I found an interesting article by Sol Stein, Six Points About Character, Plot, and Dialogue You Wish You’d Have Known Yesterday at the Writers Store. (Should I quibble that the apostrophe is missing in Writers?) Here are some excerpts from the article, which as far as I could tell made more than six points, but, hey, we’re writers, not mathematicians. Enjoy.
There’s a book called Characters Make Your Story. You don’t have to read it. The title says it all. If you start with characters and put a protagonist and antagonist in opposition to each other and let the plot grow from that, you can build a contender. If you start with plot and sprinkle characters in it, the likely result is hackwork.
…And here’s a hint. If you look at the fiction that survived the 20th century, you’ll find that almost all the main characters are eccentric. The creation of characters is an arrogant and highly skilled function because what you’re doing is competing with God.
…You are in a long line of storytellers whose job was to keep the listeners attention. The storyteller around the fire droned on. If his audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him. You are lucky. Your job is to arouse the reader’s curiosity and not satisfy it. That’s how suspense is created. Make sure your story has uncertainty about something, a prospective danger to the leading character, confrontations, set up something that cries for a resolution and then don’t resolve it — for a time. Remember that suspense occurs when the reader or viewer wants something to happen desperately and it isn’t happening yet.
…Dialogue is a foreign language, different from whatever language a writer has grown up using. It can make people unknown to the writer cry, laugh and believe lies in seconds. It is succinct, can carry a great weight of meaning in few words, and, above all, it is adversarial.… Readers love dialogue when it throws sparks.
…A writer writes what other people only think… [Writers] also focus on detail, especially unconventional detail.