Characters = People (part three)

All month long, we’re talking about characters and how to make them as realistic and lifelike as possible, through their mannerisms, conversation, and behaviors. Click Here to see where it all started!

 

Today is my favorite topic, because I’ve always loved to write it.

Dialogue.

 

You’d think it would be easy, and yet dialogue is one of those things that’s incredibly tricky to master. If you don’t get it right, it can make your book clunky and your characters unbelievable. It can be the thing that makes your book into a masterpiece, or the thing that prevents it from getting there. So you’d better know how to do it, and you’d better do it right.

Here’s the thing:

People talk a lot. Your characters should, too. But did you know that it doesn’t all have to be in properly formatted dialogue? You can have a ton of dialogue in your story without ever having any actual dialogue at all.

This is especially true if you’re writing in first person. Your characters can zone out while someone else is talking, or you can take a short paragraph to say what someone said while interjecting thoughts into the mix. Oh yeah, and all this can be done without having anything in quotation marks.

Check this out:

We talked for hours and hours about the pros and cons of packing up and moving away. He thought it was better if we went, better for the kids, better for our family, better for our peace of mind—but that was a load of baloney. He wanted to move for him, and I knew it. I made sure he knew it, too. I tried to listen to his arguments, he tried to listen to mine, but we never could reach a decision that way. We’d been good at it when we were younger. What happened to us? I didn’t know. So I listened, I rebutted, and I stood my ground. I did what I always did, what I knew how to do. So did he. By the time I looked up at the clock, it was three in the morning. How had we been talking so long? It wouldn’t be over soon.

There's no dialogue there, and yet you get a sense of what’s being talked about and begin to understand the mind of the character whose thoughts you read. That’s the beauty of writing. We don’t have to always say things aloud.

But that’s not the only way to better your dialogue. Obviously, at some point, the dialogue is actually going to have to be in quotation marks. People will have to actually say something. There will be a conversation relayed via text.

In this case, you need to make sure your characters are talking like real people. Use contractions, for goodness’ sake. I can’t tell you how many writers think this is bad form, because of what they learned in school. Well, this is fiction you're writing, not a term paper. Throw the rules out the window. Use fragments. Write run-ons. Do things your teachers told you not to do, and do them more in dialogue.

But above all, no matter what, if you’re writing traditionally formatted dialogue, please, read it aloud. Do this while you’re editing. Read the conversation aloud, and make note of where it sounds stupid—because trust me, we all write some stupid dialogue from time to time. Reading it aloud will help you fix that.

If your people aren’t talking, then something’s definitely wrong. So when they are, take your time with it. Refine it. Hone it. And don’t forget what you’ve studied during people watching, to determine how to make your dialogue as realistic as possible.

Please, for all that is good in the world, don’t have a character monologue. Unless they’re giving a speech, no one does that and it just gets uncomfortable for your reader.

And your editor.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, Etc.

Characters = People (part two)

All month long, we’re talking about the ways to make your characters more realistic. Click Here to check out where it all started!

 

Today, I have a very simple concept to discuss. It’s one that, for some reason, a lot of authors don’t follow. I’ve seen it in the majority of submissions RAD Writing has received, and I’ve also seen it in far too many published novels.

It's time we...

Ignore the formalities

See, when you’re making a character, you have to remember that most of the time, they’re not going to be in a formal situation or speaking as though everything must be formal at all times. It’s incredibly rare for this statement not to be true. Mostly, our characters are social but not formally so—which means that they shouldn’t act and speak as though they are (i.e. please use contractions, people!).

Too many authors try too hard to make their grammar perfect when they’re writing characters, and forget that the important part is actually the actions and phrases.

Make em wiggle, make em hurt, make em overthink and make stupid decisions, make their minds ramble, make em regret, let em be embarrassed! Why? Because that’s the way life really works!

I would venture so far as to say that most of us are embarrassed by something at least once a day (even if nobody but us sees it). Usually it’s something small that we can easily brush off, but it happens. All of us overthink, I dare say. We all struggle with things. Going for a run makes our legs hurt. We do dumb things. We regret our past decisions, our mistakes. We wiggle when we’re sitting down and when we’re standing. We make weird faces when we hear something we didn’t understand, or when we see something weird on TV.

So why don’t our characters do that?

Well, they should.

That’s my lesson for today. Don’t make your characters so formal that they don’t even seem real anymore. Focus on making them like actual people, rather than putting all your attention on the grammatical side of things.

People talk in fragments and run-ons more than we talk in anything else. Half the time, we don’t even know what we’re going to say when we start talking, so our sentence gets carried away with itself.

But, did you notice that most of us also move a lot while we’re talking? We gesture, we emote, we shift our feet beneath us—and yet characters rarely ever follow suit. Instead, they’re stiff, lifeless, emotionless except within their mind’s exposition.

That shouldn’t be the case.

You should get better at your grammar, it’s true, but when you’re writing your characters, don’t forget that art should imitate life—and that people are the furthest thing possible from what you might consider the perfect character on paper.

Next week, we’ll talk about the different ways to make your characters talk (because it shouldn’t always be in dialogue).

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

Characters = People (part one)

Welcome back to the RADblog!

 

As you know, this year we’re starting to focus on month-long series’ instead of changing the topic every week. Last month was all about writing a short novel all the way through in thirty days, but this month, I thought it’d be good to get into some of the technicalities.

Characters are one of the things many writers struggle with, whether they realize it or not. For a lot of us, we focus on the story and the pacing and plot before settling at all upon who our characters are and what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many novels I’ve read, submitted to RAD, where the characters feel like an afterthought in the story. But I can tell you that it’s a grave mistake to write this way. Characters are the biggest thing our readers attach themselves to, and as such, characters are something we, as writers, have to be able to do right.

