Tag Archives: dialogue

Kicking “Great” Dialogue up to “Killer” Dialogue

Similar to my What I Learned about Writing Action Scenes post and my 15+ Tactics for Writing Humor post, I’ve been . . . unsatisfied with the information available on writing killer dialogue. I read a couple of books on it and writing tips, but you know, I’m obsessive, and I wanted more.

Most of the dialogue tips I’ve read have been either on the grammatical basics of how to write dialogue, or really about how not to write dialogue. They might go through how to punctuate dialogue, and then talk about what not to do. They talk about bad dialogue.

Yeah, well, what about beyond all that stuff?

All these things are helpful and necessary for writing good and even great dialogue.

But what about writing killer dialogue? What is it? And how do you find it?

So over the last few years, I’ve been trying to develop an eye for dialogue. I think I’m starting to get somewhere. I’m starting to recognize mediocre dialogue better, and what I call shrug-the-shoulder dialogue, and I’m becoming more conscious of little tricks writers use to create great dialogue.

Today, I’m going to talk about the little tricks for great dialogue that I noticed in Interstellar.

First, here are the posts I’ve done in the past that relate to dialogue:

(Don’t) Tell Me How You Really Feel
What You See is What You Get
What You Need to Know Most About Character Voice
What Else You Need to Know Most About Character Voice
Actions vs. Words: the Loud and the Quiet
Melodrama: What it is, How it Works, and How to Get Rid of it
How to Write What’s Not Written (Subtext)

And then there are some other posts that touch on it too.

Surely there are more important things about dialogue to nail down first before getting into the stuff of this post. This post is not the root of dialogue. It’s tricks to consider once you’ve got the foundation down. So here we go.

(Mini) Context Shifts

I’ve been on a context-shift kick with fiction lately. I love, love, love, a good context shift in a story. Interstellar had a great one smack dab at the midpoint: When we discover that Dr. Brand never intended Plan A to work, he starts quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem again, and with the new information, the context of the poem shifts in shocking and disturbing new ways. The words “Do not go gentle into that good night” suddenly carry a different meaning. Instead of being a poem of hope, it becomes one of resilience and desperation. The words haven’t changed, but the context has.

 

A context shift usually happens when new information enters the story that changes our understanding of what is going on. It can also happen when a character reacts to information a certain way. Their reaction gives us a new context to view things through. But, I noticed that in Interstellar, the writers put in mini-context shifts in the actual dialogue. And I loved it.
Let’s look at an example, a conversation that, in my opinion, is the best conversation in the whole movie because of all the dynamics in it. It’s the conversation between Cooper and Murph when Cooper tells her goodbye. First, just read the thing. It’s a well-crafted conversation, especially if you can remember the emotion and motivations Cooper and Murph bring into it. I’d post a video of it, but I couldn’t find one that had the whole scene.

Continue reading Kicking “Great” Dialogue up to “Killer” Dialogue

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Dialogue analysis

This week I thought I’d take a look at dialogue through analysis of another excerpt from a novel. This time it’s “The Neverending Story”, by Michael Ende, translated by Ralph Manheim.

For a time the two looked at each other without a word, without a sound. Finally the wolf let out a soft, dangerous-sounding growl: “Go away Let me die in peace.”

Atreyu didn’t stir. Just as softly he answered: “I heard your call. That’s why I came.”

The werewolf’s head sank back. “I didn’t call anyone,” he growled. “I was singing my own dirge.”

“Who are you?” Atreyu asked, taking a step closer.

“I am Gmork, the werewolf.”

“Why are you lying here chained?”

“The forgot me when they went away.”

“Who are they?”

“The ones who chained me.”

“Where did they go?”

Gmork made no answer. He watched Atreyu from under half-closed lids. After a long silence, he said: “You don’t belong here, little stranger. Neither in this city, nor in this country. What have you come here for?”

Atreyu bowed his head.

“I don’t know how I got here. What is the name of the city?”

