Writers On Writing / Contradictory characters and sharpening dialogue with Eleanor Limprecht

What makes a story capture our attention? Join Eleanor Limprecht on Saturday 8 September for her one-day course, Creating Story with Character and Dialogue, to learn how she uses character and dialogue to make her stories come alive.

Eleanor Limprecht writes contemporary and historical fiction, essays, book reviews and short fiction. She is the author of three novels: The Passengers, Long Bay and What Was Left, which was shortlisted for the 2014 ALS Gold Medal. Ahead of her one-day course, Creating Story with Character and Dialogue, we spoke to Eleanor about interesting characters, creating authentic dialogue and the value of research in writing.

As a writer, what kinds of characters most pique your interest?
I’m interested in characters who are not immediately likeable, who are complicated and messy and contradict themselves (in other words: human). I’m interested in writing about (and reading about) characters who I might feel one way about at the beginning of the book or story and end up feeling another way about by the end. I’m interested in having my own preconceptions tested and my mind changed. In other words, I’m interested in characters who surprise me.

How can writers work to make their dialogue sound authentic and accurately reflect character?
Real dialogue is messy, disjointed, and consists of people often not listening and speaking over each other or talking at cross-purposes. If you have ever sat in a cafe and eavesdropped, and then written down the conversation verbatim, you know how weird it can be. And boring. So on the page, I think we can clean it up, sharpen it, but also hint at that messiness, that disjointedness. One of the best things about good dialogue is that it can do the old show-rather-than-tell trick. It can show us what a character is like, what they care deeply about and what they’re scared of; what they don’t know how to say and what they try to talk their way out of. If you’ve got a monosyllabic character who suddenly strings together a sentence, your reader is going to sit up and pay attention. What does this mean? Why is this important to him?

Later this year, you’re also leading a seminar on research skills. Is research just useful for those writing historical fiction, or have you found it useful for other forms of writing too?
Research skills are crucial for most writing projects. Unless you are writing about something you are intimately familiar with (like yourself), research skills are as necessary as caffeine. In contemporary fiction, are you writing about a part of the world you’ve never been to? What does the inside of a police station look like? What does the local radio station play? What kind of cereal does the grocery store stock? I think the more of these details you know, the more comfortably you exist inside the narrative you are writing. We talk in the seminar about how much of this we will end up using – and here’s a hint – it doesn’t matter. It’s there, somewhere, in your subconscious, doing its work.

Creating Story with Character and Dialogue with Eleanor Limprecht will take place at Writing NSW on Saturday 8 September, 10am-4pm. Book your spot here >

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