1. EineKleine

    EineKleine New Member

    Jan 14, 2011
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    Strengthening Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by EineKleine, Feb 25, 2011.


    As I continue to write, my weaknesses are becoming more and more easily identifiable. So, of course, if I want to improve the weaknesses must be tackled and conquered !

    The next area I'm attempting to work on is dialogue. My dialogue is quite stilted. Ideally, I'd write snappy dialogue like Sorkin or Tarantino but I don't think they got it right away, or at least I hope they had to work at it because that means it's potentially attainable.

    What do the writers on this forum do to craft elite dialogue? I've tried writing down everything people say at my minimum wage service job and that's interesting, we'll see how it pays off. I've also tried speaking my dialogue out loud, and into a tape recorder but I find it awkward and emotionless.

    Maybe I should take acting classes.
  2. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    tarantino seems to have gotten it right off the bat... but then we don't really know how long it took him to write and polish RD, do we?...

    i do think, however, that the ability to write truly great dialog is a 'gift' and can't just be learned... but you can at least learn to write 'good enough' dialog, with enough study and practice, imo...

    to help with your problem, i'd say you should keep watching films with sparkling dialog, study their scripts, if you can get them... same goes for the tv series that make you go 'wow, i wish i'd written that!'...

    novels, too... i just finished one of robert b. parker's and throughout it, i kept marveling aloud at the witty, mind-blowingly great lines his characters tossed back and forth...
  3. w176

    w176 Contributor Contributor

    Jun 22, 2010
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    Luleå, Sweden
    I would go for acting and impro classes. Knowing some method acting is extremely effective way to learn how to have things pop out of the characters mouth that feels natural to them. Or try roleplaying.
  4. Melzaar the Almighty

    Melzaar the Almighty Contributor Contributor

    Aug 28, 2010
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    I am the hugest chatterbox, and one thing everyone seems to agree on when they read my stuff is that the conversation is natural, snappy, sometimes funny, and flows well. I love writing conversations and I love having them.

    Find some person who you can talk the ear off of - a zombie-like person, dull of wit and not likely to judge you, who you can sit next to and talk all day to without being interrupted, and whose opinion you don't care about anyway so it doesn't matter if they think you're insane, and start blabbing. :p Work your way up from there to being sociable with people you can engage with to start to understand how two sides of a conversation work where you don't know what the other person is thinking.

    And then - only then - move to talking to yourself. It's easy to fall into a trap of writing your characters as if they know everything the other is thinking if all your practice IS talking to yourself, because it's impossible to pretend both sides of the argument don't know what the others do. So wait until you can separate it better.

    Only by talking can you learn how words sound in their natural habitat. Reciting things never sounds natural.
    1 person likes this.
  5. amberzak

    amberzak New Member

    Feb 25, 2011
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    Don't just write down what people say in one place. You need to get a mixture of how different people speak. Go to a posh restaurant for an evening, and observe people there. Watch documentaries.

    Oh, and get people to read your scripts aloud. You'll make those tiny changes as you hear people speak the scripts. That's what I do.

    Best of luck
  6. Eunoia

    Eunoia Contributor Contributor

    Mar 8, 2010
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    Observe and eavesdrop. Observe people's gestures, body language and facial expressions when they talk. Listen to what they say and how they say it. Think about the relationship between the people you're observing. Do this in a range of places - the park, queuing up in a shop, a cafe, a pub, a football match, theatre, cinema, zoo, garden centre etc.

    Listen to radio plays. The emphasis is on dialogue so take note on the structure and so on. And of course, read a lot of scripts and analyse their dialogue.

    Read aloud any script you write and you'll be able to work out if it flows, if it's easy to say etc.
  7. Reggie

    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

    Nov 10, 2010
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    Something about dialogue worked for me. How about closing your eyes, and then create a voice in your mind? Before doing this, you can visualize the people in your script. Ask yourself where are the characters standing at? Are they in a house or outside? When you found your characters in your head, visualize them talking to each other. Once you can find the voice, open your eyes and then type the dialogue (no dialogue tags or nothing) as they are speaking. Don't even worry about grammar or sentence structure. Many people talk with fragments and grammar errors. Once you are done creating an image of two of the characters talking, add the dialogue tags and then fix the grammar. This has worked for me.

    Without visualizing what the characters look like and creating an image of their voices in their head, it would be ineffective as writing dialogue than it is if you did visualize what they are saying. When writing dialogue, you're not even required to think hard on how to write it. Just write the dialogue as you heard it in your head without thinking about what you are writing, since the voices you created told you what to write.
  8. Ion

    Ion New Member

    Mar 7, 2011
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    The more you learn, the more you learn you don't know. That's true of everything, writing especially.