One of the first things we notice is that there aren’t many dialogue tags here (ie. clauses to designate that someone is speaking, like “John said”, or “she asked.”). Indeed, I only count four in the entire exchange (the first paragraph is debatable, but I didn’t count it). The rest of the time each person’s speech is given as a stand-alone line without any indication who is speaking. And yet because there are only two characters involved we can follow it with ease. When you start adding more characters to a conversation you’ll need more dialogue tags to keep straight who is speaking.

Note this line:

Just as softly he answered: “I heard your call. That’s why I came.”

Perhaps it’s cheating a little, but Ende avoids the -ly adverb by putting it up front in the sentence rather than saying “That’s why I came,” he said softly. But in general, Ende avoids adverbs in his dialogue tags, opting instead to place descriptive action around his speech, so as “…Atreyu asked, taking a step closer.” The actions themselves flavor the tone of the speech instead.  When Atreyu asks “Who are you?” and steps closer, it shows curiosity rather than suspicion, which might have involved a step back. Likewise, when it says “The werewolf’s head sank back,” it colors his next words, “I didn’t call anyone,” to add a touch of resignation to them.

Ende’s use of “After a long silence he said:” is notable. The previous lines, ” Gmork made no answer. He watched Atreyu from under half-closed lids” already place a pause in the dialogue, but we need to know this was a longer pause than normal, so he spells it out for us. This may be a case where show-don’t-tell isn’t sufficient, and so he flat-out tells us “it’s a long gap here!”

It should be noted here that this is not exactly a clever, fast-paced conversation. There’s an air of tiredness and wariness in this slow pace and back-and-forth without much real information gained. Yet each line does do something for the story. We learn about Gmork from the exchange. Even though weary and resigned, he still can’t help but be elusive, trying not to give away any information of value.

As it is, this dialogue goes on for nearly eleven pages, and eventually we do learn a great deal from Gmork. But we have to go through the verbal fencing along with Atreyu first to get to the important parts. In fact, the wolf  is trying to delay Atreyu so that he will end up trapped along with him, and so the length of the conversation helps establish that it’s working. We know how long Atreyu has been kept there because we’re getting every word rather than simply being told. For the reader, who knows what Gmork is and what he wants, as well as what is going on just outside the scene, there is actually a great deal of tension in this elongated dialogue.

Most of the dialogue we encounter when reading is invisible. We hear the words spoken, but we don’t really pay attention to how the writer sets it all up and presents it to us. If a writer is any good at their craft most all of their writing is that way: it doesn’t call attention to itself. However, for a writer learning the craft, simply reading a book may not be a very effective means of studying writing. Slowing down and studying individual passages in detail can yield insights into how the “pros” do it.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to go find a novel you enjoy and randomly select a passage of dialogue. Type or write it out if you can, and then scrutinize each line to see how the writer does what they do. What do you feel works? What could be done better? How would you do it differently? If you want to share any of your insights, feel free to comment below!

 

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

You don’t say!

Our family just got our hands on Tyler Whitesides’ “Janitors: Heroes of the Dustbin”, the last book in his Janitors series, and I’m reading it to my younger two children (my oldest is busy with school, or she’d be listening, too). I’ve read the entire series to them so far, but this time around I’ve noticed something. It’s easy for me to differentiate voices. Besides the obvious (Marv has a deep, husky voice, Daisy is a girl), the speech patterns of many of the characters lend themselves to certain voices. Spencer is a mostly normal kid, and gets a normal voice. Dez is something of a bully, and he talks like it. And I make him sound like it. Other characters quickly suggest to me what their voices should sound like, too.

I’m not sure how Whitesides approaches this in his writing. It would be interesting to ask him: what do your characters sound like in your mind? Or, I suppose, I could get the audio books, as he does the narration for them. But more importantly, I’d ask him how he decides what his characters sound like, and how does he reflect that in their speech patterns so that they “talk differently.”

