Character and DialogueA Lesson by joseffthered
There are two keys to good dialogue
Well I suppose I'll just jump right in and hit this major topic. As writers, we all know how crucial dialogue is when developing a character since, in essence, it is the very soul of the character. We use it to convey emotion and set a tone for each character, while also making it unique to the character as we are all unique. The problem is that in our minds we speak as we would and it's hard to escape our own idiosyncrasies. To bypass this problem we must get through a locked door, a door with two locks
Empathy is key to one of those locks; Empathy lets us see the world through other peoples eyes, takes us out of our comfort zone and forces a new perception on our mind. A good exercise to help build up our empathy muscle is to do a little acting. I know what your thinking and no, I don't want you to go join the drama team and get up on stage (though it wouldn't hurt) I just mean to take on a different persona(s) throughout the day. Speak with an accent, walk with a limp and lie to everyone about it by saying you did something heroic, change your name for week, ask people strange questions and study their reactions, anything to put a crack in the barrier of your own persona's armor.
The first key is to separate your mind from your character's, the second is to actually separate your physical self, and to do that you must increase your visualization skills. The quickest and easiest exercise for this is to take a candle flame and stare at it for little bit. After a few seconds close your eyes to see to a bluish, purple light. Hold that light in your mind for as long as you can. Another good exercise that you can do just about anywhere is to cover your eyes with your hands, but cup them so to not put any pressure on the eye. Open your eyes and make sure that no light is getting through your hands. Stay like that and visualize settings, people, animals, whatever you want. As your skills grow you can make them more and more complex.
Now that the philosophic mumbo jumbo is out of the way, lets get down to brass tacks. Dialogue. The way a person speaks is as unique to a human as their face. After you create a character you should be able to carry on conversations with your character. You should be able to see your character beside you, be able to ask him/her a question, hear his/her answer as well of the pitch of his/her voice. When you are in your everyday situations you should know how they would react to the spider crawling across the floor (you should also know why they react they way they do, but that's part of another lesson) so that when you finally do write what this person says, it's less like you writing it, but more like they are speaking through you.
It's also important to remember that when people talk, they are usually doing something else at the time. Take for example two people eating dinner, you shouldn't write it like a play
The smiths sit down for supper
"How was work, Dear?" said Martha
"Oh, alright I suppose. Bill was fired today." Ted says with the furrows of sadness cresting his brow.
Technically this is fine, but it feels very sterile and mannequinesque.
The Smiths sit down for supper. The sounds of scraping metal forks fill the room until Martha speaks. The jarring force of her soft words cause Ted to choke a bit; but the prideful Ted just swallows harder until the chunk of Salisbury steak slides down his throat
"How was work, Dear?" Martha says meekly and slowly cuts a piece of meat while briefly reminiscing about how much her and her husband used to talk.
"Oh, alright I suppose" The words hiss from Ted's mouth like the air out of a leaky tire. "Bill was fired today." Furrows of sadness crest Ted's brow as he continues to eat his steak.
I know this might sound strange but dialogue is less about what is being said and more about the context of what is being said. That's why to me visualization and empathy are the keys to good dialogue.
If there are any questions, post them, and I'll answer them in the next lesson.
Added on February 24, 2011
Last Updated on March 3, 2011
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