorously through this development approach will stand you in good stead for now, and allow you to make shortcuts in the future.

To recap on the plot outline, we discussed two structural principles for story-telling: the Three Act form, breaking narrative into Beginning, Middle and End; and the Story Arc which draws the reader through the twists and turns of your plot. We created an eight-point plot overview, of which the first two sections were grouped as “Beginning”, and the last two, “End”.

You won’t be surprised to find that we are going to start by working on Section 1 of the Beginning, which was headed The Trigger, but you might not have guessed that, in parallel to this, we are going straight to the final Section 8, Resolution.

How to write fiction without the fussFirst, we are going to make use of the Zeigarnik Effect. In the 1920s, a Russian psychologist called Bluma Zeigarnik noticed, while sitting in a café, that once the waiters opened an order for a table they were able to keep all the details accurately in their minds, until the order was completed and paid for – at which point they lost almost all knowledge of it. Psychologists since have noted that this facility can be made use of in task completion: making a small gesture which corresponds to opening an order helps us to focus on, memorise complex elements of, and complete a task.

So, let’s ‘open an order’ for your entire plot. In your fiction ‘bible, open eight new pages. Head them: 1 Trigger, 2 Quest Begins, 3 Quest Continues, 4 Reversal 1, 5 Reversal 2, 6 Reversal 3, 7 Climax, and 8 Resolution. Remember, in the Story Arc, The Trigger is the inciting action or event which sets off the entire plot; and Resolution is where the last threads are untangled and loose ends tied up.

From your 1-page plot outline, take the notes you made on Sections 1 and 8 and transfer them to the first and last of your new pages. You are now going to expand these brief notes into two chapter breakdowns, each between one and two pages long. Create detailed notes about the scenes you will need to set, and complete; the main plot, and however many subplots you intend to have in your story. In Section 1, it is important to carefully frame the inciting event which will set your cast off on their quest; Section 8 should reflect the way this happens when it is resolved.

These two chapters should be mirror images of each other: one way of looking at the beginning and end of a story is to say the first poses a number of questions and the second provides the answers to them.

The characters’ opening positions should be replaced by more mature attitudes produced by the journey they have been on. The ‘old world’ which you will establish in the opening will be replaced by a ‘new world’ at the end.

The main plot, involving the main characters, should be started in Section 1 and resolved in Section 8, although it may be that one or more of your sub plots will not appear until later in the story and perhaps finish earlier. There might also be deaths, disappearances and replacements on the journey, so a presence in the Trigger section may be balanced by an absence in Resolution.

What you don’t need to know at this moment is what the journey between consists of – we will start on that next week – but if you don’t have a clear idea of the beginning and the ending (although either may be adjusted in the writing), you won’t be able to plot the path from one to the other.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy

Managing Editor, Rethink Press.
www.rethinkpress.com
www.facebook.com/RethinkPress
www.twitter.com/RethinkPress

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

photo credit: CircaSassy via photopin cc

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: defining your theme

 

Welcome to the 5th part of our series on how to write fiction without the fuss. 

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss Writing fiction doesn’t need to be torturous or difficult. In this series of articles novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher shows you how to do it easily and well.

Defining your theme

Now you have the outlines of your plot, character and setting in place, it’s time to explore the theme – or themes – of your novel or short story.

The theme is the central idea(s) which underlie a work of fiction. It is nothing as crude as a ‘message’ (which, if too obvious, will detract from good creative writing), but combines the wisdom, the moral, the paradigm or thesis you explore within your story.

The greatest novels include a number of inter-related themes: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, for instance, manages to look at marriage, gender politics, property, class and social hypocrisy within an apparently light-hearted comedy of manners. But an over-arching theme linking all the others is that love overcomes pride (and prejudice).

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee examines love for people, the importance of living things and tolerance of others’ beliefs – but the key theme is southerners’ lack of acceptance of black emancipation.

You may start your story with one theme in mind and find that others emerge as you progress.

You might not even recognise an issue you have addressed until you come to revise and edit your work. The value of distinguishing themes at this stage is that they provide you with a structure for sharpening the relevant and cutting the unnecessary elements of your story.

Some novelists claim not to think about theme before writing; they prefer to concentrate on telling a good story and see what emerges. However, every writer has interests, opinions, biases and attitudes, whether conscious or unconscious, which influence what they write; whether you are aware of them or not, your own experience and knowledge create themes in your work.

Fiction without the fuss HowToWriteBetter.netIt makes sense, then, to focus on this aspect of your story at the outset and actively to make use of it.

