The most common flaw I repeatedly see in beginner writers’ work of fiction is shallow dialog. Whenever I would ask that writer to describe that character to me, they will have something along the lines: “she has brown hair, green eyes, etc.…” While those details are essential to recognize that character — they are not who she is. The writer does not know yet.
So, here’s an exercise for writers to realize their characters:
You walk in a corridor at home, work, the street, wherever you are right now, thinking about getting to know one of your characters better. After a few steps, you see a bright blue door. That door is not usually there, and no one can see it now. Deep inside your soul, you know it is meant for you. You open it. Blinding white light covers everything and you are sucked in. The door closes behind you.
You don’t have to do that intro once you’ve been doing it enough times, but this way it sets the mood for the rest.
When the white light fades, you are now that character, standing naked in a shower, not unlike a gym’s shower. There is a mirror in front of you which is long enough to show you the entirety of your body.
You, the author, is now only an observer inside your character. They are now acting out their personality.
What is their response to seeing themselves naked? What does their face look like? Are they shy and cover their genitalia? How does their genitalia look like? How does the rest of the body look like? Does he or she have scars? Is he muscular? Hairy? How does he look without clothes? Is she curvaceous? skinny? How does she look without clothes? They are looking at themselves in the mirror. How do they react? What do they say? What is their voice like? what colors are their eyes? hair? Are they confident? Scared? Confused? How does it feel to watch them from their point of view? How does it feel for them to touch themselves? What do they see when they look at their palms? Are they in any pain somewhere in the body? Are they feeling tired? What is on their mind? What else do you want to know?
When the stream of questions and answers seems to trickle instead of flow, you feel as though you have the power, as the observer, to flip a mental switch that will cause progress. Do that when you think it is time, or keep coming up with questions and answers. The more questions and answers, the more you know about the character.
Flipping the switch will cause you to leave the shower room and teleport straight into a public setting.
You have flipped the mental switch, and the mirror in front of you started glowing white-hot until the blinding light burst out from it and covered the entire room. When it fades, you find yourself fully clothed and in a market. You are selecting goods to buy.
What are you buying? What do you like to eat? What do your clothes look like? What clothes do you buy, if any? What accessories?
As before, the mental switch presents itself and waits on you.
When you press the mental switch again, you will teleport to a different place. Do that when ready.
You have flipped the mental switch again, and now you find yourself at work. People are talking to you. Reminding you that you do not exist in a void and that your life is already going on, they do not start from the moment you were conceived as a character.
Where do you work? What did you do to get accepted to that place? Do you want to be there? Who are these people talking to you? What is your relationship with them? Is any of them important to the story? What secrets are you keeping from them? What secrets are you keeping in general?
The mental switch informs you that when you flip the switch next, you will finish your little journey. Instead of ending the story, you can continue visualizing your character in different settings.
When you do this enough times, you will get to know your characters on a level of detail far more sophisticated than a barely conceived character. When you will create a dialog with that character, you will know exactly how they should respond in any given situation.
Are you ready to flip the mental switch again?