What can I say about Theodore Webb? From attending my mafia themed dinner party to gracing the stage together performing a co-written piece, Ted and I have known each other over a decade. We met when I was trying to get more entrenched in the Morgantown Poetry scenes. We, along with some others, helped to revitalize Morgantown Poets. We’ve even conducted a workshop together. Ted has been my literary sounding board and one of my dearest friends. Ted experimented with screen writing, and is going to share some tips he’s learned on how to create dialogue.
Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done a smart thing to further your writing career; namely, you’re reading Pen Paper Pad, the dynamic website of Tamara Woods.
When Tamara asked me to do a blog post, I was thrilled. Tamara does a great job opening Pen Paper Pad to authors. I enjoy reading your insights.
I’m a member of the M.T. Pockets Theatre Company Playwriting Group, organized by the talented playwright Donald Fidler. This group helped me tremendously toward improving my writing of dialogue.
Here are five quick tips to immediately improve dialogue:
1) Keep it short. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote short, declarative sentences. The mark of a master writer is saying much with few words. The master makes his work easy to read. He keeps the story moving, quickly.
2) Imitate the way people talk. A basic writing exercise is to go to a public place and eavesdrop on conversation. Get a feel for how people speak. Mimic the way people talk, NOT copy word for word. Imitate while bringing your writing talents into the mix. Create new, dynamic fictional conversation in your book or play. Convey a heightened sense of life.
3) Up the ante. If Julie wants a glass of water from Richard, it’s not interesting if Richard simply hands her the water. What if Julie has to do something for Richard to get the water? What if Richard’s plans back fire? Julie smacks Richard over the head?
I show conflict in every encounter. Here’s dialogue from my new comedy. Richard accuses his roommate:
RICH: I know it was you!
CHRIS: Give me that.
[CHRIS grabs back the white “take out” box of sushi.]
CHRIS: Bat-scat crazy. This is the last time I bring you anything.
This is part of an ongoing escalation of conflict from the beginning which I continue to the end.
Conflict drives stories. If there were no conflict, there would be no story. Increase the stakes.
4) Every character MUST want something. What do your characters want? Do they want to be heard? Maybe what they want is more subtle. Do your characters want recognition, validation, love, friendship, money? But why does she want money? Infuse each piece of your dialogue with underlying desires.
Here’s another tidbit I wrote, dialogue between Richard and his girlfriend Sarah:
RICH: But you’re not listening. I didn’t “just send it to myself.” Someone sent it to me yesterday, Thursday, 24 hours ago.
SARAH: Stop yelling at me.
RICH [Sets down the bottle of ketchup.] I’m not yelling at you. I’m just trying to expl–
SARAH: I GOT IT. You’re NOT taking me to the dance! Fine!
Obviously Rich wants Sarah to believe him. Sarah wants Rich to pay attention to her. The dialogue is infused with what each character wants, with the associated feelings of frustration, confusion and anger, highlighting miscommunication for comedic effect.
5) Simplicity. Think of your work like how Michelangelo sculpted David from a block of marble, cutting excess to reveal the idea, the beauty within. Less is more.
After you finish the first draft, eliminate EVERY unnecessary word. Look for distracting, filler “non-information” words, phrases, etc., such as “how about” or “honestly.” Make your art as powerful, meaningful and unforgettable as possible.
Your dialogue is stronger if your character says, “You cut me Brad,” instead of, “Honestly Brad I don’t know why you said that.”
Get to the core, to the main feeling, idea or message. Shorten. Cut the extraneous. Every word should move the plot forward, revealing desires of the characters while showing conflict.
Dialogue has many more aspects, which I don’t have space to expound. I hope you’ll add your own ideas, thoughts, rules and methods on writing the best dialogue into the comments below. I’d love to learn something new from a fellow Pen Paper Pad reader! Let’s keep the conversation going! Leave your comment now. Tell us what works for you.
Theodore Webb is a co-founding member of Morgantown Poets, a monthly event serving the literary arts community in north-central West Virginia. He has composed numerous poems, including “America in Dreams,” published by Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. Webb is the author of the dystopian fiction books, “Lifeline,” “Crucible,” “Colossus” and “Inferno;” all part of “The STARLING Series” available for Kindle on Amazon.com. The four books are also available in one volume, “The STARLING Connection.”You can find more information at Amazon’s Author Central To connect with him and find out more he can be found , on his Facebook Page, on Twitter and of course his self-titled blog Theodore Webb.