Effective characterization is a balance between dialogue, narrative and action.
Dialogue is relatively easy for those of us who hear voices. Each word use and syntax holds certain nuances that are unique to that character’s background. Image an 80 year old mid-western great-grandma saying dude. Doesn’t quite cut it. But a California surfer, yeah, I can picture that. Of course a 40 year old Fast Times a Ridgemont High officiando would be equally apt. Dialogue should reflect the characterization so the surfer might talk about his/her waves or board or make comparision whereas the movie fan might call their neighbor a regular Spicoli.
Narrative and action are usually intermingled and are best when coupled with a dash of inner dialogue. Sadly many writers think of action on in fight or flight scenes.
We are three dimensional beings and we move through our worlds, interacting with things. So where does body language come in? For more than 100-thousand years, the vast majority of human interactions have been face-to-face. In that time, we as a species have developed a series of non-verbal actions that speak louder than words (and often contradict them!)
How would you interpret the following two scenes:
“I haven’t cheated on you.” Holding her gaze, Mike raked his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know what I can do to make you believe me.”
“I haven’t cheated on you.” Mike stared over her left shoulder and wiped his damp palms on his trousers. “I don’t know what I can do to make you believe me.”
It should be obvious through their actions (in this case body language) which Mike is lying. At least it would be if they were standing before you, because you’ve learned body language from the day you opened your eyes. But it doesn’t always come across when you read it because you’re conciously processing it instead of cycling it through in the background noise of your head. So give your reader a helpful hint by injecting a little internal dialogue.
“I haven’t cheated on you.” Holding her gaze, Mike raked his fingers through his hair. How many times had they had this conversation? Seven, eight times a week? And always, she swore it would be the last. Soon, he would no longer believe her. “I don’t know what I can do to make you believe me.”
Thanks to the internal dialogue, Mike’s frustration comes through loud and clear. It’s also apparent that his relationship is on the edge of breaking.
“I haven’t cheated on you.” Mike stared over her left shoulder and wiped his damp palms on his trousers. He was one of America’s best spies, dammit. Slipping into his traveling salesman persona should be easy. He’d done it for years. her. But now it involved her. The disguise had begun to fray and itch as the real him tried to get out of his fake skin and reach her. “I don’t know what I can do to make you believe me.”
Okay, so now we know he’s lying and why he’s doing so. We also know that the she means something to him, but their relationship is in jeopardy.
Two Mikes with different body language tell a different story. The internal dialogue will define the character and let the reader decide if he’s hero or villian material.