Thursday, September 29, 2011

Theater Thursdays- Dialogue

Last week I talked about a panel/reading I attended at The Loft with David Levithan and Brian Farrey.  It is now available to listen to online here.


I've worked in theater for many years and one of the things all that time listening to plays, watching plays and reading plays has taught me is how to write dialogue.

In plays dialogue is important and it moves the story forward.
"How are you?"
"Good, and you?"
This is the kind of small talk dialogue you don't see in plays a lot unless there are character who don't know each other and so are maybe trying to fill the space with small talk.  Make your dialogue count.  Make it tell the story.

Dialogue isn't just about speaking it is also about listening.  On stage actors listen to each other, they react to what is being said.  Make your characters on the page react to what is being said.

Break up dialogue with action.  Sometimes it is easy to get into writing dialogue and allow your character to become talking heads.  When you watch a play actors have actions along with those words.  They pour a drink, they look in their purse for breath mints, they fidget with their jewelry.  When you have long passages of dialogue try to break it up with descriptions of what other business your characters are doing.

It's also cool to see how sets and costumes can help people understand dialogue better.  Think of a Shakespeare play staged using modern dress and settings to make it more accessible.  How would the dialogue in your story play out in a crowded cafeteria versus an almost empty classroom?

You don't have to dedicate yourself to a life in theater in order to improve your dialogue writing skills but seeing more plays can only help your writing.  If you follow things like The Artist's Way consider a night at the theater an artist date.

What is your favorite play?  Has seeing plays made you a better writer?


Alicia Gregoire said...

Blake Snyder said the same thing in Save the Cat about this kind of dialogue, which as we know also applies to writing. It's funny you should mention Shakespeare since my college only did Shakespearian plays with updated settings.

Angela Felsted said...

Great advice, Carrie. And this is such a struggle for me. Coming up with good dialogue.