Not to do so can produce some unintended and unwanted consequences: if you are a less experienced writer and pursue your plot without keeping an eye on your underlying theme, it could materialise as trite, passé or overly ‘messagey’; equally, without holding a theme in mind, you might leave your readers confused by characters and events that lack a coherent authorial perspective.

If you have come to this project with an issue you want to explore, you need to make sure your novel expresses what you want it to. Most importantly, though, a solid thematic structure is a major organising force in fiction, giving it depth, resonance and emotional impact. A well-developed theme is as valuable to your novel as character and plot.

Start a new page in your project ‘bible’ and head it Theme.

If you already know your main theme, summarise it in a single sentence. If you are also able, add sentence-long summaries for your sub-themes – which should all have some link to the main theme.

If you are not yet clear about the theme(s) of your story, go back over your one-page plot outline and ask yourself:

  • “What does the reader know at the end of this story that they didn’t know at the beginning?”
  • “What lessons emerge from the key incidents in this plot?”
  • “Where does the story highlight different sides of a single position?”

Read back over your Character descriptions and enquire of each person:

  • “What do you learn as a result of your journey in this story?”
  • “What viewpoints do you represent – and does it change by the end?”
  • “Which other character(s) do you agree and disagree with, and what will the tension between you reveal to the reader?”

The answers to these questions may take some time to emerge but, as they do, make notes about them on your Theme page. Highlight key actions, interactions and events in the plot line. Make notes of where the attitudes of different characters originate. Refer back to your notes on Setting and consider historical period and culture.

This is a good time, before you start writing, to clarify your themes and perhaps to tweak your plot outline and characters in response.

Next week we will start to develop a full chapter breakdown.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy

Managing Editor, Rethink Press.
www.rethinkpress.com
www.facebook.com/RethinkPress
www.twitter.com/RethinkPress

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus Lucy’s novels here

photo credit: szeke via photopin cc

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: get your setting right

Welcome to the 4th part of our series on how to write fiction without the fuss. 

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss Writing fiction doesn’t need to be torturous or difficult. In this series of articles novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher shows you how to do it easily and well.

Get your setting right

Along with plot, character, style and theme, the setting is a key element in a piece of fiction. Authors and critics have called a novel’s setting a ‘character in its own right’ and, while it doesn’t have to play a dynamic role in every story, without a realistic and specific backdrop your characters will seem pallid and amorphous and your plot will lack credibility.

Consider just three classic writers and what their novels would be like without their settings: Charles Dickens, Armistead Maupin and JK Rowling. The stories of David Copperfield or Oliver Twist would be hollow without the backdrop and context of 19th century London; San Francisco rightly takes top billing in the title of Tales of the City; and the imaginary world of Hogwarts School creates magic for the reader in more than the obvious sense.

So what do these three – and all other successful – authors include in their settings to make them so involving?

Firstly, whether they are ‘real’ or fantastical, each of their fictional worlds is highly specific. Just as they know their characters inside out, the authors bring detailed knowledge and description of the places their characters move through.

Setting is not, though, just about location. It is also about historical period and the society, ethos and culture that pertain to that time. They are how we understand the way characters think and behave, and the factors that drive them. Dickens’ period characters do not share the moral outlook – or indeed dialogue style – of Maupin’s ‘70s hippies.

Fiction without the fuss HowToWriteBetter.netOther aspects of your setting that influence plot and characters are its geography and/or architecture and decor, social class, weather, season and time of day. These can be used to underline, or counterpoint, narrative moods and can provide metaphorical resonance for your theme.

If your entire novel or short story is set in one location, your job may be simpler than if you choose multiple locations for different plot elements. Your work will be different, too, if your setting is contemporary rather than historical: in either case you may already know or be able to visit the district, or you will need to do the appropriate research to bring it to life for readers (who may know the place or time themselves and won’t appreciate errors).

A totally invented world will need all the elements mentioned above – though it might, like Harry Potter, overlap with and provide a commentary on the world we know. If you are creating an imagined setting, the most important thing to remember is consistency. The environments need to be meticulously thought through in every detail, even if they don’t all appear in the story, and to remain coherent from start to finish.

To help you do this, open a new section in your fiction ‘bible’ called Settings and head a page for each location. Make sub-headings for:

Environment – make notes on the landscape or cityscape: the natural geography, buildings – exterior and interior, layout of streets or countryside, wildlife, human inhabitants, social class… You might want to consider how these settings affect your characters – do they brutalise or sensitise; do they love or hate their environments?  Use all four senses to fully imagine and describe your environment.

Period and Context – even if your setting is contemporary or imagined, take the time to identify the current social and political attitudes. Think about gender positions, outlook on the issues of your story, real life events, methods of transport and communication. If you are writing in multiple time schemes, you will need a heading for each, comparing and contrasting important aspects.

