A Writing Exercise for Characters

Until very recently, I wrote as a hobby distributing my stories (the ones I was happy with) to my friends. However, when I decided to take on something of novel length, I found myself challenged in a number of ways, but foremost had to do with character interaction.

I would say more than 75% of my story ideas initiate with an imagined, comic, interaction between two or three characters. Once that’s established in my mind, I begin to fill in details about them including their current situation, back story, goals, etc. A general sketch was all I needed for short stories and the situation was sufficient to develop the brief plot line needed.

As I wrote my novel, I found myself occasionally unsatisfied with some of the secondary characters rapport. Given that dialog is my favorite thing to write, I found this especially frustrating. So I decided to take the time and create an exercise to help me get to the core of the personalities and how they mixed.

So here’s what I did:
I took them out of the story and dropped them, as it were, into common settings to see how they would get on. Situations such as, cab driver and passenger(s); complaints desk/customer service call, jury deliberation room, Christmas party, anything that would pop into my mind. Off to the side, as a guide, I kept a brief list of character features under each name.

I then just started writing the loose dialog that might occur for any of those situations. Not a lot was necessary. I also didn’t have to care much about identifying who was talking, I knew that. But I did pay attention to possible body language (very important). I just kept it going for maybe a page or so, switched to another scenario and repeated. Some were easy, some weren’t – the difficult ones, I stopped so as not to waste time. The easier ones were usually revealing enough.

This helped me get a firmer footing to develop better dialog within the story. I hope it works for you, if you find yourself in a similar situation.
-R

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