Writing Your First Novel: The Character Sketch & Dialogue

Writing a book is a daunting task, no matter how you look at it. A typical book manuscript has 500 typed double spaced pages. It is a large work that requires a lot of time and devotion to complete. Completing a manuscript might mean missing out on something else, or spending more than a few nights up while everyone else is sleeping; however, writing a book is nothing short of amazing.

I began my first novel nearly eight years ago. I had a general idea of the plot, the characters and the setting. I even wrote about 20 pages in a spiral notebook, before I cast it aside and gave up on it. It wasn’t because of a lack of desire for my book, or even laziness, that I cast it aside. It was lack of know-how.

My mother is a writer. I grew up listening to the sounds of typing keys striking papers. As a child, I learned to love everything about writing. A long time ago, mom and her friends would go to writer’s conventions in Austin, Texas. I wanted nothing more than to go with them, but due to my age and cost I never could.

Mom spent hours with her group or writer friends, some of which have gone on to be published, and others who have worked in television. And, while I always wanted to be a writer just like my mom, I spent most of my time writing poetry.

In other words, I wrote small pieces of stories contained in short bursts of line and meter. So, when I decided to write my first book, I didn’t really have any experience with writing fiction. That’s why I ultimately started taking writing classes. Recently, I was combing through one of my spiral notebooks. It was chocked full of great notes and tips for novel writing. I know that there are many other people who want to write their first novel, but may need a little more information before they start. The following are the golden nuggets from my writing class and a few things I’ve learned a long the way.

Character Sketches

Develop your characters. Don’t just create a name, or know only their physical features. Create a person. What does that character think like, how does he feel, what are his hopes, his dreams, his hobbies? You should know everything about him, in order to create a fully developed character.

Take a piece of paper or two and write out everything about each character you develop. That way you will have it for reference later, as well as have something tangible in your hands. I keep all of my character sketches clipped in a manila envelope. I even have mine separated by family blood lines. Organize.

If you draw, sketch your character. If you can’t draw look online. Find pictures of people, cut out eyes, hair-styles, select any image that will help you to solidify your character. These pictures are only for your guidance. Make sure that your character is both original and believable.

Writing Dialogue

Dialogue is important in a novel, but it might not be as important as you think. Dialogue has its purpose, but should never be used to further your plot. It should always be used sparingly. Don’t spend time with your characters greeting each other, or making a lot of small talk, unless there is a specific purpose.

One of my writing class teachers often said, “Don’t tell me; show me.” It took a long time for me to understand what he was saying. He wasn’t saying not to write about something, or paint a scene; he just didn’t want my character telling him what was going on in my fiction. He wanted to see it for himself.

Remember to write realistic dialogue. People tend to speak in one to three sentence bursts. Dialogue should flow smoothly. Most of the time people use contractions when they speak. For example, instead of writing the words I have, write I’ve. This allows dialogue to feel natural.

Read all of your dialogue out loud. Does it feel right when you say it? Does it slip off your tongue, or make you tongue tied? Does it sound right? If not, rewrite it. Always edit your dialogue. Make sure that it is tight, and again don’t explain things to the reader, or tell the reader things in the dialogue. It just doesn’t work. Always skip to the important things, and leave out extraneous information. Remember that dialogue shows at least two states of mind.

Golden Nugget: Writing A Scene

Golden Nugget: Concluding the Novel

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