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Struggling with Character Interaction

So there's a scene I have been looking forward to writing for a long time, but I finally get to it and- I struggled. A lot. With the entire thing (It's also quite shorter than most of my other chapters ha...). I'm missing a bit of the introduction part, but that makes the thing over 3k and this takes up most of the chapter anyways so-

(Dialogue also isn't exactly a strong point of mine I think) So any advice would be truly appreciated. I don't plan to rewrite it for a little bit (trying to finish the draft before doing any actual rewrites) but I want to get a better idea on how to better handle the scene or portray things in a more coherent manner.

Since it is chapter 18- relevant information: Ghost is a shape-shifting serial killer, Kate is one of his/her victims and Ghost is currently pretending to be Kate. Leeches are people that can take the disease (which Malakai is currently suffering from- thus the bit about bleeding). Malakai has severe frostbite on his hands (which is why he wears gloves) 

(Also warning about swearing)

Anyways- any and all help would be appreciated

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  • Hi Jewlyn.

    I'm going to first admit that I didn't manage to read all the way through. From about the midpoint, I did a bit of quick skipping to check that what I had seen continued.

    From my perspective, and this is tainted by dropping in to the middle of the piece, I couldn't distinguish the characters. They all sounded the same. I honestly don't know how many were present. Now, this isn't necessarily a terrible thing on a first draft - you can clean it up later.

    However, the other aspect I noticed was that the characters are basically having the same micro-conversation over and over and over: "What were you thinking?" / "I'm sorry, I don't know." Again, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with that repetition, as long as it includes differentiation - think a pack of wolves nipping at prey from different angles. The questions need to be angled, they need to challenge.

    A technique I have uesd in some of my own writing is to make a two-person conversation of this sort into a three-person one PoV defender, attacker, PoV's interpretation of attacker. This gives attack-interpretation-answer. But, of course, the answer takes too long, and/or is a bit incoherent, only the first two words are out before another attack comes. Admittedly, it requires a much closer psychic distance than you're using in this piece.

    I'll also add that one element of your blocking comes across as misaligned. So much so as to throw me out of the story every time it's mentioned. You talk about gravity tugging Malakai down. Yet the only time he succumbs to it, he falls into an embrace. Gravity tugging down would buckle the legs, have him slide down a kitchen cabinet. It would take him away from those he's talking to, not towards them.

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    • I like the wolf pack analogy, Rick. I tend to have dialogue cut in mid sentence too, people interrupting each other, not saying exactly what they mean, thinking the rest. 

      I read good dialogue is an impression of the real thing with a lot of the repetition, umming, erring and drivvle cut out. I try to remember that

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      • An expansion of the three-way dialogue technique is - only when writing the first draft - to make it four- (or even six)-way.

        • Person A says something
        • Person B has (dismissive) thoughts about what A said.
        • Person B thinks what they want to say
        • Person B says something (usually not verbatim of what they thought)
        • Person A has (dismissive) thoughts about what B said.
        • Person A thinks what they want to say

        Then, in edits, assuming it's from A's PoV, translate B's thinking beats into facial or body-language expressions. No need to keep all of them. Likewise, be selective what part of A's thought responses to keep, what to turn into visceral feedback rather than straight thought.

        Do that for a bit, especially when both sides are talking entirely at cross purposes. At some point, one of them will catch on to a key word and break the cycle, asking what the other is really on about.

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        • Yeah, that's really good. I remember reading something about writing good dialogue which really made a light bulb go off above my head, which is exactly what Rick describes.  Often (not always, but often) people aren't actually saying what they're thinking. What's really happening in the scene isn't the actual dialogue but the subtext under the dialogue - the unspoken things that the reader infers from the context in which the dialogue occurs. 

          The article offered an exercise to add or find subtext that I still use occasionally. A) Identify the most important word in a sentence of dialogue. B) Try rewriting the sentence without using that word (or any synonym of it). C) Does the scene change? Does its meaning change? How?

