Writing: Using Your Characters’ Words to Develop Their Character

When I mention using words as part of character development, I’m not just talking about writing dialogue. Dialogue can progress the plot and reveal thoughts, but the words your character chooses to use reveal much more than those.

Here are a few things your character’s word choice reveal, well, his or her character:

  • Dialect: Dialect reveals not only where a person grew up, but also what economic class she might Gail from.
  • Grammar: How educated is your character?
  • Slang use: How proper is your character, or how proper does he wish to be perceived? Does she use proper English in one setting and revert to cussing like a sailor in another?
  • Speaking with kindness: Does your character take care to be verbally gentle with others, or does she rip them apart the moment they make a mistake and display weakness?
  • Speaking with Contempt: Generally, authors reserve this for villains, but your hero might despise another character and speak to him with vitriol flowing from his lips. If your character views others as being beneath him, this will come out in his words.
  • Temperament: A hot head can switch from “gushy sweet” to “hide the sharp objects” in a few nanoseconds. A more patient person will keep her temper (and therefore keep the words) from flying.
  • Wit: Your character might be very witty, and this will come out in her words.
  • Surly/sarcasm: Your character may be a Debbie Downer or full of sarcasm. This can reveal a bit of what is going on inside his head without out and out telling your reader, “Jack was annoyed with his lot in life.”
  • Words not matching actions: I love the interplay of words and actions, especially when they don’t match. Think of the verbally harsh sergeant who would do anything to protect his soldiers.
  • Verbal self defense: When does your character choose to defend himself? One of my favorite lines in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back occurs after Princess Leia tells Han Solo he’s a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking need herder.” Han’s immediate reply, “Who’s scruffy looking?” implies that the other insults didn’t phase him much.

When you are building your characters, be sure to write their dialogue in such a way that you can just replace one character with another without major rewrites. Give them their own speech patterns. It will make them feel more real, making the reader more likely to buy into the story.

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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New M. B. Weston’s Corner Video: Show, Don’t Tell Using Description & Sensory Details

This is the final segment of a four-part series I’m doing on my YouTube Channel about “show, don’t tell.” Today, we’re discussing how to use description and sensory details to show instead of tell. Make your reader experience your story on a visceral level. Don’t tell your reader, “The estate was vast.” Make your reader think, “Wow, that’s a vast estate.”

Here are three ways you can show instead of tell using description, and thus give your reader an experience instead of just a story:

1) Use specific language. Be specific instead of general. Don’t tell your reader something smelled “delicious.” Say it smelled like “apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon.” Don’t say “bird.” Say “cardinal” or “robin.” Use “oak tree” or “fir” instead of just “tree.” Try “scarlet” instead of “red.” The more specific your language, the more intense the picture your reader will see in side his head when he reads your story.

2) Get into your character’s head. When your characters walk into a new environment, what do they see? What do they experience? Don’t just tell your reader the girl walked into a classroom. Instead describe a few things she might notice, such as the cute boy in the front row, the teacher’s strong oriental perfume, or the fact everyone is wearing Vineyard Vines while she can only afford hand-me-downs. If you spend time in each scene getting into your character’s head and writing directly from his or her point of view, you will discover details about your story you never knew existed, and you will also bring life to your world.

3) Use sensory details. We humans experience life through our five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. If you want to bring your story to life for your reader, present your story in the same way we experience life. Give your reader a sensory experience. (To do that effectively, see above. You’re going to have to get into your character’s head.) Ask yourself, what does he see? What does she taste? What do they feel? What does he smell? What does she hear? Pull out the sensory details and scatter them throughout the scene. It will make your story come alive.

This concludes my “Show, Don’t Tell” videos. I’ll be starting new writing videos next week, so be sure to check them out!

If you’re interested, here’s a list of the prior three “Show, Don’t Tell” segments:

For a laugh, you’ll also want to check out my Thanksgiving video on what writers are thankful for.

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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New Thanksgiving Video: M. B. Weston’s Corner – What Writers are Thankful For (tongue in cheek, of course)

It’s Thanksgiving, and what better way to celebrate the holiday than by sharing what we writers are most thankful for. From our gratitude to writing (which gives us an excuse to avoid people), to cliches and passive voice (which help us criticize other writers), to Greek mythology & the Bible (otherwise we’d have to make up our own plots), this is a tongue in cheek list of what makes writers grateful:

Writing: Writers tend to be introverts, and writing gives us an excuse to avoid socializing with people.

Social Media: Thank you to social media, the platform that lets us develop relationships without needing to engage in an actual conversation.

Friends & Family: Without you, we would all be guilty of writing too much…

Greek Mythology & the Bible (and a Hero’s Journey): Thanks to these guys, we don’t have to make up our own plots.

The Thesaurus: Without a thesaurus, the quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy river. With a thesaurus, the nimble, umber vixen bounded across the sluggish stream.

Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Thank you to the book with the most practical writing advice you can find in 85 pages. And because walking into a coffee shop holding a copy sends a signal to everyone that you are a serious writer.

Spelling & Grammar Check: Because there, they’re, and their; your and you’re; and two, to, and too, come up much too frequently.

Cliches, tropes, passive voice, and “being” verbs: Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to elevate ourselves by criticizing other writers.

Writing Conventions: With 300 writing nerds (including yours truly) gathered into one place, we finally get to be the cool people.

Tea: Drinking tea makes us feel British, and many of the worlds best writers are British.

Coffee: Let’s face it, at 2:00 in the morning with your back against a writing deadline, tea just isn’t going to cut it.

Coffee Shops: Because for some reason a $3.00 cup of coffee and random crowd noise stimulates the muse.

And in All Seriousness, a Warm Thanksgiving Thank You to:

Our Readers: Readers, you are why we write. Thank you so much for the encouragement you give us, for the books you buy, and for letting writers share a part of us with you.

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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Character Development: Using your Character’s Thoughts

When I give character development writing workshops, I discuss the five ways you can show character as express your character’s personality:

  • Appearance
  • Actions
  • Words (dialect, vocabulary, etc.)
  • Perceptions
  • Thoughts

Showing a character’s thoughts in well-timed doses can illuminate and help develop his or her personality. And think about it. We humans are what we think about, and our thoughts reveal our true selves. Our character’s function the same way. If you want your character’s to feel real to your readers, they need to function as we do.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using thoughts to develop your characters:

Our nature comes out in our thoughts: Sociopaths think sociopathic thoughts. Judgmental people think judgmental thoughts. Naive people think naive thoughts… You get the picture. In the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen was a teenager full of angst and post-traumatic depression. The book revealed this so consistently through her thoughts that many people enjoyed watching the movie more than reading the book because they didn’t want to spend any more time in her head with her thoughts than they had to.

Showing someone’s thought processes can reveal his character. For example, in my first book, A Prophecy Forgotten, I use my character Maurice’s thoughts to show his ability to read people:

If Maurice had to venture a guess, he would say the captain’s poor spirits were the result of receiving an assignment he thought was beneath him.

(He’s dead on. Captain Picante had just been assigned to guard Tommy.)

I also throw in what Maurice thinks about his ability to read people:

Now Maurice never considered himself bright, but even he knew that picking a fight with Davian, Seraph Zephor’s right hand soldier, was downright foolish. But picking a fight with Major Davian’s men while Davian was in the vicinity? That was practically suicide.

g Maurice’s self doubt enhances his character.

Use thoughts to express your character’s true desires. My main character, Davian, is a goal-oriented soldier. He meets his objectives, he doesn’t hang out to have fun… He’s the guy no one invites to parties and also the guy no one wants to get on the wrong side of. Most people would guess he was eyeing power and trying to move up the chain of command. They would be wrong, however, and I try to hint at that using Davian’s thoughts.

He slapped yet another bloodsucker and wished for the 3,424th time that Elysia and Morvenia would agree to take a year of cease-fire so he could go home, read a couple of good scrolls, and maybe start a vegetable garden.

Don’t forget the interplay between thoughts, actions, and words. For example, Davian and his men cross paths with a suspicious gnome. Davian’s thoughts about the gnome are quite different than his words:

The mornacht had opened the sack and was counting its contents: cherubian drekels. Why would a gnome have cherubian drekels, and why would the mornachts accept them as payment?

If he’s just a messenger, it makes sense, thought Davian.

He shook his head. Impossible—absolutely impossible. No cherubian would ever join forces with the mornachts. The gnome probably stole the drekels. Davian pocketed his spyglass and rejoined Eric and Marcus behind the rock.

“Everything okay, Major?” asked Marcus.

“Just fine.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using thoughts:

  • Only use thoughts when you can’t express what is going on in a character’s head through actions or words. Show, Don’t Tell.
  • Keep thoughts in the character’s voice.
  • If your narrator is first person or third person limited (i.e. not omniscient) you will need to use dialogue or other “tricks” to show the thoughts of your non-POV characters rather than stating them directly. For example, my character Marcus isn’t a POV character and my narrator doesn’t get inside his head. I wanted the readers to know what he was thinking so I let Davian “tell” them.

Marcus pursed his lips together and gave the others—especially Eric—a slight glare, which told Davian that Marcus disagreed with the rest of the unit for what he would have called their outright insubordination, but silently agreed that going out the port was too dangerous.

How have you used thoughts to express your character’s character?

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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The Elysian Chronicles Poisonwood Trees Are Real

When the tour guide at the Queen Elizabeth Botanical Gardens told us that the manchineel tree‘s sapm was so toxic it would burn anyone standing under it when it rained, most people backed away. My thought: I am so putting this in my novel… And thus, the Elysian Chronicles poisonwood tree was born.

That’s what we writers do. We steal. We steal ideas from nature, from watching human behavior, from science… If the idea sparks something creative inside us, chances are it will end up in a novel or a short story somewhere.

