A Dialogue with Dr. X

While I was running last week, I listened to a song I haven’t listened to in a long time. The song is called Railroad Bill, and it was written by an acquaintance of mine, Greg Tamblyn. It’s a great song about a songwriter who can’t get his character to cooperate with him.

It got me thinking about my own writing. In the fiction I’ve been writing lately, my characters seem kind of flat. I wondered how my characters would react if I dialogued with them the way Greg does with Railroad Bill.

Here’s my try:

Author (Me): Now, Dr. X, you are going to overdose that patient with morphine!

Dr. X: What? I am not! You would never do that!

Author: Well, of course I would never do that! But you, on the other hand, are just a character in my story—I can make you do whatever I want!

Dr. X: Yeah, but if you have me kill someone off, people might think you’ve really done that.

Author: That’s crazy! I would never do that!

Dr. X: People might wonder (said in a really annoying sing-song voice.)

Author: That’s ridiculous! This is fiction. If I listen to you, none of my characters would ever do anything wrong, get into any trouble, or make a really bad decision.

Dr. X: What’s wrong with that? I’m Dr. X, the kind, caring, compassionate doctor who dedicates his life to his patients.

Author: What’s wrong with that? It’s boring, that’s what’s wrong with that. No one wants to read something like that, except maybe as an obituary.

Dr. X: You can’t make me do it!

Author: Yes, I can! You are not me; you are not even a version of me. You are a made up character and you will have many bad things happen to you before the end of my story. You will end up a little sadder and a little wiser, but you will not bore my readers!

My dialogue is not as funny as Greg Tamblyn’s, but my conversation with Dr. X taught me something really important: I’ve been afraid to let my characters make bad decisions and do bad things because I’ve been afraid people will think I made those decisions and I did those things.

But characters who do nothing wrong are extremely boring.

So my characters are now going to make all kinds of bad decisions and then do some really bad things as a result. They are going to end up a little sadder but a little wiser. And they are going to be very interesting.

What could you learn from a dialogue with one of your characters?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’ve been writing dialogues in my journal for years, but I never thought to dialogue with one of my characters before this. I’m going to do it again the next time I’m stuck in my story!


10 thoughts on “A Dialogue with Dr. X

  1. Haha, “except maybe as an obituary”. That made me laugh.

    I have trouble in this area sometimes as well. For me, it’s more that I get attached to them. It’s sometimes hard to take them down the road of no return. But, once you do…people will love it.

    • Hi lindsaycummingswrites,
      I agree, sometimes I just like the characters and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them, but that gets boring, too!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. Amusing dialog! My characters get up to all sorts of things since they’re the ones who help me find out the plots. Their abrupt turns keep it interesting.

    • Hi Mark,
      I think I need to let my characters have a little more free reign! Thanks for reading and commenting!


  3. Hi Diane, I found that when my characters won’t do something I want them to do, it is because I did not drop them into the wrong situation. If I did, and they did something wrong, I could blackmail them for the rest of the story.

    One of the wonderful parts of the Ackerman / Puglisi Thesaurus of Positive Characterisitics is the section on challenging situations for a person with a certain characteristic. Expose them to that situation long enough, like that barking dog in the night that won’t stop, and they will snap, and do something they shouldn’t have. Then you own them.


  4. That was useful stuff, thanks (funny too). As a generalisation, if I first “discover” my characters through a bit of dialogue that comes to me they are much more authentic and interesting than the ones that exist in a story and just need to be “fleshed out”; the latter ones never amount to much.

    Anyway, thanks for the fab practical tip.

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