For the last day of our journey, I wanna keep it simple.
You would be surprised how often people struggle with decent dialogue.
An easy enough trick is to hold these conversations with yourself. It sounds and feels crazy, but the payoff is worth it. If a line sounds wrong coming from your mouth, it’s possible it reads with the same awkwardness.
Make sure your characters sound different – you want to be able to tell who’s speaking when you read. If the characters start to morph into one person, they become boring!
There are no second chances for a first impression.
Your opening scene needs to matter. You need to decide where and why that scene is the best point for someone to dive into your protagonists’ life.
Here are some quick tips:
1.) Provide just a taste of their inner mind/wound. Bait and hook the reader.
2.) Don’t describe their age or clothes unless it actually matters in the moment. Those are things you can drop subtly (if at all) later.
3.) Share with the reader a glimpse of their everyday life.
4.) Use ACTIONS to convey their personality.
For example, I started a small project with a character called Hogarth.
When we meet him in the opening scene, he’s repeating directions to himself, while grasping the straps of his backpack with both hands. He flinches when people walk too close, and is quick to swerve out of anyone’s way.
Already, you can start to visualize him. From his name, to his actions – you understand something about this character. There were no mentions of age or appearance, either.
Originality is dead.
I know. This sucks to hear and maybe it’s been beaten over your head a million times, but that just proves my point.
Every idea has been done, in some shape or form.
The key is to realize that every idea can come in a million flavors.
It’s up to you to figure out that profile.
This isn’t so much an exercise as it is a reminder.
You’ve built your characters from the ground up. That makes them original. That makes them yours.
That being said, it never hurts to read more books and watch more movies/television to prove it to yourself… and study.
Evolution is key.
Recently, I got reminded of that Tom Hanks’ movie “Big.” I thought the timing was perfect, because it’s a great example of what I wanna talk about today.
In the movie, the character Josh desires to rush into adulthood, as he is embarrassed by his childish shortcomings. When the wish is granted, he’s suddenly an adult that has to fend for himself.
It’s a simple enough set up, and interesting conflict.
Through the beginning, he’s still very much himself – just in an adult body. He enjoys the simple things adulthood offers, like being able to buy whatever you want, see any movie, and basically enjoy all around freedom. Who didn’t want a giant trampoline in their living room as a kid?
But as time goes on, he takes on more adult responsibility, and begins to mature as a person. He realizes this isn’t sustainable, because he is a child – and that’s a huge turning point for him.
As sad as he is to leave his adult life behind, he returns to childhood – and we understand he’ll be okay through it, because of the journey he went through.
He evolves as a character, finding where his priorities lie, and maturing enough to understand that being an adult means… being an adult.
Look at the arc you’ve built for your character, and make sure that their ending is satisfying. Does it make sense with all that they’ve gone through? How much is too much for them to face?
Plotting, structure, evolution – oh my.
For the next three days, we’re gonna talk about how the evolution of our characters can heavily determine the plot.
Even if you’re not an “outliner,” it’s worth taking the time to consider your characters. This is their story, after all.
Start a fresh document, and write you opening scene with everything you’ve learned about your protagonist in mind. Is there more you can add to layer in some nuance?
Think about some of the opening scenes in your favorite books or movies. Try to pick out from the very beginning what traits and emotions the protagonist possesses.
Set them up, and knock ’em down.
Have you ever heard that how people respond to conflict reveals a lot about them? The same goes for your characters. These choices present the chance to create empathy, therein giving your readers moments to identify with the protagonist (or supporting characters, or even the villains).
Each choice ideally should be bringing them closer to the transformation in their arc, one step at a time – though it’s definitely fine if this sometimes takes them a step back. The journey is the most important part.
An easy way to create the setup of your story, is by using character choices. Leave nuggets of information about how a character responds to situations, therefore making it more believable when they use this skillset to overcome issues later. The readers will know (and believe) them capable of it.
Earlier in this challenge, I asked you to write a list of what your villain could do to upset/provoke the protagonist.
It’s time to expand.
Think about the protagonist and their skill set. Think of how they respond to high pressure and conflict. How will their skills help them overcome what the antagonist throws at them?
Each of these obstacles and subsequent choices are creating the setup and payoff of your story.
What if you’re wrong?
The exercise for today might break your heart, but it’s necessary.
Go through a list of the supporting characters, and tell the story as if it’s theirs to tell. See what they bring to the table, what might change, etc.
Does this add something to the story?
It’s entirely possible that your main character isn’t ready to be the lead.
This is especially true if you’re guilty of self-inserting. No offense to Stephen King – I am a huge fan – but he does this quite often. His side characters always compel me so much more than his protagonist.
See and decide if the story is worth telling through a different set of eyes. Maybe it’ll be even better.
Exploring the theme.
Every book has at least one. No theme, no story. Simple as that.
What is a theme? If you need to ask… fair enough. There’s too much to remember, and we have Google at our fingertips.
The theme of your story is the idea that your readers will think about – the subject/issue/topic that comes up throughout the story.
Ask yourself: what do I want to say? What do I want my readers to think about when they finish reading?
You want your theme to be present throughout the story – so this means within your supporting characters and subplots.
Themes are much simpler than you would expect, too. Think of it in terms of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The theme was slow and steady wins the race. Easy enough, right?
Just keep in mind: you’re informing us WHY this story needs to be told.
Every character has one. Whether it’s an older friend or relative, there’s someone who possesses wisdom or power that the protagonist just doesn’t quite have yet.
Think of your favorite books and movies. Who was the character that aided the protagonist? How did they do so?
The previous exercises should be done with the intent of answering one question: how should they best support the protagonists’ outer goal?
If it’s possible for them to understand what the inner conflict is for the protagonist, even better.
Don’t rely too hard on the supporting characters, but DO make sure you find that balance. They exist for a reason – they are devices for you to use… while also needing to be important and human.
It’s a tough job, being a writer.
The Love Interest
Maybe this doesn’t apply to your novel – it doesn’t always have to – but it’s good to keep in mind.
Why should I root for this potential couple?
Again, I want you to repeat previous character creating exercises, but build them a little bit around the protagonist. Why does the protagonist like this person? How do they compliment each other?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, why would they be bad for each other?
How does their trauma affect how they choose romantic partners (if at all)?