This month then, I’m going to give you four pointers on how to make your characters as real as possible, to make them jump off the page and feel to your readers as though they were really alive.

 

First, make a study of people.

It’s something I tell every single writer I know, whether they ignore me or not. If you’re not willing to make a study of people, then you shouldn’t even bother writing a novel at all. At least, not a novel with characters that the reader should attach themselves to. If you’re going for a World War Z vibe, then you’re fine (but remember, World War Z style books are even harder to get right in the long run).

The first thing I always tell writers to do when it comes to learning how to make characters is to go out and people watch—and yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you to do. But I don’t just want you to watch them, I want you to study them.

Take a notepad and pencil with you. Write down what you see. Notice little movements people do when they’re talking, watch when they smile and frown, look at the people staring at the floor and the people who keep their eyes on the path before them. Don’t just focus on the people who are fun and pleasant to watch. Look at the homeless people, the drunk people, the depressed and sad people, and take notes on how you know they are the way they are (for instance, a sad person is more likely to keep their shoulders slumped and their eyes lowered, while a happy person might keep their shoulders squared and their eyes on the crowd).

Get deep with it. If you’re feeling brave, go talk to some people and find out what makes them tick. Do your best to understand people, to get to know them from the inside out, so when you start to write your characters, you know the way this person might behave.

But remember, that’s just the first step. You have to make a study of something, you have to know a thing, before you can write it. After all, it’s one of the cardinal rules of writing:

Write what you know.

And if you don’t know people very well, then you’re definitely not ready to write them. Harsh, yes, but it’s true. Don’t worry though; making a study of people isn’t as hard as you might think. Many of these things you might already know, but you won’t realize it until you start writing it down, taking notes on the people you see.

Next week, we’ll talk about ignoring the formalities—something a lot of writers get completely wrong when reaching for realistic characters.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, Etc.

Fast Novel 101 (final)

This month, we’ve been talking about how to write a 50K novel in a month, NaNoWriMo style, but in a month other than April or November, because ain’t nobody got time for that.

Today, I have one last thing to tell you, one last piece of advice, one last thing you need to do in order to write your novel.

 

Just do it.

 

I know, I sound like a Nike ad or a Shia Lebouf video. I’m neither, I promise. But the concept is still the same.

You have to just do it.

If you want to write a novel in a month, if you want to be one of those people who can say they wrote a whole novel in a single month, then you have to sit down and do it. You can’t just sit by and prepare, you can’t focus on the preparation and do nothing afterward, and you certainly can’t start it and give up partway through.

Don’t say it’s too hard.

I know it’s hard. Nobody ever said it would be easy. What is it that they say? Nothing worth having ever comes easy? Keep that in mind. This won’t be easy. It’ll be hard, it’ll be a challenge, but you know what? It’ll be more than worth it by the time you’ve finished, when you complete your goal.

Do not let your hard work be in vain.

You’ve done all this preparation, you’ve done so many things to make sure you’ll finish this, that you’ll write your whole novel in a month. You haven’t just written your outline and decided willy-nilly that you’re going to write this novel. You took the time to prepare, to decide how many words you want to write in a day, to push yourself to write more than you thought you could in a single sitting. Do not let that be in vain.

I believe in you, but if you don’t believe in you, my belief means squat.

So don’t give up. Don’t let those outside voices get the better of you. Do what you set out to do. Conquer this thing. Write this novel, and let it need all the editing in the world. Know why? Because at the end of it, no matter how horrible or great the story might be, you’ll have written a novel in a month.

There aren’t a whole lot of people who could say that.

I couldn’t even say it. But I know some amazing gals who can.

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

Fast Novel 101 (part three)

This month, we’re working on writing those 50,000 word books, NaNoWriMo style, but in a month that’s not as insane as November or April. Click Here to see how the series started out, and what we did to prepare for this arduous ordeal.

Today though, I want to remind you of some things.

Don’t get discouraged.

I want you to remember that we all write crap sometimes, and that we all write chapters that have to be cut and characters who need to be removed and settings that need to be rethought and storylines that just plain don’t work.

We all do it, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, we do it a lot. It happens. There’s nothing wrong with that. And I’ll tell you why:

We get better at writing when we fail at it.

When we make a mistake and we realize it, we’ve just gotten better at writing. When we write a monologue and realize it’s terrible, we’ve just gotten better at writing. When we write a whole chapter and realize none of this information is necessary to anyone but us, we’ve just gotten better at writing.

It’s something a lot of us overlook, something many writers fret over, when it comes to writing a whole book in a month. We dread the thought of writing something bad, the questions in the back of our minds that ask whether we’re doing the right thing or not. But the truth is that those questions help keep us on track. Those questions are the things that teach us—but we should not allow them to cripple us.

 

Here’s what you need to do, if you’re going to write a whole novel in a month:

  • Don’t self-edit while you write
  • Make notes of things you think might need to change, but don’t change them
  • Don’t go back and make sure you did it right
  • If you need to go back, do it only for reference, not for details
  • Don’t let your characters (or your story) get the better of you—but don’t worry about it, if they do

Remember, a novel writing month isn’t a perfect-novel writing month. It’s just a novel. It’s going to have to be edited no matter what. So don’t sweat the small stuff, but don’t sweat the big stuff either. Every novel written in NaNoWriMo has to be cleaned up to an insane degree. It just does. Yours will too.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The goal is to write a book. Remember that. The goal is to write a book, to get it out of your head and onto the page. That’s the important part here.

You don’t even have to let anyone read it when you’re done, if you don’t want to. This is your creation, your baby, and you get to decide what happens to it.

You also get to decide whether it comes to life at all—but to do it, you have to get out of your own head.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, Etc.