Everyone in the room is a human being

Except for Gleebmork. But even s/he has feelings.

I wrote about 5000 words of the sequel to Surreality a couple of months ago, then put it down to focus on getting the first book out. Coming back to it, I’ve been kicking myself because of where I left the story. Specifically, I’m in the middle of a tough conversation between two characters that’s the setup for many conversations throughout the book. I have a pretty good idea of what the conversation is supposed to accomplish structurally, but have been having a tough time translating that into believable dialogue and body language.

I’m an only child, and we tend to think of the world in relation to ourselves. In the most extreme form, we believe that every conversation has something to do with us, and that everything that is happening is happening to us most of all. Most only children have this notion shaken up by something, be it a good friend, or getting married.

But the attitude can seep into a book without you even realizing it. Surreality and its sequel have a central character, and while it’s a third person narrative, we’re mostly sitting behind one head and one perspective.

It was kind of a simple thing, but part of what got the dialogue flowing better was to think about what the other character was thinking and feeling at the same time. What motivated them to initiate the talk with my character, and what do they hope to get out of it?

Detective novel dialogue can be very objective based, “I am grilling this character for information”, or “I am sorting through my thoughts out loud before having a brilliant insight.” Even in these situations motivations of the other characters are important, particularly if they intend to lie or hold something back.

Some characters will still be flat. We don’t need Willy the drug-dealer’s life story (especially since he isn’t a character in either book). Willy’s just there to tell us what he saw in exchange for us looking the other way on some weed that’ll be legal in the state in a year or two.

But for non-flat characters (i.e. characters not derived from Edwin Abbot’s Flatland), we need to be able to see the scene from their perspective as well as the main character’s. Maybe an exercise in getting that perspective is to write both versions of the scene, one sitting behind your main character’s head, and the other sitting behind the other person in the room. Then blend these two together into a single working scene.

I’ve never tried it, but it sounds like it would work, right?

What I do know that works is to just keep at it. Even if you only add a net 100 words to the scene on evening, you’ve made progress. Because this is a formative scene, I’m probably going to write and revise it several times before moving on, because it will be the basis for a lot of what is to come. I just have to take my own advice and not put it down for another couple of months.

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1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “Everyone in the room is a human being

  1. Tru dat. I’ve read this advice phrased as “Every character is the hero of their own story.” Readers and author both think of a certain person (or people) as the hero, but nobody in the book knows that. Everyone feels like they’re the hero, so you have to write them that way.

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