There is no other feeling like reaching those critical events in your story that cause your characters to change. Being the devils that we are, writers love to see their main characters cradle the corpse of their closest companion just before they climb the Mountain of Dhoom, we love it when our romantic subplots reach that long-awaited smooching scene, and our eyes grow teary when we see the characters finishing their story arcs. In a nutshell, events can take a character’s development and accelerate it in unprecedented ways. But today we’re here to talk about another way to develop character, namely, banter.
Far too often, I see writers that get far too caught up in dropping in multiple dramatic moments into their story. Lots of plot arcs, characters arcs, and fights, all being tossed about the setting of their novels. This is not necessarily bad, but it can have a negative effect on your characters. When you have so much PLOT, it’s going to restrict the reader’s perception of your character. It’ll give him the feeling that they only exist for the purposes of furthering the storyline. And this is where we employ banter.
What’s banter, you say? Well chances are that if you’ve ever gone out into human society for more than an hour or so, you’ve probably heard banter on multiple occasions. Hell, maybe you’re not a hopeless recluse (trying not to point fingers here), and you’ve been able to engage in a few sessions of banter yourself. But if you still want a definition, then I will oblige.
Banter is essentially any type of conversation in which the participants make fun of one another in a cheerful and playful manner. Basically, if you’ve ever had close friends, you participate in banter all the time. But let’s not digress here, why is this even important for writing a book?
After all, doesn’t every line of dialogue have to exist to further the plot? Doesn’t every scene have to contribute something to the narrative of the story that you’re trying to tell? Banter is vapid and superficial interaction by its very nature, so wouldn’t you bore the reader when you use it? These are all fine questions, but they come from a half-hearted view of the School of Writing Philosophy that says that every word in the novel must have relevance of a kind.
It is true that each line should have a purpose, but people often mistake this for each line having to advance the story. The real philosophy states that each line should advance the story OR reveal character. And banter is exceptional at doing the latter and, if you play your cards right, it’s even capable of doing both.
Banter is important because it helps get across the idea that your characters are not just some chess pieces being moved around by the plot of your story. When you let your characters step out of the plot for a bit to have a nice conversation every once in a while, it makes them feel human in a distinct way. People aren’t just beings caught up with each task that they have to complete in every passing day, they love to spend time with other human beings as well.
One of the inspirations for me putting a lot of banter in my stories was the “Tales of” series of video games. These JRPGs are known for having long and involving plots that tend to rank on at least 30 hours of game time, much of which is devoted to the plot. But what I love about this series is that on random points in the games, your characters would stumble upon a special location and a blinking button would show up at the lower end of your screen. Pressing this button would unlock a conversation that usually had nothing to do with the plot, but was just a banter session between the characters.
It might seem like something small, but these scenes gave the characters that extra layer of depth that every storyteller is looking for. They told jokes to one another, they used the banter sessions to set up the world of the games, they revealed back story, and many other things. This showed me the power and versatility that casual conversation can have when spliced into a narrative.
It’s not just about putting in humorous dialogue (that’s only most of the time) but showing how a character converses outside of a story’s plot can give insight into what kind of person they would be if the story was not unfolding. This can also be a vehicle for talking about a character’s past without having to find a cumbersome way to fit it into the narrative.
In short, I would advise all of you to consider giving your characters a short “vacation” from the story. Let them talk, let them laugh, and above all, let them enjoy each others company. You’ll be able to see how their characters traits come to the foreground during these events, and who knows, maybe they could be the seeds to that climax you’ve had so much trouble coming up with.
Have any of you tried giving your characters time for banter? Do you usually use it for jokes or has there been a time where it helped you reveal a crucial aspect of the plot? If anything, keep these questions in mind after you finish reading this post.
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.