Reflections – Writing Dialogue

Half way through my classes on dialogue, I have decided to write down what I have done and how it is going.

I have always enjoyed writing dialogue. I have practiced to write it in a way that brings elements of the story in so that I have the characters tell the story through their words and actions rather than the narrator tell the reader what is going on.

I found that writing dialogue in a period piece I have to be careful that I do not write speech as we say it today. That can be a little tough but I did research some words such as swear words to try to be more authentic.

I am finding that as I go along if I want to write a new piece I have to start with the setting, place the characters in there and then have them talk. It can take a while to produce even half a page of writing. I can now see how writing a plan is different that taking that plan and turning it into something interesting to read with description layer upon layer and interesting characters being shown rather than the narrator telling us all about who they are. The characters are shown in how they look, what they do, and what they say. The settings can be used to enhance who the characters are and the issues they are facing in the story.

I am a little confused about Omniscient POV. I have read up on it and I think it is where the narrator knows what is going to happen and tells us about the characters and what is going on for them. It seems to take us back to telling instead of showing. I do not like this POV. It seems to undo everything I have learned about showing/telling. I also cannot see a good reason for writing in that POV. I should research that.

In writing the exercise where we ask questions of a character about their secrets, it was interesting to see how I can show a character being angry or at least a little testy without them saying I am angry. Of course a person could be a little defensive when they are being asked about their secrets. Also, they do not always answer questions directly. Or they answer the question with another question. Or they go off on tangents.

Listening to people talk and writing the words as they say them is helpful. It helps me to see how they put sentences together in speech. It is a bit like sitting in a garden and listening to the sounds, feeling the breeze, and smelling the scents. I can imangine those things in my head, but to actually be there and put down the words that come out of their mouths is enlightening.

I need practice with punctuation for speech.

It helps me to write up the speech in draft first and then put interesting description around the dialogue to enhance the story. This is just at the point of the speech. Prior to the speech, obviously the setting comes first. But when the speech starts it helps me to get out what I want them to say and how they are going to say it before I put in any action around their dialogue.

Writing Down The Bones – Rough Notes

I read this book because of the recommendation regarding free writing. I have found it useful to get the creative juices running when I get up early in the morning and find time to free write but then I don’t know what to write. I will use this book every day for freewriting ideas. It is wonderful

In the chapter A List of Topics for Writing Practice, there is just that: a list that I can pick from when I have a moment to write. I have not used it yet, but it is good to know it is there. When I have used it, I will come back and complete this.

I find that my Editor gets in before the Creator has jumped off the diving board. It can be very frustrating. In Trouble with the Editor, it was a relief to see that I am not the only one with this problem. Next time I have this problem, I will write what the editor is saying. Often though, it is unconscious. I just find myself stalling or my writing is stilted.

Man Eats Car has shown me what metaphor is. When the Creator is taking charge anything can happen. So yes the ant is the elephant. And the door knocker can sneer (I used that in my second assignment). Apparently you have to believe in the metaphor (when the Editor comes knocking). If not, it will sound wrong. But mainly I like the way she say to get out of the way and let the writing come. Just like this morning when I was sitting on the moon with David Bowie. As Goldberg says, “You will leap naturally when you follow your thoughts, because the mind spontaneously takes great leaps”.

I discovered that when I started to write 10 three-lined poems in 30 minutes. My mind leaped from tea to rhyming slang. This, by the way, is a suggestion in A Sensation of Space. I enjoyed that exercise and will definitely do it again and again.

Goldberg encourages us to use original detail as we see it in writing. If I look around my office, I see worn desks, stained floor tiles, and tired assistants. It is the same if my office were in New York. The details are the same wherever and we can use the ones that are close to us. So as we walk through life, we need to note those details. I could do free-writing in the morning and journaling at night after I have had a day of details.

Details are the basic unit of writing, Goldberg tells us. But she goes on to mention that we need to add heat emotions etc to make it interesting. I’m not sure how I do that. I feel like I am a little detached from my writing. Maybe I am not writing about things that I care about. I am writing family stories. I do care about that. In what way? I never knew my grandparents (apart from Rose – and really I did not know her much except that she did not like me much – but there it is – the emotion – I did not feel loved by her – mostly). Writing about Bill and Grace, I feel closer to them. They become alive for me. I have to think about their characters, what motivated them, where they lived, what they ate for breakfast, etc. Those are the details. Then the emotions that happened because of all this. Their story is easy in some ways because he left. He must have been in pain or confused or just plain mean to have left. She must have been devastated when he did.

