Dramaquill's All Things Writing

April 18, 2011

How writing plays helps me write better dialogue

 
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I’ve been writing plays for kids and teens to perform for about fifteen years now.  Usually, in a typical school year, I write between six and eight new one act playscripts. 

The most enjoyable aspect of being a playwright for a drama department is that not only do I get to write plays and then within a couple of months, see them come to life on the stage, but I also get to work with a wide variety of individuals between the ages of four and eighteen.

Being around such a diverse age group offers up a variety of personalities and also allows me to observe children at so many different stages of development.  Watching the children use their imaginations to create the many types of characters found within my plays inspires me to continue to find new ways to allow them to develop and grow their own creativity.

If one considers that plays are basically made up of dialogue coupled with physical actions performed by different characters, it’s no wonder I can hear the voices of my novel characters speaking as if they were indeed real people.  I attribute this ability to write dialogue that sounds like real people to my playwriting.  Without characters delivering believable dialogue, a play is doomed.  But that goes without saying for novels and short stories, too.

How do I approach writing dialogue?

I also listen to real individuals and try to find something unique about the way they speak.  I’m sure you have friends and colleagues that are known for certain expressions or ways of saying something that immediately differentiates them from others that you know.

I try to hear my characters speaking as real people when I’m writing their dialogue.  What is that particular character’s distinct way of speaking?

Some of the things I’ve found are:

  • expressions/slang
  • sentence length
  • level of intelligence and word usage
  • speed of delivery
  • body language/animated movements
  • an accent
  • specific words that they use frequently
  • vocal tone

Sometimes, I even start developing a new character by writing a sort of monologue first, in that character’s voice.  For example, when I created my villain in my first suspense novel, I wrote an opening speech (BTW, this was an exercise only and never actually made it into the book) letting him vent about his situation.  Just listening to him in my head helped me see a physical being whose details only began to take shape after I’d written this monologue in his voice.

Do you have to write plays to write good dialogue?

NO – of course not!

But it my case, it certainly helped me become a more observant listener and it definitely strengthened my ability to write dialogue.

If you don’t have access to a lot of different people, go and sit in a coffee shop with a newspaper and just listen to the conversations of the people around you or head to the mall’s food court to have a listen. 

Remember – real people rarely worry about speaking in gramatically correct sentences.

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1 Comment »

  1. I never thought of it that way, well put!

    Comment by toasty redhead — May 14, 2011 @ 1:29 AM | Reply


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