Writers, let me pick your brain!


Are you a writer? Do you write stories that include characters who like to talk and act out, adding depth to your story?

Today I have a few questions to ask you about writing. I hope you don’t mind telling me a little of what you found works for you. Even if you haven’t done any character writing, perhaps you have an idea of how you would go about it.

Please contribute in answering these questions:

  • When you are capturing your characters‘ conversations and personality, do you try to make what they say as realistic as you can, including:
  • their most private thoughts that no one would know unless told in some way,
  • their expletives (cursing and swearing),
  • slang, street language,
  • accents in their speech (regional, and dialects). By this point I mean – trying to imitate their way of talking, or letting the reader know about it in some way.
  • Do you write it as you hear it, or do you clean them up ?
  • How important is it to you that your characters sound casual and street-wise, or do you prefer them to be polite and well-spoken? Another way to ask that question is: Do you let your characters be the way they want to be or do you design your characters?
  • How much are you willing to leave to the imagination and intelligence of your readers or are you inclined to fill in every detail?
  • Do you write to please your readers, or yourself?

These are things I have been wondering about as I have been reading a variety of stories and genres, and the authors’ different approaches are quite interesting. Thinking about my incomplete novel, one point I noticed is that my characters freely talk … I hardly have to make anything up in their conversations, I just listen and write it down.

Do you listen to your characters or do you give them their lines?

Please, let me pick your brain! I’m very interested in learning about what you have discovered in your own writing, and I hope you will share a little from your experience.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂


24 responses to “Writers, let me pick your brain!

  1. I pick one or two things that stand out. Is the character cynical? Wry? Naive? If there is an accent, I use it sparingly. My friends tell me that deciphering MY written interpretation of an accent drops them out of the story, and reminds them that they are reading, rather than flowing along.

    And as to who I write to please – I write to tell a story. Sometimes it is one that is important to me; sometimes it is just funny and I think others will get a kick out of it.


    • Welcome to my blog, Andrew.

      I like your idea to pick what stands out in your character and use it. That may help me in the editing process of what I’ve already written, and stay in my mind for the rest of it. Thanks.
      I find the same, that trying to follow the accent – or even excessively broken English – drops me out of the story .. makes me stumble and try to hear what’s being said instead of being allowed to go with the flow of the story.

      Thanks so much for sharing some of your writing technique. 🙂


  2. I like my characters to be as real as possible. I write for kids so I try to have my charcters talk, think and act like kids. In my new book, I have a couple of London teenagers. So I let them talk like they would, which means they are grammatically incorrect. But it would be dishonest otherwise and they wouldn’t seem real. Of course, the stories are for kids so I don’t have any swearing.in my books.


    • Your method works well, Darlene. One time a writing instructor told me that I had my young character too well-behaved and not reacting the way a young boy would in a particular situation. I have had to think about that. In wanting to write in a positive way, perhaps I was aiming for what I want to see in this world, rather than for what it is really like, so omitted some human flaws. Someday I will revisit that story and let him act out a little. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing, your books are enjoyable.


  3. Different writers take somewhat different approaches as I’m sure you’ve found. But I suggest you don’t try for too much realism. Just make for interesting reading. One of the biggest mistakes aspiring writers make–and I can say this with confidence, because I’ve read a lot of slush–is that they assume a reader is going to be impressed with their ability to render reality. But that’s not why people read. They read for an interesting story. They’re *living* in reality, for God’s sake. That the story seems true to reality is important, but it shouldn’t make “reality” its goal above all.

    Writer Richard Bausch had this related quote on his Facebook wall the other day:

    “One of the errors of inexperience for writers is the mistaken sense that one is reproducing reality, putting life on the page. The result of this is mere verisimilitude: the careful rendering of reality. There is always a lot of mis-placed concreteness, inert details that are only performing one function–the attempt to be realistic. In a true work of fictive art, every detail is part of an entire pattern of meaning and expression: each detail is doing MORE than merely giving a realistic surface; each one is contributing to the matter of the story; carrying forward tension and giving character and advancing the procession of events.”


    • Thank you for this very helpful advice. You made excellent points to take to heart, and I appreciate that quote.
      Thanks for visiting and commenting. 🙂


  4. I let my characters talk and act however they want, though I admit I stay away from profanity. I think the biggest mistake a writer can do is plan dialogue, because then it feels stilted and stiff.


    • Welcome to my blog.
      I appreciate that you stay away from profanity. I think it often adds little more than shock value, but perhaps in adult novels it also depends on the situation the character finds himself or herself in at the moment. It’s a matter of choice, I guess.
      I agree about the dialogue; it’s easier to write when your let the characters just talk.
      Thanks for your comment! 🙂


  5. I’m like you, Lynn, I let my characters speak their mind. Now that I’m writing for the inspirational market, I’m careful about expletives, but my bad guys swear, cuss, curse (I don’t write the words just mention the fact that they do, as in: “He swore.”) My characters “tell” me what they want and who they are. On occasion I edit a bit. The main character in my WIP has just informed me that she has a tattoo. I”m not sure about my reaction to that…


    • oooooooh, a tattoo! Well, Sue, you don’t have to get one, just tell about it. 😉
      Your writing is so interesting to read, perhaps your characters being free to be themselves is one of the reasons your stories are very easy to enjoy.
      Thanks for your comment, Sue. 🙂


  6. Thanks for giving me tips on writing with dialogue! I write the dialogue as I hear it, but then “clean it up”. I don’t swear, so my CHARACTERS don’t swear!