I’ve noticed in my own novel I’m currently revising that I do on occasion make my characters sound different from other characters. But how did I do that? How can I make sure I manage that with my other characters? It’s not something I have been able to do consistently. But having written another book in which I tried to make my characters different to varying degrees of success, I know what I’d like to try next time. Here are some thoughts, and I hope you’ll suggest some of your own below:

Use celebrities or known characters as models. In my latest novel I have a rival musician with whom my protagonist has a mixed relationship. I like to find pictures of real people to use as my mental image of each character. In this case I chose Kenneth Branagh. It proved a serendipitous choice, because in this case, at least, it influenced his voice. This character’s voice is somewhere between Gildroy Lockhart and Branagh himself. And somehow it does translate to the written dialogue. Unfortunately most of the rest of my “cast” borrow pictures from unknown models and actors, so I have no idea how they would talk.

Build on aspects of your character. Frodo and Sam in “The Lord of the Rings” are from different social classes, and it shows in their speech. Frodo is well-spoken, but fairly terse. Sam actually speaks more than Frodo, but much of it is filler speech, serving little purpose, but giving a distinct flow to his dialogue.

In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “HMS Pinafore” there are two main characters, the ship’s captain and one of the lowly sailors. The captain is from a higher class family, the sailor from a lower one. And yet the captain’s speech is simple and somewhat crude. And he has trouble with swearing. The sailor, however, is well-spoken and elegant in his speech, constructing complex sentences that would be difficult for most men to utter (I know, as I played that role, and I really had to work hard to make some of his lines sound effortless). It turns out in a twist ending that the two men were in fact born to the other’s families, but were switched at birth. Now this is, of course, comedy, and therefore not entirely a good example, but if there are hidden aspects to your character’s past, consider how that might be reflected in their speech patterns.

Consider verbal ‘tics’. Let’s face it, not everyone speaks smoothly. People stutter. People have pet words they over-use. They have favorite expressions or analogies. They start sentences only to stop and start over, or change direction. They get several ideas at once and trip over their words. They get mentally rattled. Why not mix a few in sparingly and see how it goes? For example:

“Now hang on—I mean—Alright, that’s enough!” Wilmer cried, his face getting red.

“Put this in here, and bob’s your uncle, you’re all set!”

“He’s not necessarily expecting us to just show up and hand over the money, y’know?”

“Now just-just-just sit down a moment, Madam, and tell me all about it. It can’t be that bad!”

 Don’t get in a rush. I think one of my biggest obstacles to writing more realistic and character-specific dialogue is my hurry to keep writing. I just want to get the gist of the conversation out, to move things along, to deliver the needed information. Real life conversations don’t always go like that. People interrupt each other or talk over each other. People interject jokes or wisecracks or try to pull the conversation in a direction more favorable to them. Dialogue doesn’t always have to go straight from Point A to Point B. It can take detours to C, D or E along the way, so long as it doesn’t get entirely hijacked and start to bog down the flow of the story. People like to talk, and often use far more words than they need to in conveying their message. Respect that, and don’t get in a hurry to move on.

Read for ideas. Don’t just read, but read specifically for dialogue. Think of a book you believe has good dialogue, good characters, or both. See what different approaches the author uses. Read different books from different eras or settings to see how different classes of people talk, or what differences there might be between eras.

What sort of expressions go with the character? What are your characters around the most? What expressions or phrases would they pick up from their environment? For example, a baker might describe someone’s newborn baby as “about the length of a baguette”, or a butcher might say it weights about as much as a pheasant.

Those are a few ideas I’m considering in my next work. What other suggestions might you add?

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Ruminations on character: Dialogue

Writing good dialogue can be a hard-earned skill under the best of circumstances. Writing your characters so that their speech patterns are unique and divers can be especially difficult for some of us. While I’ve been praised for my dialogue in the past, I’m not so sure I know how to diversify my characters’ speech patterns. But since it’s something at which I’m trying to improve, it’s been on my mind. I can’t say I’ve got The Answer, but here are a few things to consider.

