Write Prose Like the Pros: Characterization & Exposition

Most self-editing will fall under show versus tell principle. When introducing a new character, a quick narrative summary does more telling than showing. How does a writer show their character descriptions? Once again, I say to write more dialogue. A reader can learn a lot about a character from the way they speak and how they view themselves. You can also learn a lot about what a character doesn’t talk about. The way characters act or react to situations is another way to show someone’s character. Sometimes parts of a character’s personality are revealed over time.

Dialogue is also good for story exposition. If the writer has created an intricate fantasy world, how do they convey the normal rules and way of life in that fantasy world? There are many books and films where the main character is a newcomer to a new world. Or the main character has to help a newcomer to the new world. Through dialogue, the newcomer learns the important things about the new environment. The reader and the character learn about the world throughout the story. This is often used in video games where the player is the new arrival to an unknown world.

The best practices are to add more dialogue and only narrate action. Does the character walk a certain way? Do they look at things a certain way? Do they twirl a pencil when they’re nervous? When adding little details now and then, a reader can get a full grasp of who a character is during the entire story. If there’s an interesting back story, it can be told a little bit at a time in flashbacks or brief dialogue. This can help fill multiple pages instead of summarizing it in a couple of paragraphs. This will tell a reader more about a character than any amount of narrative summary. There is nothing wrong with starting out with a narrative summary. All that dialogue can be worked out during the editing process.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.

Coffee & Contemplation: Unemployment

With everything going on in the United States right now, many people are learning about unemployment. They’re learning about it because most of them never needed it before. Some benefits have been added due to the pandemic, but there are still some things people don’t about unemployment in general. For example, it is a service one must pay into in order to receive the benefits. That means self-employed folks who don’t put money away for unemployment will not receive unemployment benefits. That’s under normal circumstances. Supposedly, things have been put in place to help self-employed folks who’ve lost work due to Covid-19.

When one applies for unemployment, the service looks at how much you paid into that service during the previous year. I applied for unemployment this year. They reviewed what I paid in 2019 to determine how much I’ll receive. A small percentage of money is taken from every paycheck. The more money one makes, the more money is put away. The employer also matches the amount from each paycheck. Someone making minimum wage will receive less than someone making an annual salary in unemployment benefits. The most I can get is $800 per month. That does not include the $600 extra that everyone is supposed to receive due to Covid-19.

Now, I understand that they give a certain amount each week so one’s unemployment can last up to six months or even a year. That makes sense. But it feels unfair that, under normal circumstances, I would get less than minimum wage to cover all my expenses for a month. I only have rent and utilities to pay if you include a phone bill in utilities. $800 is not enough to cover those couple of things as well as food for the month. And here’s my other question. What happened to all the money I paid into unemployment for the last 12 years? Isn’t that still my money? Why can’t I use that during unemployment? These are only a few things I sit and think about while I enjoy my morning coffee.

Write Prose Like the Pros: Show and Tell

There are a few ways for a writer to show more in their prose. One option is to describe a character’s action versus telling the reader about their emotions. It’s easy to see that someone is angry based on their behavior. To say they’re angry and move on is a lack of creativity. Mentioning any emotions outside of dialogue is unnecessary. The easiest way I’ve been able to show more is by adding more dialogue to my narratives. I try to have my characters tell the story instead of the narrator.

I have an advantage over other writers when it comes to writing dialogue. I studied theatre for my undergraduate degree. I’ve read many plays and scripts. I am already comfortable with the idea of telling an entire story with only dialogue. This also gives me an advantage on how authentic the dialogue sounds. Whether for playscripts or novels, dialogue must be spoken aloud when revising. Sometimes a phrase doesn’t sound genuine once it’s said aloud. Also, if a character is said to be not well educated, using legal terms or other big words would be out of character. Writing great dialogue requires practice like everything else.

For my undergraduate minor, I studied creative writing. One exercise I did for a fiction writing class was to eve’s drop on a conversation and transcribe the dialogue. The instructor suggested recording the audio then writing it later. We were to study how people spoke in a normal, casual conversation. Then we were to compare that with dialogue we had written and look for differences. The goal was to write genuine, authentic dialogue. I encourage others to try this exercise. Then they should ask themselves, “Does this sound the way people actually talk?” Deciding how a character talks is another part of character development. 

People say things differently depending on where they grew up. In the Northern United States, when referring to soft drinks, people might call it ‘pop’ or ‘soda.’ Maybe even ‘soda pop.’ In the Southern United States, most soft drinks regardless of brand are called ‘coke.’ This is not true of everyone from these regions. So, does the character say ‘trashcan’ or ‘waste basket?’ Would that person say ‘dinner’ or would they say ‘supper?’ All this doesn’t have to be figured out when writing the first draft. Many of these little things are worked out and cleaned up in editing.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.