    • I look forward to reading your books, Erik. I’m sure they will be fun, interesting, and great for everyone to enjoy. 🙂
      Thanks for commenting.


  7. I let the characters speak for themselves, but I do go back and clean up the dialogue. I often insert ‘well’, ‘ah’, ‘eh’ and ‘just’ words everywhere. My characters don’t need them.

    My characters are polite only if their circumstances say they are. They don’t swear often and when they do, it’s darn or something like that. I think of the almost 500,000 I’ve written the past few years, I used the F-bomb only once. It came out of the character’s mouth so easily I knew it’d be mistake to remove it. The circumstances was right, and I’m sure he’s used it in the past, but only once in my story.

    I love using accents. In fact, the man in the romance novel I’m editing has a thick accent. It’s fun putting words into his mouth.


  8. Oh, I write to please myself. I figure if I’m pleased, I’m bound to please at least one other reader.


  9. I never write my characters lines. I listen and type what they say. Sometimes my characters swear, though not a lot. They prefer sarcasm when they’re making a point. 😉 I think you have to let your characters be who they are. Having said that, if one of them has an accent, I’ll mention it in the narration. I won’t alter spelling of words to reflect the accent because that slows down the reader as they try to figure out what on earth the character is saying.


    • I so agree about letting your characters be who they are. I find it utterly amazing how they exist at all! 🙂 Writing characters’ stories and conversations is an adventure in itself.
      It’s so true what you said about accents slowing readers down. It has done so to me as I have tried “to figure out what on earth the character is saying.”

      Thank you for adding to this topic, Kelly. It is very interesting to me as I don’t have much writing experience in this way yet. 🙂


  10. Great question.. I don’t think about it. I let the words come out as they would in a normal conversation. I don’t write in accents or dialects because if not done right it can be a cluster. I can’t offer any strong advise here other than to let the character talk on the page. I realize that sounds odd but since dialogue is the only thing that came naturally to me when I started writing stories I don’t think about it too much. Kelly is right – let it flow.


    • Thanks, Brenda. To someone who writes it doesn’t sound odd at all. So far, that is what seems to work for me, and dialect trips me up so I don’t tackle that. Thank you for contributing.


  11. Every story I’ve ever written began with a character in mind. I like writing in first person because it allows me to become the character I’m writing. I don’t always write first person though. For me, dialogue is like playing make-believe when we were kids and acting things out. I often say the dialogue in my head while writing, feel my characters emotions, as I imagine what they are going through. I don’t write things as I hear them, but as I say them, feel them. I need to become the characters I write about.

    I try to keep dialogue lively. When we speak we often only say what is necessary. Seldom do we go into long explanations. The person we’re speaking to is able to understand what we’re meaning without any long explanation. I love dialogue because it is so telling. We gain so many insights through dialogue.

    I really like the language the mc in my next novel uses. Her language is pretty casual, and much of it picked up from the adults she grew up around, yet comes up with some pretty unique phrases on her own. She doesn’t curse, but still manages to get that tough side of her across.

    Also be mindful not to have your character thinking too many things, or explaining too much while they’re having a conversation with another. It pulls the reader out of the narative. Just today I went back over such a chapter and realized I had done this. Once fixed, the dialogue went much smoother. The things I thought needed to be said, I’ll work into the story later on.

    I write to please myself but, that said, there are certain rules that some publishers follow when writing for children. For some publishers it’s a big thing. “Reading up” is one of them, meaning that readers want to read about kids older than themselves. It’s a good thing to keep in mind when deciding what age your MC will be and obviously your dialogue will reflect the age of your reader. You certainly would not use curse words if your audience was 8-12, but you could say so and so cursed, allowing things to be indicated without actually saying them.

    Okay, I got carried away. I’ll stop. I hope some of this was helpful. All writers have their own way of writing, finding what works takes time.. Good luck, Lynn… Great post BTW


    • Laura, I very much appreciate your thoughtful, thorough comment. I find it interesting that you prefer to write as the character, and I wonder if I could convincingly do that. Perhaps, because I am an observer and often feel as if I am watching life instead of really living it, that is why I watch and listen to my characters. I narrate or show – more than speak from within. Perhaps that also gives me a more non-committal position – (sounds as if I have ‘issues’, doesn’t it?) – because I think it would be quite difficult to ‘be’ the character telling the whole story.

      My discovery is that I, too, love dialogue. It’s kind of like eavesdropping in a good way with no ill-intentioned motives. In writing dialogue of the characters in my novel, I seem to write with an understanding of their feelings. I fully understand what you said about the character thinking too many things, it tends to bog down the reader and start a slide of focus.

      Thanks for the “reading up” reminder. I remember as a young reader I liked stories with characters my own age or a few years older. I think that’s something that may have to be fine-tuned in the editing. This is a very slow process for me.

      I am really looking forward to reading your upcoming novels, Laura. Thanks so much for taking time during your blog break to “get carried away” here. 🙂 Happy summer!


  12. First, thank you for the comment on my blog about multiple POV’s.
    I saw this post of yours and thought I would just add my thought on characters. I let my characters talk as they like. If it doesn’t sound natural then I won’t write it. But if the reader needs to know something I hope I can show it through action or tell them through a bit of narrative telling in the characters POV. If a character has to be censored or forced in a direction I think readers can tell that and the part of the character is lost. My stories are character and dialogue driven so to me, letting them be who they are is essential.

    I feel like good, true dialogue helps move a story along and keeps the story from becoming dry. Let your characters talk as you hear them – would you want to changed.


I look forward to reading your greatly appreciated comments. Thanks for making my day! :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.