Character and dialogue exercises

Mon0Zer0

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
May 24, 2021
Messages
877
Other than the character creation chain - are there any good exercises for getting to know characters and improving dialogue?
 

sule

"What I do is me: for that I came."
Joined
Feb 14, 2020
Messages
356
I did some searching and found these old threads in the Workshop forum:

three person dialogue exercise:


physical description as a key to character:


character profile exercise:

 

AnRoinnUltra

Go on the humans!
Supporter
Joined
Aug 15, 2021
Messages
619
Thanks @sule , I've a big problem with character description -it always comes out like dodgy surveillance notes and gets deleted; @Teresa Edgerton had a good thread going ...was just thinking @Mon0Zer0 , would it be worth having a sort of opposite thing going where the aim is to put together the worst attempt at description?, sorta learn from doing it badly type thing 'Garumulus was not unusual for a Phelonulong, but he was pretty tall I guess, or he might have been, it was pretty dark at the time' -just a thought, possibly bad one!

Edit: I'll kick it off later if you're up for it
 

Mon0Zer0

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
May 24, 2021
Messages
877
Thanks @sule , I've a big problem with character description -it always comes out like dodgy surveillance notes and gets deleted; @Teresa Edgerton had a good thread going ...was just thinking @Mon0Zer0 , would it be worth having a sort of opposite thing going where the aim is to put together the worst attempt at description?, sorta learn from doing it badly type thing 'Garumulus was not unusual for a Phelonulong, but he was pretty tall I guess, or he might have been, it was pretty dark at the time' -just a thought, possibly bad one!

Edit: I'll kick it off later if you're up for it

It's not so much character description as exercises in getting to know a character - how they speak in particular, their mannerisms in practice - that kind of thing.
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
13,753
Location
nearly the New Forest
Would exercises work, though? For me a character emerges as I write him/her during the course of a story, so the verbal and physical tics arrive without conscious input from me (ie I don't think "I know, I'll have her bite her lip at this point" -- it just gets typed and I think about it afterwards) and then those tics are either consolidated or eliminated as I continue, depending on how I feel they work with the character's personality, backstory and current problems/adventures. It's a long-term relationship I'm building with the character, so I know that for me exercises wouldn't work as I wouldn't be able to invest sufficient interest in an made-for-exercise character to be able to do that.

My advice is just to write the characters and fully inhabit each of them, and let them form their own mannerisms, perhaps filched from your own tics or those of people you know. If that's not working for you within the structure of the novel, go outside it and think more about their backstory, and write scenes that simply can't be in the novel, eg a character's first day at school, or first kiss, or deathbed, and see what happens. Perhaps alongside that make a schedule of those mannerisms or speech tics, so they're all together, and just analyse if they feel right.

But if that doesn't appeal, or still isn't working for you, trying writing a short scene -- eg 600-800 words or so -- and put it up in Critiques and ask for feedback on the character alone, that is ask critiquers to say how they read the character's personality. If there's a mis-match between what they say and what you intended, ask for feedback on how best to produce what you wanted. (I'd suggest Critiques as more members visit and comment there than in Workshop, plus it gives you more than just a couple of paragraphs to play with to get the character across.)

Meanwhile, is there anything specific which you're finding difficult?
 

AnRoinnUltra

Go on the humans!
Supporter
Joined
Aug 15, 2021
Messages
619
It's not so much character description as exercises in getting to know a character - how they speak in particular, their mannerisms in practice - that kind of thing.
Sound as a bell, my problem is the physical description (I don't care what the characters look like when I'm reading or writing, which is fine for me but useless to readers) -will plough through the 'physical description as a key to character' thread so; best of luck if ya go down the Critiques road (y)
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
18,933
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
For me, I act as if I am them. Sit in their head, talk the way they would. Inhabit their actions. Then I get to know them, and then I can write them. I often start in first person, even if it's going to end up in third until I know them. :)
 

Biskit

Cat whisperer
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2011
Messages
1,185
Location
Sitting in the sun (between the rain storms)
Adding to what @The Judge said, perhaps try writing some short stories with your characters, It's not quite the same thing, but with my current WIP, I had no real idea what was going on and wrote a sequence of short stories to capture and build ideas. In the end, a lot of that material never made it into the book, but it was a useful exploration.
 