Goldberg says “caress the details… care about what is around you… let your whole body touch the river … so if you call it yellow or stupid or slow, all of you is feeling it” (Baking a cake). But she does go on to say in Big Concentration that while we are writing all these details about how to “carve… your first spoon out of cedar” you remember that the snow is falling outside or the lady next door is wearing weally weally red lipstick. And remember that 1+1 might equal 4 as she mentions in One Plus One Equals a Mercedes-Benz – when freewriting I find my editor coming in and wanting to make sense or I feel my Editor coming in and wanting to make it interesting – rather than just letting the writing take over and describe myself as “the warrior in a red horse” or however I am feeling. And do it without thinking if it is good or not or makes sense.

Goldberg talks about listening and becoming one with your listening (Listening). This has helped me recently because I have written down things that I hear on bus or in the office, e.g., “by six it could be chilly it could”. But also listening with all of me. She says “listen with your whole body”. I can understand that through my spiritual practice. Notice all things – like why do some people not like others?

There is a good exercise at page 67 Syntax that I will use for freewriting.

In Nervously Sipping Wine, Goldberg talks about Russell Edson and his poem that are crazy and fun. This is something to remember too for freewriting. Write a list of good first lines that are unconventional: “A man wants an aeroplane to like him”. Then write the poem. As she says “dive into absurdity”. Another one for freewriting.

The chapter Make Statements and Answer Questions is about women and language. She mentions that we make states like “The Vietnam war is awful, isn’t it? “I like this, don’t you?” as if we are in some way trying to get permission for our opinions and tastes. Don’t do that! I know I do and it is not always conscious.

Another exercise is Why Do I Write? Which is an exercise is writing down all the reasons I write. Especially when I think that it is a waste of time.

The last couple of exercises that interested me where writing about a meal (A Meal You Love) – something you really do love like bacon sarnies. The other is writing about home and family – “make a list of all the expressions your family uses and incorporate them in your writing”. I will have a field day with Kelly but there are also the nonsense words that my dad has always used like Shlozalbonce (my nick name) and ch ch ch bang as he sits down.

Finally she also said in this book (but I did not note where): “when I have students who have written many pages and… the writing is not all necessarily good but I see they are exploring… I am glad. I know these people will continue and are not just obsessed with “hot” writing”. I feel that she was writing about me here. I keep trying. I keep exploring. I keep wanting to write and fly.

Assignment 2 – Reflective Commentary

Part Two in Writing Skills covered describing characters and placing them in settings. The assignment was to describe a character and to let this character’s life drive the narrative. With the tools learned during this project, I produced a story that showed the character in a setting that supported her mood and situation.

Describing characters is about building them one detail at a time. Moving from a list of physical descriptions to something interesting is challenging. Within the list, I found original ways to describe physical attributes, e.g., “her swollen belly bore deep stretch marks like crocodile skin”. I also learned to describe personalities without using abstract nouns, e.g., for depressed I chose “she sits like a sunken garden in winter”. Ongoing, I need to remember to incorporate all five senses and gestures.

Placing a character in a setting can develop the character’s emotions and story. My practice produced pieces that did not flow well. In one exercise, I created a feeling of impending danger but the writing was jagged: “A whiff of rancid oil hit his nose. The traffic hum was pierced by a siren. Lights flashed from oncoming cars as he approached”.

However, when placing characters with their possessions, the flow began to improve. In one exercise, I described a photo of a character and her husband. Then, I listed all she would see coming home to an empty flat. Using the tools gained describing a character in a setting, I described the flat in ways that would reflect her mood. I made a conscious effort to slow down and allow the character to tell this story. The result was satisfactory and used as the draft for my assignment.

In an exercise about motivating your character, I chose to develop a story about a person who survived the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. It was difficult to write because I became emotionally involved. Indeed, Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones infers that writers can avoid taboo subjects because of fear: “Underneath, while you write you are a little nervous, not knowing how to get to what you really need to say and also a little afraid to get there”.

For the assignment, the first draft was created when placing characters with their possessions. This is a family story. Grace has lost her husband and has two children. The spooky element came about when the story wrote itself through free writing. It helped to show Grace’s fear. In the second draft, the point of view was changed to gain more intimacy. However, having Grace describe her own possessions sounded contrived. In the third draft, some descriptions were moved, as there was too much description in the beginning and this slowed the action. The story was finished after I had checked the rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs.

In conclusion, I have learned to describe a character and place them in a setting that supports their mood and personality. In future, I need to remember to use gestures. In addition, I need to introduce senses other than sight. Further, I must not get mired in details. Apart from this, I created an assignment that met the requirements of Part Two.


Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala, 2005.


