1. Put yourself in the moment. Literally sit or stand in the exact position you have written your character. Imagine the setting and the context. What do you naturally do? Do you reach up to fix your hair, do you sniffle, do you look up at the ceiling while you speak the next lines. Some of these gestures can be written in to give your characters a three-dimensional effect.
2. Slow down! In the past, I have assigned directed “Journal Entry Topics” to give students a jumping point for writing. I have seen students respond to a topic such as, “Tell about a memorable event you shared with a special person,” by writing the following:
I went to the best concert ever with my friend, Sam.
The student tells me he’s “finished.” He has answered the question. I respond by asking the student to try slowing down the action. Maybe you can picture yourselves walking through the doors and scanning your tickets. Did you find your seats easily? What was the opening scene for the concert? Was it startling? Was it soft with a gradual build? Did the audience stand up? Did you buy popcorn or other paraphernalia? What was the highlight or the best part? Describe that in detail including your reaction. Can you include your physical reaction (my heart was pounding with excitement, I teared up a little…)? Can you include your mental reaction (I was reminded of…, I suddenly noticed…)? I encourage my student to start there. Sometimes after this little conversation he/she is ready to take a step back. If the student still isn’t ready, I might give him or her a sentence stem like: “Sam and I nearly skipped down the narrow aisle that was the ramp leading to our seats: F, E, D...C! We had seats in row C! That meant …” I would deliberately leave a cliffhanger for the student to fill in.
3. Use, and don’t use, dialogue. Dialogue can be a great way to reveal character. But, you should use your dialogue wisely and conservatively for a purpose. Your characters speaking back and forth should not look, feel, or sound like a script for a drama. If the conversation the characters are having does not progress the plot and/or it isn’t necessary to the development of the characters, then out it goes. Find another way if needed to bridge the gap of action. For example, instead of:
“It’s time to get going!” said Melvin.
“See you later, bro!” Enrique said with excitement.
“Yeah!” Melvin replied.
You could write:
With a brief nod to Melvin, Enrique turned on his heel and ran south
along the fence. Halfway down, he jumped up in the air and raised his
fist twice to pump the air. “Whoo-hoo!” he shouted.
Try these tips with your students and/or your own writing! Do you have other tips that have worked for you? Send me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org