          There's a good Jericho article about dialogue writing, of course: https://jerichowriters.com/writing-dialogue/

          And this article, which I bookmarked a while ago, might be useful too: https://charles-harris.co.uk/2013/05/dialogue-with-subtext/


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        • Hi Jewlyn,

          This is inventive and clever world building, even in this late chapter, and I was left wanting to know more about the setting in which your story takes place. There are lots of references - some of which may already have been explained and expanded upon - which are strange but have enough points of familiarity with 'real-world' things that it's easy to get a sense of what they mean.

          There's obviously a lot of character conflict here, both external and internal, and the relationships between the characters are clear. So there's the embryo of a strong scene.

          However, I'd very much agree with Rick's comments above. 

          The characters don't really have distinctive voices or vocal mannerisms, so it is quite easy to lose track of which side of the argument you're following. Since these are characters that we've presumably met before in the preceding 17 chapters, this may be a 'first draft' thing, and distinguishing traits will be added later. But it might be worth re-visiting earlier chapters too, to see if those show the same thing.

          There's definitely some repetition of the argument, as Rick points out. In fact it felt to me that Erica and Malakai had their argument about her having to deal with the reports of his death and his disappearance and then his reappearance with Ghost/Kate in tow. Then Malakai goes to the bathroom. And then, when he reappears, they have almost exactly the same argument all over again. Erica even 'pinches the bridge of her nose' again! I think the break needs to mark more of a change in their interaction - a different tone or an accomodation or a development... before the revelation as to why Malakai is here and the bombshell that Latria isn't there.

          I wonder whether it might be worth jotting down a quick 'schematic' of their argument in this scene and the various stages it goes through (if you haven't already done so). Almost as if you were building a scene structure, but focused on just the key points that you need to hit at each point in their dialogue. At the moment, it feels (like all first drafts) as if it's been written 'in the heat of the moment', the beats are a a bit random, and it felt to me that it lacked a clear journey from initiation to resolution. The structure might help avoid the slight repetition as well as giving that clear throughline.

          Like Rick, I didn't really understand the multiple references to gravity and Malakai 'falling' as it 'tugs' at him. Maybe this is explained earlier, but it felt really odd every time it popped up. And it only seems to apply to him... there's no other reference to gravity acting on Erica or Ghost or anything in the room. Even the water from the faucet seems normal.  Is there actually different gravity where they are? Or is it a metaphor for his exhaustion and weakness? It's not really clear. If it's the latter, I think it needs to be clarified. If the former it needs to be something that has a wider effect.

          It's a fantastic start, though, and the writing is really good. I'd want to read more!



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          • Hi Jon,

            I'm happy you enjoyed the world building. Were you left with any questions for things that didn't make sense when it came to the world building? Quite a bit does get explained throughout the story, but I worry that I might forget to actually explain something since it's been in my head for a while so my brain just goes 'of course that makes sense' and leaves it at that.

            The voice problem will probably be an issue of mine for the entirety of the novel. I struggle a bit with dialogue haha. Erica is actually introduced in this chapter (and if I don't change anything with the plot/story it'll be the last time she's actively in a chapter). Would you have any advice or recommendations on how to improve that? 

            I think I'll try to do the schematic thing (for most of the chapters I just had a brief summary for plot points, and this chapter was actually one plot paragraph split in half so the only thing I had going was 'Erica tells Malakai to go to Cantillo' and whilst I had an idea how I wanted the confrontation to go (it was supposed to be a lot sweeter than how it ended up) I was struggling with actually writing it.)

            Ah, the gravity thing was a poorly done metaphor I think. So my intention was that Erica was the one with a 'gravitational force' since Malakai kept wanting contact/to be next to her. Even with reading the bit of the intro before this, I don't think I portrayed it how I wanted to so I think I'll have to reword or rework it into something else.

            Anyways, thank you so much for the feedback/advice and I'm happy you enjoyed my writing :) 

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            • The schematic idea for dialogue is great - might have to borrow that one myself, Jon 😀

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