Friday, October 31, 2014


In our continuing quest for writing excellence (yes, we do strive for that!), here's this month's question for mystery authors Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini (aka Victoria Abbott), and Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase).

What brings a character more to life -- physical description, dialogue, or action?


Character is effectively revealed in all these ways, and as in writing in general, a balance of description, dialogue and action creates the best effect. All three engage different senses which are essential to providing the reader with a fully rounded impression. Physical description allows the reader to picture the character in the scene as an observer, whereas through dialogue, the reader hears the character and almost feel like a participant in the conversation. Action, of course, sweeps the reader up in the drama and tension. Whether it’s a headlong race through the woods or a delicately sipped cup of tea, a well-written action scene makes us feel the character in our bones.


I’m going to say all three and add in a fourth dimension, internal, as in thinking and feeling. Just concentrating on only one or two of these would create a flat, lifeless character that would fade into the page. The reader needs to be able to envision what the character looks like through descriptive text and what he or she sounds like through dialogue. Dialogue and internal monologue also provide a window into the character’s mind, what he or she is thinking and feeling. The character is further fleshed out by their actions and interactions with other characters, with the setting and with the situation. Using all four techniques will transform a character of words into a living, thinking and feeling person, who jumps from the page.


We want to know what the character looks like. We don't want that to be either Barbie or Ken, as a rule, but we don't want a lot of talk about it either. Good to know about height, colouring, body type etc. Having said that, dialogue and action really let the reader get to know the character, so in my opinion they're both much more important than appearance. In fact, not every author talks about the physical traits of their characters and some never tell you what they look like. In addition to the dialogue and action, the character has to really need or want some result that isn't easy and may not even be likely. The writer of course will just make it practically impossible for the character to have what is so important. That will have an influence on their actions and action, of course, IS character.


Of course, all are important elements in presenting a well-rounded character to readers, and in particular, one that readers can easily identify and hopefully, in the case of the protagonist, bond with. However, if I have to pick one, it would be dialogue. That gets to the essence of the character and through the choice of words, can best describe a character's inner being. Of course, dialogue is the beginning. The writer uses it to give a physical description of the character. Dialogue is also very important in the pacing of a mystery. If there's a lot of action and the pacing is fast, it will obviously keep readers who enjoy that style of mystery, coming back for more. Dialogue can also fill in the gaps whereas, it's not readily seen by description nor by the character's actions.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have your own question you'd like to submit? Please leave a comment here or on Facebook!

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