The Roles of Dialogue, Character, and Research in Fiction: CWC Session V


Author Highlight: Michael Raleigh

How do you really create a character?

  1. Make Your Character Want Something. Sailing afloat in a lack of want… that only worked (arguably) for The Catcher in the Rye. Make your character want something – even if they don’t know what it is.
  2. Make Them Sympathetic. Use every detail in your arsenal to make us like your character. If you’re good, you’ll even make us like bad guys. And when we like them, even a little, we care about what happens to them. Try these tactics:
    • Backstory. Have they overcome suffering? Or will they?
    • Personality & Appearance. Use description to break us into the character.
    • Name. Daisy Faye sounds wimpy and feminine. Dirk Pitt? Not so.
    • Dialogue. How do they talk?
    • Actions. What are their habits/quirks?
  3.  Then Attack Them. Yep. Once the reader likes them… “let the monsters loose.” Sorry, but good stories come from hard times. Don’t make it easy on them.

Dialogue. This gets its own section, because it can so easily get screwed up.


  • Too Many “Said” Synonyms. Every human reader has seen the word “said” about a billion times. We basically don’t notice it exists. But replacements like “asserted” and “exclaimed,” we notice. Watch yourself.
  • Speeches. People almost never talk in speeches.
  • Long, Formal Sentences. Not a thing.
  • Repetitive Hellos. “Nice to meet you.” “Nice to meet you.” “Hello.” “Hello.” Yeah. People do this, but it doesn’t read well.
  • Writing Completely Realistic Dialogue. You are writing, not speaking. It won’t match real-life dialogue exactly. It should just read right.
  • Affecting a Dialect. Don’t mess with words’ spelling or add unneeded punctuation unless you really think it’s necessary. Think of Hagrid. He was done right.
  • Contemporary Slang. If you start using contemporary slang, you will alienate both current and future readers. If you have to do slang, make it accessible and understandable – like in A Clockwork Orange.

Some other notes from the session…

Research – Do Enough to Make You Comfortable. If you get caught up in research, you might stop writing. Great writers like Karen Abbott researched just enough to piece the story together – then went back later to flesh things out. If you can define what’s different about a place or thing, then the research has carried you far enough to use placeholders.

Don’t Write What You Know. Learn things. Then write those. Even in writing fantasy, you’ll need to learn – about the different types of bird feathers (for phoenix descriptions), or about how best to smelt your own weapon (for grumpy elf weaponsmith scenes). Research adds authenticity – but frankly, it doesn’t make stories. Curiosity – and corrected ignorance – make stories.

In my next post in this CWC Recap Series, I’ll go over the Meet the Agents session from CWC 2015 (granted, I missed the first few minutes).

Session I Missed: To see this session, I had to miss the De-Mystifying the PR Process session. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!

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