    Everyone has to work at it.

    You learn by doing. I play the cello, but I didn't pick it up the first time and whip out a moving solo.

    To actually get music out of the cello, you have to practice every day. You need to spend hours a week playing the same stupid song over and over again. You need to listen to music. You hear how it's supposed to sound, and emulate. Most importantly, you need an audience. Someone to listen to what you're playing, whether or not they understand what they're listening to.

    Writing is the same way.

    I started writing every day several years ago. I had gotten into play-by-post forum role playing games, and of course, dialogue came up and it came up often. Especially when I started to run my own games, I often tripped over conversation. However, as time went by, I grew experienced with dialogue and how to use it.

    Another way to get good at writing dialogue? Read. Read a lot. Go see plays and movies. Watch television. Look at how your favorite author/screenwriter/director handles conversation. Not just how they phrase the lines, but how they set them up with description and specific verbs. Look at the context. You need to see how it's done right before you can expect to do it right yourself.
  9. webbo_5

    webbo_5 New Member

    Mar 12, 2011
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    I think dialogue is all about the pauses. Keeping things short and taking into consideration the reaction you yourself might have to a comment.

    Also, make every comment count. If anything can be shown visibly and not spoken, it should be.
  10. Alvaro

    Alvaro New Member

    Feb 20, 2011
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    It is quite hard to imagine how different character would speak and to make them differ from each other in the way they speak and what words they may use.

    Observation might be your best friends. Observe people around you. How do people talk to each other? How animated are they while talking. Do they talk a lot, or not so much. Do they try and sound intelligent, or simple and to the point.

    It's tricky though, and I think it's a skill that I am still trying to sharpen myself. I listen to people talk on the train and the tube on my way to work.
  11. Ellipse

    Ellipse Contributor Contributor

    Jun 8, 2010
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    One key part of dialogue isn't so much about what is said, but how it is said. A person's brogue or accent can add a lot of feeling to their words and reveal something of the character.

    For example, imagine or listen to someone speaking proper english. Then do the same for another person speaking english with a southern accent. And then after that, try listening to someone speak pidgin english.
  12. Bay K.

    Bay K. New Member

    Mar 6, 2011
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    Put yourself in the character's shoes --status-wise, intellectually, emotionally and socially. (You'd have to establish all these aspects of the character first).

    E.g, a working-class single mother, frustrated at always getting admonished for coming in to work late, is trying to wake her 1st grade daughter up and quickly prepare her for school in the morning:

    "Jesus Christ, girl! Don't let me get my slippers!" She slaps the still-drowsy girl across her ankle several times and proceeds to drag her out of bed.
    "Told you to go to bed at eight, but you won't listen! You keep playing around!" She vigorously shakes the little girl to snap her out of the stupor.
    "Don't want to go!" the girl protests, a rhythm of weeping coughs emanating from her. She soon starts stomping her feet and then the flood gates burst.
    "What you crying for?! You think mommy's happy going to that s--- factory?!Hearing that fat blob jabber everyday?! I want to cry too! I want to sleep in too! But it's not happening! Now, get in that bathroom!" She pushes the wailing child along. "You going to school! And I ain't going to be late today! I ain't!"

    Don't know if my rambling here helped, but good luck.

    Be good, wise and strong --or don't be at all
  13. katica

    katica New Member

    Jun 7, 2009
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    One thing that will help you is having characters with actual personality. Often what makes a line funny or witty is WHO says it, not what is said.

    I was playing the game Dragon Age recently and there was one character named Sten in the game. He's very serious most of the time and blunt. He shows little emotion and yet in one part of the game he talks for a little while about how much he loves cookies. This wouldn't be at all amusing if another character had spoken it. You just get to know Sten over time and his wall of being unimpressed by everything and to see him so excited about something as simple as a cookie is hilarious.

    You see what I mean?

    Having a character get drunk in a story can be amusing, but having a drunk character who delivers an awkward line at just the right time is awesome.

    You need to endear people to your characters and then make them deliver lines based on the traits that you've endeared everyone to.
  14. FictionAddict

    FictionAddict New Member

    Feb 4, 2011
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    I'm from Holland
    I love to do that ^, although it's kind of hard to translate expressions and witty remarks into English when everyone around you is speaking a different language. Writing dialog is hard for me too.

    If you live in an English speaking country, paying attention around you will help you more than it helps me. After being in a social event, try to remember an specific conversation you had and write down everything you and the other person said, exactly the way it was said. After that, read what you wrote aloud paying attention to the construction of sentences, to the rhythm and stuff like that. This's an excercise I made when I spent a month in England. It's kind of crazy, but it helped me a lot.

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