Once upon a time there was a writer locked in a tower. She did not grow her hair long, she did not dream of a knight so bold to rescue her. Instead she sat and thought about characters and dialogue and how she would like to declare war on adverbs. She didn’t want it to be a short and relatively peaceful war. No, she wanted all adverbs to be captured and interrogated and then inevitably executed. Maybe 2% of them would live, but the rest would die. And so one day, when she had escaped her tower, she came unto the Callan Park Centre of Writerly Deeds, and there she did enlist the help of peasant writers to join her in her war. The writer’s name was Toni Jordan, and this is the story of the day she taught a Character and Dialogue class at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre.
Toni Jordan strode through the doors of the Judith Wright room, drew her mighty whiteboard marker and declared, “Today we wage war, who is with me!”
A gentlemen opposite me adjusted his glasses and gulped. I dusted the biscuit crumbs off my woolly vest and stood up.
‘Ummm, okay…. Will we be back in time for morning tea?’
There was a murmur of agreement around the room. Morning tea was important.
‘What is food when our minds be starving?’ Toni stabbed her marker higher into the air.
‘What about lunch?’ a lady in the far corner managed to pop down a hot cuppa to say. ‘There’ll be lunch right.’
‘We’ll definitely need lunch,’ the woman sitting next to me managed to say around a mouthful of sugar snap peas. ‘I get super cranky if I don’t eat.’
‘Yeah, same.’ I nod knowingly at the green bean machine to my side. ‘I love a good literary war as much as the next person but could we perhaps declare it after lunch?’
Toni Jordan seemed to deflate on the spot, her marker sank to her side.
‘Why’s it always so fucking hard here?’ She’s not even looking at us, she’s staring at the ground as if hoping it will answer her. And truth be told it’s probably more sensible than the rest of us. ‘In Melbourne we have literary wars and cocktails more often then I change my underpants.’ An older gentleman at the back of the room begins to snigger a little. ‘WHICH IS A LOT! I change them very often, thank you very much. My underwear aren’t the problem. It’s not me, it’s you. You’re all so bloody interested in biscuits.’
‘Would you like one?’ I say.
Toni shrugs, I take it to mean yes, and pull out one of the seven packets I have brought. Our great lecturer sits down at her desk and begins to mournfully chew her way through a Belgian chocolate virtuoso.
‘Alright, let’s just do a workshop.’
And so began one of the best workshops of my life. Okay, part of the above may have been made up, but Toni Jordan did come to the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, she did teach us about character and dialogue, and she does hate adverbs. She really does.
I know at this point I am supposed to give you all the hot tips that she gave us, but quite frankly, I don’t want to because I just don’t think I would do the course justice. This was the best dialogue course I have ever done and for you to really get the benefit of it, you really should attend a workshop with Toni Jordan, or get a mentorship with her.
I’ll list a few things, but my mind is still going a mile a minute trying to process everything. It really was an extraordinary course. I think it was because we had the opportunity to do several writing tasks on the same thing, character, but focusing on different strategies each time. I guess that’s why you really had to be there. I’ll slap down a few general pointers for you, but, as I have said eleventy billion times, you really need to do a course with Toni Jordan yourself.
- Multiple protagonists makes your job harder and don’t often make the story better
- A weakness in your writing is not an excuse to shove in more protagonists
- Readers can relate to characters without them having to be the protagonist (Ron, Hermione)
- Your protagonist should either be skilled, in jeopardy, elicit sympathy, or be likeable
- Avoid having your character being still and alone where possible
- Always have subtext
- Every character matters
- Inconsistencies in character can help bring them to life
- Dialogue is to reveal character
- Dialogue for each character needs to be so distinct that you can pick it without dialogue tags
- Believability is more important than accuracy
- BAN ADVERBS! (But #notalladverbs, you can keep some)
I’m writing historical fantasy at the moment, what are you working on right now?
Toni Jordan is the only author in Australia known to have a dedicated fan page to her socks on Pinterest.
Toni Jordan’s website can be found here.
Toni Jordan twitter account can be found here.
Toni Jordan Facebook page can be found here.
Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre here.
Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Facebook here.
Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Twitter here.