Going Back to Basics

I started reading the beginning of my course book this morning: notebooks and free writing. During assignment 2, I have been sporadic in my use of these as I was concentrating more on character sketches. These are fundamental to my writing. Today’s attempts felt different than previously. I felt an ability to let go. I felt there was growth in my attempts. I wrote about the moon and sitting on a bench with David Bowie. It came from nowhere and was really exciting. Makes a change from the boring free writing that I have been doing some times.

I also did an exercise from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I wrote a list of 10 things I could see (mug, desk, pig, etc.) and wrote a three line poem on each word (only spending 3 minutes per poem). It was like free writing because there was little time to think about it. It loosens me up. I will repeat this exercise. Here are the poems I wrote:

A blanket is a pink mermaid

It is warm

Like the sun is warmer


Tea warms a china mug

Is it like your china mug?

The one you face?


A pig in the mud is worth

Two more than a bird

In the bush or hand


A book is dusty

And read from cover to cover

The reader is clean


Obtaining a library book

It fell open at page 24

“She fell in love…”


By six it could be chilly

It could

The BBC Weather channel


Things to remember – Characters in Setting

It is a little like juggling and just as hard to remember all things to do when describing a character in a setting. So I decided to put the ones I remember all together in the same place. Not necessary to use all these, but necessary to remember them and decide which suits the plot.

Describe the physical details of the character. Avoid tired adjectives, e.g., hard eyes.

Describe their personality (in a specific way not abstract – rather than angry have her shouting at someone). Find interesting and original ways to describe personality.

Describe gestures.

Describe the setting. Build item upon item. One idea per sentence. Use the setting to show person’s feelings or personality.

Describe smells, tastes, sounds, touch as well as sight.

Using possessions to aid characterization. Showing a person with their possessions can show more about them and their story.

Put characters in situations – mundane and powerful – can build up a picture of them.

Create a history for your character (there is a list of questions in Project 6 to help you).

Maybe give your character a secret (ideas in Project 6).


Understanding Language of Characterization



From Wikipedia

Characterization or characterisation is the representation of persons (or other beings or creatures) in narrative and dramatic works of art. This representation may include direct methods like the attribution of qualities in description or commentary, and indirect (or “dramatic”) methods inviting readers to infer qualities from characters’ actions, dialogue, or appearance. Such a personage is called a character.[1] Character is a literary element.[2]

There are two ways an author can convey information about a character:

Direct or explicit characterization

The author literally tells the audience what a character is like. This may be done via the narrator, another character or by the character themselves.

Indirect or implicit characterization

The audience must infer for themselves what the character is like through the character’s thoughts, actions, speech (choice of words, manner of speaking), physical appearance, mannerisms and interaction with other characters, including other characters’ reactions to that particular person.


From Wikipedia

A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) is a person or main character of a literary work who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through impressive feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength, often sacrificing his or her own personal concerns for some greater good.

The word “hero” or “heroine”, in modern times, is sometimes used to describe the protagonist or the love interest of a story, a usage which can conflict with the superhuman expectations of heroism.[31] A classic example is Anna Karenina, the lead character in the novel of the same title by Leo Tolstoy. In modern literature the hero is more and more a problematic concept. In 1848, for example, William Makepeace Thackeray gave Vanity Fair the subtitle A Novel without a Hero, and imagined a world in which no sympathetic character was to be found.[32]

Minor Character

From Writers Digest (

Unless your story takes place in a hermitage or a desert island, your main characters are surrounded by many people who are utterly unimportant in the story. They are background; they are part of the milieu. Here are a few samples:

  • Nora accidentally gave the cabby a $20 bill for a $5 ride and then was too shy to ask for change. Within a minute a skycap had the rest of her money.
  • Pete checked at the desk for his messages. There weren’t any, but the bellman did have a package for him.
  • People started honking their horns before Nora even knew there was a traffic jam.
  • Apparently some suspicious neighbor had called the cops. The uniform who arrested him wasn’t interested in Pete’s explanations, and Pete soon found himself at the precinct headquarters.

Notice how many people we’ve “met” in these few sentences: a cabby, a skycap, a hotel desk clerk, a bellman, horn-honkers in a traffic jam, a suspicious neighbor, a uniformed police officer. Every single one of these people is designed to fulfill a brief role in the story and then vanish completely out of sight.

How do you make people vanish? Any stage director knows the trick. You have a crowd of people on stage, most of them walk-ons. They have to be there because otherwise the setting wouldn’t be realistic—but you don’t want them to distract the audience’s attention. In effect, you want them to be like scenery. They really aren’t characters at all—they’re movable pieces of milieu.

To keep walk-on characters in their place, sometimes stereotyping is exactly the tool of characterization you need.

