An Opinion for EVERY Character

Cartoon Stock by Kieran Meehan kmhn749

EVERY character has an attitude. An author MUST show this through Action and Dialogue. Or Action Alone, never dialogue alone. Why? Mere chatter is not an attitude. We need to throw some body language into it.

Every character has an opinion about what’s going on. Even the bystanders. Let the reader see it. Perhaps …

  1. A smarmy look from an Extra (or equivalent) in a crowd.
  2. The stereotype is the gum-snapping, confrontational waitress with a hand on one hip (let’s not do this, but look what it did for Five Easy Pieces).
  3. A slouch as in the cartoon above.
  4. Bratiness. A parent could be reprimanding a teenage son at the breakfast table and the younger son makes faces behind Mom’s back trying to get his older sibling to laugh.
  5. Cops head into a bad section of the city. The guy behind the desk of the rundown hotel (hooker palace) tosses the key to the suspect’s room onto the counter instead of handing it over politely.
  6. The self-righteous nosy old biddy with her nose in the air when she encounters teenagers doing pretty much anything that teenagers do.

Dialogue is not necessary — show don’t tell — but here are some tips from Eric Edson’s The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take:

  1. Dialogue should advance dramatic conflict that takes place in the here and now.
  2. Dialogue should hum with dramatic tension.
  3. Generally dialogue should verbalize only one thought at a time.
  4. Good dialogue frequently conveys subtext.
  5. Describe the physical action.
  6. Dialogue should come out of the lives, joys, and pain of unique characters.
  7. Avoid small talk.
  8. Dialogue should be brief.
  9. Character must be demonstrated, not described.
  10. Avoid history lessons.
  11. Don’t preach.

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The more attitude a character has, the more conflict is introduced into the story and therefore the more interest along with it.

An attitude need not always be a cranky one. Examples of other attitudes we can insert into any of our characters are: dignity, fear, joy, love, need, curiosity. Consider the Seven Deadly Sins as a source: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride; and the Seven Virtues: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, Humility.


Next post — Using Backstory without Using It

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):

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