When dialogue contradicts behavior

As I drove home from work the other day, I came upon a construction crew working on a little bridge which filtered traffic down to one lane. I’d slowed to a crawl as the worker, decked out in a neon green vest, held a sign that said “SLOW” and so I proceeded slow. Then he started waving his arm to hurry me along. I crept past the narrow area between the half concrete wall of the bridge and the orange cones which bled into my lane(not to mention the man who was still waving his arm was only inches from my car) thinking why would he encourage me to speed up? For one, there wasn’t a car behind me and there wasn’t one waiting on the other side. For two, there’s a sign stating fines double in work zones, and most importantly, he’s holding a sign that indicates in big bold letters that I should slow my ass down. So why would I speed up? Didn’t make sense to me.

This contradiction brought to mind a correlation to writing, which most events and interactions throughout my day usually do. When I edit chapters or manuscripts for myself or for others, I search out these types of inconsistencies which can leave readers scratching their heads. One clear cut example of this I found was in an early draft (which makes sense) of a romance story. The problem for me was that the love interest’s behavior conflicted with his dialogue and as a result, he ended up seeming erratic and unbelievable.

This can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint in your own work because you’re already in your character’s head so it always makes sense to you, the author. A couple of ways to avoid this from the beginning is to make sure there’s clear motivation for each character, regardless of the role they play. Use a character sketch to document any obstacles they’ve had to overcome or positive and negative influences etc. If they’re not acting or reacting naturally, we need to know why. Give the reader a glimpse into their past. Something that would logically explain a contradicting behavior. There are many views on how you should utilize backstory, but any relevant point that can help your reader gain insight, increase sympathy, or make your character relatable, is a good thing.

I feel that creating characters with plausible behavior for the world they live in is a necessary piece of the writing puzzle. I know if I can’t connect with a character because their behavior/dialogue is confusing and unbelievable…*gasp*… I won’t read the rest of the story. And it truly breaks my heart to put a book down, so I really do give the benefit of the doubt and try get past it, but unfortunately, I can’t. If anyone else has pet peeves about reading a book that makes you walk away, please share in the comments.

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