(Editor’s Note: This post was first published on 31 October 2008.)
A professor at Pitt paid me a compliment that I greatly appreciated. She was critiquing how my characters talked. You see all my characters speak basically the same way: in my own version of Hemingway’s clipped, encoded dialogue. They don’t say all they want to say and sometimes what they do say is slightly oblique to the reader’s ears. But the professor said my characters had “different agendas.” In other words, my characters wanted different things.
In your own stories, don’t explain what your characters want. Let them show what they want through their actions and dialogue. Just make sure you know what they want. And they had better want different things. Write from the inside out.