Digital representation of speech
Digital representation of speech

Expressions – I recently finished reading one of Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction novels, in which there was quite a difference in the speech of different characters. This was partly because Britain two centuries ago had a great deal of diversity just between various classes. But there were also expressions unique to each of the characters.

For example, Sgt. Hakeswill was always claiming his various assertions were supported by the bible: “A soldier should always be obedient to his superior office; says that in the holy scriptures, it does.” Of course Hakeswill is not a nice person, and hearing him claim his numerous absurdities had scriptural support got really annoying. It only added to the various reasons why we hated him. But he was unique in his speech, certainly. You could always tell his lines.

Vocabulary – It’s not as simple as “the smarter the character, the larger their vocabulary,” but it can still be another means of distinguishing speech patterns. You could have a rocket scientist who speaks in very simple vocabulary–and it could lend to his character to determine he does this because he is accustomed to simplifying his speech so that people will understand what he’s talking about. Or you could have a fairly simple person with a large vocabulary for reasons from putting on airs to a strong determination to make something more of themselves. It doesn’t have to be–nor necessarily should it be–a matter of class.

Changing to the audience – Your character’s speech patterns could change depending on who they are talking to. Most people will speak differently to children than they will to adults, or to pets as compared to people. If you have a person who speaks the same to everyone it likely says something about their character.

Formality – This could be easily overdone, but one common trick, especially in fantasy, is to give higher-classed characters the pattern of not using contractions, or lower classes an over-abundance of contractions. It’s common and overdone, but not necessarily inappropriate, depending on circumstances. It may make perfect sense in a book about upper-crust, high class people. It might not make as much sense in a modern New York setting, and would be completely out of place in a YA romance.
RACHEL TOM (DURANIES) 4

Dialect – This one is dangerous and an easy temptation. “Aye, lass! Thot’d be me da’ y’ hear a-callin’! I think ye’ll be wantin’ ta meet ‘im, I s’pects.” The danger here is two-fold. You could go too far and make the dialogue incomprehensible, and you can slow down the reader. Be careful and use it sparingly.

Slang/jargon – If your work is set in a particular time and/or place, there will be specific slang that people might use in specific circumstances. A professional athlete would likely use jargon specific to their sport. Someone from a slum might now some street slang. A teen might be up on the latest (or latest recycled) words.

Length – Some people are long-winded; some are quite terse. Some will say something, and then say the same thing again a different way. While overdoing it may result in editorial reduction later on, it another option for making people speak differently.

Humor – Some people, instinctively or purposely, inject humor into conversations, even at (or perhaps especially at) inappropriate times. This is almost essential in mid-grade fiction, but those types of characters can exist in all types of fiction. They don’t necessarily even have to be funny, so much as try.

These are a few methods I’ve encountered for differentiating the voices of different characters. What are some that you’ve seen/tried/found success with? Drop a note in the comments!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Episode #35 – Dialogue and Speech Tags with Larry Correia

larry

Larry Correia (pronounced Korea, like the country) is a retired merchant of death, firearms instructor, and accountant. He also write’s kick-ass books that combines his love of magic and blowing things to hell. You can visit his blog and learn more about him at http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/.

About James Duckett

James is a geeky, nerdy dude. He writes, sometimes. He blogs, sometimes. He's helpful to people, sometimes. He doesn't like to repeat himself, sometimes. He's funny... looking... always.

His hopes and aspirations of the future is to one day find a way that people will pay him while he sleeps. It is his dream job.

What You See is What You Get

A couple of weeks ago I talked about characters that don’t say what they mean. You can read that post here. Basically, most people talk indirectly about their feelings, and often the stronger the emotions are, the more indirect their language.

But not all characters are like that.

Once in a while, you may come across one that has no barrier, no face—what you see is what you get. The dialogue for these characters may be a lot simpler to write, but can still be effective, especially when you need someone to say something others wouldn’t dare.

In Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood always says what she means, which sometimes makes Harry feel uncomfortable. In Half-Blood Prince, she has no problem acknowledging she doesn’t have friends. While other people who say this might look for sympathy or attention, Luna doesn’t have an ulterior motive. Other times in the novels, she provides straightforward wisdom in ways other characters can’t.

In the clip below, notice how she talks openly to Harry.

Without embarrassment, Luna explains that nargles have taken her shoes. Without guard, she tells about her mother being dead, how she died, and how it still makes her sad. Without shame, she says that she believes Harry, when few others dare voice it. And when she offers wisdom, she simply speaks her mind.

So, don’t feel like you have to make what all your characters say encrypted and indirect. Maybe your character is the type who says what he means.

Unless you have a good reason that relates to the theme or story line of your narrative, avoid making all characters like Luna. It’s not realistic. How many people do you know like that? Likely less than those who speak indirectly.

On a final note, keep in mind that the majority of characters switch between direct and indirect dialogue, just as people do. A high school student might speak indirectly to her crush but openly to her best friend. Another character may speak openly most of the time, but start talking indirectly when emotionally charged (or vice versa).

You can play around with variations to make the interactions between your characters more interesting.

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

(Don’t) Tell Me How You Really Feel

I’ve been thinking about dialogue a lot this year. Particularly, I’ve been interested in dialogue where characters don’t say what they mean. In Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern, Stern notes,

“Advice about dialogue generally starts with discussing what your characters say. It might be better to start off with what your characters don’t say and the way they don’t….the more intense the feelings, the more likely people are to say the opposite of what they really mean. If you want to keep a high level of tension, keep the dialogue evasive, filled with suppressed information and unstated emotion.”

He also says that how a character sits, stands, fidgets, pauses, or adverts eyes can be as important as his or her words.Three examples of narratives that follow Stern’s advice are The Office, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Rings.

Here are some clips to illustrate. The first video takes place when Michael Scott, one of the main characters of The Office, leaves Dunder Mifflin. Watch how Jim avoids (and gets Michael to avoid) saying what they actually think and feel. The second video is very short, but you can clearly tell through Ryan’s tone and facial expression that his words are an understatement of what he actually thinks.

Often The Office plays with the gap between what characters say and actually think for humor.

For The Hunger Games I couldn’t find the clip I wanted, but it’s the scene at the starting where Katniss and Gale are talking in the forest. In the book, Gale says “We could do it, you know…Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.” In the same conversation, when Katniss says she never wants to have kids, Gales says, “I might. If I didn’t live here.” And later, Gale gets frustrated and snaps at Katniss.

What Gale really wants is to be in a relationship with Katniss, but he can’t say it straight out. And Katniss, who never intends to live a lifestyle that includes a significant other, doesn’t catch on. Gale’s real frustration lies in the fact that Katniss doesn’t pick up on what he’s getting at. That’s why he snaps back at her.

And for my last example, I have the very last scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Here is the dialogue between Frodo and Sam.

Sam: I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales. 

Frodo: [turns around] What? 

Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.’ 

Frodo: [continue walking] You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. 

[stops and turns to Sam

Frodo: Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam. 

Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun; I was being serious. 

Frodo: So was I. 

In this example, Frodo expresses how much Sam means to him, but indirectly. It’s clear Frodo really values Sam, but instead of telling Sam something sappy, he works it into their conversation. And Frodo takes no chances that Sam will misunderstand him; he makes sure to say “So was I.”

So you can play with the gap between what characters say and actually think to add humor or tension. Sometimes playing with that gap creates moments even more powerful than situations where characters speak their minds. If Michael and Jim really just spoke what they meant, the scene wouldn’t have been as significant. Same goes for Frodo and Sam. The fact that they withhold their words shows how much those words mean to them.

Do you have moments where your characters don’t say what they mean? When do you think it’s best to be most indirect? Do you have any other examples for us?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.