Writing Wednesday: What Do Characters Say?

I am horrible at writing dialogue.  This is one reason I steer away from fiction – I heard a rumor that characters like to talk.  *shudder*  But I also know it’s important to keep pushing myself as a writer, to keep trying those parts of writing I am not good at.  And yesterday … I did it!

“How did you achieve this wonderful thing?” you might ask.  (<– More dialogue.)  Simple: I cheated.

In my opinion, all my dialogue sounds like I, myself, am talking.  So I borrowed a few characters from one of my favorite TV shows – one of the characters is pretty weird, so he doesn’t talk the same way most people – and imagined a scene.  I’ve heard hours of these characters talking, and I know exactly what they sound like.  I closed my eyes and listened to what they were saying inside my mind.  The story I came up with is only 249 words long and only includes three lines of dialogue but hey, that’s better than none at all.

A side trip into a discussion of fanfiction…

Now, this kind of writing is called “fanfiction,” and you can probably guess why.  It’s important to do it responsibly because those characters are actually the property of other people.  They don’t belong to you or me.  If I sold that story to a magazine, I would be breaking the law.  In fact, I won’t even put it up here on the blog for free.  Some authors are also upset by the idea of other people copying characters they worked so hard to create, which is understandable.

Generally speaking, people are allowed nonprofit, educational, fair use of the characters, so a story you wrote in a private notebook to practice your skills as an author would be fine.  That is similar to seeing art students copying paintings at a museum.  They would not then hang it in a gallery and say, “Look at this beautiful portrait I made!  I call her Mona Lisa!”

A list of authors and their positions on using their characters in your own writing is available here; it is not a complete list.

Another challenge is that not everyone respects fanfiction, either.  I do, and I’ve seen my students do great work when they were inspired by characters and settings in their favorite books, movies, or TV shows.  Just keep in mind that, again, your own practice notebook is a good place for fanfiction; handing it in to a teacher for a grade is riskier; trying to sell it as a book is wrong.

Always, always, always acknowledge the wonderful writers whose hard work creating those characters and worlds inspired you, even in your own notebook.  Those authors who allow fanfiction are sharing a special gift with you, and they are awesome.

Back to the writing exercises …

  • Imagine your favorite TV character was a new student at your school this year; you are assigned to be their buddy and show them around.  What questions would that character ask about your school?
  • Some pretty famous books end by jumping into the future and looking at the characters once they are all grown up.  Write a “twenty years later” epilogue to a book you think should have it.  They are at a special event and the main character makes a speech.
  • Books, movies and TV shows usually share the most exciting moments in life: It’s not just a school day, it’s the first day of school!  It’s not just dinner, it’s your birthday!  It’s not just a Saturday with friends, it a trip to an amusement park!  But what about the rest of the time?  Write about a regular, average, normal day for those characters.

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