Monday, May 3, 2010

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I love complicated, flawed, devious, tempted characters. They’re fun to write and they’re a blast to read. It’s even better when these are main characters in a novel – the heroes of the tale, and not just the villains.

One of the ways you can show a character’s struggle against their inner bad boy/girl, is to have them say one thing and do another. Dialogue is powerful and can jack-knife a story in all sorts of directions – but you can create whopper moments by letting your characters be real. Real people renege on promises, they say they’re going to workout all morning and end up crashing on the couch watching The Quest for the Holy Grail (for the millionth time), they lie, they omit – often times increasing the drama in their lives.

Let’s give you a quick visual reference. Quentin Tarantino is the master of this kind of dialogue/action juxtaposition. Here’s my favourite bit from Pulp Fiction (lines courtesy of

Honey Bunny: [about to rob a diner] I love you, Pumpkin.
Pumpkin: I love you, Honey Bunny.
Pumpkin: [Standing up with a gun] All right, everybody be cool, this is a robbery!

The benign exchange of “I love yous” right before this young couple goes postal is insane, shocking, and good for a dark laugh. So why not employ a bit of deception, harmless, or otherwise? I wonder how your character’s contradictory actions will crank up the tension and reveal hidden depths...

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