A stereotype is a character who is a typical member of a group. He does exactly what the readers expect him to do. Therefore, they take no notice of him: He disappears into the background.

Unreliable character

I could not find unreliable character, but did find unreliable narrator


It is a character who tells the reader a story that cannot be taken at face value. This may be because the point of view character is insane, lying, deluded or for any number of other reasons.

Perhaps one of the most famous is Vladimir Nabakov’s Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged man with a predilection for underaged girls or “nymphets” (as he calls them). In Lolita, Nabakov signals Humbert’s unreliability to the reader in a number of ways such as his outrageous claims, his endless justifications for shocking acts and his contempt for others. Alex from A Clockwork Orange is another example of a reprehensible character sharing his unreliable narrative with the reader.

Dishonest narrators can also be used to great effect in stories of crime and mystery. It can be difficult to discuss these types of narrators without spoiling the story, but both Agatha Christie’s classic novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the recent Gillian Flynn best seller Gone Girl employ unreliable narrators whose lack of trustworthiness is crucial to the construction of both novels’ mystery. Often in books like these the reader starts out trusting the narrator and only as the story goes on realises that something is amiss.


From Wikipedia

A protagonist (from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes), meaning “player of the first part, chief actor”) is the main character in any story, such as a literary work or drama.[1]

The protagonist is at the center of the story, should be making the difficult choices and key decisions, and should be experiencing the consequences of those decisions. The Protagonist can affect the main characters decisions. The protagonist should be propelling the story forward. If a story contains a subplot, or is a narrative that is made up of several stories, then there may be a character who is interpreted as the protagonist of each subplot or individual story.[2]

From Merriam-Webster

a :  the principal character in a literary work (as a drama or story)
b :  a leading actor, character, or participant in a literary work or real event


From Wikipedia

An antihero, or antiheroine, is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality.[1][2][3][4][5] These characters are usually considered “conspicuously contrary to an archetypal hero”.[6]

Revisionist Western films commonly have an antihero as the lead character who is morally ambiguous. Clint Eastwood, pictured here in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), portrayed the Man with No Name, an archetypical antihero, in the Spaghetti Western Dollars Trilogy.

From Merriam-Webster

a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities

Cameo appearance

From Wikipedia

A cameo role or cameo appearance (/ˈkæmioʊ/; often shortened to just cameo) is a brief appearance or voice part of a known person in a work of the performing arts, typically unnamed or appearing as themselves. These roles are generally small, many of them non-speaking ones, and are commonly either appearances in a work in which they hold some special significance (such as actors from an original movie appearing in its remake), or renowned people making uncredited appearances. Short appearances by celebrities, film directors, politicians, athletes or musicians are common. A crew member of the show or movie playing a minor role can be referred to as a cameo as well, such as Alfred Hitchcock‘s frequently performed cameos.

Cameos also occur in novels and other literary works. “Literary cameos” usually involve an established character from another work who makes a brief appearance to establish a shared universe setting, to make a point, or to offer homage. Balzac often employed this practice, as in his Comédie humaine. Sometimes a cameo features a historical person who “drops in” on fictional characters in a historical novel, as when Benjamin Franklin shares a beer with Phillipe Charboneau in The Bastard by John Jakes.[citation needed]

A cameo appearance can be made by the author of a work to put a sort of personal “signature” on a story. Vladimir Nabokov often put himself in his novels; for instance, the very minor character Vivian Darkbloom (an anagram of the author’s name) in Lolita.[3]

Credible character


Hopefully the characters and their plots in life are consistent and make sense – bearing in mind that these characters often do the unthinkable –murder, sexual assault, cause explosions, perform an indignity to a dead body, even fall in love. But like all characters in fiction or real life, what they do has some meaning and motivation – even if only clear in their minds.

So, how can you make your characters credible?  In a nutshell:

Make your characters three dimensional. There is more to a character than his or her looks and dialogue. A character has feelings, likes, dislikes, idiosyncrasies, flaws, strengths, baggage, etc. Your reader must connect to your characters – not necessarily like them.


Credibility (willingness to accept something as true in the characters and in their story world) must be meticulously nurtured in the literary story as an art form. Often credibility slips with illogical progression of plot ideas, or with poorly integrated character thoughts, actions, and words. Readers will fail to connect to a story where there is erosion of credibility, and the writing will not succeed. Even if the story requires suspension of disbelief–as all stories do to some degree–there is always a dependency on the absolutely logical association and progression of ideas for good writing.