In this case, I needed to create a more dangerous environment for my hero, Davian, and his fellow soldiers. If you know me, you know I’m a fan of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I especially love the idea of Mirkwood and the river that ran through that cast a sleep spell on anyone who touched its water. When I heard about this “tree of death” as some call it, I pounced. It gave me something better than Mirkwood and it’s river of almost eternal sleep. I got to create a forest of trees my characters couldn’t even touch. Trees whose sap leaked into a river of acid. And, better yet, trees whose wood could make lethal, excruciating arrows because that’s how I roll.

If you’re a writer, artist, or any other type of creator, your best ideas will often come from life experiences. Maybe a couple talking will inspire a romance story. It might be a story about missing hikers that gives the horror writer his muse. It might be a pair of blue overalls and old man wears that inspire a mystery story. You never know where ideas come from, but when they strike, use them. Write them down; store them. In my case, paying attention to a guide in a garden led to an entire forest of acidic trees… (That sounded better in my head.)

How about you? What has inspired some of your greatest ideas?

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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New Video: M. B. Weston’s Corner: Show, Don’t Tell Using Dialogue

Today we’re talking about how to Show, Don’t Tell in your writing using dialogue, and what better way to illustrate the importance of dialogue than to bring on the character Wilson from Cast Away as a special guest. In this video, I’m discussing three ways you can use dialogue to enhance your story and show instead of tell:

  • Show Your Character’s thoughts
  • Show Backstory and Unique Concepts
  • Show Your Character’s Character

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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Chalk Paint for Geeks, Cosplayers, and YouTubers…

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My next YouTube video is on “Show, Don’t Tell Using Dialogue,” and I figured I could best show dialogue’s importance by bringing in Wilson, the infamous volleyball from Castaway. The problem: Wilsons are really hard to come by… I decided to make my own Wilson.

I don’t want to spend too much time on props for a simple five minute video, so I needed a way to age a volleyball quickly with whatever materials I had on hand. Fortunately, I am into chalk painting.

For those of you who haven’t discovered chalk paint (not to be confused with chalkboard paint), it is amazing. It sticks to almost anything without primer, and it easily sands away to create a weathered, aged look–especially when you add dark wax. It goes on thick, and unless you are using white, you usually only need 2 coats for complete coverage (and that is without primer).

I’ve been using chalk paint on my furniture and my art boxes in my Etsy store for a few years now, and until this week, I never realized that chalk paint could be of some use to cosplayers and anyone who designs stage props–especially if you need your props to look aged with little to no effort. My favorite brand is Annie Sloan’s. (She createdchalk paint, so you know it’s good.) Hers are hard to find, however, so you might want to check out Americana Decor’s chalk paint Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or Home Depot.

Instead of recreating a “How to Chalk Paint” blog, which you can find with a simple google search, I figured I would share how I used chalk paint to make Wilson.

Here’s what I started with:

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  • A Wilson volleyball. It was technically the wrong kind of Wilson ball, but seriously, this is just for a five minute video (although I will probably use it more than once).
  • Americana Decor Chalk Paint in the color, Romance, that I had on hand. If I really felt like being OCD, I would have mixed in some blue and brown to give it the dried blood look, but I went with bright red knowing it would take me too long to find the perfect color.
  • Annie Sloan’s French Linen Chalk Paint
  • Annie Sloan’s dark wax (not pictured.
  • Painters tape (not pictured either)

Steps:

  1. I needed to paint Wilson’s face. After running some tests, I discovered that chalk paint sticks so well that I couldn’t paint the face on and then wipe off the paint for the eyes, nose, and mouth the way Tom Hanks does in the movie. Instead, I cut out the eyes, nose, and mouth out of painters tape, painted the design using the Romance color over the tape, and then removed it. I smudged the sides to make it look more realistic.
  2. After the red dried, I mixed water with the French Linen in about a 1 to 1 ratio. (Crafters call this a “wash.”) I used an old rag to wipe the paint on and another to wipe it excess off.
  3. After it dried, I decided it wasn’t dark enough, so I got out some dark wax and did the same thing: wipe on, wipe off.
  4. I mutilated the volleyball.
  5. A palm tree outside dropped some twiggy-things last week, so I grabbed a bunch, cut them to size, and stuck them in Wilson’s head.

Here’s is the weathered finish, which is easier to see than in the top picture:

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It took me less than an hour, and I only encountered one problem. My two-year-old had a nightmare and started screaming literally the moment my hand was covered in red paint. That was fun…

If you are a cosplayer or a stage designer, I strongly encourage you to check out chalk paint. Not having to start with primer is a huge time saver.

Note: I’m not sponsored by anyone. I didn’t receive any product for free, and Wilson, Annie Sloan, and Americana Decor have no idea I’m posting about this. (If you visit a lot of crafting sites, you will know why I included this paragraph.)

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Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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