Season – clarify the time(s) of year that your story takes place, how this impacts on the landscape and the action, reflects or adds irony to your characters’ feelings. Make notes on specific weather conditions you could use; months, days of the week, times of day that your plot makes use of and the effect they might have.

Research – what is missing from the above that you need to know, and where will you find it? It might be tiny details or a major exploration that needs to be undertaken to fill the gaps.

If there are aspects specific to the settings in your story that require more examination – particularly if you are inventing a new world – add other headings.

Next week we’ll discuss the themes in your work of fiction.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy

Managing Editor, Rethink Press.
www.rethinkpress.com
www.facebook.com/RethinkPress
www.twitter.com/RethinkPress

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published

…plus Lucy’s novels here

photo credit: szeke via photopin cc

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: how to create your characters

Welcome to the 3rd part of our series on how to write fiction without the fuss.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss Writing fiction doesn’t need to be torturous or difficult. In this series of articles novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher shows you how to do it easily and well.

Character Development

With an overview of your plot in place, let’s work on the most important element of any piece of fiction: the characters. Every other aspect of your story – plot theme, genre, exposition, engagement – depends on the characters you create to wrap them around. They are the single element that will keep your readers absorbed; even one believable, fascinating character that inhabits their imagination can make up for less than perfect plotting or writing style.

Think back to any memorable novel, story, film or TV series and see if it wasn’t one or two of the main characters who kept you reading or viewing, stayed with you long after the end, and who you still see, hear, love or hate in your head, even if you’ve forgotten the details of the plot.

A key step to creating such characters is the ‘composting’ process. It is vital to spend time living imaginatively with your cast before committing them to paper, letting them take shape over time, growing from a look or single trait into a rounded personality with a life of their own.

HowToWriteBetter: fiction, character development

Would you know how to create
a truly credible character?

Often, your main protagonists will have introduced themselves as the starting point of your novel or short story; surrounding or lesser characters may take longer to materialise.

To build a credible character, you could start from someone you know, from life, the media or other fiction, making sure they grow into an original creation as you envisage them in your own settings. Never leave a character recognisable as a real person – for legal as well as creative reasons!

Alternatively, start from an archetype – heroine, villain, confidante, trickster – or a plot requirement – jealous ex, interfering parent – and gather physical and emotional traits around this.

Although the details may not play a part in your story, you, the writer, must know all your main characters’ ‘back stories’. Where they were born, grew up and were educated; how they were raised in what kind of family; the key emotional events in their lives before they arrived at your starting point – all these will have produced the attitude, motivation and purpose which are essential to writing a convincing character.

Whether you have all this material at your fingertips, or feel stuck on some areas, the next section of your story’s ‘bible’ is getting your characters into written form.

Characters aren’t robots: you don’t design and build them then expect them to perform a function; they must be people who develop organically through their own actions, reactions and interactions.

This exercise, though, will give you a solid grounding from which to further build your plot and storyline.

Whether you are writing your fiction ‘bible’ on paper or electronically, start a new section called Characters. Assign a page to each main character headed by their name, and perhaps half a page to each lesser character (don’t get carried away by detail at this point).

Depending on the structure of your work, you might want to group them in sub-sections such as Main Plot, Sub-plot 1, Sub-plot 2; or in different families or settings. The more order you bring to your ‘bible’ now, the more clarity it will offer when you start writing.

Give each character a factual background: date of birth, place of upbringing, family of origin, education, dates of key life events (marriage, trauma, career achievements…) their current home and environment; and brief physical description, although this is less important to readers than you may imagine, they will always create their own picture. If possible, assign them an archetype.

Follow this information with a one-line description of their role in your story, such as ‘Main protagonist, unwilling seeker of truth about his mother’s murder, falls in love with X after initial dislike’. You can return to this succinct summary to keep your character and plot on track while writing.

After the facts, allow your imagination freedom to describe your character’s emotional base – especially the motivation for their action and purpose in the story.

You might want to note down a typical snatch of dialogue or scenario. Quirks are a great way of signposting them to the reader, such as turns of phrase, beliefs, habits or tics – although don’t let these become clichés or excuses for real characterisation later.

Keep these descriptions to the suggested length to clarify and focus your thoughts and keep your full creative powers for the story itself.

Next week we’ll work on the setting of your fiction.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy

Managing Editor, Rethink Press.
www.rethinkpress.com
www.facebook.com/RethinkPress
www.twitter.com/RethinkPress

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published

…AND, check out Lucy’s novels here

 

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