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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What You See is What You Get

(Listen or watch this writing tip on Youtube)

A couple of weeks ago I talked about characters that don't say what they mean. You can read that post here. Basically, most people talk indirectly about their feelings, and often the stronger the emotions are, the more indirect their language.

But not all characters are like that.

Once in a while, you may come across one that has no barrier, no face—what you see is what you get. The dialogue for these characters may be a lot simpler to write, but can still be effective, especially when you need someone to say something others wouldn’t dare.

In Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood always says what she means, which sometimes makes Harry feel uncomfortable. In Half-Blood Prince, she has no problem acknowledging she doesn't have friends. While other people who say this might look for sympathy or attention, Luna doesn't have an ulterior motive. Other times in the novels, she provides straightforward wisdom in ways other characters can't.

In the clip below, notice how she talks openly to Harry. (For my email subscribers, you might need to go to my blog to watch it)

Without embarrassment, Luna explains that nargles have taken her shoes. Without guard, she tells about her mother being dead, how she died, and how it still makes her sad. Without shame, she says that she believes Harry, when few others dare voice it. And when she offers wisdom, she simply speaks her mind.

So, don’t feel like you have to make what all your characters say encrypted and indirect. Maybe your character is the type who says what he means.

Unless you have a good reason that relates to the theme or story line of your narrative, avoid making all characters like Luna. It’s not realistic. How many people do you know like that? Likely less than those who speak indirectly.

On a final note, keep in mind that the majority of characters switch between direct and indirect dialogue, just as people do. A high school student might speak indirectly to her crush but openly to her best friend. Another character may speak openly most of the time, but start talking indirectly when emotionally charged (or vice versa).

You can play around with variations to make the interactions between your characters more interesting.

Luna jumped immediately into my mind when I was trying to think of characters that speak directly, but I had a hard time coming up with more. Do you guys know of any more examples? Also, do you have any thoughts or wisdom to share on direct/indirect dialogue? I'd love to hear them in the comments.
Announcement: I recently did a guest post for Konstanz Silverbow's blog. You can check it out here. It's on rekindling your writing drive, for anyone who gets stuck in those "blah" moments.


  1. You're right, it is hard coming up with these. I think Mrs Bennett in Pride & Prejudice is like this. She generally has no filter.

    I think characters like this are sometimes important to stories, because if too much is left unsaid then it can get a bit confusing, and these characters can state the unsaid information in a way the audience believes because it is part of their character.

  2. Thanks for the example and insight, Nova :)

    I have a character sort of like this in my own story, so I think I'm going to try to take more advantage of that in later drafts.


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