Complement dialogue-heavy scenes amidst character-reinforcing activities

Tags: Writing CharacterizationCharacterization


When writing a scene that involves a great deal of dialogue, it can be beneficial to give the characters something to do. Two people chatting at a kitchen table is boring; two people chatting while is trying to keep dinner for boring is interesting. The adjacent activities add conflict as well as possibly creating tension. For example, something as simple as a timer that is about to go off can create anticipation in the reader's mind. The timer suddenly ringing, then, can punctuate the scene in a meaningful way.

  • Ideally these activities will reinforce something about the character. See Setting complements characterizationSetting complements characterization
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]] [[Setting]]

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    and Keep characters focusedKeep characters focused
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Elizabeth George calls these activities "talking head avoidance devices" or THADs. THADs, she says, serve many purposes:

  1. They can reveal something about the non-viewpoint character (who is often the one engaging in the activity) while creating opportunities for the POV character to react and assess them
  2. It adds depth to the character by revealing their hobbies, preoccupations, and passions
  3. It can help reveal characters' emotional state (see Show don't tell)
  4. It can increase tension through the activity itself
  5. It can foreshadow, set the tone, or underscore the theme of the novel or story


Bird 2016 George 2020