Thursday, April 5, 2012

Presenting Dilemmas Convincingly

When presenting your characters with dilemmas, it is important to remember 3 things about dialogue: 1. Stay in the time in which your story is set.
2. Stay in character.
3. Show the dilemma vividly.

Rule 1: Stay in the right time -- The same dilemma can be stated countless diferent ways, depending on your setting. Take a look at the following example...
Modern Day:
"I have a bad feeling about this. We've got no idea what's down there!"
"Tis a dank and murk-filled depth to explore,
what dangers lurk there can scarcely be ignor'd"
(Note - Well, I never claimed to be a playwright, did I?)

The exception to this rule is if your story has time travel. It is likely that a World War II fighter pilot would speak differently than the modern-day Nebraskans he meets when his plane slips from being over Germany in 1944 to over the Great Plains today. In fact, having the pilot speak of music from the 80s would be anachronistic and distracting to the readers.

Rule 2: Stay in character -- No two people would state a dilemma in exactly the same way, despite what you may have seen in bad horror movies. Even if they are from the same time, people with different cultures will speak of situations differently.

For example, when someone is talking and then suddenly goes off topic, you might ask what happened, or comment that they sounded confused. My brother would say, "You jumped several tracks," in a reference to the idiom 'train of thought', whereas my father would tease the speaker about going on a "Hartonian Tangent". (He had a friend in high school, last name of Hart, who spoke randomly more often than not.)

If even a father and son don't necessarily use the same speech patterns, then you should definitely consider how differently people from varying countries, social classes, or cultures would phrase dilemmas.

Rule 3: Show the dilemma vividly -- Describe the unfortunate choices before your characters in detail, so that the reader knows why they make the decision on which they eventually settle.

For example, if your characters are exploring a haunted house, and someone gets trapped, some people can stay with the trapped person, bring them food and water, and other people can go for help. Presenting this as one character saying, "So, who's coming with me?" doesn't do this choice justice. Try having one of the characters start to hyperventilate and shout about how this is the point in the movie where the split up and people start dying.

That way, when the characters do make a decision, the reader will have a sense of dread regardless of which option is chosen. This will add depth, conviction, and characterization to your story, not to mention a healthier word count!

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