Lots of writers – novelists and screenwriters – believe the way a character SPEAKS literally says a lot about them. As a result, they’ll spend ages obsessing over their dialogue in the mistaken thought that accent or a way of talking will differentiate them. It’s not hard to see why, either: everyone has favourite novel, movie and TV quotes, after all.

However, characters are known and celebrated not for what they SAY in stories, but for their actions in those stories:

– Do we remember Ripley for making rousing speeches about never giving up … Or for busting into a nest full of monsters to rescue an innocent child?

– Do we remember Dorian Gray for just his witty banter, or the fact he made a pact with the devil?

– Do we remember the CSI Team for their repartee in the teasers, or more for the fact they solve crimes?

You get my drift. Dialogue is great, but it’s just ONE part of a character – an illusion, in real terms. After all, writers who known for their great dialogue are usually brilliant AT ALL OF THE WRITING CRAFT, not just talk.

Great characterisation is about BEHAVIOUR. They have motivations for the things they want in the story and a role function to ensure there is a reason they are IN the story in the first place.

So, remember:

Keywords: BEHAVIOUR trumps words


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One Response to Writing Adages Explained: ‘Characters Are What They Do’

  1. Jo Weber says:

    yea! So true. I’ve been going over the first screenplay I ever wrote (debating on whether or not to chuck it or revive it) and OMG, nonstop dialogue!!! (Format was horrible too) Everything that could have been wrong, was. Thanks so much for your awesome blog!

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