Thursday, September 5, 2013

Character Small Talk

"Hey Bob."
"Hey Jo."
"How are you Bob?"
"I'm great."
"That's good."
"How are you, Jo?"
"Oh I'm pretty good."
"That's great, Jo."
"So what have you been up to, Bob?"
"Oh, not much.  This and that.  The dog's got fleas."
"That stinks."
"So what've you been doing Jo?"
"My back hurts from mowing the lawn."
"Oh.  That stinks almost as much as my dog's fleas."
"Uh-huh.  I feel like I've got a hernia."

Aside from the incredibly ridiculous writing there, what did we learn from it?  It's boring.  And not like the kind of boring six year old's will start getting fidgety at - the kind where it'll make an elderly, wheelchair bound man start jumping off the walls screaming.

But not all small talk has to be boring.  It shouldn't be boring - nothing in your novel should be boring, and if it is, you definitely need to revise that area.  No matter what, make it at least slightly more interesting.

But that's beside the point.  Small talk has to have a destination - even if it's really little small talk.  Does it really matter to the plot?  To the character arc?  To the theme?

Each of those could be reflected in a small talk sequence, or all of them, but the importance of a small talk happenstance is not to be action oriented, nor is it to be a major revealing in a character's personality - that's what we call Big Talk.

No, small talk is meant to make a character real.  Everyone talks about trivial things in their life.  Maybe your character is radically obsessed with Pokemon, or is a dare devil extremist, but if these things aren't important to the story, character arc, or theme, they still have a purpose left for them to take up.

Possibly the greatest example of this I have read was in the Bellmaker (I highly recommend it, one of Jacques best even though its underrated), one of Brian Jacques's classic stories of Redwall.  Several of the characters had been caged inside of the evil villain's castle, and now sat gloomily about in the castle dungeon.  They began to talk - talk about trivial things.  About their home, a reminiscing of sorts.  It was almost sad, nostalgic, and bittersweet.  It was simple small talk, going over their favorite foods and customs, and yet I felt so connected to them because I knew them, I knew who they were.  They were real.

A reader will relate to someone who talks about what they like and don't like, even if they hate Pokemon, or are seriously creeped by dare devils - they'll still know the character, and the readers are going to grow to like, or at least respect, them even subtly over these small talk times.

A thing that can be often overlooked in creating a character is his hobbies.  Give him a half dozen hobbies.
Now give him three more.  No, really.  A reader will come to love a character - just simple words on a piece of paper (sometimes even digital), through knowing him.  A reader needs to know your character.  Major decisions?  Tense situations?  They're all good, but they're the big things in life.  Do we reveal part of ourselves to our best friends every week so our 'story' can go on?  No.  But we talk to them.  Just simple, small talk.  And we learn about each other, and we grow as friends.

Sometimes, small is best.

~R. A. H. Thacker


  1. Great post, and so very true. I need to work on this in my own writing, I think.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I do as well. I always overlook these kind of scenes, even though they're so very important.

  2. Awesome, Warrior. :) Loved the way you kicked it off.

  3. I like your post, WW, I have been reading a series called The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and however weird the name sounds; the book itself is incredible, an entirely new shade of writing. Patricia C. Wrede can eave small talk into a massive discovery, a plot juncture, or a communication revelation. You must read her books, the first novel is called Dealing with Dragons.
    -Z. Baner

    1. Sounds positively intriguing! ;) I'll look them up. Small talk is definitely a useful technique in writing.


Have a question? Comment? Ramble? I love to hear it all!