In this Post, and the next, I’m going to show you how to know and grow your Characters. Today we’re going to look at credibility, in the following ways:

  • Physical attributes
  • Historical perspective
  • Personality traits

Although you will use only a fraction of the details you accumulate about your characters, you do need to know them through and through. That’s because every thought they have, every word they speak and every action they take, will be determined by the three aspects we’ve identified above. More of this at a later date.

In order to compile a profile of each character, it’s not a bad idea to use a large sheet of paper (or an MS Excel Worksheet on your computer). You could even sketch an outline drawing, if that helps, and colour in some of the features. It doesn’t have to be a work of art! Simply a visual reminder to you so that you don’t make the mistake, half way through the book, of reducing your character’s height by four inches, or have the blue eyes of page four become the brown eyes of page 104.


From Wikipedia

An antagonist is a character, group of characters, institution, or concept that stands in or represents opposition against which the protagonist(s) must contend. In other words, an antagonist is a person or a group of people who opposes a protagonist.[1]

From Merriam-Webster

one that contends with or opposes another


From Merriam-Webster

to experience empathy <empathized with his son’s fears>

Empathy –                  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this

to have the same feelings as another person : to feel empathy for someone


To sum up the differences between the most commonly used meanings of these two terms: sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.


From Google

a habitual gesture or way of speaking or behaving.

“learning the great man’s speeches and studying his mannerisms”

synonyms: idiosyncrasy, quirk, oddity, foible, trait, peculiarity, habit, characteristic, characteristic gesture, trick

“he has the mannerisms of a bishop without actually having become one”

From me

Like pointing when speaking

Or taking off glasses to clean them when nervous

Psychological attributes


Traits and characteristics are the same thing. A trait is a distinguishing characteristic, feature or quality.  In psychological terms, we usually think about personality traits and behavioral characteristics that define an individual. We all have traits. Psychologists often refer to personality traits or characteristics.  The unique combination of personality traits we each possess makes us individuals.  But, certain traits have become associated with psychological problems. For example, if someone is very neat and orderly, many people might call them obsessive-compulsive. That implies that all orderly people have something wrong with them, and that’s just not true!

Some examples of personality traits


emotional stability










From Wikipedia

A villain (also known as the “antagonist”, “baddie”, “bad guy”, “heavy” or “black hat”) is an “evil” character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction.

The villain usually is the antagonist (though can be the protagonist), the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters. A female villain is occasionally called a villainess. Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines villain as “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot”.[1]

Ben Bova recommends to authors that their works not contain villains. He states, in his Tips for writers:

“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil… Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus of what they know in life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.”[19]

In an attempt to add realism to their stories, many writers will try to create “sympathetic” villains, the antithesis to an antihero. These villains come in just as many shapes and sizes as antiheroes do. Some may wish to make the world a better place but go to antagonistic lengths to do so (such as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2, who commits various crimes in an attempt to complete his goal of creating a cheap, renewable source of energy,

Narrative drive

From Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Narrative drive is the sense that the story is moving forward and going somewhere. It gives a plot momentum and a sense of urgency. Characters have things to do and those goals advance the story.

Show, don’t tell

From Wikipedia

Show, don’t tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to interpret significant details in the text. The technique applies equally to nonfiction and all forms of fiction, literature including Haiku[1] and Imagism poetry in particular, speech, movie making, and playwriting.[2][3][4][5]

The concept is often attributed to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, reputed to have said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” In fact, the quote is probably apocryphal, but derived from a letter to his brother in which he wrote “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” [6]

One-dimensional character (and flat/round characters)

From Wikipedia

The psychologist Carl Jung identified twelve primary ‘original patterns’ of the human psyche. He believed that these reside in the collective subconscious of people across cultural and political boundaries. These twelve archetypes are often cited in fictional characters. ‘Flat’ characters may be considered so because they stick to a single archetype without deviating, whereas ‘complex’ or ‘realistic’ characters will combine several archetypes, with some being more dominant than others – as people are in real life. Jung’s twelve archetypes are: the Innocent, the Orphan, the Hero, the Caregiver, the Explorer, the Rebel, the Lover, the Creator, the Jester, the Sage, the Magician, and the Ruler.

Character in a Setting – Terror

Writing and researching for character in a setting was difficult. I found when researching the Ghost Ship fire tragedy that I became emotionally involved with the survivors. I also spent quite a bit of time looking at maps and photographs of the warehouse before and after the fire. I considered what people would look and feel like as they realized they were going to die. That is quite horrible. But is some ways quite satisfying. Death is taboo in our society. People do not want to discuss their own mortality. Like superstition they feel that talking about it will make it happen.

Writing about terror and horror brings me face to face with death and fear. I found this exercise hard but fulfilling. I will practice it again.