Master of Horror

Dialogue: Make Your Characters Come To Life

Dialogue is just as important as action, characterisation or scenery in the world of a writer: it is dialogue which brings our characters to life, can make them get up and walk right off the page.

But dialogue alone will not do it. It’s not just a matter of ‘he-said-she-said-he…’. Think for a moment, and you’ll get what I mean.

When you’re talking to someone, be it a short conversation or discussing a detailed plan of action with the spy across the road, do you really sit there and simply talk…with no movement, no revealing expressions on your faces or in your eyes?

No, you don’t. Let’s consider, for a moment, you’re in a restaurant, having a cup of coffee while you’re talking. You will pick up your coffee, put sugar in the cup, stir it, light a cigarette or pipe (if you smoke), or maybe look away at another table due to a sudden noise. And this is the secret: WHILE YOU’RE TALKING, YOU’RE DOING THINGS.

Don’t believe me or don’t think it’s important? Then take a walk to the nearest coffee-shop and sit down for five minutes…look around you, at the other customers in the shop. Are they sitting there, staring fixedly into each other’s eyes, and simply talking? If they are, then they’re not human! They’re automated machines, incapable of doing anything other than the task their programmer has set them to do. But they are MOST DEFINITELY NOT HUMAN!

Let your characters live; let them do the little things we all do while speaking, and bring them to life. Too many times, we writers forget the reader wants to be entertained, wants to believe what is taking place on the page is actually happening. And in order for him/her to believe it, we must give them the colour and movement which goes with life. For even though our characters may be involved in the most high-level, secret conversation that ever took place in the history of our world, they are still living, breathing, moving, observing, thinking, and the myriad other things people do at such times.

These little movements may seem unimportant, may have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot; but they are important, because without them, our characters are NOT LIVING.

So before you write that best-seller and send it off to the publisher, put movement into it. If you don’t, the odds are you’ll see that well-known rejection slip instead of a contract.

This advice comes from experience, folks: I’ve always included those tiny little hints of life in my stories, and I’ve only had one rejection-slip, and that was way back in the 80’s. And when I re-read the story after it was rejected, I realised I would have rejected it too. It had no life, no movement, no stopping to sigh or take a deep breath or scratch at an itch in the left ear…and I know I’m right, because I’ve had 36 novels published; and I’ve actually offered 36 for publication. Lesson? Movement works. And because it works, and because I go to the trouble of including it, and describe EXACTLY what is taking place in my imagination, right down to the smallest movement, I know the remaining 39 novels I’ve written so far will also be published.

So do yourself a favour: let your characters be human, and live. You won’t regret it.

Adrian Scott  

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