Laconic Characters

November 14, 2009 at 5:38 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , )


Laconic characters make me work too hard.

Probably this isn’t true and it is more that because the laconic character isn’t verbalising every thought that may cross their mind I have to think long and hard about how to convey emotions, feelings, thoughts and the character of the individual.  I have come to the realisation that I rely on dialogue to convey so much of my characters.

I discovered that I really enjoy writing dialogue when challenged on webook to write a short story using dialogue only.  The description for the project included the line ‘exposition is for wimps’.  The process of telling an entire story through character dialogue, without tags, was fascinating and interesting.  Finding just the right words for a character to say to express everything and to describe a setting and give a sense of movement, without having the character dive headfirst into a monologue, was a fantastic experience.  It made me think long and hard about every line and every word.

Reverse the situation.

Write a short story using at least three characters and no dialogue.  Totally possible and yet my efforts are flat and dull and the characters are boring and generic.  I revise, look at every single line, map out what I want from each character and where I want the story to go.  Read through and tweak it all again.  Final reading, boring.  The story I constructed is good.  There is a clear and interesting plot but without the dialogue the characters are distant and without connecting to the characters the story just passes me by.

Usually this doesn’t bother me as I just make my characters verbose.  However, in one of my many works in progress, I described a character as laconic.  She was supposed to be.  It very much defined her.  Then I reread the ms.  Wow, she talks a lot for a laconic character.  Time to revise but now I have to really work at bringing out her character without her speaking.  Which brings me back to the original statement that laconic characters are making me work way too hard, or maybe they are just forcing me to think about what I’m writing.

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9 Comments

  1. corra said,

    I find dialogue easy to write and exposition more difficult. Yet the exposition is the beauty in the work, I think, so to read good exposition is for me like viewing art. The dialogue brings the story to life, and the exposition deepens it.

    I’ve tried writing an all-dialogue story before but never all-exposition. I might give that a try!

    Do you actually tell the reader in the story you’re writing that the character in question is ‘laconic’? Wouldn’t it be better to merely show this but never say it?

    Just a suggestion. 😉

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Early in the story two other characters are discussing this character and their descriptor of her is mostly laconic. Which could be a fault in their perception of the character and doesn’t necessarily have to remain consistent but at the same time it is kind of confusing for the reader for her to be too different from this initial description.
      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Dialogue is easy for me and so I include a lot of it. No laconic characters for me! 🙂

    I just finished reading “Those Who Save Us” and the author made a stylistic decision not to use quotation marks. Her dialogue was told, narrated, instead of marked off with quotes. Very odd. I’ve read interviews with her that now she wished she hadn’t done it!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Carol Kilgore said,

    Mostly my characters are chatty, too, even when I don’t mean them to be. Every once in a while I have one who is more introspective, but not often. On editing, I often swap bits of exposition for dialogue and bits of dialogue for exposition. When I do the latter, it lets me explore more.

  4. rachelhamm said,

    I find I have a similar problem, dialogue just seems to flow out of me and exposition and description does not. Really doesn’t. For NANO this year I’ve written pages on end with only dialogue and the occasional dialogue tag. I think the characters are interesting, but it’s hard to move a book forward with only dialogue. It really doesn’t help that my two character are a therapist and his patient and the only time they interact is when they are in his office, the patient on the couch and him at his desk. They HAVE to talk.

    For your laconic character, maybe convert half of her spoken dialogue to internal thoughts. I’m sure people who don’t speak very much think just as much as everyone else. That way you will still convey to the reader everything about her character that her dialogue initially showed.

  5. Cassandra Jade said,

    Thanks all for the comments and suggestions. I really should stick to chatty characters in future, but I really feel this time I should keep working on trying something a bit different. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. At least I’m learning from the experience.

  6. cenewgent said,

    dialogue is tricky and wonderful thing. i used to be rubbish at it, but had a teacher who busted my ass about it over and over, and think i’ve a decent handle on it now. i agree with your sentiment in your comment that you “should keep working on trying something a bit different. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. At least I’m learning from the experience.” we will never progress as writers if we’re so afraid of failure.

    back to dialogue: i’m assuming you’re aware of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”?

    thanks for stopping by my blog.

  7. corra said,

    Hello, Cassandra!

    I’ve been here once already. 🙂

    Just a quick word to let you know I’ve nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger badge – an award that can be posted in your sidebar. Click here for details:

    http://writary.wordpress.com/2009/11/14/id-like-to-thank-the-academy/

    Have a good one!

    ~ corra

  8. Cassandra Jade said,

    Thanks cenewgent and corra for the comments.

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