You are lying in bed and hear a noise downstairs. You don’t have any animals, so you know it’s not the cat running around acting well, like a cat. Do you go downstairs and check it out? Do you call the police thinking that someone is in the house? If you have a gun, do you grab it first and check it out or maybe a golf club or baseball bat? Again, how would you feel, what would be going through your head? Of course, you could be thinking the worst, but it might be nothing also; however, you don’t know this. But when we watch the movies, we know that the killer has been killing people throughout the movie and now he is in your house waiting for you. But now this isn’t the movies and you have no idea what is in the dark.
This is all part of research and thinking of exactly how your character would act in a situation like this. Make your character believable, not fantasy, unless of course, that is what you are writing. But some perspective into the complex situations you are writing with each scene. Give the reader the inside look at what your character is feeling and that they are racing all the possibilities through their head. Remember that everyone is never perfect and makes many mistakes. Hell, I’ve made a couple dozen just in the last day alone.
But situations aren’t the end all to character development, dialogue is very, very important. Interaction between characters can make or break a story. Again, remember that everyone speaks differently, so don’t have all your dialogue sound the same. In writing “Green Lake,” I had someone email me and say that one of my characters said something stupid. I had a fire engine racing by on the road on someone said “God I hope it isn’t a fire.” The reader took offense to that, and said what else would it be, a weenie roast, what a stupid statement. Exactly a stupid statement, that is the point. In everyday life, we hear stupid statements every day, from the person in line at Starbucks, to a co-worker to a family member, people aren’t perfect, so don’t make them perfect. Stephen King is probably the absolute best dialogue writer I’ve ever seen. Each character has a voice and if you have to keep putting ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ at the end of each statement, then you are writing bad dialogue. The reader should have no problem figuring out who is talking.