Writing: Character as action

Today’s writing tip, if you want to call it that, is about character and dialogue.

A wise writing guru (I think it might have been Ursula K. LeGuin) revealed a core truth about one aspect of writing that has stuck with me. It’s this: dialogue is not conversation. Which means, in a story with to and fro conversation that sounds too much like real life – “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?”, and so on – serves no purpose in a story. Sure, we can have snippets of regular speech, provided there is a point to them. What a character says, and how they say it, can express something about that character. It can also move the story along. So, instead of a block description of an action, or event, a bit of snappy dialogue might move things along faster and, potentially, in a more interesting way.

Much the same can be said when choosing character names. A name can tell you something about the character, and not just nationality. If you’ve got a character, for example, called Helen Highwater, what does that tell you? Okay, that’s not a great name, unless she’s a character in a comic novel. But you immediately form some sort of view about what kind of character she is. How she talks, and what she talks about, will flesh her out, too. Which means you don’t even need to physically describe her.

Which reminds me, I really must now write a comic novel in which a certain demon librarian, called Helen Highwater, features.

As ever, please add your own comments. I love to read other people’s ideas and points of view.

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2 thoughts on “Writing: Character as action

  1. Yes John indeed. I can’t help but think of pet names here – dogs in particular. I mean ‘Tyson, Brutus and Psycho’ say it all, especially when you compare them to names like ‘Spot or Patch.’ In Withnail and I isn’t ‘Monty’ the best name ever for such a character? And in terms of dialogue I would approach from the view of an eaves-dropper at a restaurant table.. If I’m overhearing a conversation, I’m not interested in the chit chat – I want the hard core gossip! ‘Who’ sleeping with who’ is far more interesting than ‘Do you take sugar’?

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