Thursday, January 21, 2010

DiGenti Shares His Ideas On Character Development

Vic is the NE Florida Regional Director for the Florida Writer’s Association, He’s the author of the “Windrusher” adventure/fantasy trilogy of award-winning novels, and also teaches a writing workshop at the University of North Florida. Learn more about Vic and his books at his website,

Vic talked about character development in fiction and writing effective dialogue. He began by saying, “One of the things that makes a novel memorable is strong and realistic characters.” He characterized it by stating “…writers, in effect, are playing God because they’re creating people, even though they’re storybook people.” Storybook people aren’t like real people, they’re bigger than life in many ways. Real people lead boring lives, but storybook people must stand out and hook a reader’s interest.

The writer can begin the process of creating storybook people by building a history for them. This can include details of the character’s background, physical characteristics, education, occupation and more. By doing this the writer is able to understand a character’s actions and motivations, even if much of this biographical information doesn’t appear in the story.
Sometimes, you can develop your character from someone you know. Use some of their traits, and build around them, letting the character’s grow in your imagination like a scientist grows cultures in a petri dish. As the character grows, Vic said, “…you’ll be surprised how they take on a life of their own.”

The second part of his presentation focus on how to write effective dialogue. Dialogue is an essential part of a good story, but writing good dialogue takes work and practice. Many people think writing dialogue is easy since people have been talking all their lives, but story dialogue isn’t like real life conversation which tends to be filled with pauses, and “uhs,” “you knows,” and boring interaction that wouldn’t work in a story where every line should move the story forward.

Building conflict into dialogue adds interest to the story and the characters. Oblique dialogue is another way to add tension to a conversation. This occurs when a speaker doesn’t answer a question or changes subjects abruptly. Vic also suggested that writer should read their work aloud or record it into a tape player and listen to it. Surprisingly, clunky and confusing language is much more apparent when listening to it rather than reading it to yourself.

Attributions in dialogue refers to the “he said,” “she said” part of the sentence which tells the reader who is speaking. Too many beginning writers believe the reader will get bored reading this over and over and augment them with adverbs like, “he said dramatically,” or uses words like, “she intoned,” or “he grumbled.” Resist the urge to make these changes as they mark the author as a beginner. The reader accepts the “he said,” “she said” attributions and barely notices them. And not every line of dialogue needs attribution after the speakers have been identified.
Vic also talked about “beats,” which are the bits of stage business a character might do while they’re talking. For example, the author might have the character tugging at an earlobe or pushing a lock of hair from her forehead. These are beats, and they help the reader visualize the scene. But be careful not to overdo the beats as they can slow down the flow of the scene.

Anyone interested in attending Vic’s Novel in a Day workshop at UNF can find more information at
Christine M Ramey, FCCW Secretary