Here is another topic to stir the soul and perhaps the mind.
Should our characters really speak like normal every-day people? Should they really act like Joe down the street? Or, do we need a way to give the illusion of such behavior without actually delivering mundane characters?
Oh, and sorry if you’re looking for a definitive answer here. I wish I had one.
Regular readers of UhW know that I often harken back to video for cues when building characters. I do that because as much as I wish books were the primary guide to what is and what isn’t these days, I don’t believe they can even touch the power and the draw of movies and TV.
That said, we cannot have our characters being as rude and unthinking as video characters. Our readers will notice if we never say “goodbye” at the end of a phone message, but rather look meaningfully at the receiver—or the camera—and put the phone down. Our readers will notice if we always open doors, but never—and I mean (almost) never… check it out for yourself—close doors behind ourselves. Even the front door of a house.
For video it is understood, even more widely than it is with literature, that every moment on-screen must move the story forward. Saying goodbye or closing doors doesn’t really help that much, especially when you’ve got a limited number of minutes to get your story across.
But, with a novel or a story you have more time, more leeway. The question is, how much of it should you use?
If you listen in on conversations in the grocery store or the food court at the nearest shopping mall, you’ll be dismayed at the flat inanities you hear thinly disguised as conversation. OK, to be fair, a lot of what you hear is a kind of short-hand developed over the years between friends or family members, but our readers do not have the benefit of that set of understood rules.
This is not to say you can’t imply such a relation between characters. In fact, I highly recommend it. It’s just that you dialogue cannot be a long string of “ahs, ums, and other filler sounds. Each sentence does need to move the story forward. As does each action.
So, what’s the answer? I dunno. But I would guess it is up to the writer—up to us—to find a way to disguise actions and dialogue which are clear and forward the action, as human, normal, and ordinary.
Why does this all have to be so hard? Oh, right. I know. We decided to be writers.