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
1,147
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
Brandon Sanderson describes an interesting exercise. First, give each of your characters a unique interest, then have each of them describe the same scene as viewed from his or her specific interest. The actual reference is at about 9:55 in
. I have found this fits better with descriptive scenes rather than dialog, though.

If you have interest in character building, I recommend the entire lecture 4 from Brandon's first year: https://www.youtube.com/user/WriteAboutDragons/videos . It is from a planner's perspective, but I have found it useful when I create characters on the fly as well.
 

Mon0Zer0

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
May 24, 2021
Messages
877
Would exercises work, though? For me a character emerges as I write him/her during the course of a story, so the verbal and physical tics arrive without conscious input from me (ie I don't think "I know, I'll have her bite her lip at this point" -- it just gets typed and I think about it afterwards) and then those tics are either consolidated or eliminated as I continue, depending on how I feel they work with the character's personality, backstory and current problems/adventures. It's a long-term relationship I'm building with the character, so I know that for me exercises wouldn't work as I wouldn't be able to invest sufficient interest in an made-for-exercise character to be able to do that.

My advice is just to write the characters and fully inhabit each of them, and let them form their own mannerisms, perhaps filched from your own tics or those of people you know. If that's not working for you within the structure of the novel, go outside it and think more about their backstory, and write scenes that simply can't be in the novel, eg a character's first day at school, or first kiss, or deathbed, and see what happens. Perhaps alongside that make a schedule of those mannerisms or speech tics, so they're all together, and just analyse if they feel right.

But if that doesn't appeal, or still isn't working for you, trying writing a short scene -- eg 600-800 words or so -- and put it up in Critiques and ask for feedback on the character alone, that is ask critiquers to say how they read the character's personality. If there's a mis-match between what they say and what you intended, ask for feedback on how best to produce what you wanted. (I'd suggest Critiques as more members visit and comment there than in Workshop, plus it gives you more than just a couple of paragraphs to play with to get the character across.)

Meanwhile, is there anything specific which you're finding difficult?

I'm willing to give anything a go really. I think creating living breathing characters is the aspect I find hardest - trying to differentiate them by the way they talk... really getting into their heads. More than anything I feel the character muscle needs a good workout!

Maybe, even coming up with appropriate characters in the first place. eg I have the idea and a basic plot for a story, but finding the right character is proving difficult.

I'll certainly try posting something on critiques.
 

Mon0Zer0

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
May 24, 2021
Messages
877
Brandon Sanderson describes an interesting exercise. First, give each of your characters a unique interest, then have each of them describe the same scene as viewed from his or her specific interest. The actual reference is at about 9:55 in
. I have found this fits better with descriptive scenes rather than dialog, though.

If you have interest in character building, I recommend the entire lecture 4 from Brandon's first year: https://www.youtube.com/user/WriteAboutDragons/videos . It is from a planner's perspective, but I have found it useful when I create characters on the fly as well.

I'll give those a good watch, thanks!
 

sule

"What I do is me: for that I came."
Joined
Feb 14, 2020
Messages
356

The writing podcast Writing Excuses did a full year's worth (give or take) of episodes diving into character. I'm not saying you should listen to all of the episodes, but I've included a link to their archives so you can scroll through and pick out any that sound like they could help you.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,750
Location
Idaho
What helps me is caring about the characters. I don't know how to make that happen; I only know that at some point during the writing, usually fairly early on, I start to care about at least some of the main characters.

Once that happens, I feel obliged to give each of them a voice, to make sure that this one doesn't sound like that one. Once the voice is there, the rest follows--appearance, mannerisms. It's highly iterative, and I'm tinkering right through the whole project. *shrug* Dunno if that helps.
 

Similar threads


Top